Reporting from UMass, Boston: Campaign for the Future of Higher EducationPosted: November 6, 2011
Blog report by Teri Yamada from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Nov. 4-6. Special thanks to UMass Profs. John Hess and Heike Schotton , political science student Daniel Finn, and PHENOM’s Ferd Wulkan for taking the lead in organizing this event.
The second national gathering of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) is taking place at UMass in a warm and welcoming Boston this weekend. Over seventy participants from 18 states are meeting to continue the discussion on the future of higher education that began in Los Angeles on January 11, 2011. Representatives from the initial L.A. gathering ultimately ratified seven guiding principles “Quality Higher Education for the 21st Century.” These focus on access, equity, affordability, and quality as core principles in CHFE’s effort to maintain public higher education as a right for everyone in the United States.
The UMass gathering is structured around a series of workshops and discussions that address issues facing a national grassroots movement with the intent to preserve public higher education. These include the importance of overcoming challenges to unity and solidarity by strengthening ties among college sectors, between adjunct and tenure-line professors, students and faculty. One workshop explores how to engage the media about the real crisis in higher education: a political issue regarding public policy priorities.
The meeting began on Friday evening with opening remarks, including information from students associated with Occupy Boston, who encouraged the development of stronger student-faculty alliances across the nation. Some participants also gave short reports on current concerns and trends in privatization occurring in their state and campus system. A similar pattern emerges across the United States: restructuring through disinvestment, sharp tuition increases, and the undermining of collective bargaining agreements. This pattern of restructuring reveals the intent to eradicate faculty governance as power is consolidated at the top management level of public colleges and universities. New York is currently on the list of extreme examples illustrating this privatization trend, although faculty in many states — Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Oregon, to name a few—are facing a range of challenges around restructuring. Prof. Gary Rhoades (ASU) encouraged the participants to re-imagine public higher education according to their values.
The highlight of Saturday morning was the launch of CHFE’s Think Tank under the direction of Rhoades and an advisory panel. This think tank is established to support sound public policy on issues in higher education while developing research that will serve as the basis for constructive change. Three reports are imminent: “100s Not Served: Who’s Not Going Back to Community College;” “Who Is Professor Staff And How Can S/he Teach So Many Classes?”; Misplaced Priorities: Refocusing Resources on the Core Academic Mission.” These inaugural reports will provide a counter-narrative to the current national framing of privatization as the sole choice for public higher education. They will foreground the flaws in the current rhetoric of student success in new management’s “efficiency” agenda to graduate large numbers of students as quickly as possible while downsizing faculty and weakening quality. The report by Maria Maisto, Esther Merves and other scholars associated with the New Faculty Majority— “Who Is Professor Staff And How Can S/he Teach So Many Classes?” —will examine the serious issue of contingent faculty work life, including a lack of academic rights and job security, factors that also undermine student success.
The event will conclude on Sunday with a discussion on the future direction of CFHE.