The Revolution Will Not Be Televised : Deconstructing the CFHE News Briefing (February 12, 2013) on Funding Hi Ed.Posted: February 19, 2013
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised : Deconstructing the CFHE News Briefing (February 12, 2013) on Funding Hi Ed.
“Contemporary society, observed the late Cornelius Castoriadis, has stopped questioning itself. Lack of genuine questioning —at once a questioning of self and society—is fundamental to the political deadlocks of contemporary social life”
At the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) news briefing, three scholars representing faculty across the U.S. strongly advocated for a change in state and federal funding of public higher ed. Their request— stop capitulating to a dysfunctional NEW NORMAL — was directed at politicians and administrative leaders with the power to change a funding system that longer works for most Americans.
Three scholars—Professors Samuels, Fichtenbaum and Glantz—presented different common-sense solutions for funding public higher education based on tax reforms or spending state and federal dollars more wisely. All proposals attempt to reverse the privatization trend in public higher education that shifts the expense from the state and federal government onto the most vulnerable families and individuals. These scholars share the concern that a failure to fund quality public higher education equally for every American gradually leads to a diminished democracy with a two-tiered class system. It is past time to rethink this problem and take action to correct it.
- Bob Samuels in “Making All Public Higher Education Free” argues for reallocating monies used for state and government education subsidies. According to his research, the cost for free undergraduate public education in 2009-10 was $127 bil. The total amount of state and government dollars currently allocated to college-saving programs, grants, subsidies and student loan expenses would cover this cost AND stop the horrendous problem of student debt.
- Rudy Fichtenbaum in “How to Invest in Higher Education: A Financial Speculation Tax” proposes a responsibly administered, modest tax of no more than .5% on speculative financial transactions. The U.S. had a small financial transactions tax from 1914 to 1966. Its diminished relative now supports the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Many other nations— Great Britain, Singapore, France and Finland, for example— have a financial speculation tax with the subsidiary benefit of reducing speculation while providing funding for public projects.
- Stanton Glantz in “Financial Options for Restoring Quality and Access to Public Higher Education in California: 2012/13” suggests we reset student fees to the 2001 level. Glantz provides an analysis to show that a $48 tax per median California taxpayer would restore the state to that 2001 level. Otherwise, the offloading of public higher education costs to private individuals will continue to make education less affordable to the public. A tax like this in each state would return public education to the status of a public good.
The facts in these three proposals were reported on a number of online education venues. I was disappointed, however, in reportage that failed to emphasize the despair faculty feel over the current damage to public higher education. It is authentic concern and frustration that compel faculty to develop such proposals. If this trend of defunding continues what is positive about our current public higher ed system will be tossed out in the madness of “efficiency” reform. We will end up with a one-size-fits-all commodity education for children who cannot afford private colleges: a second-class education for second-class citizens.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) and Inside Higher Ed (IHE) reporters papered over the political message of failed leadership, although the IHE reporter did quote Glantz’s comment on urgency: ”We’ve got to get policy makers and individuals who represent institutions to stop wringing their hands and address the problem.” Samuels, Fichtenbaum and Glantz were unified in criticizing the failure of college presidents and political leaders to question and mitigate the negative influence of neo-liberal economic policy on public higher education. It is unconscionable to passively accept the New Normal as an excuse for maintaining a dysfunctional status quo. Inaction is not an option. In contrast, NEA reporter Mary Ellen Flannery more accurately emphasized the urgency of the faculty message, the reason for this news briefing.
It is also interesting that no reporter took advantage of Glantz’s suggestion to contact a college president. Since the “failure of leadership to question and create change” was the seminal subtext of the three faculty proposals, it is ironic that most reporters would adhere to status quo coverage of facts not message. Glantz’s suggestion would involve more effort, perhaps impossible in the face of time constraints imposed by short deadlines. The Chronicle of Higher Ed blogger had his post up within hours of the event. Calling a few campus presidents may not be an option with a two-three hour deadline. This is not the moment, however, to reflect on the decontextualization and flattening of news that occurs in the immediacy of the tweets and blogs of “networked time”. Glantz’s suggestion would necessitate finding a campus president “engaged enough” to have read the three proposals and “brave enough” to respond to reporter’s questions with the possibility of an “unpopular” quote ending up in print for all to read. Easier and safer for a campus president just to ignore it all. Perhaps for the next set of research proposals, CFHE organizers will send notification in advance to an array of campus presidents mentioning that reporters might call. And if no president is willing, interested, or able to respond, that type of dismissal and disengagement from faculty concerns is itself newsworthy.
Those of us teaching in the public higher ed domain are watching our administrators dismantle the liberal arts mission of our institutions while denying such action or blaming the New Normal for it. They can’t help it; it’s not their fault; the state budgets made them do it; STEM matters. Administrative emotion has become coldly authoritarian. If capitulation to the New Normal continues, those disciplines hardest to monetize and located in small programs and departments—foreign languages, philosophy, ethnic studies—will be eliminated as tenure lines are not replaced. Following the SUNY model, general education requirements will be streamlined into pathways as public universities reduce “product lines.” Pressure to graduate everyone in four years mandates a factory-like system for state colleges. Does the public care? We think they should.
What will be lost in ten years is the cultural space that our institutions once provided for intellectual experimentation and development. They provided a safe haven for learning, which valorized choice over restriction, community engagement over individualism. If this efficiency trend continues, our students will be managed through a three-four year delivery pipeline with diminished chance to change a major or even add a minor. The spirit of discovery, which may take more than ten minutes, will be wrung out of the institution.
It is ironic that those in political office who do not teach demand “efficiency and quality”. They have no idea about the sorry state of the technological infrastructure in our classrooms. Their fantasy of a speedy pipeline education that utilizes “cheap” online instruction will not make the United States more competitive in the global economy. Nor will our streamlined “student product” satisfy the “worker needs” of 21st century corporations. Our administrators in their “detached engagement” tell us this new normal is a done deal. It is all about improving efficiency to provide a “good-enough” education for the 99%.