Jeff Kolnick’s thoughtful comments below, questioning the quality and courage of administrative leadership in our public institutions, echo a number of other recent media commentaries and publications that problematize this issue. Where have all the creative, courageous, and competent administrative leaders gone? Or is this a new form of academic nostalgia? Bringing clarity to this question is Diane Ravitch’s cautionary lecture on the ‘fetish of measurement’ overtaking the public higher education sector and the need for courageous administrators to rethink the “obsession with data let loose on the land.” This obsession is enhanced by President Obama’s recent campaign for a type of NCLB accountability system tagged to universities receiving federal aid; such aid abuse can be solved by other means. There is also Serena Golden’s intriguing new publication Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education.As we chuckle at the zombie meme we simultaneously note the dead zone of communication that often seems to exist between higher level administrators and their worker faculty on our campuses. Perhaps we have entered a post-MOOC media mania moment, where some very serious issues like the real and immediate need for strong and principled academic leadership at this moment in the shifting sands of higher education history can find some space in our ed journalists’ tweets and blog musings. Teri Yamada
Colleges, universities should show less caution, more courage and challenges
Prof. Jeff Kolnick (Southwest Minnesota State University), Aug. 21, 2013
The fall semester is an exciting time to be a college professor. The spring semester has its charms with the promise of summer and the thrill of graduation, but for me, the start of the school year is what keeps me coming back for more. My scholarly work over the summer months pays off immediately in the changes that appear on my syllabi. My batteries are recharged by a blessed absence from office politics and paperwork. And the best part is I get to encounter a new class of college students. This year many of these newcomers will be from the high-school class of 2013.
The class of 2013 is an important group of young people. Many of them would have started their academic journey in the last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency and entered first grade under No Child Left Behind. They also began the first grade around the time of the Sept. 11th attacks. For this class of young people, their academic minds have been shaped by a steady diet of high-stakes standardized tests, and their civic consciousness has been molded by a nation continuously at war.
What kind of colleges and universities will these students enter? While reading the current issue of Harper’s Magazine I discovered Harry Lewis, a distinguished professor of computer science at Harvard and the former dean of Harvard College. To give you a sense of Lewis’ thinking on the current state of higher education, I share this with you:
“One of the reasons that moral courage is lacking in the [United States] is that it is lacking in universities. As institutions, they now operate much more like ordinary corporations, fearful of bad publicity, eager to stay on good terms with the government, and focused on their bottom lines, than as boiling cauldrons of unconventional ideas sorted out through a process of disputation, debate, and occasional dramatic gestures.”
More cautious, increasingly conservative
I teach at Southwest Minnesota State University, not at Harvard. And at SMSU, disputation and debate are common, though the dramatic gesture has retreated largely to the theater building! But Lewis was thinking institutionally and not about individual classes or particular events on campus. And I think he is right. I have been around colleges and universities since 1977, and in that time the institutions have become cautious.
Education is now seen as a personal investment, not a public good. Scarce dollars cause colleges to chase money from billionaire philanthropists who push free-market solutions to every conceivable problem. University leaders feel the need to appeal to increasingly conservative state legislators who despise government.
University governing boards, chancellors, presidents, provosts, deans and chairs (and, sadly, even most faculty) are afraid to challenge the conservative orthodoxy because they desperately want to save what is left of higher education. Colleges and universities, as institutions, used to challenge authority with facts and reason. This is less common today and stems, I believe, from the austerity agenda of the super rich.
Mentor ‘shocked one into thinking’
Eleanor Roosevelt once said of her mentor and favorite teacher, Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre, that she “shocked one into thinking, and that on the whole was very beneficial.” It is this chance to shock students into thinking, into realizing the power of their own minds and ideas, that causes me to return each fall semester.
If ever there was a class of students that needed to be shocked into thinking, it is the class of 2013. After 12 years of No Child Left Behind, too many of them have been numbed into believing that filling in bubbles can measure intelligence. Never having known a conscious moment of peace, some of them might think that war is normal.
What they need from a college is a boiling cauldron of unconventional ideas that are tested through rigorous debate and civil discourse. I fear that they will find instead institutions that prepare them only for work and not to think or, when necessary, to challenge stale orthodoxy.
Report from the Third National Meeting of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE)
Teri Yamada, Prof. Asian Studies, posting from Phnom Penh
CFHE, May 20, 2012, Joint Statement on Federal Financial Aid
Demand for college is at an all-‐time high and student debt has reached a devastating one trillion dollars. Despite this, Congress is debating whether to cut student aid.
This kind of cut would further close off college access, particularly for lower income students and students of color, the growth demographic of traditional age students.
Proposals to reduce eligibility and the size of Pell Grants and to increase interest rates on student loans, if adapted, would be a tragic and short-‐sighted slamming of the door on our nation’s future.
We need a strong Pell Grant program that does not reduce either eligibility or the size of the grant. We also need the lowest possible interest rates on federally subsidized student loans.
This is not the time to curtail the prospects for students to attend colleges and universities.
We need a national discussion about how ensure that higher education is affordable, available and accessible to everyone who can benefit from it.
The third national meeting of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) was held under beautiful blue skies in Ypsilanti, Michigan, May 18-20, 2012 (1). More than 60 faculty and professional staff, including members of the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions, participated in a grassroots assessment of the challenges facing public higher education.
The event began with short reports on challenges and successes. A noteworthy success since the last CFHE (Boston: December 2011) was a formal meeting with U.S Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter. The CFHE contingent was able to correct some misinformation, such as the belief that increasing costs in public higher education are due to high faculty salaries rather than dramatically higher administrative costs and expensive building projects that are unrelated to direct instructional needs. Other topics included problems facing the contingent faculty workforce. Over the past 40 years, institutions have shifted away from tenured faculty to 70% of the workforce being underpaid, contingent or “adjunct faculty with no health and other benefits” (2). CFHE will schedule a follow-up meeting with the U.S. Department of Education to continue this discussion.
Other successes reported on opening night include UFF-Florida International University’s contract gains; Rutgers AUP-AFT advance of Non Tenture-Track (NTT) faculty issues using a caucus model and its successful negotiation of the first promotion pathway for NTT faculty; the Inter Faculty Organization of Minnesota, which successfully negotiated a restoration of Professional Improvement Funds.
In an age of shock-doctrine capitalism, many states—Pennsylavania, New Jersey, and California, for example—are still experiencing dramatic budget cuts to public higher education, while other states like New York have revenue streams that have stabilized. New York’s CUNY now has other restructuring challenges, however, with the imposition of mandated Pathways. The upper midwestern region—Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin—is facing an onslaught of antiunion legislation promoted by ALEC and funded by the Koch brothers.
Over 80 pieces of antiunion legislation have been introduced in Michigan, attempting to change it to a “right-to-work” state. One plan attempts to divide the state by a patchwork of “right-to-work zones” that would be locally implemented in more conservative areas of the state. In response, Michigan-AAUP has organized the Protect Our Jobs campaign, which includes advocating for a state constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining rights. It succeeded in gathering enough signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot. Ohio faculty unions are working on a similar initiative. The Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculties (APSCUF) is facing another 20% state reduction to higher education in Pennsylvania. In response they initiated the United we Stand, Underfunded we Fail campaign in March 2012. APSCUF is confronting both Governor Corbett’s higher education task force, which narrowly focuses on “technical experience, distance learning and job training” and the specter of right-to-work legislation.
Also discussed over the weekend were the poor working conditions of contingent faculty who face at-whim employment and poverty level wages. The New Faculty Majority (NFM) has contributed to a recent publication on these issues: Embracing Non-Tenure Track Faculty: Changing Campuses for the New Faculty Majority. As part of its coalition building campaign, NFM convened a national summit in Washington, DC on January 28, 2012: Reclaiming Academic Democracy: Facing the Consequences of Contingent Employment in Higher Education.” This summit focused on improving communications among stakeholders, identifying broad-based reform goals along with strategies for their implementation.
The reduction in state spending for public education is still a common trend across states. As Rudy Fichtenbaum and Howard Bunsis stressed in their presentation on university budgets—“Taking on the administration’s ‘We’re broke’ argument”—a state’s fiscal crisis is being used by many institutions as an excuse to restructure. Restructuring is imposed irrespective of the hefty unrestricted reserves which institution’s refuse to allocate to instructional support. This restructuring conforms to the current trend to vocationalize and standardize pubic higher education while weakening faculty governance. To track our institution’s actual financial health, we need to examine its audited financial statements.
Several ideas for funding public higher education were brought forth for discussion with the understanding that states alone cannot solve the public higher education funding problem. A menu of solutions could be used across states depending on their specific situation. Some funding ideas at the federal level were a “pay it forward” plan that includes doubling the size of PELL grants while increasing the scope of eligibility and providing maintenance of effort provisions at the state level; other ideas involved various taxes including a financial speculation tax.
CFHE’s Virtual Think Tank was established to introduce a faculty voice in the national discussion of higher education policies, currently dominated by executives, consultants, and philanthropic foundations. Gary Rhoades provided an update on CFHE’s first two policy reports. “Closing the Door, Increasing the Gap: Who’s not going to (community) college?” (April 2012) analyzes recent problematic enrollment and policy trends at the nation’s community colleges. As caps on community college enrollment are expanding, the scope of educational programs is narrowing; as quality is undermined, access is denied to large numbers of lower-income students and students of color. The second policy report, forthcoming shortly, “Who is professor staff and how can s/he teach so many classes?” is based on New Faculty Majority research regarding contingent faculty working conditions and their affect on student learning. Just-in-time hiring practices do not allow any faculty adequate time to develop a course. Also, the demographics of contingent faculty models complex racial inequities.
CFHE plans its next meeting, Sacramento, January 2013.
Some Shared Resources:
- Profs. Douglas Carr (email@example.com) and Roger Larocca (firstname.lastname@example.org). In response to the advocates of performance funding in higher eduction, including Lumina Foundation and the National Governors Association, and the fact that “many states have adopted performance-funding programs in spite of the weak evidence of their effectiveness” (Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and Texas, for example), Professors Carr and Larocca have co-authored “The Effects of Performance Funding on Higher Education Outcomes” (26 March 2012).
Abstract: “We study the effects of performance funding metrics for graduation and retention on actual graduation and retention rates at all 4-year and 2-year public universities…. We find no significant effect of graduation metrics on graduation rates at 4-year or 2-year institutions, and no significant effect of retention measures on retention rates at 4-year institutions. We do find that retention measures are significantly associated with higher retention rates at 2-year institutions, but only for 2-year institutions that receive a relatively large share of their funding from state appropriations.”
- AAUP-Connecticut State University. Academic Year in Review: 2011-2012. Vol. 3.13 (May 3, 2012). This report contains information on major administrative restructuring a new Board of Regents for Higher Education imposed on the Connecticut State University System (CSUS), a seventeen-campus system, to prepare “students for productive and satisfying futures.” Restructuring eliminated twenty-four top administrative positions from CSU and CTC. It consolidated higher-Ed into ConnSCU (Connecticut State Colleges & Universities) a merger of CSU, Community/Technical Colleges, and Charter Oak State College. The legislature was also busy, passing HB 5030 that established a “general education core of courses.”
- PSC-CUNY.org. (PSC-CUNYORG@PSC.CUNY) “What is Pathways?” In June 2011, CUNY Board of Trustees passed a resolution to establish a new, uniform General Education Framework, called “Pathways” “…ostensibly created to facilitate student transfer throughout CUNY.” This mandate requires a 30-credit common core for CUNY colleges: 12-credit “required core” and 18-credit “flexible core.” All Common Core courses must fulfill learning objectives established by the Chancellor’s office. This resolution was passed over the objections of the University Faculty Senate, Professional Staff Conference, among others. Pathways is aligned with the national reform agenda, funded by Lumina and the Gates foundations, that stresses ‘college completion’ above all else. PSC-CUNY considers this reform an assault on faculty governance and a further corporatization of the university system. As a form of austerity education it establishes an impoverished curriculum “that will prepare CUNY students for low expectations in an austerity economy,” one that accommodates to rather than challenges underfunding of the system. See also the CUNY Community College financial analysis report “Invest in Opportunity: Invest in CUNY Community Colleges” prepared by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). In fall 2012, tuition will have increased by 212% since 1990-91. “In 2011-12 CUNY community college tuition and fees ($3,946) were 33% higher than the national average tuition and fees at 2-year public colleges ($2,963).”
- Bruce Nissen and Yue Zhang. Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy. “How FIU Spends Its Money: FIU Expenditures on Faculty and Higher Level Administration with special emphasis on the two years between 2008-09 to 2010-11.” The United Faculty of Florida at Florida International University (UFF-FIU) commissioned this report to establish creditable data on the number and salary of administrators compared to faculty as well as data on increased faculty workload. Information in this report reflects patterns across the United States: administration is diverting resources away from faculty and instruction to administrative personnel and salaries. Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators at America’s leading universities grew by 39%, while the number of faculty and service employees grew by 18%. At FIU during this period, the number of administrators per 100 students grew by 79.5% while the number of faculty decreased by 29.2% as instate undergraduate tuition grew by 40.3% and FIU enrollment rose 57%. During the past two years covered by the study, the pace of administrative growth has slowed to 10.2%; yet the growth in faculty numbers has increased only 4.2% as the growth in students increased 10.7%. Average annual faculty workload increased 3.5% per year at a rate consistent with the previous 13 year period, when the teaching load grew 56%. The number of faculty tenure track positions at all levels declined over the past two years by 11.25% as the total salaries for these positions decreased by 5.27%. The top 40 highest paid administrators at FIU have salaries that range between $522.750 and $217,508. The average salary of $198,643 for the second tier of top paid administrators, when adjusted to faculty, is $41,789 more than the average salary for full professors.
- Prof. Rudy Fichtenbaum (President-elect AAUP). “How to Invest in Higher Education” proposes the idea of a “financial speculation tax.” According to a study published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “A financial speculation tax would generate $176.9 to $353.8 billion in revenue per year.” Some federal legislators have proposed bills based on this idea, which is supported by a number of prominent economists including Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman.
- New Faculty Majority (NFM) and Foundation concept papers and research projects.
- Special thanks to Michael Bailey and others of the MI-AAUP (Michigan Conference American Association of University Professors) for hosting this conference. Twelve CFHE affiliates also assisted with funding for this event.
- For further information, see the New Faculty Majority.
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.
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.
"The Curricular Dimension of De-funding Public Higher Education"
As Washington looks toward the next special legislative session, higher education is again on the cutting block. It is likely that new cuts will be forthcoming absent new taxes. As a result, the cost to students to attend college will continue to rise.
A major reason why public college tuition has been rising in Washington is not because it costs so much more to attend college these days, but because the portion of that cost subsidized by the state has declined dramatically. As the state cuts, more of the cost is borne by students and parents.
Commentators have noted the effect rising tuition has on student debt, but few have paid attention to curricular dimensions. As tuition increases, however, legislators have responded by making fundamental changes to college education that threaten to redefine college’s very purpose. It is worth pondering whether this is a direction we wish to take.
At the heart of American college is what is known as “general education.” In addition to one’s major, college students take courses in different disciplines and areas in order to gain a broad education in the arts and sciences — a liberal education.
General education took its modern form after the 1945 publication of “General Education for a Free Society,” by a Harvard committee under its president, James Bryant Conant. Conant argued that specialization and depth must be balanced by general education and breadth. Modern universities and faculty were too focused on their disciplines, and students suffered. In Conant’s words, general education refers to “that part of a student’s whole education which looks first of all to his life as a responsible human being and citizen; while the term, special education, indicates that part which looks to the student’s competence in some occupation.”
General education takes time and money. As legislators shift the burden to students, they have sought to bypass general education requirements to make college degrees cheaper, faster to obtain, narrower in focus, and geared more directly to vocational training.
The key two programs are Running Start, which allows 11th and 12th graders to enroll in college courses at the state’s expense, and the more recent “College in the High School,” which urges high schools to offer college credit courses.
Both programs are designed to save the state and students money. Both send the message to students that general education is unimportant and the more quickly you can get it over with, the faster you can graduate and get on with life. Both erode the campus experience of which general education is a large part.
The last legislative session witnessed a three-pronged attack on general education. The first was the establishment of Western Governors University-Washington, which has almost no general education requirements when compared with other colleges. Western Governors University (WGU), instead, criticizes colleges for requiring so much “seat time.”
The second was a bill granting Boeing and Microsoft huge tax breaks for a scholarship fund for students majoring in science, engineering, health care and other high-demand fields. Legislators were not troubled by allowing two large corporations to determine which subjects ought to be prioritized. Students majoring in the humanities would be out of luck, as would those choosing to pursue careers that Boeing and Microsoft do not prioritize
The final prong was a bill urging colleges to develop three-year degrees for advanced students, as if avoiding a year of college ought to be a reward for hard work. In fact, advanced students may benefit the most from the arts and sciences. We should give them an extra year for free. The only explanation is that legislators consider college primarily job training and see the extra time required to gain a general education as wasteful.
If colleges wish to respond, they will have to make the case that general education matters. This will require effort. Faculty must become as committed to their general education students as they are to students in their majors, and administrators must fund smaller, more engaging courses and sequences. Students should leave college valuing their general education as much as their major.
Washington’s legislators face a dilemma. Citizens want and deserve access to post-secondary education in order to get better jobs. But there are many avenues to this end, including high-quality certification and apprenticeship programs. We instead have sought to make college fit all students without being willing to fund it. In doing so, we threaten what makes distinctive a college education while forcing many students to spend years earning a degree they neither want nor need.
A more balanced approach would preserve and fund college education for students who want it, while offering quality alternatives to those who wish to get the training they need for a better job.
Editor’s Note: First published as “Retreat on funding carries real costs” on “HeraldNet,” Oct. 15, 2011. Republished with permission of the author.
Nancy Welch, a professor of English at the University of Vermont, relays a contemporary Dickensian tale of academic life in her guest blog .
A tale of "haves and have-nots" (or life and death) at the University of Vermont
When University of Vermont President Daniel Fogel resigned this summer in the wake of a Peyton Place scandal involving his wife and a vice president, trustees rewarded him with a golden handshake that has proved much more shocking for Vermonters than who in the administration building was trying to sleep with whom.
According to the deal Fogel struck with trustees, he’ll receive a monthly salary of more than $35,000–including a car, housing, and “wellness” allowance–for a leave that’s to extend to the start of the Fall 2013 semester. At that point he’ll join the English department at an annual salary of $195,000–more than double the department average for a full professor.
How do the trustees justify such largesse, especially when students face another tuition hike and campus workers have been told to expect frozen wages and benefit cuts? On the grounds of compassion, explained board chair Robert Cioffi: the former president has “poured his heart and soul” into the university; he now needs the university’s support given “the personal issues he is facing.”
I would have liked these trustees to have met one of my colleagues, Steve, who passed away in Summer 2008 just after he poured his heart and soul into teaching a summer session first-year composition class. Steve taught at UVM for nine years. Most often, he was given three composition courses each semester, six courses a year not including summer. But UVM still called him “part-time,” which meant that he wasn’t eligible for UVM’s health insurance plan. As a result, he paid $356 each month for an individual insurance plan, with a deductible of up to $18,750 a year.
When he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and underwent two rounds of debilitating chemotherapy, he could have used–he desperately needed–time off. (He would bring a chair with him into the Xerox room so he could sit, head resting on the copier, while Xeroxing handouts for his students.) Given that he was also caring for his disabled father, some compassion from the university he’d served would have been both welcome and deserved. But in two rounds of negotiations with “part-time” faculty, UVM’s administration declined to recognize that faculty teaching six, eight, and more courses a year are not in fact part-time and should receive UVM healthcare benefits. Steve now needed not only to pay $356 a month for his insurance but $8,200 for each chemotherapy infusion. He continued teaching at UVM; he also began teaching additional courses at other area colleges. He was teaching to save his life.
In summer 2008 after he held final conferences with his students, returned their papers, and turned in their grades, Steve checked into hospice and a few days later died. I attended the funeral lunch and met his parents. They were so proud that he had been a lecturer at UVM. And I am so ashamed at what this university’s administration did to him and continues to do to others.
So, Mr. Cioffi, meet Steve. And try meeting more faculty, service workers, and staff. It might deepen your acquaintance with people who make remarkable contributions to our state university and who are miraculously able and willing to be UVM?s heart and soul without car, housing, and “wellness” allowances. It might also broaden your idea of compassion and how broadly it should be shared.
For further information:
Fogel’s separation package
[The trustee chair’s defense of the package was in the Burlington Free Press story “Governor Says Compensation Is Corporate” that is only available to subscribers or through ProQuest]
Adjunct Professor William Lipkin has been adjuncting in History and Political Science for fifty years (right out of grad school), mainly while working as a controller in private industry. For the past 12 years, he has been a professional adjunct in several colleges and universities in New Jersey. He is the immediate past president of American Federation of Teachers New Jersey (AFTNJ), consisting of 30,000 education workers in NJ, and current Secretary/Treasurer (and co-founder) of United Adjunct Faculty of NJ. Lipkin is also co-chair and treasurer of the Union County College Chapter of UAFNJ and Treasurer of New Faculty Majority and NFM Foundation. He is a dedicated supporter of equity and respect for adjuncts in the United States.
Higher Education at the Crossroads in New Jersey
New Jersey, the former long-time home of the Miss America pageant, now has to deal with a governor who thinks he is Mr. America. In eighteen months Governor Chris Christie has orchestrated legislation that changed the health care and pension program for New Jersey educators and support
staff, forcing all public employees to pay a much larger share for their benefits while getting a lesser coverage plan. All he has done for Higher Ed is change the state from 'The Garden State' to 'The Poop State'.
The major reason that the NJ Pension Fund is on the verge of bankruptcy is that over the past 20 years the state made minimal (or no) contributions of its share into the fund, while we all paid our share from every single paycheck. The Republican governor had been held back by a Democrat legislature for over a year; but deals were cut with Democrat leaders, and they gave the governor the votes he needed to pass this legislation that increases the employees' contributions to health care and pension. This has caused a split in the legislature and between public employee unions and the trades. Earlier this month when the state AFL-CIO refused to endorse any state legislator who supported this bill, for re-election this November, over 100 members of trade unions walked out and blamed the teachers for the split. The governor has also launched an attack on collective bargaining and his supporters have introduced legislation to make NJ a 'right to work' state. There also has been a change in tenure for public institutions of Higher Ed in the state adding at least one year to the process.
As an adjunct in NJ I am part of a large group of long-suffering, exploited, at-will employees in higher education. This is especially apparent in community colleges. In NJ there are 19 community (county) colleges, each of which negotiates pay scales with its employees (union shops) or sets the
scale on their own. Nine of these colleges have recently federated under the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to become the 3,100 member United Adjunct Faculty of NJ (UAFNJ). The per credit pay scale among these colleges ranges from $500.00 to $880.00; no health care is provided, and we all contribute into the state pension plan.
Most of us use our cars as our offices and float between three or four schools to try to make a living. We call ourselves 'roads scholars'. We get very little support at the schools, have little or no role in college governance, and can have a course taken away from us up to the first day of
class. Scheduling is a major problem and many of us turn down classes at one school only to be bumped from a class at another. We are used as an economic expediency by the schools. A big issue we have at present is that some of the colleges are blaming adjunct faculty for the lack of student success mainly due to the circumstances they themselves have created. Pay rates at public four-year colleges and universities are higher but the other problems exist there as well. Private colleges and universities in NJ make their own scale and usually freeze the rate. For example, I have been adjuncting at Seton Hall University for six years and am still making the same $700.00 rate per credit I started with.
College and university presidents in NJ are earning over $200,000 with many perks, and bloated administrations pay several vice presidents, deans and provosts six figure incomes while full time faculty have their salaries frozen and pay more into the benefit systems, adjuncts have to eke out a
living or go on food stamps, and students have to pay continually rising tuition rates. There is truly no equity in higher education in NJ.
Editor: See Johann Neem's quote in the Aug. 26, 2011 New York Times article "Online Enterprises Gain Foothold as Path To College Degree."
During the last legislative session in Washington state, faculty and other supporters of quality higher education fought a losing battle against legislation to recognize Western Governors University (WGU), an online private institution based in Utah, as a state institution. Indiana and, more recently, Texas have also recently formed partnerships with WGU (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/08/04/governor_perry_partners_with_western_governors_university)
I have long sought to figure out what troubles me so much about our legislators’ willingness to support this questionable institution. Was it WGU’s lack of teachers? Was it the complete lack of regard for research or for academic freedom? Was it that the state was outsourcing its public responsibilities? Was it that WGU, despite proclaiming to serve working adults, pays its president almost $700,000? Was it WGU’s labor practices, which undermine shared governance? Was it WGU’s misleading claims about its cost to students?
The answer, I finally realized, was something deeper. The fundamental problem with WGU is that it is anti-intellectual.
Of course, anti-intellectualism is a reality of American public life, and at times a good one. At its best, it ensures that intellectuals are both responsive and responsible to the broader public. At its worst, however, it undermines the university’s role as a sacred space for the promotion of knowledge.
This is shocking. WGU, and its for-profit online cousins, are opposed to the core mission of the university: to cultivate the life of the mind. Universities maintain—in fact they cherish—knowledge. They teach knowledge; they interpret and maintain old knowledge; they produce new knowledge. Those of us who teach and research joined the academy because we believe that knowing is worth more than money; the search for truth is a calling. To teach students and to pursue research is to engage in something worthy.
WGU, on the other hand, seeks to deskill the professoriate and students.
First, it has no faculty. It can barely be said to have teachers. WGU’s “course mentors” are not expected to develop course material, much less engage in creative teaching and research.
It’s not just about designing curricula, however. As all teachers know, the formal curriculum—what is on the syllabus—is a starting point. Much of the real thinking takes place in carrying out the syllabus’s promise—in the discussions inspired by assigned readings, in experiments that test hypotheses, and in conversations about papers and ideas. It is here that professors play a vital role helping students not just to complete assignments and pass assessments, but to become thoughtful, to ask good questions, and to get below the surface of things. (This is also why MIT can make its syllabi public without fear of losing students.)
The problem of deskilling is that teachers are no longer expected to be, or even allowed to be, models of intellectual life. They are simply facilitating students’ access to predigested material. Students at WGU may interact with “mentors” but not with scholars.
This is not meant as an insult to those who are employed by WGU. It’s a structural claim about the organization of work. As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, if you carry the division of labor too far you give a worker “no occasion to exert his understanding.” Whether that’s good for society at large is one question, but certainly it’s a bad idea for an institution devoted to thinking.
But, WGU would respond, it focuses on students not teachers. The traditional university, WGU claims, is faculty-centered rather than student-centered. The reality is quite different. All colleges and universities must be responsive to student needs and the broader market. What’s really at stake is the balance of power between faculty and management. WGU redistributes power upward, to its management.
Moreover, WGU is not interested in students actually learning. Its liberal education requirements are laughable. The depth of its studies is insulting—its own promotional material tells students that they can finish a term’s length of work in a week. Unlike most American colleges and universities, WGU does not demand that students think, learn, and change as part of being educated. WGU, in short, not only deskills teachers, it deskills students.
Instead of students, WGU seeks customers. WGU’s education has no value other than the degree itself. It is completely utilitarian. There is no broader civic mission, nor any hope that college educated adults will learn how to be better women and men. Rather than offering a college education, which takes time, their promotional material asks potential customers: “How quickly would you like to earn your degree?”
The students who seek out WGU and other similar institutions are not to be blamed. Americans need, and deserve, high quality technical education. Whether WGU can live up to this goal without good teachers remains to be seen. But technical education is not the same thing as baccalaureate education. Both are necessary and valuable forms of higher education, but they serve different purposes and have different goals.
WGU and other institutions like it pose a challenge to the university that extends well beyond labor concerns. Yes, WGU has outsourced and divided labor in ways that threaten academic freedom and shared governance. But what makes WGU even more insidious is that it has outsourced thinking itself. It is no longer a university.
What became clear in debates over WGU in Washington state, however, is that our legislators do not value college education. All legislators want is to increase the number of people who can claim college degrees.
Editor: Please send your blog submissions to email@example.com. I’m especially looking for faculty in Texas and Florida to update us on the situation in those states.