• Home
  • About Us
  • Guest Posts

Monday, April 29, 2019

Monday, April 29, 2019
Elizabeth Warren's free college and debt relief plan is a major intervention in the national discussion about the future of higher ed.  (Image credit Zero Hedge). Her plan has one big kink, which I'll get to later. The Democrats' current job is to fix public college financing without recapitulating the Republicans' private-good framework that has justified disinvestment. That's what Warren's plan does.

The instant criticisms raised important issues, but also create the danger that party leaders will wound Warren's plan without killing it.  The "new normal" wins if critics can get the Democratic base to feel ambivalence about a big fix--opposed to student debt but not proudly for Warren's debt relief.  The new normal has lowered voter expectations about everything--"forget a good job, I just want a job, or two."  The Dem temptation is to run against student debt and still be the guilty austerity party of alleged appeal to donors and undecideds.  Unfortunately, this austerity tradition has given the Democrats a justified reputation for inadequate solutions and ineffective moral posturing.  This reputation has cost them most state governments and 2.5/3 branches of the federal government. Public college underfunding is just one result.

Enter Warren, whose plan actually does the Democratic party a giant favor. It
  • rejects the 30-year-old Democratic tradition of nudges and cheapness.
  • scales Democratic policy to the size of the opposing Republican policy. Trump cut taxes on business and the wealthy by more than a trillion dollars over ten years.  Warren reinvests in public colleges by more a trillion dollars over ten years.
  • rebates expenses to the middle- and working-classes rather than to the rich.  It's a small-d democratic stimulus program.
  • starts rebuilding at the gigantic scale at which higher ed is being built in East Asia and elsewhere.  This cuts through the false sense of superiority that burdens Anglophone policy.
  • defines the principle of public reinvestment as a universal, egalitarian benefit:
We got into this crisis because state governments and the federal government decided that instead of treating higher education like our public school system — free and accessible to all Americans — they’d rather cut taxes for billionaires and giant corporations and offload the cost of higher education onto students and their families.
Warren grounds wealth-creation in social labor.  She has figured out how to make this point to a mass television audience:
 But now that you've got that great fortune, spend just a minute to remember how you got it.  You built that great business or your ancestors did using workers that all of us helped pay to educate.  You got your goods to market using roads and bridges that all of us helped pay to build.  You are protected in your factories with firefighters and police officers that all of us helped to pay.
Public-good funding is an expression of the reality of common effort, both past and present. And, she
  • starts the negotiation with the "whole ask" --ask for everything, not a "realistic" 10%--to move the "pragmatic center" to the left. This is in contrast to the Clinton-Obama practice of triangulating between the two 40-yard lines.  Even conservative Democrats who hate Warren's "socialism" should love the strategy of moving the debate out of right field.
I won't detail Warren's plan, which has been widely discussed (Michael Hiltzik's analysis is particularly good). Suffice to say, relief has salary caps, so is not a debt jubilee.  It cancels 40% of the total amount of debt, according to David Leonhardt, which I assume comes from excluding debts like $300,000 for medical training for an orthopedic surgeon who makes $900,000 a year.  It does provide for total student debt cancellation for 75% and some cancellation for 95% of student borrowers.  It also gives the most help to the lowest-income borrowers (I define "most help" differently from Brookings, below), to those most likely to default, and to those disadvantaged by a racialized "debt geography"--which has become a bit like Ruth Wilson Gilmore's "carceral geography."  (See this month's excellent "Student Loan Debt in the Bay Area," or "Student Loan Borrowing Across NYC Neighborhoods" (2017).

Each major plank (debt relief, debt-free future, de-subsidizing for-profit colleges, public endowment for Black and Minority-Serving Institutions) rests on an important principle the MSM ignores:
  • the student debt boom is an unjust burden on recent college cohorts.  A corollary is that the growth in student debt has reflected a politically-motivated wealth transfer from young to old, poorer to richer, less white to whiter. It can and should be reversed through the political process.
  • to prevent future debt, the metric of tuition must be replaced with the metric of total cost of attendance.  All policy and administrative defenses of high public university tuition have praised the way financial aid covers tuition costs for low income students.  I felt I needed to refute this claim in detail in The Great Mistake (Stage 5) because it was so widely believed.  Sara Goldrick-Rab and others have for years fought the same war of position against this view.  Warren may just have swept it away.
  • federal education funds are for education, not for banks and investors.  For-profit colleges extract most of the funds they receive of the educational system.
  • It is unjust that the colleges and universities that serve large numbers of students of color are poorer and less stable than others.  This too is a political problem that can be fixed with politics.  Closing this gap is a key aspect of decolonizing the university.
Warren has come up with a policy that combines an economic stimulus with more rational human capital formation with increased social justice. You'd think Democrats would be thrilled. Many are not.   Most critics are saying one of the most progressive presidential candidates in U.S. history is not progressive on student debt.

To deal with these criticisms, it's worth keeping a few things in mind

1. Warren's plan is progressive, in that the most help goes to the group having the hardest time paying off its student loans.  This contradicts the widely-recycled claim made by Adam Looney at Brookings. He called her plan "regressive, expensive, and full of uncertainties," justifying the first of these charges with the calculation that the top 40 percent of earners by income get 66 percent of the forgiveness, and the bottom 20 percent get only 4 percent. But that's because lower-income graduates often came from lower income families, and went to cheaper (and also poorer and less effective) colleges for which they had to borrow less.  The skew in raw totals of loan forgiveness reflects the inequities of the current system.

In addition, Looney uses these raw totals to define "most help." I would define "most help" in relative terms as progressive tax systems do--as relative to debt as a share of income, which affects who is most likely to default on their loan.  Since the average loan in default is about half the average loan balance (p 28) (yes, smaller balances are more likely to be in default), the smaller raw total of forgiveness for lower-income borrowers masks the very large help offered by the 100% forgiveness they receive.

2. Student debt is not like a loan for a house or stock purchase that reflects a rational investment in a future return.  The Washington Post instantly produced an editorial rehearsing the private-good argument that a college degree earns a $1 million wage premium over a lifetime, so you can (and must) pay it back.  This consumer-loan analogy is incorrect. At least half of the total value of a college degree is either "external" to the person (because public), and/or non-pecuniary, or both.   Post-style arguments reduce the non-private benefits to "dark matter," in Walter McMahon's term, and cause them to be underfunded by the public.

Another big problem with the private-good argument involves the different costs people pay to get the same private pecuniary wage benefit from a college degree.  Graduate A went to a white suburban high school, had an SAT tutor and expensive extracurriculars, goes to a good college, needs no loans, and works for decades for her $1 million wage increment. Graduate B went to an underfunded, de facto segregated city school, worked 20 hours a week through high school, amazingly goes to the same college (and works 20 hours a week there), takes out $23,800 in loans, and then works for decades for the same $1 million wage increment. Their everyday lives and their financial futures are quite different: Graduate B buys a house 14 years after Graduate A, etc. etc.   There's no ethical justification for this difference.  But it is the standard market outcome.

The point is this: you either socialize the costs of a complicated individual-collective benefit like education, or you make the allocation unjust and inefficient.  There are difficulties with non-market allocations that need to be worked through, but this is the correct baseline for higher education, not allocation by (unevenly subsidized) ability to pay.

3. Poorer graduates do need debt relief.  Another group of Democrats is saying Warren doesn't need such a big plan. Several journalists cited an Urban Institute paper by Sandy Baum and Victoria Lee that suggests low-income people don't owe too much money. Their second figure does link debt to income, and undermines the point that low-income people have little debt burden:
Even when you average debt across an income category, you actually see low, middle, and upper-middle income people having similar debt totals.  This doesn't really change until you get into the top 10 percent.  The bottom half of the population, roughly speaking, has average student debt equal to a year of household income. This is after they've collected their wage premium for going to college.   These are the people who are most likely to default,  often after many years of struggling to pay. Warren's plan directly addresses this issue.

4. Student debt increases racial injustice.  For example, a 2018 study by the American Association of University Women found that the group with the highest bachelor's degree loan balance was Black women (slides are here).
Link higher debt to wage disparities and its no surprise that Black women default at twice the average.   There's no better way to start helping universities increase race- and gender equality than eliminating student debt.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and other Democrats have already proposed debt-free college legislation, and Warren's plan will increase interest in these plans.  A lot of changes will be made, and in anticipation we should note the big kink: Warren's plan affects tuition while doing nothing about the other main source of public college revenues, state funding.

Kevin Carey nails a giant perversity: cheap states like Vermont will get more money per student to backfill high tuition, while states with better public funding and lower tuition will get less.  So Warren's plan rewards the states most likely to have screwed their students by shifting costs from tax funding to tuition.  Carey has an interesting fix for this.

The wider issue is that Warren's plan addresses neither general underfunding among public colleges, nor the very bad inequalities of funding across research flagships, regional colleges, and community colleges.   The prospect of a federal bailout is likely to suppress state effort even further.  The Warren plan could ease graduate financial hardship by making university hardship worse.  This is public universities's deepest fear about tuition reduction.  If Warren et al. don't address the revenue shortfall, especially in regional and community colleges, the sector will fight debt-free tooth and nail.

Overall, Warren's plan is a breakthrough for public colleges and for Democrats. I hope universities will work on improving rather than blocking it.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Monday, April 22, 2019
by Gaurav Jashnani, Ed.M
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
PhD Candidate in Critical Social/Personality Psychology, CUNY Graduate Center

Countless eyes were on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) this past fall, where students were organizing for racial justice, particularly around the removal of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument.  Black students and graduate-workers put their academic success and future careers on the line, student-athletes and NBA-playing alumni took public political stances, administrators and trustees seemed to lack a viable long-term plan, politicians and pundits inserted themselves in ways that seemed thoughtless and geared to exacerbate current tensions – and then, in January, things got really wild, with the university’s chancellor suddenly removing the base of the monument while also resigning from her post.

This is a familiar arc, one we saw even more sharply at the University of Missouri (MU) in 2015, when Black student organizers (in tandem with reproductive rights activists and a budding graduate student union) pushed out the top two administrators and overhauled the school’s approach to all things diversity, with the help of the university’s Division I football team. (Photo credit above: Jeff Roberson.) So, what’s the best way for UNC to proceed in a fraught situation, especially now as it faces a leadership vacuum and a damaged reputation?

Enter the recent American Council on Education (ACE) report on how campus leaders can build capacity for diversity and inclusion and successfully manage moments of “racial crisis.”  I read it eagerly, on the chance that it might come to offer useful guidelines for future administrative responses to perceived racial crises.

While the report examines the 2015 MU protests in an attempt to generate useful insights, it mostly puts forward meager responses that paper over the problem. As a clinician and social psychologist whose research focuses on institutional racism and higher education – including, presently, MU – I think it’s vital to address some apparent misconceptions regarding trauma, racism and institutional responsibility.

After briefly running through events at MU and their context, the bulk of the ACE report is focused on a “collective trauma” framework, which the authors use to conceptualize both the problem of and solution to a racial crisis. Nowhere are key terms (e.g., trauma, collective trauma, traumatic state) defined, and the only work on trauma cited in the report is a book about clinical work with survivors of genocide, civil war and the 9/11 attacks. But the circumstances of this work – thousands being killed in discrete moments of political violence – are quite distinct from the slow burn of long-term institutional racism and negligence, magnified by societal inequity and daily interpersonal degradations. Using the term collective trauma to describe a range of disparate people, incidents and experiences – without ever naming or discussing most of them – is confusing at best, and most likely inaccurate and counter-productive.

Furthermore, ACE’s report places institutions that have harmed students in the position of deciding who has been harmed, how, and what they need to recover, refocusing racial justice efforts on “emotional healing” without also centering equity and accountability. Since the problem is determined to be collective trauma, the answer is healing, and unspecified campus leaders are the ones who must heal campus, using “active listening,” “speaking from the heart,” and “acting with” as their tools. We are told, for example, that active listening can help others to “engage with difficult feelings, gain perspective on the experience…find their own solutions, and build self-esteem and resilience.” But is a lack of self-esteem and resilience really the core problem when facing the stark realities of campus racism? Why is gaining perspective prioritized while shifting policy goes unmentioned? Why choose to tell this story by relying on trauma? Is that the best way in which to understand the callousness of the university administration’s lack of response to ongoing racial inequity and interpersonal violence?

A trauma-focused approach may center healing, support, connection and healthcare resources for those harmed or targeted; one focused on accountability might prioritize identifying the harm, who was responsible, making amends and shifting conditions to prevent future harm. Both together are often ideal, but when justice and institutional responsibility are nearly absent, healing can become easy rhetoric that avoids harder conversations. Accountability for doing violence – and for colluding with it – should mean losing positions of power, acknowledging wrongdoing, offering reparations, putting in the work to transform one’s actions and one’s understanding of the world. Some of these are steps MU has taken, but they are steps ACE’s report decenters in favor of decontextualized trauma therapy techniques.

When someone commits an act of violence, and someone else colludes by refusing to take it seriously or even acknowledge it as a problem, we shouldn’t suggest that either of these people talk like a therapist to the person who was violated, as a means of moving forward. The authors have appropriated tools from a specific context, but the problem here is different, the stakes are different, and psychological responses are helpful but still insufficient for structural violence. Prioritizing healing is important when people who have been harmed want it, but when the powerful use it to avoid examining and transforming institutions, talk of healing can quickly become a weapon used to maintain the status quo and sustain institutional violence.

One widespread reality the report overlooks is that campus leadership generally plays an important role not merely in responding to student organizing, but in instigating it in the first place through systematic neglect, gross incompetence, misplaced priorities and a distinct lack of concern for the learning and wellbeing of marginalized students. While the ACE report refers to a history or legacy of campus and societal racism, none of it make sense without understanding that racism has continued into the present. MU’s administration is portrayed only as reacting to racism outside their control, rather than having made numerous choices – including many financial ones – that maintained or even exacerbated ongoing racism.

This crisis was not simply mismanaged by the administration but actively precipitated by it. Administrators chose to ignore a constant barrage of racism that Black students faced, not to mention pervasive social segregation and disappointing graduation rates; even Black student demands from 1968 were still waiting to be fulfilled. A single incident of interpersonal racist violence, or even several incidents, does not inherently become an institutional crisis. The reason that repeated moments of violence escalated into a crisis – and forced the institution toward a turning point – is much the same reason that repeated moments of violence became a crisis for Hollywood (and USA Gymnastics, and the Catholic Church): key players consciously decided that it was not worth responding, despite knowing that severe violence was pervasive and ongoing over many years. Each of these institutions weighed the scales and chose collusion over conviction.

In other words, what the report identifies as limited capacity to deal with diversity and inclusion issues is not only result of bad planning, but racism – an active institutional investment in white supremacy, until said investment disturbs in-flows of capital and business as usual. Given the previous absence of commitment to or even interest in racial equity on the part of the administration, one of the report’s major failures is its apparent premise that alleviating the racial crisis hinges more on managing perceptions and emotions than fostering long-term equity or success for all marginalized students.

Emotions are important and often overlooked, but they are, in this case, symptoms and results of a structural problem. Any map forward must stress that attending to the emotional climate should happen in tandem with not only strategic planning and “building capacity for diversity” but also specific changes in policy, practices and personnel, and shifting financial and political priorities including the allocation of resources. (MU has done some of this, too, but you’d be forgiven for missing that from the report.)

As an example, the report endorses “offering small tokens of appreciation” such as notes and gifts to faculty and staff who take on extra racial justice and support work. Why not instead pay people for their time, offer course leave, bonuses and promotions, credit for students? Institutions can offer not only recognition, but material compensation for work deemed necessary for the campus to function, which – as the report notes – falls disproportionately upon Black women and other people of color. Reparations and other concrete forms of accountability can, in fact, be an integral part of emotional and psychological healing from historical and institutional violence – just ask students at Georgetown, who last week voted to institute a long-term reparations “fee” as part of their tuition payments.

However, without acknowledging the painful and complex realities of ongoing and systemic racism, intertwined with the everyday functioning of the institution, the nature of the problem remains obscure. The real objects of concern – set upon by student organizers, politicized athletes and other supporters, defended by trustees, politicians and administrators – disappear: the de facto racist institutional policies and practices that result in structural violence, and the myriad interpersonal degradations that make up minoritized life. The violence of the institution, its students, staff, faculty, security, policies, procedures, practices; its passive and active refusal to affirm Black life and learning; the choices the institution has made from its origins in slave labor, onward through 200 years of white supremacist institutional maintenance; all of this violence, all of these decisions, all of the moments of choosing white supremacy over and over again risk erasure in this framework.

Trauma, the ostensible heart of the report’s analysis, suffers from a similar lack of clarity, as neither the traumatic event repeatedly referred to nor the part of campus allegedly traumatized are ever identified. The collective trauma at hand is not explicitly attributed to Black or marginalized students, but that is the clear implication: victims and witnesses of racism are “angry,” student organizers are “distrustful,” people of color and especially Black women suffer from “racial battle fatigue,” and so on. Campus leaders should “reach out to faculty, staff, and students of color” as those experiencing “particularly acute trauma.”

While Black students should be at the center of any story about MU that purports to identify the “work that moved the community forward in a time of vulnerability,” these students are largely transformed here from agents of racial justice to largely unnamed victims. Trauma is distorted to produce out of control, irrational Black students (as well as staff and faculty) who the administration needs to heal before their “traumatic state” proves an obstacle to improving the campus climate. In this telling, Black students too easily become a traumatized impediment to racial progress, rather than the primary people working to advance that goal.

One step toward rectifying this dangerous misperception is grasping that a significant part of those at MU who displayed fear, anger and distrust (the trauma-related emotions highlighted in the report) were white. The university’s most recent campus climate report, based on data gathered in 2016 – immediately after the widely publicized student organizing, and at the same time as the interviews that were part of the ACE report – found that nearly 40% more white than Black people (in total numbers) reported experiencing “exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and hostile” behaviors as a result of “ethnicity.” While a greater percentage of Black people described these kinds of experiences (as we would expect), this report details numerous white members of the university community feeling harassed or intimidated by the sheer fact of Black organizing, and particularly by on-campus mobilizations for racial justice and related ends:
·      “I have been targeted by racial protesters like Black Lives Matter.”
·      “I didn't feel safe in my community because I was a Greek white student."
·      “The demonstration on campus…made [me] feel personally threatened, threatened my family, and my family income.”
·      “I felt like I was racially profiled as racist because I am white.”
And while first-hand experiences of exclusionary behavior due to “racial identity” are not broken down in the report, observations of such behavior were reported by nine times as many white people as Black – nearly one-third of all white respondents. These survey respondents labeled racial justice demonstrations as “bullying,” “racist” “unsettling,” and of a “violent nature,” and described them as “[a]n attack on the entire University.”

While feeling unsafe and viewing non-violent marches or demonstrations as violent may be genuine expressions of belief or emotion, they do not correlate with any documented reality of violence against white people at MU. The very idea that white people could perceive themselves to be the victims of greater racial hostility than Black people at a university struggling with anti-Black racism may seem hard to understand, but it isn’t. White people can experience racial reality (i.e., frank assertions of current injustice and needed movement toward justice) as hostile, unsettling or overwhelming – this is the underlying basis of recently popularized terms like white fragility, and this is much of the “trauma” to be found after racial justice organizing, at least at MU. Put differently, clear improvements in the campus racial climate for students of color may be perceived as a decline in quality, and safety – with acute emotional and psychological consequences – for a subset of predominantly white students who perceive a loss of status in the decreased acceptability of racism, as well as for white alumni, parents of prospective students, and other institutional stakeholders. Confronting a loss of structural privilege can be overwhelming for white people, and while I wouldn’t suggest they need trauma therapy, it’s foolish to ignore both the difficult emotions these people experience as a result of institutional shifts and the consequences they inflict on others.

At UNC, as was the case at MU, marginalized students don’t need help from administrators to gain perspective, and they have repeatedly found their own solutions. Balancing the calls of student organizers with the demands of other stakeholders, particularly at a public university in neoliberal times, is tricky at best; the racial crisis is primarily a crisis for the administration, who is made vulnerable (to real accountability) by student organizing. However, as UNC determines how to proceed, trauma sensitivity alone won’t accomplish what the university needs. That requires acknowledging the racism that led to Silent Sam being mounted in the first place, and to being kept up for over a century, as well as making up for lost time when it comes to racial equity and following the lead of marginalized students. To be effective in the long-term, responses to racial crises require institutional transformation at the levels of policy, procedure, curriculum, hiring, admissions, financial aid, institutional history, racial pedagogy and strategic planning, as well as emotional and psychological support.

An MU alum and Black activist with whom I recently spoke named the university’s dramatic expansion of Pell Grant funding for lower-income students – to cover all tuition and fees – as perhaps the most important victory to come from recent years of organizing. A descendent of MU’s founder has created a “Slavery Atonement Endowment” for Black Studies students, while a “History Working Group” has been established to reckon with the institution’s financial basis in slavery and its profits. Meanwhile, organizing for reparations at Georgetown may set a national precedent for the many US universities that flourished financially through the violent subjugation of African people. The goal of an institution should not be managing unrest but moving toward justice in ways that address and account for long histories of injustice – removing monuments to white supremacy is only a first step toward materially restructuring higher education and its priorities.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Monday, April 15, 2019
The admissions scandal is back--thanks to this weekend's reporting in the LA Times about UCLA's previously undisclosed review of apparent donation-for-admissions in its athletics program.

In general, people give money to other people when they think they can trust them with it.  There's a minimum standard for public universities that I'd put this way: are they reliably honest?  If they aren't going to be fiscally starved and micromanaged by the state, can they be trusted to identify their own problems, disclose them accurately, and fix them in a way people can believe in?

On big recent issues--campus responses to Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, graduate mentoring, protecting the liberal arts--the general answer is no.  The same has happened with college admissions: when Operation Varsity Blues hit the news on March 12th, it instantly became a primal narrative, one which sees an abuse not as an exception but the norm.  "Turns Out There's a Proper Way to Buy Your Kid a College Slot," sneered the New York Times editorial board. There were titles like "Higher Education and the Illusion of Meritocracy, "I Learned in College that Admission has Always Been for Sale," "The Raging Hypocrisy of Higher Ed Gatekeeping," and at least a dozen other national headlines just like them.

Now we have "UCLA knew of a cash-for-admissions deal, years before the scandal."  First reactions are the same as for OVB.  As sports columnist Dylan Hernandez put it, "This isn't even a case of holding UCLA to a higher standard. This is about holding one of the crown jewels of American higher education to a basic standard."

Nathan Fenno wrote as follows:
The confidential report, reviewed by The Times, shows that years before the current college admissions scandal, UCLA knew of allegations that parents were pledging donations to its athletic program in exchange for their children being admitted to the university. 
The investigation determined that the timing of the pledge by the parents “together with the revelation that she was intended to be only a manager, in violation of the department recruitment and admission policy, removes any reasonable doubt that the contribution from the parents was obtained quid pro quo for the daughter’s admission.” William Cormier, then the director of UCLA’s administrative policies and compliance office, wrote the report. It is unclear who received it. 
The track and field director later said in a letter, also reviewed by The Times, that he had approved the admission at the request of a senior athletics official.
 Commentary has noted this key difference between OVB and these UCLA cases, in Fenno's words:
The document did not suggest there was evidence that coaches received financial benefits in any of the cases. “The conclusion reached … is that the coaches involved were motivated principally by the expectation of a financial benefit to the University, in violation of Regents policy,” the report said.
UCLA issued an 11-paragraph response. It noted that UC already had a policy that "expressly prohibits admissions 'motivated by concern for financial, political or other such benefit to the University.'"   It describes the investigation into possible violations of policy in three sports--track & field, women's water polo, and tennis--in which donations were solicited or received from families with children in the admissions process.  It notes that at the time,
there was no restriction on when donations could be accepted from families of prospective student-athletes. . . . Immediately in the wake of the investigation and its findings, UCLA Athletics implemented a policy that a donation could not be accepted from families of prospects until the student-athlete is enrolled at UCLA. Athletic department staff was educated about the policy, and additional education of the coaching and development staffs also took place regarding the prohibition of any discussion of donations prior to admission.
Other tweaks were made to policy to require checks that prospective student-athletes actually played the sports they claimed to play and at the appropriate level. (Scott Jaschik has an overview.)  Finally, the statement notes, "While no policy violation is acceptable, it is important to note that the recent charges against UCLA's former men's soccer head coach are alleged to have involved criminal activity and personal enrichment that were not a component of the 2014 investigation."  Which I guess is meant to suggest that these 2014 violations were minor by comparison.

That's not so much how this revelation is being read. The response has been that cash-for-admissions may be more pervasive than previously thought since it can take other not-illegal forms.  As sports reporter Andrew Bucholtz summed it up:

this still is a long way from the school’s claims that they were shocked at what was going on in the recent scandal, which included someone who’d never played competitive soccer before making UCLA’s 2017 national runner-up team. And while UCLA’s 2014 report declared that this violated their own policy at the time, and while the school said that led to “providing staff with training regarding, and accountability for following, UC admissions policies,” they kept all of this very quiet until now, and don’t appear to have handed down much punishment for those involved; one of the athletic department officials cited as key to the undeserving track athlete’s admission still works there, and is still involved with soliciting donations. And this is a further suggestion still that there may be more suspicious athletic admissions out there, at UCLA and beyond.
 The official who is still involved is Josh Rebholz, pictured at top (photo from his UCLA Bruins staff page).  He is currently Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Relations.  Fenno's article has detail about Rebholz's role that the UCLA statement omits:
[Then track and field director Michael] Maynard sent a four-page letter to [UCLA Athletics director Dan] Guerrero explaining the admission. In the letter, Maynard said Josh Rebholz, now the school’s senior associate athletic director, had first approached him about admitting the woman. 
“During the conversation Josh asked me if I had any room on my team for a female athlete, and if so would I assist with her admission,” Maynard wrote to Guerrero. “… Josh indicated that he wasn’t sure what events she did in track, but that she was the daughter of major donors. … Josh indicated to me once again that her parents were major donors to UCLA, and it was very important to development. 
“In my opinion [the admitted woman] was not athletically up to the performance level to participate in indoor or outdoor T&F. At this time I felt that I had been manipulated into coding her under false pretenses.”
Maynard's letter stated clearly that Rebholz, in this case, directly encouraged admission as a quid pro quo for a donation.

The UCLA statement says, "No disciplinary action was deemed necessary against Rebholz."  Naturally, since UCLA did not investigate him.

An optimistic reading is that Rebholz did offer admission in exchange for donations before policy was clarified, perhaps in block capitals with lots of underlining, and before "athletic department staff was educated about the policy," at which point he stopped doing it.

Circumstantial evidence supports a more pessimistic reading.  The then-assistant tennis coach, Grant Chen (now coaching at SMU), had known the applicant and got a "verbal pledge" from her family for a donation to the program.
The same day that Maynard entered her name into the admissions system, the report said, Taylor Swearingen, a member of the athletic department’s fundraising staff, emailed Chen sample donation pledges for the parents. One was for $80,000 and the other for $100,000. 
“That suggested that [the woman] was being admitted because the parents had committed to making a donation,” the report said. 
Less than two weeks later, on April 1, the school’s eight-person student-athlete admissions committee approved the woman for freshman admission. Three days later, Chen sent Swearingen an email with the header “Track Gift Agreements.” 
“We got a deal at $25 x four years for track,” Chen wrote. 
The coach and the development official together set a suggested price for admission at $25,000 a year.

The UCLA statement claims that nothing like this ever happened again. At yet Rebholz's UCLA bio notes, "Since his arrival to Westwood, there has been an increase in major annual donors who donate $25,000 or more annually to UCLA from 16 to more than 260 individuals, and in 2014 UCLA Athletics broke an all-time fundraising record, raising $80M in just one fiscal year."

There's an obvious possibility that Rebholz approached some of those other 259 donors in the same way.  And that he was not investigated not because his methods are so clean but because they are so profitable.

There's also UCLA's wording of current policy: "Immediately in the wake of the investigation and its findings, UCLA Athletics implemented a policy that a donation could not be accepted from families of prospects until the student-athlete is enrolled at UCLA."  A development official like Rebholz can't get the money or pledge up front. But even now, a prior, informal understanding can bring money in later.  It's a quid pro quo, on a timer.

If the pessimistic reading is true, then UCLA Athletics development is selling UC's honesty for $25,000 a year.  Admissions integrity is the flash point for the whole system. Few people still think it is objective and fair, for many good reasons.  If lots of people decide that it is somewhat regularly for sale, we will see a new round of collapsing support for public higher ed.

Fundraising and college sports both need a national rethink.  In the meantime, UC should appoint an outside investigator--one with no ties to UCLA, UC, university businesses, or college sports--to review UCLA's overall fundraising operation.

Update April 21: During the week in which the country has been focused on fine distinctions between illegality and misconduct, the Los Angeles Times reported that the federal prosecutors behind Operation Varsity Blues have been in LA conducting further interviews.  

The Times has unearthed other donor-admissions scandals at UCLA in the past.  In 1996, it ran a five--part series on a pattern of admissions favoritism for connected donors (one piece is here).  In 2007, it covered an admissions scandal in the UCLA School of Dentistry.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Tuesday, April 9, 2019
You never know exactly where contradictory visions of higher ed are going to have an edifying head-on collision.  There was one last week in New Britain, Connecticut, where I had gone to speak at the annual meeting on shared  governance and student success of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system. It was organized by the wonderful program committee in the photo at left (photo thanks to Wanda Warshauer).

The overriding issue was the CSCU president's proposed consolidation of the state's community colleges into one college (with three regions, three presidents, twelve campus "CEOs" etc), a plan that continues to roil the system in spite of having been critiqued last year by the regional accreditor.  Meanwhile, in the morning, I called for a massive expansion of higher ed's social benefits, which I said would involve state buyouts of tuition and the funding of many more tenure-track instructors as well as more widely distributed research.   At lunch, Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT), of the first-year congressional cohort that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, gave an excellent twelve-minute summation of the social power of education.  The question is, she said, were your students "important enough to you for you to stand in intercession until they could stand on their own" (11" here).  How do we free education from its current policy shackles? This is one of the great questions of our time.

Let's go in the order of the day.  At 9 am, my lecture argued that higher ed is undermining itself by focusing on only the most familiar fraction of its value, individual wage benefits.  Policy discourse leaves most of the story blank.

What's missing are the "external" or public pecuniary / monetary benefits (upper right quadrant), and all the non-pecuniary or non-market benefits, which are themselves more than half the total.  The focus on job training and wages by major is miseducating the public about what integrative higher learning really does.

The next hour featured a student panel that proved the point about non-monetary effects. Five students of varying ages described their non-traditional journeys to graduation over the kind of obstacles that our anti-social public policies have made all too common. The family of one speaker, who'd wanted to be a computer engineer, lost home and work in the 2008 crash when he was in the 7th grade.  The family spent years living in by-the-week motels as they went from city to city and state to state looking for permanent jobs. Meanwhile, their son never attended formal school again, until a GED program and various CSCU instructors helped him back into the system.

On the same panel a 53- year-old single mother said that after years of working she went back because "I got tired of other people controlling my livelihood. I knew that I could do more, be more.  I wanted to help people, and knew that I could be of greater help."

Three other speakers related their own struggles for education. The common issue: higher ed is about knowledge, capability, personal development.  It addresses a large and varying set of non-monetary issues.  Better pay plays an accepted but minor part, and on this panel was not central enough to mention.

I noted that none of these working-class students at working-class colleges mentioned that pecuniary metric du jour, upward mobility.  They focused on  Bildung, a word nobody used. It is mass Bildung: arguably the core higher ed goal is Bildung for all.

This brought us to Rep. Jahana Hayes. Her pre-Congress career was as a teacher, one who started as a teenage mom and then as a community college student who worked three jobs before graduating from Southern Connecticut State College, who then taught for years before becoming Connecticut Teacher of the Year and then 2016 National Teacher of the Year,  after which she ran for Congress, thinking it was a test run to prepare the ground for somebody else to run and win in 2020.

Her talk was anchored in a deep personal sense of the power of teachers to negate their students' self-worth with dismissive talk or treatment--or to make it possible for them to fully inhabit the world.  I came from a place, she said, where we were told in a range of ways you are nothing, your community is bad, your people have no value.  She said,
I have to remind people at every turn: nobody chooses to struggle. . . Our responsibility as leaders, as the adults, as the community is to hold people up until they can stand on their own, and then send them off so they can pull someone behind them. . . That's what happened in my life, when people stepped in. . . .
She said,
Everything I learned about school, I learned at school.  We have so many people who touch down on campuses like this, and for the first time have real conversations, with fidelity, about controlling the narrative about their education.  Just because they're not having those conversations at home doesn't mean their families don't care about them. Maybe it means, just maybe, that they don't have the ability or the capacity to control those conversations. 
I grew up in a family where my grandmother could not have been more loving, could not have been more giving, could not have been more invested in my success.  But she didn't know how to translate that level of investment, that level of commitment, that love she had for me, into a conversation that was academic. So as a teacher, I always stood on the premise that it's not kids' responsibility to learn different, it's my responsibility to teach different. And I think that if we always lead with that--that everybody has value, that everybody has a gift, that everybody gets to be here, and should have access,
and then she paused because she was on the verge of tears. So was I.  The whole room started to applaud.

She said,
it's amazing how raw this is for me, because. . . there were so many people, when I was a high school dropout, or I was a teenage mom, or I was a community college student, who had just given up on me and written me off. And I tell you, we can't write people off.  We can't decide that they're done. What we have to do is figure out how to put them back on track, and get them in the pipeline, and on the road to success and that road is going to look different for everybody.  There are different ways of doing and being.
And once you are graced with--when I started this journey I did it because I was the beneficiary of so much undeserved grace. Now I have a responsibility--I have a responsibility to use my voice, to use my platform, to use my experiences, to use my struggle, to help insure that somebody, even if it's one person, does not have to endure the same things. To help change hearts and minds, so that the people on the other side, who have already made up their minds, they have an opinion about who certain groups are, what certain groups do, how certain groups feel--about how people act--to help them change that opinion. . . .
In a conference the other day . . . I had to remind people that I was a SNAP beneficiary--not because I didn't want to work, but because I was underemployed, working three jobs, going to college full time. So  when you think about someone receiving SNAP benefits, I hope that you now begin to think that that person can become a Congresswoman. There are so many people in this room, there are so many people on this campus, there are so many people in this community, who are in the journey.
Jahana Hayes would not deny education as job benefits, even as that was subsumed by education as a journey whose supreme value she had proved.  I was struck by her fully democratized idea of value--"everybody has a gift"--that cannot be dealt with through standardization, which is, as an administrative reflex, itself bound up with marginalization.  Thus we get to her principle of "teach different." And that is essentially what every talk I heard all day was doing.

In the afternoon, I went to the panel on "Creating a Family-Friendly Campus," with presentations about basic issues like easily accessible lactation rooms and free child care by Meredith Sinclair, State Senator Beth Bye, and Fiona Pearson, who previewed arguments from her forthcoming book, Back in School. 

There was also Laura McCarthy's presentation on transition programs for what are sometimes called at-risk students.  The programs initially had low retention and completion rates. The instructors did a reoganization based on their immersive experience, and these rates got much better.  Here are some principles:

Free -- hmm, interesting idea. In conjunction with the others, which are all Hayes Principles. Mass Bildung.

Here's what we the instructional masses looks like--with Wanda again playing Waldo, and CCSU president Toro on the left.

And there was also the look on Jahana Hayes's face when I said, "at some point we'll be needing you back in education." 
"I do miss it," she laughed.

I said she showed why her crew could change the frame in Congress: they could end the hollowing out of social structures precisely by invoking the capabilities of absolutely everyone.  It's the Great Refusal of racist and related social stigmas on which neoliberalism depends.

At the end of the day, the Faculty Advisory Committee to the Board of Regents had a session on the issue overhanging the day--the president's CC consolidation.  It seems to have started with the claim that the consolidation could save tens of millions of dollars on a half-billion or so of a system operating budget.  It led, however, with the motto of "Students First," arguing that consolidation would allow simple student access to multiple campuses.  I mentioned above that the regional accreditor seriously challenged the proposal last year, but it is back in retooled form, with a simultaneous plan to conform all 12 campuses' curricula to a Guided Pathways template.

My own limited reading on the issue didn't explain what problem they have to which the solution is consolidation + Guided Pathways.  One good newspaper overview is here.  A faculty petition with concise opposing arguments is here.  The systemwide update document is here, where a slide summary starts on p 39; a key slide at 47 claims the system must be consolidated to solve a student registration process with 35 separate steps.  (One faculty member told me the slide is "ridiculous"; another said, "even if the 35 steps are real, students to whom it would apply constituted 1.12 percent of the student body in Fall 2018" . . . with an average of 1.3 percent.)

The consolidation uses the faculty's language of "student success," but otherwise is a managerial initiative that seemed unrelated to the educational issues we were discussing.  It felt to me like a legacy project.  The system president who's championing the plan, Mark E. Ojakian, was the previous governor's Chief of Staff when, in 2011, he was assigned to create the current CSCU system by pushing the community colleges into a common structure with the four-year campuses. No one had much good to say about the results then--nor could anyone point me to evidence of financial savings.  That same governor later appointed Ojakian to be the president of the system he'd created, and now he's back for a second rearrangement of the arms and legs of his creature.

I spoke to him briefly at the start of the day: he was pleasant but uninvolved, and disappeared quickly (unlike the chair of the Board of Regents, who stuck around and chatted with me and various attendees).  The consolidation was not developed in consultation with faculty and staff on the campuses.  Hence the head-on collision between unrelated models of problems and solutions coming from frontline people on the one hand and a politically-wired system office on the other.  The results are predictable: demoralization and confusion, and a low chance of meaningful results.

It also seems like an example of the sort of pragmatism that finds its problems under the proverbial lamppost, and so ignores the bigger problems in the shadows.  It doesn't actually seem pragmatic to me.  So I used my talk to insist that debates in higher ed today were not between realism and idealism, but between two kinds of realism.  The dominant one is a realpolitik, whose opening move is always to cast its opposition as well-intentioned but naive about real-world rules.  But what this move is really trying to forestall is actualy a competing realism.  I called this "public realism" (still fussing with terrminology).  Public realism is much more ambitious than realpolitik, wanting among other things adequate funding for all of higher ed's nonpecuniary effects, which means high quality instruction and research at what are now thousands of underfunded open access institutions much like the ones Ojakian wants to consolidate.

Consolidation is a realpolitik distraction from the real issue, which is that Connecticut, though the No. 1 richest state by our preferred funding metric of personal income, has cut its funding for its CCs by nearly 12 percent just in the last four years.  The longer trend is dismal: though Connecticut appropriations are above national averages, they are still 19 percent below their 2008 levels, while tuition is 41 percent higher.  Here's the SHEEO wave chart for CT:
A group of faculty described this root problem in an editorial that should be read in full:
In an historical context, the apparent fiscal crisis that precipitated the [Board of Regents’] Students First plan grew out of years of declining levels of state support for higher education that became especially acute in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 economic crisis. The state’s eroding budgetary condition imposed fiscal austerity on the system that simultaneously resulted in increases in students’ costs/debts and cutbacks in student services and opportunities.  Full time professors were replaced by adjuncts; retiring academic advisors were not replaced; hours of operation were reduced.
Educational quality declines when capacity declines: it's realpolitik's own idealism to think otherwise.  

The Connecticut system's related root problem is that it's not affordable.  From the California vantage, Connecticut charges very high tuition for community college- over $4400 a year.  (True, it is half the tuition charged by community college in New York State, but I'm sure we can agree that $10,000 a year for first-rung local college is insane.)

Ojakian might thus have been expected to focus on two things as president: lowering tuition and raising state allocations in wealthy Connecticut.   (He could also have taken care of student bureaucratic hassles the old-fashioned way, by quietly instituting a common application form, which I'm told by faculty and students was promised when he formed the system back in 2011.) But these two issuse are not the leadership's focus.  The day's last session was dominated by faculty distress at a process that they feel is headed in the wrong direction in part because they have been excluded from it.

I'd said that we had been avoiding the effort to fund public colleges as public goods, which had meant the path of "multiple revenue streams" (aka privatization).  The key point is that none of these have  worked out as promised. I counted 12 types.

 There are exceptions to the rules in the "reality" column, but I believe these are the general rules.  Most relevant to consoidation is the second item from the last: I mentioned UCPath as a disaster that emerges from a type top-down standardization that blocks local efficiencies and if anything increases costs while making everyone's job harder. Decentralization is often more efficient than consolidation: UC Berkeley's failed Operation Excellence is UC's Exhibit A (see Section 3 for a 2016 update).

There are some things we can do to avoid these mistakes.  A simple one is policy rooted in history and evidence. Can you show that your last reorg saved a lot of money? Do you have an example of positive top-down curricular standardization?  If not, do you have a detailed plan that convinces the people actually doing the education? If you have none of these things, talk to people all over the system and try out something else.

Another is telling the truth about the damage these public-private hybrid models have already done.  It's the old Step 1 beginning: first admit you have a problem.  We have a national higher ed realpolitik, that failed.  Frontline faculty and staff have faced this. Top level admin should do the same.

The third thing we can do is a full reframing of higher ed along public good lines.  Virtually everyone I heard speak that day, from Jahana Hayes on out, already sees the transformation that would come from that.