Has the CSU Forgotten Its Mission? The Decline of Ethnic Studies in California

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“L.A. Times” reporter, Carla Rivera, interviewing students in ASAM 120, at CSU Long Beach (Oct. 17, 2013).

Has the CSU Forgotten Its Mission?  The Decline of Ethnic Studies in California 

by Teri Shaffer Yamada, CSU Long Beach

  ” The mission of the California State University is:

  •    To advance and extend knowledge, learning, and culture, especially throughout California.
  •    To prepare students for an international, multi-cultural society….”

In fall 2013, CSU faculty returned to campuses looking forward to a better year given their efforts to pass Prop 30 with its promise of stable budgets for the near future.   Instead, many Ethnic Studies faculty have encountered a reign of  “data” terror: a new administrative ideology that privileges the number of majors, course popularity, and fill rates over a broader vision of the CSU’s mission: to prepare students for a multi-cultural society.

Instead of promoting that mission, administrators across the CSU have stripped  courses from Ethnic Studies, even courses that have a history of full enrollment.  This administrative over-reach may be based upon a belief in a post-racial America, where  Ethnic Studies courses are no longer relevant.   Institutional efficiencies are more important; what is relevant now is STEM.

Concerned about this trend, over 50 faculty representing more than half of the system’s 23 campuses met at San Francisco State University on Friday, 18 October 2013, for the second CSU-wide Ethnic Studies Council meeting. Topics of concern included the downsizing, merging, or elimination of Ethnic Studies programs across the CSU; the treatment of professors of color in the system (1); how administrative ‘assessment’ of ethnic studies programs is being conducted without consciousness or value of the CSU’s mission.  Professor Maulana Karenga ( Chair, Dept. of Africana Studies, CSU Long Beach) stressed the importance of genuine shared governance on campuses and the contradiction of the CSU “using diversity as a marketing tool while dismantling it.”

The most egregious example of  de-facto program elimination is CSU Stanislaus, a designated Hispanic Serving Institution.  The remaining two tenured faculty in the Ethnic Studies program there “have chosen to resign their positions as of 24 December, 2013 rather than help with what they believe amounts to the elimination of the program they have put so much effort into.” (2)  The administration at CSU Stanislaus has refused to replace any of the four tenure-track positions the program once had.    Another example of forced program reduction has occurred at CSU Long Beach in the Asian American Studies Program, which offered 14 courses in Spring 2010 reduced to 9 in Spring 2015.  A new enrollment management directive apparently requires further reductions over a year in advance!  These reductions include ASAM 120 (Asian American History), a course that typically fully enrolls.

The results of the second CSU Ethnic Council meeting included the nomination of six delegates to visit Chancellor White on November 11.   Among their objectives for this meeting will be to report faculty concern over the CSU’s failure to fulfill its own mission to the people of California: to prepare students for a multicultural society.

 

Racial/Ethnic Makeup (California, 2010)

Racial/ethnic makeup of California as percent of total population, 2010

  • Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders make up 0.3% of California’s population.
  • Asians make up 12.8% of California’s population.
  • People of color make up 59.9% of California’s population.
  • African Americans make up 5.8% of California’s population.
  • Latinos make up 37.6% of California’s population.
  • Native Americans and Alaska Natives make up 0.4% of California’s population.
  • Source: U.S. Census 2010, U.S. Census Bureau

 

NOTES

(1) A report from UCLA suggests that the UC shares issues about racial bias regarding faculty of color.  See Stephen Ceasar’s “Study faults UCLA’s handling of faculty’s racial bias complaints” (Oct. 18, 2013).

“Nearly every faculty member of color had achieved tenure and professional success at the university, the report said, but they were still upset by the incidents of perceived bias, discrimination or intolerance they had experienced at UCLA.

Nearly all of them said they felt that the offending parties were never forced to face consequences for their actions.

The report states that UCLA’s reaction to such complaints has consistently been to attempt to placate the injured faculty member without repercussions to the offending party.

In 2012-13, African Americans made up 3% of faculty, while Latinos represented 6% and Asians made up about 17%. Whites made up about 73% of the faculty, according to the report.” Nearly every faculty member of color had achieved tenure and professional success at the university, the report said, but they were still upset by the incidents of perceived bias, discrimination or intolerance they had experienced at UCLA.

Nearly all of them said they felt that the offending parties were never forced to face consequences for their actions.

The report states that UCLA’s reaction to such complaints has consistently been to attempt to placate the injured faculty member without repercussions to the offending party.

In 2012-13, African Americans made up 3% of faculty, while Latinos represented 6% and Asians made up about 17%. Whites made up about 73% of the faculty, according to the report.”

(2) Oct. 12, 2013 letter to Dr. Joseph Sheley (President CSU, Stanislaus) from Lillian Taiz, CFA President. and Cecil Canton, CFA Associate VP Affirmative Action.


Chancellor White Visits CSU Long Beach in Midst of System Challenge

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Chancellor Timothy White at CSU Long Beach, Monday, October 14. 2013

On a warm Monday afternoon in a packed Anatol Center at CSU Long Beach,  newly recruited Chancellor of the CSU’s 23-campus system, Timothy White, easily charmed the audience of several hundred faculty, staff and students.  The cleverly humorous Chancellor  spoke of his enduring optimism in the mission of the CSU, California’s Master Plan, and the unique quality and success of CSU Long Beach in spite of six tight budget years.  Fielding some tough questions with the grace of a seasoned diplomatic, his answers were compassionate and perceptive with an underlying toughness.

When asked about faculty concerns that STEM disciplines were being privileged over the Humanities, White responded that he hoped his own young son, potentially a future scientist, should also be reading the Great Books.  On the question of Ethnic Studies in the CSU, he mentioned it should be preserved  either as programs, minors, or departments.  He has appointed former CSU LA President James Rosser to head his task force on this issue.  The Chancellor’s Ethnic Studies Task Force is charged with investigating enrollment rates and other data for Ethnic Studies programs in the 23-campus system before a recommendation is brought to the Board of Trustees for a vote.

He thoughtfully fielded the question of CSU LB’s next president and the secretive process of his or her selection in accordance with a new system policy that shelters candidates from campus visits and interviews to protect their professional privacy.  White mentioned that he had been selected in much the same manner and that our culture had changed since the past selection of both Presidents Maxim and Alexander. Now there are more openings than qualified “A-Team” candidates.  He did state that if the final short list of candidates were all willing, a campus visit would be arranged pending approval of the Search Committee and Trustees.

Chancellor White takes charge of  the CSU as it emerges from a bleak period of budget cuts, with a technology infrastructure in need of massive update and investment.  On Sunday, October 13,  the  Los Angeles Daily News ran an article “Bottleneck courses resulting in students struggling to graduate” , which identified nearly 1,300 bottleneck courses causing student delays to graduation.  Thirty-four percent of the courses are Liberal Arts (440 courses). The CSU identified the biggest factor causing this problem as “a lack of tenured faculty.”   In fact, according to CFA LB statistics, there were 848 tenure-line faculty in June 2009 with 29,266 undergraduate students and 824 tenure-line faculty in January 2013 with 30, 931 undergraduate students.   Student enrollment has increased while the number of tenure-line faculty has decreased, putting an extra burden of university service on younger tenure-line faculty and underpaid adjuncts.   White was also asked about the 4-4 workload at CSU Long Beach compared to other campuses.  He mistakenly equated this with a collective bargaining issue.  Actually each campus can determine faculty course load based upon their budget process. This explains the lower course load  at CSU Channel Islands, San Diego State and San Francisco State.


State-Mandated Online Degree Programs: The Threats to Real Learning, True Access, Employability, Citizenship, and National Security (Boak Ferris)

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Guest blogger Boak Ferris, author of the e-textbook Think and Rethink, is a former test-coordinator, current 30-year faculty member, and writer at CSU Long Beach.

State-Mandated Online Degree Programs:

The Threats to Real Learning, True Access, Employability, Citizenship, and National Security

States, governors, universities, in their rush to provide ostensible “increased educational access”—but more likely to cut education costs—are speeding out of control downhill to mandate that universities generate online degree programs and online credit-satisfying courses.  Downhill is the operant term, as advocates of these programs have not fully analyzed the risks and dangers, first, to the overall quality of American life and education, second, to the American spirit of innovation, independence, and creativity, and third, to American public safety.  Also at risk are our national reputation as the world leader in quality secondary education, our historic democratic compassion in granting one-on-one access between any student and a specialist/experienced educator, our intentions to maintain a civilized public body, and indeed, our national security.  Until certain urgent issues are addressed, and solved, educational policymakers must exercise restraint in establishing mandated online degree programs.

First, educators in a classroom play a much greater role than rambling about specialized stuff.  Recent neuroscience research and breakthroughs have demonstrated that human learning is a motor process. Even learning abstract subjects is best anchored in pedagogies that require students to engage motor processes.  The most lasting learning takes place when students can watch, in person, an expert model the skills and leverage disciplinary knowledge expected to be applied in a specific profession.  Students also need to demonstrate, via writing or speaking, their evolving acquisition of these skills and knowledge. It’s more than spectating during an online presentation on how to do something.  A live, present student can immediately ask a live, present expert about obstacles and roadblocks confronting the learning process.  These golden opportunities to rapidly learn and spontaneously engage diminish when students do not share the same loci as their experts.  Of equal value are the opportunities for students to observe the application of motor skills and analytical methods from outside their elected fields of study, via general education electives, so that they can learn to cross-associate the best that other disciplines offer to the standard sets of skills they will eventually need in their chosen professions.  Thus, American education in a physical classroom involves a democratic—and professionally socializing—process, some or much of which must be lost, if students become more like agreeable sheep sitting at distant computer monitors.

High school students often arrive to college too passive.  Critical thinking skills have all but disappeared, as college professors around the country have written about and can attest.  Perhaps the passivity is a natural artifact of media-device addiction coupled with a state of permanent hypnosis produced by obsessing over national testing standards on so-called facts.  Still, the freedom to speak with, and challenge, a physically present professional has drawn invested students from all over the world to matriculate in American universities.  But imagine the possibility, if badly designed online courses, with untold numbers of enrolled students, end up mechanically providing inflexible course curricula.  Consider the possibility that very little distance exists between a blanket standardization of curriculum across a variety of degree-granting institutions and institutionalized fascism of university content overseen by a few CEO/CFO administrators who may have little to no successful in-class teaching and improvisatory experience.

Also, once faculty become disinvested from curricular decisions, and once cross-applicable, broad-spectrum knowledge, academic and pre-professional experience, and artistic skills (i.e., outside-the-box innovation) are considered “irrelevant” or separable by the interests of private investors and “education vendors,” then American education becomes solely a capitalistic endeavor, where conflicts of interest must eventually play a sole role in driving curricular offerings and specific degree programs.  Lobbyists for investors and vendors can approach university administrators with their particular “brands” and perhaps insist on brand placement being tied to funds, resources, and the sole teaching of specific courses and disciplines and the granting of degrees.  Does an educated democratic citizen of the United States truly believe that engineers, scientists, and business students seeking degrees benefit by not having to take art or liberal arts or languages or ethics classes?  The lifeblood of science advancement depends on publication, whereby professional documentation leverages linguistic skills to yield logical and theoretical rigor.  Transferring these skills to students belongs to the purview of linguistic experts who understand how graduates must eventually learn to compensate for the limitations and irrationalities inherent in all human languages.

As an example illustrating the necessity to maintain arts and letters in a complete scientific education, consider that Galileo, a man of science, seemingly initiated the science revolution in Europe.  Indeed, Galileo worked as an experimenter and observer, leveraging his motor skills, in a 3-D space, but he also was a man of letters, who wrote up his results in order to better understand and reflect on the foreseeable hidden prejudices lurking in his analyses.  Now juxtapose Boccaccio, however, who single-handedly invented both European humanism and rationalism, thereby giving birth to and setting the ideological precedents for the Catholic-Galileo’s “scientific impulses,” by way of his literary masterpiece, The Decameron, published two hundred years before the appearance of Galileo.  In that work, the narrator implicitly challenges God’s policy of non-interference in the recent Plague.  Boccaccio’s literary, rhetorical, and comic techniques shook Europe loose from a primitive, anti-education Catholic church, by articulating an implicit call for a human-based response—requiring measured methods (rationalism) to confront the obstacle that threatened humanity’s survival.  Literary artists have always questioned and re-envisioned the causal forces of the cosmos, leading to myriad advancements in science.  Art inspires science which informs art and so-on, a mighty recursive engine of innovation.  Do budget-conscious curricular designers really wish to remove arts, literature, philosophy, and languages from a potent higher-education experience?  And to do so in a one-size-fits-all online setting?  It’s like moving from a jet engine to a one-stroke lawnmower.

Arguably, then, a true democratic top-notch education must never be tied (down) to cost-effective shortcuts-to-degrees in a country that wishes to maintain a competitive global edge.  Evolving young professionals most need a supervised domain of space and time where they can develop and practice—and cross-associate—a wide range of skills sets.

However, once policy makers blend into one pot education, curriculum, brands, testing, degrees, and money, then a Democratic American education becomes prostituted.  Money for degrees, quick and dirty, in and out the door.  These are not alarmist concerns, as some CSU’s already have corporate sponsors for different divisions and departments and colleges, whereby implicit external pressure rationalizes reducing so-called irrelevant courses, the kinds of courses that delay students toward acquiring useful rapid degrees:  humanities, art, ethics courses, music, and foreign languages curricular offerings, among others.  My own home CSU, over the last few years, has implemented similar such curricular changes and policies, with more pending, to my shame and sadness.  Such deletions may serve private institutions, but they are certainly not satisfactory for public and state universities, where students need to develop humanistic, cross-cultural, linguistic, and compassionate “citizenship” skills.  (California’s Governor Brown has not let on that he sees these dangers.)  Frankly speaking, news stories of lame-duck online programs failing have increased over the past year and a half, largely because the programs’ constituencies and clientele have not graduated nor found success, notwithstanding the rapacious and usurious financial practices associated with these programs.  To put it briefly, national employers know whom they wish to hire, and where from, and their hiring practices will serve as the ultimate certification of successful secondary institutional online degree-granting programs. Late-breaking news, as of April of 2013, shows that indeed, national employers are reluctant to hire, perhaps because they suspect that the omnipresence of online courses betokens a lack of citizenship skills in candidates.  Graduate schools will similarly screen successful candidates by undergraduate institution reputation.  If the CSU-system wishes to truly serve its students and guarantee employability, why would it want to follow these online failures?  Why would legislators admire these failures?

Note how a very strong secondary public effect intensifies and speeds student-learning, when learners “compete” and educators are present in the same physical space.  Competition to learn is also felt more keenly by candidates when they can see and hear their “classmates.”  Similarly, watching an immortal drama or a comedy or political speech in a public space shared by other thinkers responding audibly increases a spectator’s awareness and sensitivity to the nuances of art and performance and ideology. Premature babies grow faster and respond more positively when a live musician plays music in the nursery, as opposed to those infants who heard the same music piped in over loudspeakers.  Human charisma produces more impact in person, than over a television or monitor.  When tied to learning, the tangible aura of a present gifted instructor inspires students to learn faster and more enjoyably, whereas the square shape of a monitor arguably squeezes a viewer’s brain forward into an unreal and distant 2D cartoon. Neural-mapping research shows that learning among students proceeds faster and embeds longer when experienced in a shared three-dimensional visual and acoustical space.  Also, in an era where public policymakers encourage diversity, how much can diversity be respected when a threatened state-mandated curricular uniformity underlies online degree programs and courses?  Currently, localized public universities construct specialized curricula to serve students belonging to nearby populations or sub-populations, students who end up working for local industries and employers—a necessary service that may end if a “one-size-fits-all” education package is “legislated” for the sake of “consistency.”

Furthermore, “classrooms,” plural, imply the existence of neighboring classrooms, adding to the public perception of knowledge and other intangibles gained transparently.  Faculty, students, and observers walking by can witness what transpires in a public university classroom, sans any “secrecy.” The implicit transparency of democratic and public educational practices contributes to a shared sense of evolving professional responsibility among instructors, students, and visitors alike.  Public classrooms provide an arena for a “live” screening process whereby experienced instructors can directly observe students, participating, working quietly, or in teams.  The public nature of American higher education discourages and inhibits psychopaths and, to a lesser degree, sociopaths (who are more adept at hiding in plain sight), from advancing to positions of responsibility. People of aberrant psychopathology require institutionalized practices that allow them to hide, work, and advance in secrecy to further their aims. How can it not be mentioned or considered that criminals will benefit from a “knee-jerk” proliferation of online degree-granting programs?  Evil requires four little helpers to engender chaos: fear (No money!, Students will challenge the status quo!), ignorance (Is there evil?  What is it?  Let’s not learn about that.), complicity (look the other way.  Stand aside.  Institute practices to help it proliferate.), and a dark space where it multiplies unnoticed.  It also requires people in positions of authority who know better to “pretend” that evil doesn’t exist, that evil is a supernatural concern, not one of confronting everyday anti-social human behaviors.  To understand evil and its etiology means to “see it,” recognize it, interrupt and eliminate its causal factors, and thereby, leave it to a culture of the human past.

At our university, recently, we all signed mandatory intent-to-inform acts in cases where faculty suspect child abuse occurring to any of our students.  The expectation placed on our experienced judgment reflected an appropriate professional concern.  Our duties include custodianship of a free and democratic society.  But faculty and university officials will be less able to meet such duties and obligations to protect society or even to recommend candidates for professional service when all we see are “avatars”—or perhaps a single camera lens.  And note that at least one CSU intends to use students!  as faculty (called Instructional Student Assistants) in its online program(s).  As an undergraduate I would have been a good candidate to serve as an ISA running an online course for my home university—except.  Except—I had not the maturity, experience, or insight to recognize abusive personalities, to avoid their manipulations, or to deflect them back toward their assignments and academic and citizenship responsibilities.

All of the above lead to another immediate and urgent concern, which should engage Homeland Security, often overlooked in online education incentives, and which involves confirming the identities of enrolled students.  How does the instructor of record, or indeed a university administration, know if a student enrolled in online curricula is the person doing the work and achieving the degree?  Yes, high-school seniors must verify their identities and complete college-level testing to apply to and enroll in a university, but identities can be stolen or “piggy-backed” or duplicated.  Outright criminals, who need entry to professional work or graduate school, could easily “buy” an identity, and then a degree simply by hiring desperate scholars to do online work for them.  At some private universities, it’s already possible to buy a degree, i.e., without attending class—and that may be bad enough.  But the concern here centers on public universities, where policymakers should consider a graver threat.  Imagine a terror cell, wishing to infiltrate positions in government and industry, but needing advanced degrees, stealing or duplicating identities, and then hiring substitutes to attain those degrees on their behalf, so as to gain access to our citizenry—and/or to our infrastructure.  Their cause could be aided by finding at least one willing faculty member, advisor, or administrator at the university of record.  By the time employers or graduate schools found out the frauds, it might be too late.  As a former testing coordinator, I had the responsibility to address identity frauds, and I can vouch for this scenario above not being some kind of movie-fantasy.  Adequate identity and security checks for online enrolled students do not exist at this stage of our technology, especially in an era when cash-strapped state and public universities already struggle with the easily-hackable student-population management software they have available so far.  By contrast, in a physical classroom, the student of record must be present with approved student identification, which an instructor can spot-check.

These concerns, and others not listed here for lack of space, all urge taking deep responsibility, conducting thorough analysis, and engaging in cautious planning prior to enacting premature policies and legislation prior to rolling the big snowball of state-mandated online degree programs.


Prof. Jeff Kolnick (Southwest Minn. State U.): “A Teacher’s Take on Online Learning”

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The post below is republished with the permission of Jeff Kolnick (Minnesota 2020 Blog).  An experienced instructor of online education, his comments on MOOCs echo our concerns in California with   State Senator Steinberg’s introduction of  Senate Bill 520 to establish The California Virtual Campus.   Undoubtedly this bill arises from Steinberg’s frustration at the slow pace of change in the public higher ed sector and his own disinterest or inability to create  the kind of progressive tax reform necessary to re-fund public education in the State.  But imposing a superstructure of online courses on unaligned  layers of organizational complexity —110 community colleges, 23 CSU campuses,  and 10 UCs  serving over 3.5 million students  —may create more havoc.  Beyond this, dumping WASC and using ACE as the accrediting agency for these new courses is troubling. Moreover the demand that at least two courses are developed “that support basic skills education courses in English, English as a second language, or mathematics” and the use of MOOCs for this purpose verges on the deeply problematic.  We are entering a cynical  age of “good-enough education” for the hundreds of thousands of children in California who cannot afford to attend a quality liberal arts college.  They will be offered the “good enough” cheap  option, which actually may not be good enough for the higher-skill jobs anticipated in the State.  We need thoughtful, not quick-fix, leadership.  Teri Yamada

A Teacher’s Take on Online Education

By Jeff Kolnick, Hindsight Community Fellow, March 13, 2013 at 7:30 am

As a history teacher at Southwest Minnesota State University, let me weigh in on the debate about online learning. I’ve taught online within the MnSCU system every year since 2004. I am not opposed to online education nor am I afraid of it.

At a recent online panel discussion focused on best practices, there was a general consensus that with proper class size control and good pedagogy, students write more in online classes. This can help improve written communication skills, especially when faculty are vigilant about making developmental comments and providing opportunities for revision. The online approach can widen opportunities for shy students to get involved in class discussion more easily than in face to face classes. It also cuts geographic barriers, which is better than no access at all.

Simply put, the upside depends on well designed and rigorous course with regular faculty involvement. This means frequent appearances in discussion forums and daily postings of one kind or another on top of careful evaluation of written work and time for one-on-one communication via e-mail when requested.

The downsides of online are many. Super high attrition rates are almost universal. Faculty have a hard time getting to know students, which limits  mentorship opportunities and makes writing letter of recomendation difficult. Pressure to increase class size leads to limited rigor and less writing, thus weakening the best part of online education. Online is particularly ill suited to entry level classes and remedial level work. Sadly that is where it is being pushed the hardest by its advocates in government and in the business world.

Recently on these pages, Alex Christensen posted an excellent essay on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), after the University of Minnesota announced plans to offer them. Generally, these classes are free (except for a nominal fee), open to anyone, regardless of status at the school, and don’t actually count toward graduation. However, the eventual aim is to use MOOCs at schools nationally to bring low-cost higher education to the masses while generating a profit for the businesses that deliver the courses. Some Minnesota policymakers want to lead this charge.

So here’s one concern: How would this impact those at community colleges and less selective universities when online teachers suggest that small online classes and frequent faculty contact is essential for student success? Duke University released a thorough study examining one of its MOOCs. Among the finds are the following:

COSTS—huge investment of time (600 total hours, 420 by the faculty member).
SUCCESS—over 11,000 enrolled and only 313 successfully completed the course.
WHO—two thirds of the students who enrolled had a BA or advanced degree.

Here are some questions Minnesota should ask before fully embarking on this major investment of time and money:

Will MOOCs create a two tiered system of education, with wealthy people still sending their children to elite colleges and MOOCs for everyone else?
What is higher education’s ultimate goal?
What is the difference between transferring information and getting an education?

What is the success rate of students by different demographic groups for MOOCs?
What are the demonstrated student learning outcomes for MOOCs?
What is the return on investment for Minnesota or a given university on a “business model” with limited revenue flow?

As we move forward with online education, it would be wise for policy makers to take advantage of the hundreds of Minnesota faculty who have been doing it successfully for many years: What have they learned?  What are the attrition rates, the success of existing online courses at achieving learning outcomes, and the success of online education among different demographic groups?

Like any pedagogical tool, online education can be used effectively or ineffectively. Before we jump into the brave new world of MOOCs, we should study and understand them. In the meantime, let’s reinvest in what we know works, affordable public higher education.