“It’s not what it seems: Online in a social world”
Having taught a mixture of partial and completely online Sociology courses at CSU San Marcos since 2000, my experiences have been similar to those described by Prof. Jeff Kolnick (see Restructuring Public Hi Ed of 3/15/2013). Like Kolnick, I found online education to be very effective in general, and to have special advantages in two areas: 1) at providing strong interaction with a wider range of students than one gets in the classroom and, 2) at allowing students the flexibility to work their studying around the increased work and family demands they are encountering. Also like he noted, experience of many faculty at CSUSM was that effective online education usually took more time than a typical classroom taught course, and did not work well with large classes.
Though I found online education to be effective and to generate good interactions with students, I have strong concerns about the push for online education as a solution to budget problems. Why? Because administrators and policy makers are confusing online with automated, and because a key socialization characteristic of education is being overlooked in the push for efficiency.
Online is not automated: The cost arguments used to promote online are far too often based on an assumption of reducing personnel costs by setting up courses that either run themselves or run with most of the work done by lower-paid technicians. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) seem to be particularly setup along these lines. From conversations with colleagues who teach online, the main efficiency in teaching online is that students can schedule classes to fit in with their schedules and thus be more productive in the class, there is no efficiency for the faculty who teach them.
Though many colleagues and I don’t find online to be that efficient, we are likely to be biased. In fact, two clear situations come up where a more automated online might work, though the value of such online remains questionable. One situation where online would work is where the course focuses on a relatively closed set of skills and doesn’t contain the critical reflection that one normally expects as part of a college education. The second situation where limited faculty engagement might also be successful is for work with that limited set of students who already have strong knowledge of the subject and in fact could have tested out of the course rather than taking it. Neither of those situations seem to provide strong arguments for online college-level education.
Socialization: The just-noted focus on automating content highlights a key problem that is not being addressed in the push for online education (regardless of the level of automation.) In the push for online, we seem to be forgetting about the role of a college education in building interaction skills and in encouraging the sorts of cross-pollination that happens when people from different backgrounds and perspectives casually interact. While colleges are focusing on more and more efficiency, leaders in the post-industrial economy are realizing the high value in the seemingly wasted time chit-chatting while waiting in line for a double-latte. As indicated in the discussions around Marissa Mayer’s decision to end employees ability to work from home at Yahoo, actual face-time is a key component of the creativity needed in the contemporary workplace. For young adults not yet in the workplace, a physical college with classrooms, snack bars, sidewalks, and faculty offices is an ideal location to hone their abilities to interact with, and benefit from, the perspectives of others from different backgrounds and life experiences.
Given the value of college as a socialization agent, how does online education fit in? In the balance of the demands on modern students, I would argue that online education can play a role, but that there also needs to be very conscientious planning to make sure students have a significant proportion of actual face-time with diverse sets of other students and faculty. To insure a good mix of experiences with other students, care needs to be taken to make sure that completely online courses are not clustered into specific fields of study or at specific levels (e.g., all prep courses), and to require that an identifiable and not insignificant (e.g., 50%?) portion of a student’s involve face-to-face interaction. Doing this would require a high level of planning, and support from administration for that planning, regarding the place of online education in degree requirements.
Going back to the beginning, from my own experience, online education can work and be quite effective. But, if we move from a narrow focus of education within a course and instead look at the broader implications of being in an educational environment, then we see that very careful consideration should be given regarding the role of online coursework within the totality of the student experience.
To back up this need for comprehensive planning, one final observation. Circumstantial evidence from my own online teaching is that many of the students who did well in the courses talked about informal face-time that they had with other students through other shared classroom courses. If this observation is common in online courses, then it turns out that online education works best when it is not as solo as one usually assumes. When it is, in fact, not really 100% online but instead involving informally created study groups.
Our hearts go out to our colleagues and everyone on the East Coast battered by Hurricane Sandy, the second October megastorm in two years. May an outcome of this devastation be the recognition of climate change and the beginning of a rational public policy and action to address it, including the construction of a more resilient electrical grid and public infrastructure.
Fear and Trembling: Nov. 6 and Public Higher Ed.
A deep existential dread pervades many of my colleagues in education as Nov. 6 approaches. And it is not just because we are in California with its problematic Prop 30, which would be the coup de grâce to public education if it fails. This election could signify the closing of opportunity for any significant pragmatic action to protect what remains of public higher education across the country. The outcomes on Nov. 6 could be a further blow to unions, who despite faults, have worked hard to protect workers rights in the face of a relentless onslaught of big money, and reactionary legislation to gut them.
And I can be counted as one educator in this election season disappointed by the lack of debate on the state of defunded public higher education across the nation and the instability for young educated adults in the new lackluster economy. I can see the impact of a dramatically changed economic reality on my students since the fiscal collapse of 2008: seniors about to graduate troubled by their chances on a job market that provides no career stability or upward mobility. One of my students, a talented software programmer in the gaming field, works from contract to contract asking for a permanent position at each job with no result. Or there is the mature student, a biology major in my capstone course, who has survived rising tuition costs in the CSU with a “good job” at Starbucks and may have to stay since jobs in her area of expertise are scare; or her partner also in the science business who does get highly paid contracts, but they are all short-term and he worries constantly about the next short-term job. This is an age of contingency for all workers, blue or white-collar, and my students wonder whether they will ever have the economic security to even start a family or own a house. The American Dream feels very fragile to my graduating students in California in an age of business opportunism eager to exploit contingent labor. This is a global trend , of course, pitting young educated adults against each other in the hunt for more stable jobs.
Is it the same across the states? Just last month many of us received the following message from the American Association of University Professors (AAAUP) explaining the seriousness of union busting in Michigan:
Dear AAUP Members:
In attacks on working families similar to those we saw in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Michigan legislature and governor have decimated collective bargaining rights in the state. In Michigan, this has been done not in one omnibus bill but with an onslaught of individual bills, railroaded through committees with the arrogant attitude, “your voice doesn’t matter.”
Fearing this pattern might continue though the next legislative session, and possibly lead to a so-called right-to-work state, the labor movement has initiated a ballot campaign to amend the Michigan constitution. The proposed amendment would protect the basic right to negotiate for fair wages and benefits with an employer.
Our friends and colleagues in Wisconsin and Ohio stood their ground and fought back with the power of collective action reminiscent of the 1930’s. It is now Michigan’s turn to carry the movement forward.
As we have seen over the past couple of years, corporate special interests have amassed staggering resources to use in their attempt to destroy collective bargaining rights. We therefore appeal to our AAUP colleagues from across the country to join us in preserving the labor/management relationship that has been so successful in creating the American middle class.
Rudy Fichtenbaum President, AAUP
In California, funded by super PACS (including Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers).we have Prop 32 on the Nov. 6 ballot that would make political action close to impossible for unions here. May we shake off the dread and act to make sure this doesn’t happen as we inspire our colleagues to become politically engaged by getting out the vote this week. This is all hands on deck!
In his recent blog .”…Same as the Old Boss” (below) Bill Lyne provides a case study of the ongoing privatization of public higher ed in Washington State:
In a move that would make Dick Cheney proud, Education Secretary Arne “Aren’t I cool because I play basketball with the president” Duncan recently convened a secret meeting of higher education bosses to help him figure out how to do to higher ed what he has done to K-12. According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, the meeting included top officials from prominent MOOCs, other players in online learning, veteran experts on course redesign, college administrators, people from powerful foundations, leaders of several of the major higher education associations, technology vendors, and for-profit college representatives.
“Few actual faculty members were invited to the meeting,” reported IHE. “And no high-profile faculty advocates attended.” In the doth protest too much portion of the program, “education Department officials repeatedly said during the meeting that they recognize the leadership role faculty must take in any teaching and learning developments.”
Yeah, well if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.
In related news here in Washington, Governor Gregoire has now made her appointments to the Student Achievement Council, a longtime state bureaucrat with zero education experience is now running our community college system, and Rob McKenna thinks college professors are blowhards who should be turned into temp workers.
For those who haven’t been reading the fine print, the Student Achievement Council almost exactly fills the footprint left by the recently deposed Higher Education Coordinating Board. Scott White is probably rolling over in his grave after the bill he introduced to scrap the bloated and ineffectual HEC Board has only produced a lot of wasted time and money to replicate the HEC with the SAC.
The governor’s appointments to the SAC all seem like fine people, but while the names have changed, the lineup overall is distressingly familiar. A bunch of lawyers and managers and a token student (who will, depending on her willingness to go along, either be co-opted or marginalized), none of whom bears much resemblance to an actual educator. As with every other task force, board, council, and committee appointed to ride herd on public higher education, there is no faculty member, no one who does the work of education, no one who knows from daily classroom experience what student achievement might actually mean.
For the past thirty years, U.S. public education has been going to way of U.S. health care. Like health care, education is something that should be a right that has been inexorably turned into a commodity as a public good has been made more and more available for private profit. The funding model has shifted from taxation to debt (much to the delight of the financial industry), eroding both the accessibility and quality of college. Real educators generally object to this shift, which is why the new appointees to the SAC were chosen precisely because they are managers and not educators. Kind of the same way that the people chosen to run health care are always managers and not doctors.
As public higher ed was eviscerated over the past four years, the HEC board stood by and didn’t raise a fuss, choosing instead to do endless tuition studies and produce lots of charts with pretty blue arrows. It’s a pretty safe bet that the new SAC can be counted on to be just as acquiescent.
Meanwhile, just down the street at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Olympia perennial Marty Brown has been named Executive Director. When last we saw Mr. Brown, he was throwing a fit to any reporter who would listen about the faculty contract at Western Washington University. Despite the fact that Western professors’ salaries, adjusted for cost of living, ranked in the bottom fifteen percent in the country, Mr. Brown felt it was “a mistake” for the Western trustees to negotiate a contract with the faculty that included small raises.
This disdain for faculty, along with his complete lack of experience as an educator, should help Mr. Brown fit right in at the SBCTC, where hundreds of well-paid managerial employees with benefits oversee a system that is well on its way to becoming a sweatshop. At some of Washington’s community colleges, up to 80% of the faculty are badly paid part-time itinerant workers with no benefits. As SBCTC Director, Mr. Brown will have access to study after study that shows what a difference well-qualified permanent faculty can make. He will also have the expertise of thousands of professors readily available. The smart money is on his taking advantage of neither, instead continuing to rely on the squads of non-classroom consultants and “experts” who will continue to peddle the notion that doing more with less has no effect on a student’s education.
Alas, these also seem to be Rob McKenna’s confidantes. Mr. McKenna has made education the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign and he certainly gets it right when he talks about how he wants to increase funding for higher education. And he consistently recognizes the damage done by years of cuts to higher ed.
But when he gets down to specifics, it becomes clear that the Attorney General has drunk the managerial Kool-Aid. In a higher ed speech at WWU’s Munro Institute this summer, Mr. McKenna cogently made the case about higher ed funding, but then moved into the trickier areas of instruction and teaching. After a few banal remarks about online learning and “blended courses,” he launched into this observation about the nature of teaching:
“We’ve got to move from a model where you always have a teacher or a professor who is, as someone put it, the ‘Sage on the Stage’ to where you’ve got a professor or a teacher who’s the ‘guide by your side.’ This is a phrase that I learned from Sam Smith at Western Governor’s University (WGU), I thought it was pretty striking.”
What seems novel and striking to Attorney General McKenna is actually pretty old and tired. “Sage on the stage” and “guide by your side” have been around since at least the early 1990s and have been co-opted by the for-profit education movement as a way to demonize professors as pompous windbags and convince prospective student customers that a badly paid unqualified pal on the other end of a digital connection is better than a genuinely qualified instructor. (The irony worth noting here is that almost every time some self-styled education expert trots out the sage-on-the-stage insult, he or she is usually speaking from a stage to a passive audience, just as Rob McKenna was at the Munro Institute.) It’s no surprise that McKenna picked this up from Sam Smith, the lobbyist for WGU, where they have no faculty, just “course mentors.”
McKenna’s lack of connection to real educators becomes even clearer when we take a look at his higher education position paper. Buried near the end is a proposal to eliminate tenure, a move that would guarantee Washington’s universities would never again be able to recruit high quality faculty.
Chris Gregoire, Marty Brown, and Rob McKenna are doing nothing to improve the quality of higher education, but they can take solace in the fact that they are right in step with Arne Duncan. Though they all come from different points on the ideological compass, they all firmly agree that major policy and funding decisions about higher education are best made without any actual educators in the room.
When the Duncan cabal got down to their business of identifying the obstacles to their brave new world of McEd, the things they pointed to were financial aid rules, pesky accreditors demanding some sort of accountability, and the “faculty culture” created by those nasty professors who stayed in school into their thirties and took jobs paying much less than they could have made as business people or lawyers, just because they don’t really care about students.
Given their mania for efficiency, it’s probably a good thing that Arne’s army kept the professors out of the room. They would have just muddled things with questions about massive disinvestment, the difference between real education for responsible citizens and job training for docile employees, and why everybody in the room was sending their kids to real colleges while claiming that the MOOCs were good enough for everyone not in their tax bracket.
The NFL Referee lockout demonstrated once again that nobody protects quality, integrity, and safety like organized, professional practitioners and that bosses, no matter what manner of pious bullshit they may publicly spew, are mostly interested in squeezing workers as hard as they can. The bosses who have now focused on higher education are determined to make sure that today’s children get tomorrow’s education equivalent of replacement refs.
(permission to repost granted by the author)
The post below is reblogged from “The Homeless Adjunct” (email@example.com).
How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps
A few years back, Paul E. Lingenfelter began his report on the defunding of public education by saying, “In 1920 H.G. Wells wrote, ‘History is becoming more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ I think he got it right. Nothing is more important to the future of the United States and the world than the breadth and effectiveness of education, especially of higher education. I say especially higher education, but not because pre- school, elementary, and secondary education are less important. Success at every level of education obviously depends on what has gone before. But for better or worse, the quality of postsecondary education and research affects the quality and effectiveness of education at every level.”
In the last few years, conversations have been growing like gathering storm clouds about the ways in which our universities are failing. There is talk about the poor educational outcomes apparent in our graduates, the out-of-control tuitions and crippling student loan debt. Attention is finally being paid to the enormous salaries for presidents and sports coaches, and the migrant worker status of the low-wage majority faculty. There are now movements to control tuition, to forgive student debt, to create more powerful “assessment” tools, to offer “free” university materials online, to combat adjunct faculty exploitation. But each of these movements focuses on a narrow aspect of a much wider problem, and no amount of “fix” for these aspects individually will address the real reason that universities in America are dying.
To explain my perspective here, I need to go back in time. Let’s go back to post World War II, 1950s when the GI bill, and the affordability – and sometimes free access – to universities created an upsurge of college students across the country. This surge continued through the ’60s, when universities were the very heart of intense public discourse, passionate learning, and vocal citizen involvement in the issues of the times. It was during this time, too, when colleges had a thriving professoriate, and when students were given access to a variety of subject areas, and the possibility of broad learning. The Liberal Arts stood at the center of a college education, and students were exposed to philosophy, anthropology, literature, history, sociology, world religions, foreign languages and cultures. Of course, something else happened, beginning in the late fifties into the sixties — the uprisings and growing numbers of citizens taking part in popular dissent — against the Vietnam War, against racism, against destruction of the environment in a growing corporatized culture, against misogyny, against homophobia. Where did much of that revolt incubate? Where did large numbers of well-educated, intellectual, and vocal people congregate? On college campuses. Who didn’t like the outcome of the 60s? The corporations, the war-mongers, those in our society who would keep us divided based on our race, our gender, our sexual orientation.
I suspect that, given the opportunity, those groups would have liked nothing more than to shut down the universities. Destroy them outright. But a country claiming to have democratic values can’t just shut down its universities. That would reveal something about that country which would not support the image they are determined to portray – that of a country of freedom, justice, opportunity for all. So, how do you kill the universities of the country without showing your hand? As a child growing up during the Cold War, I was taught that the communist countries in the first half of the 20th Century put their scholars, intellectuals and artists into prison camps, called “re-education camps”. What I’ve come to realize as an adult is that American corporatism despises those same individuals as much as we were told communism did. But instead of doing anything so obvious as throwing them into prison, here those same people are thrown into dire poverty. The outcome is the same. Desperate poverty controls and ultimately breaks people as effectively as prison…..and some research says that it works even MORE powerfully.
So: here is the recipe for killing universities, and you tell ME if what I’m describing isn’t exactly what is at the root of all the problems of our country’s system of higher education. (Because what I’m saying has more recently been applied to K-12 public education as well.)
First, you defund public higher education.
Anna Victoria, writing in Pluck Magazine, discusses this issue in a review of Christopher Newfield’s book, Unmaking the Public University: “In 1971, Lewis Powell (before assuming his post as a Supreme Court Justice) authored a memo, now known as the Powell Memorandum, and sent it to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The title of the memo was “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System,” and in it he called on corporate America to take an increased role in shaping politics, law, and education in the United States.” How would they do that? One, by increased lobbying and pressure on legislators to change their priorities. “Funding for public universities comes from, as the term suggests, the state and federal government. Yet starting in the early 1980s, shifting state priorities forced public universities to increasingly rely on other sources of revenue. For example, in the University of Washington school system, state funding for schools decreased as a percentage of total public education budgets from 82% in 1989 to 51% in 2011.” That’s a loss of more than 1/3 of its public funding. But why this shift in priorities? U.C. Berkeley English professor, Christopher Newfield, in his new book Unmaking the Public University posits that conservative elites have worked to de-fund higher education explicitly because of its function in creating a more empowered, democratic, and multiracial middle class. His theory is one that blames explicit cultural concern, not financial woes, for the current decreases in funding. He cites the fact that California public universities were forced to reject 300,000 applicants because of lack of funding. Newfield explains that much of the motive behind conservative advocacy for de-funding of public education is racial, pro-corporate, and anti-protest in nature.
Again, from Victoria: “(The) ultimate objective, as outlined in the (Lewis Powell) memo, was to purge respectable institutions such as the media, arts, sciences, as well as college campus themselves of left-wing thoughts. At the time, college campuses were seen as “springboards for dissent,” as Newfield terms it, and were therefore viewed as publicly funded sources of opposition to the interests of the establishment. While it is impossible to know the extent to which this memo influenced the conservative political strategy over the coming decades, it is extraordinary to see how far the principles outlined in his memo have been adopted.”
Under the guise of many “conflicts”, such as budget struggles, or quotas, de-funding was consistently the result. This funding argument also was used to re-shape the kind of course offerings and curriculum focus found on campuses. Victoria writes, “Attacks on humanities curriculums, political correctness, and affirmative action shifted the conversation on public universities to the right, creating a climate of skepticism around state funded schools. State budget debates became platforms for conservatives to argue why certain disciplines such as sociology, history, anthropology, minority studies, language, and gender studies should be de-funded…” on one hand, through the argument that they were not offering students the “practical” skills needed for the job market — which was a powerful way to increase emphasis on what now is seen as vocational focus rather than actual higher education, and to de-value those very courses that trained and expanded the mind, developed a more complete human being, a more actively intelligent person and involved citizen. Another argument used to attack the humanities was “…their so-called promotion of anti-establishment sentiment. Gradually, these arguments translated into real- and often deep- cuts into the budgets of state university systems,” especially in those most undesirable areas that the establishment found to run counter to their ability to control the population’s thoughts and behavior. The idea of “manufactured consent” should be talked about here – because if you remove the classes and the disciplines that are the strongest in their ability to develop higher level intellectual rigor, the result is a more easily manipulated citizenry, less capable of deep interrogation and investigation of the establishment “message”.
Second, you deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s)
V.P. Joe Biden, a few months back, said that the reason tuitions are out of control is because of the high price of college faculty. He has NO IDEA what he is talking about. At latest count, we have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts. One million professors in America are hired on short-term contracts, most often for one semester at a time, with no job security whatsoever – which means that they have no idea how much work they will have in any given semester, and that they are often completely unemployed over summer months when work is nearly impossible to find (and many of the unemployed adjuncts do not qualify for unemployment payments). So, one million American university professors are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work. Keep in mind, too, that many of the more recent Ph.Ds have entered this field often with the burden of six figure student loan debt on their backs.
There was recently an article talking about the long-term mental and physical destruction caused when people are faced with poverty and “job insecurity” — precarious employment, or “under-employment”. The article says that, in just the few short years since our 2008 economic collapse, the medical problems of this group have increased exponentially. This has been the horrible state of insecurity that America’s college professors have experienced now for thirty years. It can destroy you — breaking down your physical and emotional health. As an example: the average yearly starting salary of a university professor at Temple University in 1975 was just under $10,000 a year, with full benefits – health, retirement, and educational benefits (their family’s could attend college for free.) And guess what? Average pay for Temple’s faculty is STILL about the same — because adjuncts now make up the majority of faculty, and earn between $8,000 to $14,000 a year (depending on how many courses they are assigned each semester – there is NO guarantee of continued employment) — but unlike the full-time professors of 1975, these adjunct jobs come with NO benefits, no health care, no retirement, no educational benefits, no offices. How many other professions report salaries that have remained at 1975 levels?
This is how you break the evil, wicked, leftist academic class in America — you turn them into low-wage members of the precariat – that growing number of American workers whose employment is consistently precarious. All around the country, our undergraduates are being taught by faculty living at or near the poverty line, who have little to no say in the way classes are being taught, the number of students in a class, or how curriculum is being designed. They often have no offices in which to meet their students, no professional staff support, no professional development support. One million of our college professors are struggling to continue offering the best they can in the face of this wasteland of deteriorated professional support, while living the very worst kind of economic insecurity. Unlike those communist countries, which sometimes executed their intellectuals, here we are being killed off by lack of healthcare, by stress-related illness like heart-attacks or strokes. While we’re at it, let’s add suicide to that list of killers — and readers of this blog will remember that I have written at length about adjunct faculty suicide in the past.
Step #3: You move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university.
This new class takes control of much of the university’s functioning, including funding allocation, curriculum design, course offerings. If you are old enough to remember when medicine was forever changed by the appearance of the ‘HMO’ model of managed medicine, you will have an idea of what has happened to academia. If you are not old enough – let me tell you that Once Upon a Time, doctors ran hospitals, doctors made decisions on what treatment their patients needed. In the 1970s, during the infamous Nixon Administration, HMOs were an idea sold to the American public, said to help reign in medical costs. But once Nixon secured passage of the HMO Act in 1973, the organizations went quickly from operating on a non-profit organization model, focused on high quality health care for controlled costs, to being for-profit organizations, with lots of corporate money funding them – and suddenly the idea of high-quality health care was sacrificed in favor of profits – which meant taking in higher and higher premiums and offering less and less service, more denied claims, more limitations placed on doctors, who became a “managed profession”. You see the state of healthcare in this country, and how disastrous it is. Well, during this same time, there was a similar kind of development — something akin to the HMO — let’s call it an “EMO”, Educational Management Organization, began to take hold in American academia. From the 1970s until today, as the number of full-time faculty jobs continued to shrink, the number of full-time administrative jobs began to explode. As faculty was deprofessionalized and casualized, reduced to teaching as migrant contract workers, administrative jobs now offered good, solid salaries, benefits, offices, prestige and power. In 2012, administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country. And just as disastrous as the HMO was to the practice of medicine in America, so is the EMO model disastrous to the practice of academia in America, and to the quality of our students’ education. Benjamin Ginsburg writes about this in great detail in his book The Fall of the Faculty.
I’d like to mention here, too, that universities often defend their use of adjuncts – which are now 75% of all professors in the country — claiming that they have no choice but to hire adjuncts, as a “cost saving measure” in an increasingly defunded university. What they don’t say, and without demand of transparency will NEVER say, is that they have not saved money by hiring adjuncts — they have reduced faculty salaries, security and power. The money wasn’t saved, because it was simply re-allocated to administrative salaries, coach salaries and outrageous university president salaries. There has been a redistribution of funds away from those who actually teach, the scholars – and therefore away from the students’ education itself — and into these administrative and executive salaries, sports costs — and the expanded use of “consultants”, PR and marketing firms, law firms. We have to add here, too, that president salaries went from being, in the 1970s, around $25K to 30K, to being in the hundreds of thousands to MILLIONS of dollars – salary, delayed compensation, discretionary funds, free homes, or generous housing allowances, cars and drivers, memberships to expensive country clubs.
Step Four: You move in corporate culture and corporate money
To further control and dominate how the university is ‘used” -a flood of corporate money results in changing the value and mission of the university from a place where an educated citizenry is seen as a social good, where intellect and reasoning is developed and heightened for the value of the individual and for society, to a place of vocational training, focused on profit. Corporate culture hijacked the narrative – university was no longer attended for the development of your mind. It was where you went so you could get a “good job”. Anything not immediately and directly related to job preparation or hiring was denigrated and seen as worthless — philosophy, literature, art, history.
Anna Victoria writes, on Corporate Culture: “Many universities have relied on private sector methods of revenue generation such as the formation of private corporations, patents, increased marketing strategies, corporate partnerships, campus rentals, and for-profit e-learning enterprises. To cut costs, public universities have employed non-state employee service contractors and have streamlined their financial operations.”
So what is the problem with corporate money, you might ask? A lot. When corporate money floods the universities, corporate values replace academic values. As we said before, humanities get defunded and the business school gets tons of money. Serious issues of ethics begin to develop when corporate money begins to make donations and form partnerships with science departments – where that money buys influence regarding not only the kinds of research being done but the outcomes of that research. Corporations donate to departments, and get the use of university researchers in the bargain — AND the ability to deduct the money as donation while using the labor, controlling and owning the research. Suddenly, the university laboratory is not a place of objective research anymore. As one example, corporations who don’t like “climate change” warnings will donate money and control research at universities, which then publish refutations of global warning proofs. OR, universities labs will be corporate-controlled in cases of FDA-approval research. This is especially dangerous when pharmaceutical companies take control of university labs to test efficacy or safety and then push approval through the governmental agencies. Another example is in economics departments — and movies like “The Inside Job” have done a great job of showing how Wall Street has bought off high-profile economists from Harvard, or Yale, or Stanford, or MIT, to talk about the state of the stock market and the country’s financial stability. Papers were being presented and published that were blatantly false, by well-respected economists who were on the payroll of Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch.
Academia should not be the whore of corporatism, but that’s what it has become. Academia once celebrated itself as an independent institution. Academia is a culture, one that offers a long-standing worldview which values on-going, rigorous intellectual, emotional, psychological, creative development of the individual citizen. It respects and values the contributions of the scholar, the intellectual, to society. It treasures the promise of each student, and strives to offer the fullest possible support to the development of that promise. It does this not only for the good of the scholar and the student, but for the social good. Like medicine, academia existed for the social good. Neither should be a purely for-profit endeavor. And yet, in both the case of the HMO and the EMO, we have been taken over by an alien for-profit culture, our sovereignty over our own profession, our own institutions, stripped from us.
A corporate model, where profit depends on 1) maintaining a low-wage work force and 2) charging continually higher pricers for their “services” is what now controls our colleges . Faculty is being squeezed from one end and our students are being squeezed from the other.
Step Five – Destroy the Students
While claiming to offer them hope of a better life, our corporatized universities are ruining the lives of our students. This is accomplished through a two-prong tactic: you dumb down and destroy the quality of the education so that no one on campus is really learning to think, to question, to reason. Instead, they are learning to obey, to withstand “tests” and “exams”, to follow rules, to endure absurdity and abuse. Our students have been denied full-time available faculty, the ability to develop mentors and advisors, faculty-designed syllabi which changes each semester, a wide variety of courses and options. Instead, more and more universities have core curriculum which dictates a large portion of the course of study, in which the majority of classes are administrative-designed “common syllabi” courses, taught by an army of underpaid, part-time faculty in a model that more closely resembles a factory or the industrial kitchen of a fast food restaurant than an institution of higher learning.
The Second Prong: You make college so insanely unaffordable that only the wealthiest students from the wealthiest of families can afford to go to the school debt free. Younger people may not know that for much of the 20th Century many universities in the U.S. were free – including the CA state system – you could establish residency in six months and go to Berkeley for free, or at very low cost. When I was an undergraduate student in the mid to late 1970s, tuition at Temple University was around $700 a year. Today, tuition is nearly $15,000 a year. Tuitions have increased, using CA as an example again, over 2000% since the 1970s. 2000%! This is the most directly dangerous situation for our students: pulling them into crippling debt that will follow them to the grave.
Another dangerous aspect of what is happening can be found in the shady partnership that has formed between the lending institutions and the Financial Aid Departments of universities. This is an unholy alliance. I have had students in my classes who work for Financial Aid. They tell me that they are trained to say NOT “This is what you need to borrow,” but to say “This is what you can get,” and to always entice the student with the highest possible number. There have been plenty of kick-back scandals between colleges and lenders — and I’m sure there is plenty undiscovered shady business going on. So, tuition costs are out of control because of administrative, executive and coach salaries, and the loan numbers keep growing, risking a life of indebtedness for most of our students. Further, there is absolutely no incentive on the part of this corporatized university to care.
The propaganda machine here has been powerful. Students, through the belief of their parents, their K-12 teachers, their high school counselors, are convinced by constant repetition that they HAVE to go to college to have a promising, middle class life, they are convinced that this tuition debt is “worth it” — and learn too late that it will indenture them. Let’s be clear: this is not the fault of the parents, or K-12 teachers or counselors. This is an intentional message that has been repeated year in and year out that aims to convince us all about the essential quality of a college education.
So, there you have it.
Within one generation, in five easy steps, not only have the scholars and intellectuals of the country been silenced and nearly wiped out, but the entire institution has been hijacked, and recreated as a machine through which future generations will ALL be impoverished, indebted and silenced. Now, low wage migrant professors teach repetitive courses they did not design to students who travel through on a kind of conveyor belt, only to be spit out, indebted and desperate into a jobless economy. The only people immediately benefitting inside this system are the administrative class – whores to the corporatized colonizers, earning money in this system in order to oversee this travesty. But the most important thing to keep in mind is this: The real winners, the only people truly benefitting from the big-picture meltdown of the American university are those people who, in the 1960s, saw those vibrant college campuses as a threat to their established power. They are the same people now working feverishly to dismantle other social structures, everything from Medicare and Social Security to the Post Office.
Looking at this wreckage of American academia, we have to acknowledge: They have won.
BUT these are victors who will never declare victory — because the carefully-maintained capitalist illusion of the “university education” still benefits them. Never, ever, admit that the university is dead. No, no. Quite the opposite. Instead, continue to insist that the university is the ONLY way to gain a successful, middle class life. Say that the university is mandatory for happiness in adulthood. All the while, maintain this low-wage precariate class of edu-migrants, continually mis-educate and indebt in the students to ensure their docility, pimp the institution out to corporate interests. It’s a win-win for those right wingers – they’ve crippled those in the country who would push back against them, and have so carefully and cleverly hijacked the educational institutions that they can now be turned into part of the neoliberal/neocon machinery, further benefitting the right-wing agenda.
So now what?
This ruination has taken about a generation. Will we be able to undo this damage? Can we force refunding of our public educational system? Can we professionalize faculty, drive out the administrative glut and corporate hijackers? Can we provide free or low-cost tuition and high-quality education to our students in a way that does NOT focus only on job training, but on high-level personal and intellectual development? I believe we can. But only if we understand this as a big picture issue, and refuse to allow those in government, or those corporate-owned media mouthpieces to divide and conquer us further. This ruinous rampage is part of the much larger attack on progressive values, on the institutions of social good. The battle isn’t only to reclaim the professoriate, to wipe out student debt, to raise educational outcomes — although each of those goals deserve to be fought for. But we will win a Pyrrhic victory at best unless we understand the nature of the larger war, and fight back in a much, much bigger way to reclaim the country’s values for the betterment of our citizens.
I am eager to hear from those of you who have been involved in this battle, or are about to enter it. We have a big job ahead of us, and are facing a very powerful foe in a kind of David and Goliath battle. I’m open to hearing ideas about how to build a much, much better slingshot.
I have just returned from six weeks in Cambodia. Since 1996, I have worked there for most summers to assist Khmer colleagues rebuild the higher education sector. The Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) has a number of buildings spread throughout the city. The RUPP building shown at the left contains the science labs which were stripped of every item and turned into holding pens for pigs by the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). Not only was the entire material infrastructure of the country dismantled and destroyed so was the intellectual infrastructure with over 90% of teachers, professors, judges, lawyers, doctors killed with the back of their head smashed in with a club (bullets were too precious to use) or they died from hard labor, extreme exposure, or from starvation, or a variety of illnesses — malaria, dengue, influenza, etc. At least 90% of all library materials were destroyed as the Khmer Rouge used paper from books to roll cigarettes or for fuel. I mention this because during the 1950s and 1960s Cambodia had the best public school system in Southeast Asia and now remains in runner up place for the worst. It has been very difficult for Cambodia to reconstruct the intellectual capacity it once had in the late 1960s to be competitive in the new global economy. There are unknown consequences to dismantling a functional, however imperfect, public education system. Of course, in our case, it doesn’t require the Khmer Rouge.
We Are All Corporate Professors Now (and what to do about it): Summer Reading Mashup
by Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach
Over the past few months a number of excellent academic writers and public intellectuals have published information on the “corporate professor.” Some contend that the formation of this role is aligned with the politics and economics of an “inverted totalitarianism” that has been overtaking American democracy since the 1970s (Hedges). The question arises: How can we protect shrinking public spaces of open discourse—our own university’s capacity to protect and foster academic freedom and diverse research—in an age that promotes brand over content?
For how we got here, start with Ethan Schrum’s “A Bibliographic Essay on the University, the Market, and Professors” in The Hedgehog Review (Spring 2012). This is a nuanced, well-researched historical overview that covers the two major structural shifts in the “constantly changing university”: post WWII and the ascent of neoliberalism from the 1970s. The general public, which once viewed public education as a common good in the 1960s, has been propagandized into a perceptual shift that valorizes free markets and the university as a private good. It is during that thirty-forty year process that unknowingly and unintentionally we became corporate professors.
With Schrum’s overview as a basis, continue to explore the role of the corporate professor in Gaye Tuchman’s essay “Pressured and Measured: Professors at Wannabe U.” also in the same issue of The Hedgehog Review. Here is her understanding of the historical and economic context in which we find ourselves:
“Student consumerism, the control of faculty through metrics, the endowment, the division of athletics, and the commodification of education are all linked in a fairly straightforward manner. Emphasizing the individual right to profit for decades—indeed, the rights of the individual over the responsibilities of the individual to the group—neoliberalism has been identifying education as a private good. It has also stressed the virtue and ubiquity of modern corporate organization, especially its ability to compete in a global economy and to “grow profits.” In part because universities have adapted to these tenets, in part because they have been conforming to the “best practices” of other institutions, in part because states have been putting their money into other activities, such as funding prisons to force miscreants to take responsibility for their actions, the relationship between higher education and the states has changed. Colleges and Universities have become ever more corporatized…. (They) have struggled to find alternative revenue streams, such as sales of and royalties from faculty inventions. Designing new regulations to promote productivity and to spur professorial compliance, they reward conformers and punish shirkers.”
Within this historical context the corporate professor, according to Tuchman, is “increasingly regulated by an accountability regime, a politics of surveillance, control and market management disguised as the value-neutral administration of individuals and organizations (italics mine). it is the structural analog of an audit culture.” We are all familiar with the imposition of student assessment metrics by our regional accrediting commissions, most significantly over the past decade as their own accountability came under scrutiny through the federal government’s displeasure over graduation/retention rates and PELL grants.
In response to assessment demands outsourced to us by our own university management under pressure from accrediting commissions seeking to prove their own accountability to the federal government, we have embedded student learning objectives in courses and programs; measured them through a variety of instruments; written reports on outcomes. We email our reports to assessment coordinators or administrators who coordinate that process. They gather this data into massive, time-consuming reports which they forward to regional accrediting commissions in preparation for site visits. All of this to prove that we are “accountable”; yet, I have never received feedback from management on any annual assessment report or plan that I have submitted. Under the threat of program elimination, reluctant corporate professors have slogged through assessment report production. We must prove through data and assessment that we and our programs are “valuable.” Through our efforts, in a sort of halo effect, academic managers acquire “value” and subsequently our accreditation commissions. In this way we have inadvertently become conformists of value.
The time-consuming nature of program and course assessment is a topic taken up in Dave Porter’s “Assessment as a Subversive Activity” in AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom (2012, v. 3). Since it is a response to two previous articles in AAUP JAF (2011) critical of the “relentlessly expanding assessment movement,” it provides a good overview of critical opinions regarding the whole university assessment regime. Porter has a point in reframing the problem of assessment in terms of a “lack of institutional integrity and the manipulative managerial style of administrators who do not understand the learning process and educational systems sufficiently to implement assessment programs effectively” (2). That resonates as true; however, faculty are not in a position to fire incompetent administrators. Only the campus president has that authority. Not a single administrator with multiple negative faculty evaluations on performance reviews has been fired during my twenty-two years on campus.
We are experiencing a structural flaw in the organization of the “public” university: administrators exercise much more power over faculty through the assessment regime than faculty do over administrators. I suggest we seek an adjustment. Our colleagues at the University of Virginia have demonstrated success in rebalancing power through concerted collective action, enabling the reinstatement of Teresa Sullivan. We could begin to change the management/faculty power imbalance by rotating qualified faculty into a significant number of administrative roles for three-year terms with an option to renew. Could academic senates facilitate structural change by voting to implement this type of plan as a five-year pilot program? The reduction of highly paid administrators would result in cost savings with the potential of a better managed public university.
There is a dangerous correlation between the assessment/metrics regime and the loss of creative space for research in the corporate public university. If research doesn’t generate money through patents or grants, if a project’s outcomes can’t be quickly measured for short-term gain, then it has no measurable value in Corporate U. And it if can’t be measured, it appears to have no value. Moreover the metrics of assessment are now wedded to the corporate professor’s tenure and merit pay. This culture of accountability ensures the public that tax dollars are not “wasted on useless professors.” Different points are assigned to various types of publication. A certain number of points must be scored over a certain number of years to receive merit pay with little recourse for grievance. Texas seems to be particularly keen on this type of standardization (3). A culture of surveillance of this nature is not conducive to risk-taking in research. Thus we undermine our own global competitive edge through a narrow-minded accountability regime.
Several scholars and think tanks have published commentary and reports that express concern over the decline of research institutions in the U.S. Some attribute this to the corporate culture of the university that emphasizes individual competition over collaboration, and quick money over larger, expansive forays into the unknown (2).
Wrapping up, here is an email advertisement I received last spring in advance of our regional accrediting commission’s (WASC) annual assessment gathering (ARC) with its many vendors (1). I have removed the company’s name for legal reasons; the bold type is theirs. It reminds me of a billboard I saw in Phnom Penh recently selling “newness’” as fashion (anything new and trendy must be good so buy it!):
We couldn’t say it any better than WASC
“U.S. higher education is in the midst of a paradigm shift. We face economic, technological, political and social challenges and more change is on the horizon. It is clear that we must transform higher education … but how?” – ARC webpage
We couldn’t have said it better: New paradigms, New media. New methods. New modalities. Each aimed at delivering the ultimate student experience, all for the greater good.
At XXX Systems, we know student outcomes are your highest priority. And that colleges and universities today are also looking to improve business performance – by containing and reducing costs, by branding themselves to attract the best students, by standardizing and automating business processes.
Not to mention keeping pace with an unforgiving environment of reporting and accountability.
To stay ahead of these disruptive events and paradigm shifts, you need a disruptive technology – you need XXX Enterprise …a twenty-first century academic management system that’s Innovative…Integrated…Intelligent” (4).
1. WASC may be listening to criticism from both the federal and local levels. See Fain’s “Rise of the Accreditor? See also Keep’s “The Worrisome Ascendance of Business in Higher Education.”
2. For example see Atkinson and Stewart, Kiley, Clay, Chomsky, and Nelson below.
3. Adjuncts tragically are even more marginalized, see Berrett’s “Underpaid and Restless: Study Presents a ‘Dismal Picture’ of Life as a Part-Time Professor.”
4. For another view on disruptive technology see Neem’s “Disruptive Innovation: Rhetoric or Reality?”
Atkinson, Robert and Luke A. Stewart. “University Research Funding: The United States is Behind and Falling.” Information Technology and Innovation Foundation report. May 2011.
Atlas, Ben. “Chris Hedges on the Inverted Totalitarianism and the Commodification of Culture.” December 12, 2010. Benatlas.com
———. “Chris Hedges on the Corporate Neofeudalism.” December 12, 2010. Benatlas.com
Berrett, Dan. “Underpaid and Restless: Study Presents a ‘Dismal Picture’ of Life as a Part-Time Professor.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 20, 2012
Chomsky, Noam. “Academic Freedom and the Corporatization of Universities.” University of Toronto Scarborough, April 6, 2011.
Clay, Rebecca. “The corporatization of higher education: The intermingling of business and academic cultures brings both concerns and potential benefits to psychology.” American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology. 39.11 (December 2008).
Donoghue, Frank. “Tenure: Yes or No?” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 14, 2012.
Fain, Paul. “Rise of the Accreditor?” in Inside Higher Education. July 10,2012.
Giroux, Henry A. “Beyond the Politics of the Big Lie: The Education Deficit and the New Authoritarianism. Originally a Truthout Op Ed. June 19, 2012.
———.“Zombie Politics, Democracy, and the Threat of Authoritarianism – Part I.” Peter Lang. June 2011.
Higgs, Steven. “Commodifying Education: The Corporatization of the American University“. Counterpunch. November 2011.
Jaschik, Scott. “U.S. Decline or a Flawed Measure?” Inside Higher Ed. October 8, 2009.
Keep, William. “The Worrisome Ascendance of Business in Higher Education.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The June 21, 2012.
Kiley, Kevin. “How to Stay on Top.” Inside Higher Ed. June 15, 2012.
———“Big Target, Bigger Cuts.” Inside Higher Ed. January 18, 2012
Neem, Johann. “Disruptive Innovation: Rhetoric or Reality?” Inside Higher Ed. June 26, 2012.
Nelson, Libby A. “Where Will the Money Come From?” Inside Higher Ed. July 12, 2012.
Porter, Dave. “Assessment as a Subversive Activity” AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, 3 (20012).
Roberts, Yvonne. “The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz — review.“ The Guardian, July 13, 2012.
Somek, Alexander. Individualism. Oxford University Press, 2008. Review in The International Journal of Constitutional Law
The National Research Council. “Research Universities and the Future of America.” 2012
Wilson, Robin. “Faculty Power Brokers at UVa.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 1, 2012.
Call for Action: Let’s help our colleagues in Arizona’s public universities.
Hope that all is well with you.
In response to AZ Superintendent Huppenthal’s continued assault on Mexican American Studies, in TUSD, and now in AZ’s public universities, a group of faculty at the UA have been circulating a petition to be sent to Huppenthal and TUSD’s Board of Ed.
Here is the link.
Please circulate to any lists you think are relevant…
Professor of Higher Education
Center for the Study of Higher Education Dept of Edtl Policy Studies and Practice College of Education University of Arizona Tucson, AZ 85721 http://twitter.com/#!/garyrhoades http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=799054838&ref=tn_tinyman
In his blog “Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), others fall for a fad…” guest blogger Prof. Monte Bute interrogates an “accountability trend” we are facing across the public higher education sector: workforce readiness assessment. This was a theme at the recent WASC 2012 Academic Resources Conference, “What’s Next? Scenarios for Higher Education” (April 18-20). When I asked the consultant speaker during his Q&A whether this workforce readiness trend was being fostered by for-profit vendors (22 had sponsored this conference), he deflected the question. According to him, higher education is failing to provide adequately trained employees for business. And it is big business creating the assessment and accountability movement in public higher education because of OUR failure/negligence. The colleagues at my table wondered if this consultant was aware of recent research on brain development in the field of cognitive psychology: A twenty-four-year-old has several more years of cognitive development before he or she reaches a high-order metacognitive skill capacity. The new metrics WASC is promoting through Lumina sponsorship measure complex, higher-order thinking that is not age appropriate for young adults. Assessment has become a part of big edubusiness irrespective of reality. And like our colleagues in K-12, their narrative is that faculty must be forced into “accountability” through disruptive technology and assessment while edubusiness profits from this trend.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), others fall for a fad: The jobs-skills mismatch meme
Employers claim that many jobs are going unfilled because the labor pool is unqualified. This thesis remains unproved.
Article by: MONTE BUTE
Lori Sturdevant was right to call out the Legislature for failing to pass a bonding bill with significant funding for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (“Sharp strategy for MnSCU. One catch … ,” April 15).
However, she gave a nod of approval to Chancellor Steven Rosenstone’s Workforce Assessment Initiative without adequately investigating his basic premise.
Employers claim that many jobs are going unfilled because the labor pool is unqualified. This thesis remains unproved.
Business lobbies are playing Rosenstone like a fiddle. Their disingenuous strategy has little to do with reform or producing well-educated persons.
Rather, they want the public sector to pick up the tab for employee training in order to reduce labor costs and maximize profits.
Let us not mince words: Workforce development is corporate welfare.
To be fair, Sturdevant and Rosenstone are not alone in their enthusiasm for workforce development. Business leaders, legislators, state agency commissioners, reporters and editorialists, and even Gov. Mark Dayton have fallen prey to this latest institutional fad.
The sociologist Joel Best’s recent book captures this phenomenon: “Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads.”
How does this bedazzling process work? Every institutional fad needs a good story — a perplexing problem and a compelling solution.
What is the problem that Rosenstone seeks to solve? Minnesota’s jobs-skills mismatch. How is he going resolve this predicament? He has made an “all in” bet on workforce development.
Where did MnSCU’s “mismatch” story line come from? Credit David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the MnSCU Board of Trustees from 2007-10.
Olson proselytized the jobs-skills mismatch for the chamber while simultaneously reshaping MnSCU’s educational mission as workforce development.
MnSCU is planning 50-plus “listening sessions” with “Minnesota employers to gain a better understanding of their current and future workforce needs.”
Sponsoring this initiative with MnSCU are the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and none other than the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
Does Rosenstone really expect unbiased data from these listening sessions? His workforce-development strategy depends not on dog-and-pony shows, but on reliable evidence of a jobs-skills mismatch.
Economists from Columbia University, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and New York University devised a sophisticated skills-mismatch index that they used in a 2011 study, “Measuring Mismatch in the U.S. Labor Market.” They published a follow-up paper on March 29. Their conclusions raise doubts about any significant structural or long-term mismatch:
“Based on this mismatch index, we conclude the following: First, the index displays considerable cyclicality, increasing notably in recessions. Second, the index has fallen appreciably during this recovery and is now near its pre-recession level. This pattern suggests that although mismatch rose considerably during the Great Recession, that rise proved temporary.”
In other words, the market has been working out the mismatch. Even during the recession, the problem was, to some extent, an illusion. It was often not a shortage of skills but employers’ inability to find workers at the wages offered. The way to resolve a labor shortage in a free market is for employers to raise wages. If they don’t, workers are free to pursue other opportunities.
The jobs-skills mismatch may be little more than a public-relations ploy by employer associations to get the public sector to pay for apprenticeships and job training that employers once provided. These same business lobbies have spent a small fortune seeking lower taxes, resulting in higher-education cuts that made tuition increases inevitable.
Corporations not only want to call the tune for public higher education, they want students and their parents to pay the piper. Back in the day, students became well-informed citizens; today, they become commodities for industry.
These policy decisions about the future of higher education constitute a moral hazard. Economist Paul Krugman defined moral hazard as “any situation in which one person makes the decision about how much risk to take, while someone else bears the cost if things go badly.”
Rosenstone and Olson, on behalf of MnSCU Board of Trustees and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, are making a risky gamble on Minnesota’s future. Students, faculty and taxpayers will bear the cost if this wager is lost.
Reposted on April 22, 2012 by permission of the author. First published in the Star Tribune http://m.startribune.com/opinion/?id=148180465&c=y
Monte Bute teaches sociology and social science for Metropolitan State University. ”Monte Bute is an associate professor of sociology at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota. His opinion essays appear on the editorial pages of daily newspapers in the Twin Cities. Bute also frequently testifies on higher education issues before the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives.”
Guest blogger Ann Larson is a graduate of the English doctoral program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She blogs about education and politics at annlarson.org. She is an organizer of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign.
Occupy Student Debt Campaign: April 25 is 1T Day
On April 25, 2012, total student debt is due to surpass one trillion dollars. This staggering figure, which is higher than credit card debt, is a burden endured by millions of American families. Two-thirds of public college students leave school with debt, an average of $24,000 per student. Jeffrey Williams has called student debt a form of indenture because many students must labor for decades, often their entire lives, to pay for the right to an education. This wasn’t always the case. The City University of New York and the University of California were free or low cost for much of the 20th century. Many countries around the world fund public higher education. The US should rejoin that list.
What has happened to the US system of college financing?
We all know that the price of college has skyrocketed in recent years. Tuition has risen 400% since the 1980s, twice the rate of inflation. Certainly, this is partly the result of reduced state funding. But the story is also more complex. The high cost of college and the consequent debt burdens of American families are the result of a collusion between lenders (ie, banks) and the federal government which guarantees student loans against default. As Bob Meister and Nate Brown have shown, public colleges are public in name only, since high-paid administrators often manage them like businesses, pledging students’ tuition dollars to Wall Street to improve their institution’s bond rating in capital markets.
Students who can’t find jobs in this recession to pay back their loans (an increasingly likely prospect) are simply cogs in the machinery of capital accumulation, as their colleges become sites for generating profit for the one percent. Debtors can have their wages garnished and, as the Washington Post recently reported, it is not uncommon for retired people to be harassed by collectors about loans they took out decades before.
What can we do?
Young people are told from an early age that a college degree is a minimum requirement for a middle-class standard of living, and as such students have no choice but to become debtors if they want to earn a living wage. Occupy Wall Street has finally given students, families, and educators a platform for resisting this debt and for rethinking the financing of public higher education.
On 1T Day —April 25, 2012—students, educators, and activists from around the country will be participating in a national day of action against student debt. In Union Square, in NYC, the Occupy Student Debt Campaign is staging a mock jubilee, a write-off of all student debt. The jubilee will be followed by a celebratory march, as we take our lives – and our educational institutions – back from Wall Street.
There will also be solidarity events at locations around the country. We invite others to join us. One-T Day events include everything from mock jubilees to teach-ins on student debt in classrooms and public squares. If you’re a teacher, you might talk about student debt with your students on April 25. If you’re a student, you might organize a forum for students to discuss what high debt burdens mean for them.
The goal of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, and the many other groups that have endorsed this national action, is to change the conversation about student debt. Our message is clear: education should be a right and a public good, not a source of debt or profit.
Outsmarting the Matrix: Transforming the Privatization Trend in Public Higher Ed
Teri Shaffer Yamada, Prof. of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach
There is a window of opportunity for constructive change over the next six months during the build-up to the November national election. But this change requires engaged faculty working together in innovative ways. And it requires a new strategy eschewing a “university business as usual” mentality. That reality is gone: there is no business as usual at the public university.
So our current moment in history demands we organize around commonalities and develop different forms of more effective action. If we act strategically, we have an opportunity to alter the privatization momentum that threatens the survival of meaningful public education for the 99%.
We could start by unabashedly embracing and valorizing the greatness of “our values.” We transform and enrich the lives of our students because we care (1). We live in a media culture that foregrounds violence and cruelty, where selfless concern isn’t typically newsworthy unless it is driven by anger or hyperbole. Yet everyday kindness happens and without it we would be much diminished. And our “story” is compelling across ideological lines simply because we base it on shared values of “American democracy”: opportunity for all. Framed in the context of education, it is access to quality instruction that develops an educated demos. In turn, our students provide the citizen power to run a government and economic system that reflects the needs and talents of the 99%. That may sound quaint, but imagine the outcomes if our current Hobbesian trajectory of consolidating power remains unchecked.
So what defines this matrix? We are now confronted with a mirror reality of the dismantling of K-12 public education. We have been out-organized and out- financed as reflected in Steven Brills’ reportage “The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand” from the New York Times (May 17, 2010):
….Schnur, who runs a Manhattan-based school-reform group called New Leaders for New Schools, sits informally at the center of a network of self-styled reformers dedicated to overhauling public education in the United States. They have been building in strength and numbers over the last two decades and now seem to be planted everywhere that counts. They are working in key positions in school districts and charter-school networks, legislating in state capitals, staffing city halls and statehouses for reform-minded mayors and governors, writing papers for policy groups and dispensing grants from billion-dollar philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Teach for America’s founder, Wendy Kopp; and the New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein could be considered the patron saints of the network.
This is the matrix: a network of well-placed and well-funded powerful individuals with shared values, who can impact state and federal agencies and legislators through influential friends or lobbyists, media and foundation access, and sponsored think-tank publications. We have allowed this to happen: “power abhors a vacuum.”
We can begin by changing our approach. We can shift to “motivated reasoning” as we seek to change hearts and minds (2). And we can message our values based upon the target audience.
As we learn from the impressive successes of the for-profit education matrix, we recognize the importance of shared values. It forms the foundational connectivity of the network of relationships required to establish a power base. Thoughtful leadership throughout a wide network is necessary to accomplish the change we do believe in: re-democratizing public education. Several important meetings will take place under the auspices of AAUP, NEA and CFHE over the next few months (3). What is an effective strategy these three can develop together and communicate to the grassroots to deflect further damage to public higher ed? Can we move quickly enough?
One possibility for promoting change is to emulate the strategy of ALEC. We could start by developing one piece of legislation that most faculty unions could promote to their state legislators. The California Faculty Association (CFA) worked for several years to pass a transparency bill so that the public could have access to the financial records of the “for-profit” side of the California State University system. CFA is currently sponsoring a bill to democratize the CSU Board of Trustees as part of an action plan published in its recent white paper “For-Profit Higher Education & the CSU: A Cautionary Tale” . Are other faculty unions sponsoring bills? What is the most beneficial bill we could introduce in a range of states to protect public higher ed? What is the most “elegant” strategic plan at the federal level? The “outcomes-assessment” obsessed federal Department of Education often disappoints but there may be some leverage there as well.
There are also global trends we need to consider: the ubiquitous embrace of “common core standards,” including our own Department of Education. This trend has filtered down to the accreditation commissions in the United States.
The Lumina Foundation has funded a pilot program on “degree qualifications” at the college level—common outcomes for AA, BA, MA degrees across the United States— through the Western Association of Colleges and Universities (WASC). The first set of “volunteer” institutions will be reporting in April on their progress in implementing and assessing the Lumina “degree qualification profile.”
Beyond the new trend to measure graduation and retention rates, we can be restructured internally through changed accreditation standards that demand we measure “value-added degrees” through common-core standards assessments or track the type of jobs our graduates acquire after leaving the institution. The for-profit higher ed sector is being nudged in this direction to make it more accountable to the federal government for its voracious consumption of public funds through PELL grants and military initiatives that fund education. Some for-profit providers can fund their entire operation through these two sources alone. Their lobbyists insist that public higher ed be subjected to the same assessments.
Every faculty member should pay attention to new directives imposed by their institutional accreditation agency. If the end result is a diminished capacity to offer a wide range of degrees since programs must justify their existence through proof of job placement as an outcome, we may become a different kind of vocational training institution that has lost the soul of a liberal arts education.
Be sure to track the forthcoming reports on the 2012 Bologna Ministerial Conference on the GlobalHigherEd blog. There will be further discussion there on common international standards which would impact us nationally.
EXCERPT FROM GlobalHigherEd The European Higher Education Area: Retrospect and Prospect (Posted: 22 Mar 2012 07:24 PM PDT)
First, the 2012 Bologna Ministerial Conference:is expected to bring together 47 European Higher Education Area ministerial delegations, the European Commission, as well as the Bologna Process consultative members and Bologna Follow-Up Group partners. The meeting will be an opportunity to take stock of progress of the Bologna Process and set out the key policy issues for the future. The EHEA ministers will jointly adopt the Bucharest Ministerial Communiqué, committing to further the Bologna goals until 2020.
Second, The 2012 Bologna Policy Forum rganised in conjunction with the Ministerial Conference is aimed to intensify policy dialogue and cooperation with partners across the world. The theme of the third Bologna Policy forum is “Beyond the Bologna process: Creating and connecting national, regional and global higher education spaces”. The Policy forum has four sub-themes, which will be addressed during the parallel sessions, namely: “Global academic mobility: Incentives and barriers, balances and imbalances”; “Global and regional approaches to quality enhancement of Higher Education”; “Public responsibility for and of HE within national and regional context”; “The contribution of Higher Education reforms to enhancing graduate employability”. This year’s edition of the Bologna Policy Forum will be finalised with the adoption of the 2012 Bologna Policy Forum Statement.
1) Those of us who participated in the feminist philosophy movement of the 1980s know this as the “ethics of care.” See “Ethics of Care” in “Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy.” March 24, 2012.
2) See Dan Kahan’s definition based upon “motivated cognition” which refers to “the unconscious tendency of individuals to fit their processing of information to conclusions that suit some end or goal” in “What Is Motivated Reasoning and How Does It Work?” See also a great video clip with a discussion of this concept “Dan Kahan — The Great Ideological Asymmetry Debate.” Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollar Professor Law and Professor of Psychology at the Yale Law School. His research focuses on “cultural cognition” (how social and political group affiliations affect our views of contested areas of ‘reality’) and motivated reasoning.
3) CFHE (Campaign for the Future of Higher Education) is having its Third National Gathering in Ann Arbor on May 18, 2012, hosted by the Michigan Conference AAUP. Contact CFHE.firstname.lastname@example.org for further information. Registration is free.
California Faculty Association. “For-Profit Higher Education & the CSU: A Cautionary Tale” March 19, 2012
Brills, Steve. The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand. New York Times. May 17, 2010.
Kahan, Dan. “What is Motivated Reasoning and How Does it Work?” May 4, 2011.
———. “Dan Kahan- The Great Ideological Asymmetry Debate” February 13, 2012.
Lederman, Doug. “What’s ‘Good Enough’?” Inside Higher Ed. April 14, 2011.
———. “What Degrees Should Mean.” Inside Higher Ed. January 25, 2011.
Lumina Foundation. “The Degree Qualifications Profile: Defining degrees: A new direction for American higher education to be tested and developed in partnership with faculty, students, leaders and stakeholders.”
Western Governors University (WGU) Is in Your State: Deconstructing the Academy
Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach
In our cultural echo chamber of deception, as Joseph Goebbels said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” The media has served business well in the production of panic over America’s imminent fall in the global economy. We are told that our decline in global competitiveness is due to the failure of “traditional public education.”
For the past several years, the Lumina Foundation for Education has been calling for the United States to increase higher education attainment rates — the proportion of the population that holds a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential — to 60 percent by the year 2025. This call — known as “Lumina’s Big Goal” — has been embraced by many others. Foundations, state governments, national higher education associations, and President Obama have all issued their own call for increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials.
Their way to meet this goal is to alter the “unchanging public education system” through disruptive technology and privatization. In this mythic death and rebirth struggle, we must rid ourselves of the ossified, brick-and-mortar educational institutions and embrace the redemptive and disruptive online learning platforms of virtual education. Stephen Ehrmann refers to this phenomenon as “the rapture of technology” (1).
The big money behind rapture technology ensures the effectiveness of its propaganda. Public discourse on education has been remolded to focus on the cause of its “failure” defined as teachers and their unions. And remedies are offered in the form of privatization through vouchers and charters, online delivery, and school funding tied to the measurable outcomes of retention and graduation rates.
The result is contested cultural space over the meaning and value of education. For example, the Lumina Foundation promotes its definition:
“Quality in higher education must be defined in terms of student outcomes, particularly learning outcomes, and not by inputs or institutional characteristics. The value of degrees and credentials…rests on the skills and knowledge they represent.” (2 )
Compare this reductive utilitarianism to the “affinity philosophy of learning” embedded in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s cutting edge digital media and learning initiative ;
“If it were possible to define generally the mission of education, it could be said that its fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community (creative) and economic life (3 ).
Both Lumina and MacArthur advocate a shift from an instructor-centered model of education to a student-centered learning model; but MacArthur’s frame does not erase “teachers” from education although it does reshape their role as instructors. The Lumina value of reductive utilitarianism is the basis for the WGU model of learning. The goal of this learning is to demonstrate competency over a specific vocational skill set defined by measurable outcomes.
WGU began in 1995 when several governors of western states decided to create a virtual university to confer “competency-based” degrees. They had the following concerns (4):
- To accommodate access of rural students, the governors wanted delivery of cost-effective education at any place, any time;
- The rising cost of education combined with population growth would surpass the capacity of the brick-and-mortar institutions; there would be no more money to build new campuses;
- State colleges were not producing enough skilled graduates, and the graduates they were producing had uneven skill sets. So a competency-based degree, certified by a third party, seemed to make sense “in an employment climate where it is commonplace to question what it means to have a degree” (5); they had corporate support for this plan;
- The governors felt their state colleges had been unresponsive to these problems so the governors decided to shake things up, “to foster innovation in higher education institutions.”
The governors embraced a competency-based, online delivery model that required re-conceptualizing the function of “traditional” faculty in higher education. This re-conceptualization is called “unbundling”: the splitting off into distinct functions of a faculty role and assigning each function to a distinct human agent or technology.
Unbundling enables virtual universities to control costs by increasing “instructor productivity” (6). Research and university service are removed from the role of “faculty.” Academic advising is not recognized in this world-view as part of a faculty’s role in the university. The remaining component —instruction —is further unbundled to the following five distinct activities:
- Designing the course;
- Developing the course through the selection of instructional methods and course materials;
- Mediating a student’s learning process (such as identifying learning styles);
- Assessing levels of competence.
These five activities are then assigned to technology or separate agents. In this way, the traditional understanding of “faculty” is deconstructed. WGU does not offer instruction directly but brokers “learning opportunities” through various technologies. Advisers (mentors/monitors) assist students in choosing the “learning opportunity” to achieve a certain goal. Those who design the courses and programs belong to WGU Program Councils consisting of faculty members and industry specialists. WGU agents are all contract laborers; there is no tenure. So we are left to contemplate Jerry Farber’s concerns, expressed in 1998:
If you take the new developments in educational and communications technology, lift them up on a millennial wave of technological enthusiasm, integrate them into the competency-based/outcomes movement in education which has persisted in one form or another since the 1970s or earlier, and put them in the service of corporate interests, which are moving toward a de facto takeover of higher education, you come up with a rough approximation of what appears to be happening in a great many colleges and universities at the turn of the century (7 ).
ACTION PLAN : Check to see if there is a stealth bill to establish WGU as an “official branch” in your state. We recently discovered one in California. If so, consider educating your elected representatives now.
- Ask your legislators how the “competency based” instruction of WGU will impact your state’s public university systems? What is the cost-benefit analysis? How many jobs will be lost to out-of-state WGU employees? The low cost of WGU tuition— its main selling point to “customers” —is politically attractive to state legislators since it undercuts for-profit providers who voraciously consume federal and state grant money and are difficult to regulate. One can argue that our legislators should be investing in state community colleges, which offer even lower-cost vocational training programs, many with online components and a richer learning experience.
- Ask your legislators to explain WGU’s lack of transparency and accountability. WGU refuses to release official accreditation reports. It is impossible to assess their “success” in terms of graduation and retention rates until they release longitudinal studies of yearly cohorts for each program. Currently they refuse to provide this data on the basis they are a “private non-profit.”
(1) AFT, “Teaming Up With Technology,” p. 19.
(2) Both Farber and Johnstone discuss these.
(3) This is a quote from Bill Ivey, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Steven J. Tepper in Jenkin’s “Confronting the Challenges…” a MacArthur Foundation report, p. 61.
(4) These concerns are found in both Farber and Johnstone.
(5) Paulson, 124.
(6) See Paulson for this explanation. Note that there are other models of disruptive unbundling, for example University of Phoenix.
(7) Farber, 809-10.
AFT. “Teaming Up with Technology: How Unions Can Harness the Technology Revolution on Campus.” Report of the Task Force on Technology in Higher Education. January 1996.
Farber, Jerry. “The Third Circle: On Education and Distance Learning.” Sociological Perspectives. 41.4 (1998): 797-814.
Jenkins, Henry et al. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” Occasional Paper on Digital Media and Learning. MacArthur Foundation.
Johnstone, Douglas. “A Competency Alternative: Western Governors University.” Change. 37.4 (July-Aug 2005): 24-33.
Paulson, Karen. “Reconfiguring Faculty Roles for Virtual Settings.” The Journal of Higher Education. 73.1 (Jan-Feb, 2002): 123-140.
With permission of Kris Olds (Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison), we are re-posting his Oct. 23, 2011 blog on “flexibility.” Similar to the misuse of “accountability,” “efficiency,” and “access,” flexibility is another concept being manipulated by the engineers of privatization or “financialization” of the public education sector in the United States, especially the virtual school movement with its deep pockets, embedded politicians, and influential lobbyists. For example, “flexibility” appears in a recent statement by former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, now working with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as directors of the Digital Learning Council: “This thing <digital learning/virtual schools> is going to happen. The question is whether there is going to be a road map—one that provides some direction and at the same time major flexibility.” In the real world, it appears that flexibility is often decoupled from accountability given the current poor track record of many virtual schools/Educational Management Organizations (EMOs). Abby Rapoport in her reportage for the Texas Observer “Education Inc.: How Private Companies Profit from Public Schools” also mentions the use of efficiency, often partnered with flexibility, as part of the ideology of privatization:
“Public education has always offered big contracts to for-profit companies in areas like construction and textbooks. But in the past two decades, an education-reform movement has swept the country, pushing for more standardized testing and accountability and for more alternatives to the traditional classroom—most of it supplied by private companies. The movement has been supported by business communities and non-profits like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and often takes a free market approach to public education. Reformers litter their arguments about education policy with corporate rhetoric and business-school buzzwords. They talk of the need for ‘efficiency,’ ‘innovation’ and ‘assessment’ in the classroom.”
We are currently losing the rhetorical war on the public perception of “value” in public education. We need to show how an iteration and repetition of the same concepts —access, flexibility, innovation, efficiency, accountability—is being used to manipulate public perception. Just because a virtual school provides access doesn’t mean it provides accountability in terms of student success, defined as completion to graduation and actually learning something WE define as important. The same virtual school, however, may be accountable to share holders interested in projected higher dividends achieved through access. Rupert Murdock, who recently purchased Wireless Generation, an education technology company, sees “...a $500 billion sector <K-12> in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs…”. Who would oppose the goals of flexibility, accountability and innovation given the embedded positive emotional resonance of those values in mainstream U.S. culture? These terms are being endlessly repeated and conflated with virtual schools/digital learning/EMOs because of the strong emotional resonance of these values with the public. We need to clarify how the semantic boundaries of these terms are being manipulated, conflated, and misrepresented. And we probably need to explain this more often and more effectively to the general pubic in 2012.
‘Flexibility’ is genuinely slippery concept, one that provides some sense of coherence with vagueness. It is also a concept that is a resource to be used in the pursuit of power.
I’m most familiar with the concept of flexibility in relationship to the changing nature of production systems. There has been a long debate in Economic Geography, for example, about phenomena like ‘flexible specialization’ and ‘flexible accumulation’. These interrelated concepts have helped scholars and industry analysts make sense of how production systems are evolving to cope with increasingly levels of competitive pressure, the emergence of global value chains, new forms of territorial development, and so on.
The concept of flexibility was also used, in abundance, when I lived and taught in Asia until 2001. It was frequently used in association with the corporatization (aka autonomy) agendas occurring at the same time as Asian higher education systems and institutions (HEIs) were expanding. Since then numerous systems of higher education (including Singapore, Malaysia, China) have seen expansion going hand in hand with rapid increases in funding, along with enhanced flexibility with respect to governance. Implementation problems exist, of course, and autonomy and flexibility mean different things to different people, but this was and still is the broad tenor of change.
It’s surely a sign of the times in America that we have also seen an expansion of the use of the concept of flexibility, though linked not to increased levels of funding, but to striking budget cuts. Given this, the concept of flexibility needs to be interrogated. This entry does that, though only in a very exploratory manner.
As noted above, flexibility is emerging as a keyword in some ongoing higher education debates in the US. For example, it is frequently used in in association with the ‘Charter University’ agenda in several states (e.g., Ohio). Closer to home (for me), flexibility was a mantra in deliberations and communications about the proposed ‘New Badger Partnership‘ (NBP) initiative put forward by the recently departed Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Carolyn ‘Biddy’ Martin) as well as the University of Wisconsin System alternative known as the ‘Wisconsin Idea Partnership‘ (WIP). If realized, the NBP would have led to the separation of UW-Madison from the UW System, along with numerous flexibilities and enhanced autonomy (from the System & the State). See here for an April 2011 summary of key elements of the NBP (vs the WIP), including proposed ‘flexibilities’ with respect to:
- Human Resources
- Capital Planning/Construction
- Financial Management
In the end, the NBP was not supported by the State Government due to a complicated array of political factors, as well as a problematic planning process that generated ineffectual support on our campus.
Now, while the NBP is unlikely to be resurrected, some elements of it have been incorporated into the unfolding governance agendas reshaping both the future of the UW System and UW-Madison itself. A state-appointed “Special Task Force on UW Restructuring and Operational Flexibilities” was recently established to consider the future of the UW System (it will report back by January 2013).
Given the debates about the NBP to date, and the announcement of even more budget cuts last week, it is inevitable that the ‘flexibility’ mantra will continue to exist. Indeed last week we witnessed one Wisconsin politician (Alberta Darling) state that:
“[U]niversities could use budget flexibilities passed by lawmakers in June as part of the budget. ‘It’s not going to be easy, but it can work out,’ Darling said.”
But what is the full meaning and significance of flexibility with respect to higher education? I’m not 100% sure, to be honest, but what I have noted is that there is more missing from the debate about ‘flexibility as solution’ than there is present. In short, there is a surprising absence of information about what flexibility is and can be defined as, what it can help achieve, and what its costs and limitations are.
There is also an absence of discussion about the long-term implications of relying on ‘flexibility’ to play a significant role in resolving what are in reality structural problems including the steady decline of state support for higher education, as well as the absence of a compact about optimal and necessary levels of support for public higher education. In other words the flexibility debate is a problematically truncated one.
In the interest of helping myself sort things out, I’ve put together a few thoughts and questions about flexibility. Please feel free to disagree with them, and/or add more to the list:
- Flexibility as legitimacy vehicle: The discourse of ‘flexibility’ masks the scale of budget cuts by tying painful cuts to a hoped-for (and unbudgeted, see below) mediating factor. The chance of new flexibilities generating enough savings or new revenue streams to significantly cover the costs of proposed and actual budget cuts cannot be anything but marginal. The language of new forms of flexibility can let politicians off the hook in that they do not need to accept, in public and in private, responsibility for the full scale of the cuts they themselves are proposing.
- Flexibility as reward: US politicians seem to be putting forth new flexibilities as a defacto reward of sorts if HEIs accept deep budget reductions. But why were these flexibilities held back for such a long time, including by politicians (Democrats as well as Republicans) who are ideologically predisposed to a constrained role for the state in the development process? And are these rewards indeed rewards for all? For example, flexibility on tuition can generate enhanced costs for students, or flexibility on governance can weaken the ability of some key stakeholders to participate in governance.
- Flexibility as a means to enhanced governance: The offer of flexibility usually comes in association with significant budget cuts and new found demands regarding ‘accountability,’ ‘efficiency’, ‘transparency,’ and the like. In most cases enhanced flexibilities come with enhanced forms of governance by Government, not less. These forms of governance can entail an attempt to reshape curricula, course offerings, program funding, faculty practices, etc. Agreements about some forms of flexibility have the capacity to enable Government to burrow more deeply, not less, into what happens within higher education institutions. The irony is that there is no correlation between declining levels of public funding and the desire to govern public HEIs.
- Flexibility unbudgeted: Flexibilities are often put forward as a key solution to coping with budget cuts, but the potential cost savings associated with proposed changes are rarely (if ever) modeled in detail, nor in a transparent manner. This is arguably a politically-based ‘wish and a prayer’ approach to strategic planning.
- Flexibility costs vis a vis implementation capabilities: The provision of many forms of flexibility involves shifts in the nature of governance, not its erasure. The recalibration process — pushing responsibilities up, or down (which is usually the case) — puts additional demands on the other units and officials. It is important to determine if these HEIs and officials have the capabilities to take on new responsibilities. If flexibility is distributed more widely, downwards, is there a ripple effect generated such that multiple units are now responsible versus the one before? Are proposed flexibilities more or less costly (in terms of labor costs) to implement in aggregate (e.g., across the campuses of a system)?
- Flexibility’s power geometries: the application of ‘flexibilities’ in most institutional contexts involves the realignment of power relations at a state-HEI scale, and at an intra-institutional scale, with a planned breakdown of the status quo for good and bad. The realignment outcome often increases the power of some parties, and decreases the power of other parties. It is worth reflecting if this inevitable outcome is an implicit or explicit objective of proffered flexibilities, with an eye to the developmental agendas of various parties.
These are but six aspects I see associated with the emerging ‘flexibility’ agenda for public higher education in the US.
Who could be against flexibility? No one, really, and certainly not me (having worked in some very rigid systems of higher education)! But surely we need to be more critical about what the concept of flexibility really means given how frequently it is thrown around in this era of austerity. Given the nearly 200 years of building up a world class public higher education system in the US, the stakes are simply too high to allow concepts like flexibility be accepted at face value, especially if they mask agendas that are facilitating the decline of said system. This is the era of the ‘knowledge economy,’ after all, and higher education is a critically important dimension of the systems of innovation we are dependent upon for future prosperity.
Reposted on December 18, 2011 with permission by the author: http://globalhighered.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/unpacking-the-flexibility-mantra-in-us-higher-education/ (October 23, 2011)