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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Are senior administrators now less likely to involve faculty in major management decision than before?  The Council of University of California Faculty Associations (CUCFA) is worried enough to have written "A Statement of Principles for Choosing New University of California Chancellors." The statement emerged from agreement among Faculty Association representatives from every campus.

CUCFA calls on officials to hire only those candidates who "support the value of public education." Everyone says they support this value, so CUCFA says what its members believe its components to be. First comes the recognition that "efforts at privatization have failed to sustain the University's central mission of education, research, and service for the people of California."  The statement spells out the elements of post-privatization: focusing on core mission rather than capital projects, serving more resident students rather than more high-tuition students from out-of-state, dialing back administrative growth while capping management salaries, "opening the budget to meaningful faculty review and input," and increasing contact with the surrounding society.

CUCFA's definition of "public" reflects national and international trends that have been slower to develop in California than elsewhere.  One is deprivatization. I first heard this term used to describe current changes in Poland's university system, but deprivatization is implicit in the Free College movement launched in U.S. politics by Bernie Sanders. The premise is that people can analyze the effects of privatization, and, if found negative, can lower tuition rather than raise it, raise public funding rather than lower it, reduce student debt rather than increase it, and expand research cost coverage rather than shrink it. Where there's a will there's a way, and the way here is particularly obvious.

 A second trend is postmanagerialism--or so I'll call it here. Large private and public organizations now operate under widespread cynicism about their good will and effectiveness. Decreasing proportions of U.S. residents think corporations are on their side.  Something similar is happening to public universities, some of which, like UC and CUNY, have tripped themselves up in a series of scandals that shed doubt on their devotion to public service.   You don't have to be familiar with the literature about learning organizations to believe that the low-information professor and the cognitively isolated senior manager each undermine universities.  Universities need smarter human systems that we have now, and strong shared governance can help bring that about.

A third trend the CUCFA statement reflects is the demand for epistemological diversity, driven in large part by academics working in the global South.  Societies are both internally diverse and quite different from each other, and need their university research to reflect variable demands--say for non-GMO pest-resistant crops, or for democratic theory that does not assume constitutional unity or a common language.  University diversity has, in recent decades, been undermined by audit culture, which norms universities towards "best practices" represented by the institutions that dominate global rankings, whose template is Anglo-American.  As part of its normal operation, audit introduces quantitative management practices that make collaborative governance seem unnecessary: a manager doesn't need to know her faculty and departments and make complex judgments based in large part on informal knowledge, but just have research output measures, impact factors, and rankings of departments and faculty members.  Such metrics make personal interactions seem superfluous, and intellectual diversity unnecessary.  Such standardization is now being contested and is likely gradually to be pushed aside. It will be replaced by multidimensional forms of evidence and judgment that require more rather than less interaction among members of universities, and more openness to one another.  CUCFA's push for shared governance makes epistemological diversity easier to achieve.

Our current, highly unrigorous definitions of the public university make sense if the future is going to extend the past two decades.  But it won't. The public university going forward will have to rediscover the effectiveness of shared resources, mutualized costs, and collaborative governance. It will need to discover much stronger meanings of public.  If this is right, then CUCFA's statement is ahead of the curve.