Online Disruption, Privatization of Public Higher Ed

Guest blogger Steve Teixeira serves on the Executive Board of Academic Professionals of California, representing professional staff in academic support services of the California State University.   Email contact: steixeira@apc1002.org.

Online Disruption, Privatization of Public Higher Ed

A battle’s brewing over online courses in public universities.  In October, the University of California lecturer’s union (UC-AFT) won the right to bargain over the impact of online instruction.  But UC spokesperson Dianne Klein assured the press that to stop any online program, the union would have to endure “mediation, fact-finding, and, if necessary, a university mandate and potentially a union strike”.

“Online education has proliferated, from community colleges to… M.I.T.”, wrote Bill Keller in the New York Times October 3rd.  He asked if it could improve education, or just save money.  But a third possibility is that online instruction masks a campaign to increase the corporate privatization of public universities.

The California Faculty Association in the California State University system is also negotiating to protect teaching standards in online courses.  CSU’s managers first proposed online instruction to help entering students with so-called “remedial” skills in math or English.  Then, they required all 20,000 remedial students to take summer “Early Start”, much of it online.  But when the “CSU Online” goals were presented, they included much more than just remedial courses.

The quality of the university is at risk here.  When Cal State Bakersfield laid off some remedial math faculty and replaced them with an online system in 2009, student failures rose to almost 40%, from just 25% the year before.  Only when faculty were allowed to re-design the online course did student performance improve.  “We’re not getting what we’re promised and what we’re paying for,” student leader Vanessa Rojas told the local press.

In addition to issues of educational quality, there is concern that online instruction is a screen for injecting private companies into public universities.  At first, CSU Online’s goals stated that “A business partner for CSU Online might be needed” — but then the job announcement for its Executive Director position required applicants to have “Experience in higher education and experience working for/with for-profit agencies”.  Is it paranoid to worry about that?

Not if you study the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis’ report Making it Happen: Increasing College, which urges that California government create a new higher education planning board to openly link public and private institutions (both non-profit and for-profit).  The Board would oversee enrollment shifts from public community colleges, CSU, and UC to private institutions, and allow students at private companies to receive Cal Grant financial aid.  Other goals would be to “outsource” remedial courses and online instruction to “private institutions”. Which is exactly the path already being pursued by CSU and UC leadership.

As America’s economy evolves from one based on millions of jobs in heavy industry to one based on global hi-tech, capital is sniffing around public services like education to see what it can shift into and privatize.  They are counting on government officials to help them, even though this has proven to be bad for students as well as employees.  That’s why Bob Samuels, UC-AFT president, says “We are not standing in the way of progress, but we are trying to block the downsizing of academic jobs and the degrading of instructional quality”.

The battle to defend public education can be won if these faculty and staff can come together with the thousands of students who are exposing corporate abuses in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.  After all, they’re really fighting the same enemy.

Posted Oct 30, 2011

 

Editor’s Note:

Also, see today’s (Sun. Oct. 30) S F Chron article:

“CSU rolling out online undergraduate program”

And a YouTube clip on how online courses need “faculty” to be most meaningful (honest!).

“Human Factors in Online Learning with Doug Hersh”



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