by Teri Yamada, CSU Long Beach
“It seems logical: College graduates have lower unemployment and earn more than less educated workers, so, the thinking goes, the fix for today’s anemic growth in jobs and wages is to make sure that more people earn college degrees. But that’s a common misperception, deflecting attention from the serious work that has to be done to create jobs and improve incomes” (Making College Pay, NYTimes Op Ed, Feb. 12, 2014).
I have been going to Cambodia during academic downtime to work on literacy issues since 1995; yet, this past December was quite definitely different. I imagine Phnom Penh felt this strange prior to the 1997 coup— the palpable anxiety and underlying fear represented by the eerily uncrowded streets. Something felt very wrong on December 30 just standing outside the arrival terminal at Pochentong Airport. And unexpectedly, everyone I knew was talking about political change—including the tuk-tuk drivers—in an atypical expression of public outspokenness. So I wasn’t that surprised to get an early morning phone call from a close Cambodian friend a few days later telling me not to leave my hotel room today no matter what.
The previous day at the office, the Cambodian staff—all college graduates—had been live streaming the massive demonstrations of garment workers in “Freedom Park” near the new American Embassy. Organizing was taking place via Facebook and other social media while the “real situation” was missing from the official Cambodian TV evening news . On January 3, the “special police” disbursed the large gathering of garment workers and their supporters, including youth and Buddhist monks, by shooting into the crowd—killing five and wounding an estimated forty others, including onlookers observing from second-story balconies—as many of us watched or received updates via social media. This violence included clubbing saffron-robbed Buddhist monks. A lesson seen before in Cambodia and elsewhere: State power trumps cultural values. For the rest of my short stay, I saw military police on every major street corner and huge rolls of nasty looking barbed wire distributed strategically along the major boulevards of central Phnom Penh.
The average garment worker in Cambodia is a rural young woman, age 16-30— now around 600,000 in number working largely in sweatshops— most of them unable to read or write Khmer fluently, working up to 80 hours a week for $125 a month including overtime. Next time you walk by Target, check the label on the designer T-shirts: “Made in Cambodia.”
Investors see Cambodia as an ideal place to make garments given its low wage costs and huge supply of young workers, many from rural areas where jobs outside of subsistence-level farming are scarce.… Chan’s dreams for the future are not uncommon. She’d like to have a family and children. And she’d like to have the money to send them to school so they can get good jobs and not have to work in a garment factory. While she is not ashamed of what she does, she doesn’t want her future children or even her 13-year-old sister following in her footsteps. “I’ve told her not to quit school,” she says resolutely. “I’ve told her not to come here, never to come here. ( DW, “Cambodia garment worker dreams of better future,” Feb. 02. 2014.)
“Though progress has been made in terms of encouraging girls to attend primary and secondary school, a third of Cambodian adult women are still illiterate,” Ms. Channay said. (The Cambodian Daily, “Females Still in Need of Better Access to University Education” Oct. 8, 2012)
Not mentioned in any of the reportage about garment workers’ organizing was the support of a large number of college students now facing unemployment in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in Cambodia. What unifies college students and garment workers is their mutual despair and disgust over government corruption, with its tentacles in the education sector as well. The garment worker Chem Chan, mentioned above, has a younger sister who will encounter “barriers to success” in her school due to the very people running the public education enterprise.
An investigation by two NGOs has uncovered a network of Education Ministry officials stealing schoolbooks that were intended to be given free to students, and then either selling them back to schools or in local markets. The investigation, conducted in December and January, found that officials at district education departments had intercepted the delivery of the official school textbooks, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and had created three revenue streams for personal enrichment. (The Cambodian Daily, “District Education Offices Stole Free Books for Students,” Feb. 13, 2014. )
While in Cambodia this January one of my Cambodian colleagues, who works in the government sector, asked me to review an English translation of the Prime Minister’s forthcoming education reform policy that proposed changes in both the public and private education sectors. Anyone involved with the education sector in Cambodia hears about corruption in the public schools. This has worsened over the years, starting with underpaid school teachers whose salary has increased so slowly from $60 to $120 a month during the past 15 years or so depending on your status as a K-12 or college instructor. (Over the past few months garment workers were striking to improve their monthly wage from $90 to $130/$160 a month). This means most teachers must have outside jobs to survive or ways of making money in the classroom: they may sell paper and pencils to their own students, or work independently as motorcycle taxi drivers after school. If you are a college teacher, you probably teach at three or four different institutions even if you are lucky enough to have a full-time job at one university. This makes it impossible to update knowledge of your discipline or conduct research. The salary for a full–time job at a public university is about $180 a month, plus some options for overtime; some private universities may pay more, but my colleagues tell me that outside teaching jobs are about $8 an hour. It takes at least $400 a month to have a middle-class lifestyle with a family of four in Phnom Penh these days, with the cost of good private education for your children a significant expense.
I was pleasantly surprised by the new education reform policy since it actually listed many aspects of corruption known to everyone—the first step for change is to admit there is a problem. Aspects of this corruption includes teachers and other ‘entrepreneurs’ selling the test questions and answers to the national university-entrance exams prior to the test; an online business where one can call or text and get the answers to the test.
In the past few years these examinations have been fraught with increasing amounts of large-scale bribery, cheating and intimidation, with the collaboration of many teachers and Education Ministry employees who occupied important supervisory positions in administering exams. Some of the bribing and cheating methods are outlined by an eleventh grade math teacher who sought anonymity in an interview with the Post. He said: “The principal examination supervisor, sent from the Ministry of Education, had many ways of being corrupt because he controlled all aspects of the testing process, oversaw both the students sitting the test and the markers who corrected the students’ papers. School teachers usually just monitored the exam. If they wanted to be corrupt they normally had to collaborate with the principal supervisor.” (The Phnom Penh Post, “How $200 can buy exam pass,” 17 June 1994)
National High School Exam candidates each spent an average of 120,000 riel – about US$30 – on bribes over this year’s two-day testing period to secure exam answers, according to independent research released yesterday. Social researcher Kem Ley’s report Turning a Blind Eye purported that 92 per cent of students were involved in bribery or cheating during the exam, which is conducted under the supervision of high- school proctors, teachers and police officials. “We also see that 55 per cent of answers were copied from their hand phone after the answer was made and sent around by email,” Ley said, noting social media site Facebook had emerged as a popular means to cheat during this year’s exams, which took place on August 6 and 7. (The Phnom Penh Post, “Exam cheating rampant: report,” Aug. 22, 2012).
Not mentioned in this new education reform document for Prime Minister Hun Sen is the lack of training for proctors or examiners (since one gets paid for grading these examinations, connections will determine who gets the job not qualifications); no option to get a copy of your child’s test to see if it has been graded correctly; no process of appeal. Essentially there is no accountability or transparency in the national college-entrance examination system. How a child does on this exam determines whether he or she will receive a scholarship for university education or get into a free public university.
When you talk to Cambodians about this corruption among teachers in the education sector, many are surprisingly sympathetic. That is because they know that survival on $60-$120 a month is tough, especially if one has a family. Therefore it doesn’t shock them that schools are selling textbooks that should be distributed for free or that teachers are selling test questions and answers in advance of the national exam. At the same time, they are outraged; but that anger is directed toward the government not the individual teacher perpetrator.
Once these “successful” high school graduates have advanced to college and completed their BA degrees, they face enormous competition for scare jobs:
As a recent university graduate with a degree in accounting, one might expect Sady Seang Saoly to be ideally placed to take advantage of Cambodia’s rapidly growing economy. Instead the 23-year-old from Kampot province is downbeat about his prospects two years after leaving university. “I and many friends I graduated with still have no jobs. We are very worried,” he said in a recent interview….Despite the Education Ministry citing a 37 percent rise in university graduates from approximately 8,000 in 2005 to around 11,000 last year, coupled with one of the most rapidly growing economies in Asia, high unemployment continues to plague young Cambodians. Only about one in 10 recent university graduates were holding down a job, according to statistics in 2005 from the Youth Star NGO. Between 1996 and 2006, the youth labor force in Cambodia grew by 78.7 percent from 1.29 million to 2.3 million, compared to 6 percent on average in ASEAN countries… “Economic growth in the last few years has been driven mainly by growth in the garment, construction and agricultural sectors, which don’t necessarily employ a lot of university graduates,” Hem said.
Sandra D’Amico, managing director of human resources and recruiting agency Hr Inc, said that despite the large number of graduates, many are unprepared for the rigors of the business world. “There remains a mismatch between the education provided at university versus what employers need,” she said. One major problem is the emphasis on rote learning at Cambodian universities, D’Amico said, when critical thinking skills are needed to learn quickly on the job. Another is that universities offer students little in the way of career guidance (Cambodian Daily,” “Recent Graduates Find Job Prospects are Bleak” Sept. 9, 2007). (1)
The anonymous authors of the Prime Minister’s new education reform policy, echo D’Amico’s comments above. They complain about the higher education sector producing graduates with majors and skills that are not aligned with business needs. Sounds like U.S. politicians’ complaints about higher education in America.
We also have our own special form of higher education corruption in the U.S., the result of a poorly regulated private ed industry—both for-profit and non-profit—that promised future non-existent jobs and used federal funds to subsidize an education scam that indebted millions of young adults. The 2010 Frontline expose College, Inc. about inflated and false data used to seduce students into debt still remains relevant four years later. For an update see Forbes reportage “How the $1.2 Trillion College Debt Crisis Is Crippling, Students, Parents and the Economy.” And then there is the example of Corinthian Colleges under investigation by California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris:
A year ago, if you were Jack Massimino, CEO of Corinthian Colleges, you might have been feeling pretty good. Despite extensive evidence from congressional and media investigations that Corinthian, along with other big for-profit colleges, has been abusing students — luring them with deceptive recruiting, offering high-priced, low quality programs, and often leaving them without jobs and deep in debt — you seemed to be getting away with it. Almost 90 percent of the revenue for the schools you operated — Everest, Heald and WyoTech colleges — was easy money: federal taxpayer dollars from student grants and loans, about a billion dollars a year. You yourself were taking home over $3 million a year in compensation some years (Huff Post Business, “Federal and State Law Enforcement Dramatically Escalate For-Profit College Probes” Feb. 6, 2014).
I’m thinking, in the State of California, of the Bureau of Private Post Secondary Education, which remained legislatively impotent and underfunded for over twenty years while scam, predatory vocational training schools established themselves in our under-regulated state. There are scores of online law schools in California, none accredited by the California ABA. The issue of law schools, even those accredited, attracting students into an overcrowded profession while leaving them in deep debt, is addressed in Brian Tamanaha’s controversial Failing Law Schools (U Chicago P, 2012). As quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Law School Professor Gives Law Schools a Failing Grade,” Tamanaha writes : “Law schools are thriving, kept afloat by students making poor judgments to attend, while the federal government obligingly supplies the money to support their folly.” (2)
And some law firms complain that law schools are not training students as they should, in practical skills like writing contracts. An Education Week article frames it this way, “it appears that standardized-test results are positively correlated with a shallow approach to learning.” Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics fame, observes: “tests have increasingly come to be seen as a ritualized burden that encourages rote learning at the expense of good thinking”. That assessment is confirmed by empirical data, including a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, which characterizes the learning of high test performers as “superficially engaged.” “The students are not to blame, but it does mean that law teaching now involves shaping learning for a generation that has been encouraged to memorize rather than engage in critical thinking” (The Chronicle of Higher Education, Law School’s Failure to Prepare Students…It’s Complicated, Dec. 11, 2013).
Our situation sounds more and more like Cambodia’s: children trained in rote learning (teaching to the test via No Child Left Behind); an essentially unregulated private higher education sector without quality control; an increasing number of college graduates who don’t fit the job market, which is actually underperforming or collapsing. And we also see flawed management in our own institutions and misuse of funds.
In a world where globalization with its glossy ideological promise of ‘raising all boats’ has stalled out, while higher education is still advocated religiously as the path to economic success, we should contemplate the creation of new policy that actually produces economic restructuring so that all these college graduates might find meaningful employment instead of taking to the streets. As a recent op ed (Feb. 12, 2014) in The New York Times points out: “On its own, more college won’t change the economy’s low-wage trajectory.” That is so both in Cambodia and the United States.
(1) See Sandra D’Amico’s excellent study, “Higher Education and Skills for the Labor Market in Cambodia” (2010)
(2) See also “Law Schools on the Defensive Over Job-Placement Data” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“State of the Union: The Poverty and Inequality Report, 2014,” (The National Report Card), The Stanford Center on Poverty
Outsmarting the Matrix: Transforming the Privatization Trend in Public Higher Ed
Teri Shaffer Yamada, Prof. of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach
There is a window of opportunity for constructive change over the next six months during the build-up to the November national election. But this change requires engaged faculty working together in innovative ways. And it requires a new strategy eschewing a “university business as usual” mentality. That reality is gone: there is no business as usual at the public university.
So our current moment in history demands we organize around commonalities and develop different forms of more effective action. If we act strategically, we have an opportunity to alter the privatization momentum that threatens the survival of meaningful public education for the 99%.
We could start by unabashedly embracing and valorizing the greatness of “our values.” We transform and enrich the lives of our students because we care (1). We live in a media culture that foregrounds violence and cruelty, where selfless concern isn’t typically newsworthy unless it is driven by anger or hyperbole. Yet everyday kindness happens and without it we would be much diminished. And our “story” is compelling across ideological lines simply because we base it on shared values of “American democracy”: opportunity for all. Framed in the context of education, it is access to quality instruction that develops an educated demos. In turn, our students provide the citizen power to run a government and economic system that reflects the needs and talents of the 99%. That may sound quaint, but imagine the outcomes if our current Hobbesian trajectory of consolidating power remains unchecked.
So what defines this matrix? We are now confronted with a mirror reality of the dismantling of K-12 public education. We have been out-organized and out- financed as reflected in Steven Brills’ reportage “The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand” from the New York Times (May 17, 2010):
….Schnur, who runs a Manhattan-based school-reform group called New Leaders for New Schools, sits informally at the center of a network of self-styled reformers dedicated to overhauling public education in the United States. They have been building in strength and numbers over the last two decades and now seem to be planted everywhere that counts. They are working in key positions in school districts and charter-school networks, legislating in state capitals, staffing city halls and statehouses for reform-minded mayors and governors, writing papers for policy groups and dispensing grants from billion-dollar philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Teach for America’s founder, Wendy Kopp; and the New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein could be considered the patron saints of the network.
This is the matrix: a network of well-placed and well-funded powerful individuals with shared values, who can impact state and federal agencies and legislators through influential friends or lobbyists, media and foundation access, and sponsored think-tank publications. We have allowed this to happen: “power abhors a vacuum.”
We can begin by changing our approach. We can shift to “motivated reasoning” as we seek to change hearts and minds (2). And we can message our values based upon the target audience.
As we learn from the impressive successes of the for-profit education matrix, we recognize the importance of shared values. It forms the foundational connectivity of the network of relationships required to establish a power base. Thoughtful leadership throughout a wide network is necessary to accomplish the change we do believe in: re-democratizing public education. Several important meetings will take place under the auspices of AAUP, NEA and CFHE over the next few months (3). What is an effective strategy these three can develop together and communicate to the grassroots to deflect further damage to public higher ed? Can we move quickly enough?
One possibility for promoting change is to emulate the strategy of ALEC. We could start by developing one piece of legislation that most faculty unions could promote to their state legislators. The California Faculty Association (CFA) worked for several years to pass a transparency bill so that the public could have access to the financial records of the “for-profit” side of the California State University system. CFA is currently sponsoring a bill to democratize the CSU Board of Trustees as part of an action plan published in its recent white paper “For-Profit Higher Education & the CSU: A Cautionary Tale” . Are other faculty unions sponsoring bills? What is the most beneficial bill we could introduce in a range of states to protect public higher ed? What is the most “elegant” strategic plan at the federal level? The “outcomes-assessment” obsessed federal Department of Education often disappoints but there may be some leverage there as well.
There are also global trends we need to consider: the ubiquitous embrace of “common core standards,” including our own Department of Education. This trend has filtered down to the accreditation commissions in the United States.
The Lumina Foundation has funded a pilot program on “degree qualifications” at the college level—common outcomes for AA, BA, MA degrees across the United States— through the Western Association of Colleges and Universities (WASC). The first set of “volunteer” institutions will be reporting in April on their progress in implementing and assessing the Lumina “degree qualification profile.”
Beyond the new trend to measure graduation and retention rates, we can be restructured internally through changed accreditation standards that demand we measure “value-added degrees” through common-core standards assessments or track the type of jobs our graduates acquire after leaving the institution. The for-profit higher ed sector is being nudged in this direction to make it more accountable to the federal government for its voracious consumption of public funds through PELL grants and military initiatives that fund education. Some for-profit providers can fund their entire operation through these two sources alone. Their lobbyists insist that public higher ed be subjected to the same assessments.
Every faculty member should pay attention to new directives imposed by their institutional accreditation agency. If the end result is a diminished capacity to offer a wide range of degrees since programs must justify their existence through proof of job placement as an outcome, we may become a different kind of vocational training institution that has lost the soul of a liberal arts education.
Be sure to track the forthcoming reports on the 2012 Bologna Ministerial Conference on the GlobalHigherEd blog. There will be further discussion there on common international standards which would impact us nationally.
EXCERPT FROM GlobalHigherEd The European Higher Education Area: Retrospect and Prospect (Posted: 22 Mar 2012 07:24 PM PDT)
First, the 2012 Bologna Ministerial Conference:is expected to bring together 47 European Higher Education Area ministerial delegations, the European Commission, as well as the Bologna Process consultative members and Bologna Follow-Up Group partners. The meeting will be an opportunity to take stock of progress of the Bologna Process and set out the key policy issues for the future. The EHEA ministers will jointly adopt the Bucharest Ministerial Communiqué, committing to further the Bologna goals until 2020.
Second, The 2012 Bologna Policy Forum:organised in conjunction with the Ministerial Conference is aimed to intensify policy dialogue and cooperation with partners across the world. The theme of the third Bologna Policy forum is “Beyond the Bologna process: Creating and connecting national, regional and global higher education spaces”. The Policy forum has four sub-themes, which will be addressed during the parallel sessions, namely: “Global academic mobility: Incentives and barriers, balances and imbalances”; “Global and regional approaches to quality enhancement of Higher Education”; “Public responsibility for and of HE within national and regional context”; “The contribution of Higher Education reforms to enhancing graduate employability”. This year’s edition of the Bologna Policy Forum will be finalised with the adoption of the 2012 Bologna Policy Forum Statement.
1) Those of us who participated in the feminist philosophy movement of the 1980s know this as the “ethics of care.” See “Ethics of Care” in “Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy.” March 24, 2012.
2) See Dan Kahan’s definition based upon “motivated cognition” which refers to “the unconscious tendency of individuals to fit their processing of information to conclusions that suit some end or goal” in “What Is Motivated Reasoning and How Does It Work?” See also a great video clip with a discussion of this concept “Dan Kahan — The Great Ideological Asymmetry Debate.” Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollar Professor Law and Professor of Psychology at the Yale Law School. His research focuses on “cultural cognition” (how social and political group affiliations affect our views of contested areas of ‘reality’) and motivated reasoning.
3) CFHE (Campaign for the Future of Higher Education) is having its Third National Gathering in Ann Arbor on May 18, 2012, hosted by the Michigan Conference AAUP. Contact CFHE.email@example.com for further information. Registration is free.
California Faculty Association. “For-Profit Higher Education & the CSU: A Cautionary Tale” March 19, 2012
Brills, Steve. The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand. New York Times. May 17, 2010.
Kahan, Dan. “What is Motivated Reasoning and How Does it Work?” May 4, 2011.
———. “Dan Kahan- The Great Ideological Asymmetry Debate” February 13, 2012.
Lederman, Doug. “What’s ‘Good Enough’?” Inside Higher Ed. April 14, 2011.
———. “What Degrees Should Mean.” Inside Higher Ed. January 25, 2011.
Lumina Foundation. “The Degree Qualifications Profile: Defining degrees: A new direction for American higher education to be tested and developed in partnership with faculty, students, leaders and stakeholders.”
"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.
Guest blogger Betsy Burrows, Assistant Professor of English at Brevard College, describes herself as a “concerned teacher, mother, and citizen in North Carolina.” Her comments below lament the negative impact on equity in access and the quality of education that reactionary ideology and big money have succeeded in forcing on North Carolina’s public schools. What was once a model system is being downgraded through a creeping restructuring and privatization of the entire public education infrastructure.
Tragedy in North Carolina: Re-segregating and Dismantling Public Education
by Betsy Burrows
I still remember the romantic, idealistic defiance I felt in my high school days when I youthfully debated against the following sentiment as expressed in “Self –Reliance,” an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is Christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. For everything that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts.” That idealism has turned to profound sadness when I look at what in one year our state legislators have done in North Carolina to quickly dismantle the last 25 years of progress and enlightenment in public education. In one summer session, North Carolina elected officials ceased the funding for the North Carolina Teaching Fellows, a research-based program housed in our public and private Institutes of Higher Education that recruits our best and brightest high school students into teaching, pays for a high quality preparation and supports them with professional development so they remain in the profession, not just for a couple of years like Teach for American candidates, but for a career. According to Linda Darling-Hammond in her 2010 book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity will determine our Future, “the program enhances [enhanced] the teaching pool by bringing a disproportionate number of males, minorities, and math and science teachers into the profession. After 7 years, retention rates in teaching for these recruits have exceeded 75%, with many of the other alumni holding positions as principals or central office leaders” (142). In this same 2011 summer session, legislators ceased funding the NC Teacher Academy and cut in half the budget for the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching. To add personal injury to the professional insult, North Carolina also ended funding for NC Governors School, a summer enrichment program for public school students throughout the State where at seventeen I first read the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Quickly following this defunding of public education and professional development for teachers in our State, was the NC State Board of Education’s approval of the application and rubric for what they call “fast track” charter school applicants to private organizations who can demonstrate that they can fund and operate a school successfully. The approval was not predicated on whether these charter schools were actually able to educate our children for their future roles of citizens in a Democracy, and the approval ignores national studies like the ones conducted by Stanford University’s CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes) where economist Margaret Raymond findings conclude that “ in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their TPS [traditional public school] counterparts. Further, tremendous variation in academic quality among charters is the norm, not the exception. The problem of quality is the most pressing issue that charter schools and their supporters face” (6).
These actions by NC legislators reveal an ideology that does not support public education and wants to privatize our school systems. In fact, Rob Christenson, a writer from the Raleigh News and Observer has investigated the ties between these newly elected legislators and Art Pope, a retail executive who uses his money to fund libertarian-conservative think tanks like Civitias Action, Inc. and Real Jobs NC, nonprofit organizations that funnel money to legislators who support his views. Being a teacher, I could forgive my legislators for their ignorance in not doing their research on Educational issues, but as a citizen I cannot forgive their duplicity in failing to articulate their agenda and their allegiance to an ideology that supports ending public education, the foundation that our Democracy is built upon. I have never understood the Emerson quote that “Democracy becomes a pulpit for bullies tempered by editors” until now. I just want more “editors” to help temper these educational legislative bullies and their barbarous attacks on teachers and schools.
For further information on the impact of big money on the restructuring of North Carolina public schools, see: Robert Greenwald Discusses the Koch Brothers Battle to Re-segregate North Carolina Public Schools
Posted on September 24, 2011
All across the country, professors and faculty unions are fighting to preserve the right to fair collective bargaining and quality learning conditions. Although we are bargaining for new contracts under seriously tough economic circumstances, there have been some modest wins, most recently at New York City’s Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus. In his comment below, Prof. Jeffrey Weinstock of Central Michigan University (CMU) reports on the status of bargaining at his institution, where we see once again the same patterns of administrative duplicity: an administration privileging itself while cutting faculty salaries and benefits; claiming it has no funds while sitting on a surplus or denying that tuition increases can be used for faculty salaries. Prof Howard Bunsis ( Eastern Michigan University), an expert on the financial analysis of universities, has some cogent comments on this pattern of manufactured budget crisis.
Central Michigan University Faculty Fight for Quality Education
Prof. Jeffrey A Weinstock
On August 15th, as a result of unfair bargaining on the part of the administration, 97% of the tenure and tenure-track faculty voted to authorize our bargaining team to call for a job action, which they did. We staged a work stoppage on Monday August 22nd and the CMU administration immediately went to court and got an injunction ordering us back to work and restricting our freedoms to assemble and protest. Those rights were restored in a court hearing on Friday August 26th, but the restraining order preventing a work stoppage remains in place until 20 days after the fact finder’s report is issued.
We are currently in the fact finding stage. In the meantime, faculty are working without a contract (and thus absorbing 100% of increases in health care costs). In addition, Michigan legislation known as Prop 54 is being used to deny faculty who went up for promotion at the end of last semester their earned salary increases and will prevent any retroactive compensation when a new contract is in place.
In one of the supreme ironies in recent memory, the university president made “civility” the central focus of his address to the university on Wednesday, Sept. 7. The letter below authored by me and two other CMU faculty members helps to explain why we find this so ironic.
“An Open Letter to President Ross”
Appearing in CM-Life on Wednesday September 7th
Dear President Ross,
As you prepare your remarks for your September 7th address to the university, we write to ask that you consider our grave concerns about the direction of Central Michigan University. We are concerned that: teaching and scholarship are taking a back seat to buildings and administration; priorities increasingly answer more to special institutional interests than to CMU’s core mission; and, urgently, that the way CMU is treating the members of its academic community will drive people away and erode the quality of the institution.
Our concern about these trends has been sharpened by recent events. In particular:
- CMU provided false information in a Michigan court of law by claiming in its injunction request that all classes had been canceled on Monday August 22nd. This falsehood has made national news, as has the wholly reprehensible comparison of a work stoppage to the disastrous aftermath of hurricane Katrina.
- That same injunction request submitted by the CMU administration stripped CMU faculty of their Constitutional rights to assemble and protest.
- There have been recent instances in which you have appeared publicly condescending towards students—even going so far as to suggest they ask their parents for help with math—despite the fact that their tuition dollars support the salaries of everyone working at CMU.
- The administration for the first time ever refused a good faith extension of the existing contract to the Faculty Association during bargaining. In response to the administration’s “surface bargaining” and other unfair labor practices, 97% of the Faculty Association voted to authorize the bargaining team to call for a job action—also a first for CMU.
- Without evidence, you, President Ross, publicly accused the President of the Faculty Association of being dishonest. This divisive statement undermines not just the faculty, but the entire university in the eyes of both the public and the students.
- The administration has repeatedly issued misleading and factually incorrect statements. For example, you have used cuts in state appropriations as an excuse for cuts in faculty compensation without mentioning that the hike in tuition rates combined with letting the “CMU Promise” expire more than offsets these state cuts. Another example: The administration stated that the work stoppage would irreparably harm CMU athletes, a claim that is entirely false.
- In your Monday August 22nd press conference, you preached the necessity of “shared sacrifice,” but you have not lead by example. Your $350,000 compensation package remains intact, as does your nearly $140,000 compensation package with Furniture Brands International, Inc.
- In that same press conference, you sowed animosity within the CMU community by incorrectly stating that, “the nine other employee groups on campus have taken a 0 [percent cost of living increase].” This attempt to turn one employee group against another is unworthy of a university president.
- Numerous eye-witnesses attest that while your press conference was occurring in the university’s public library, students were barred from access to the building on a class day.
- Abandoning its promise, CMU has raised its tuition and even paid a $238,000 compensation package to a departing medical school dean for nine months’ work for a school that isn’t even open.
And now, by pushing for harmful and unnecessary cuts that will take money out of the local economy and hurt already struggling local businesses, President Ross, CMU is even ignoring the presidential transition report that CMU itself commissioned that emphasizes on its very first page that, “The economic impact of the University is extremely critical [to the local community].”
With its enormous $228 million dollar surplus, CMU can well afford to support its faculty if it decides that instruction is a priority. Unless a change of direction becomes evident, however, the question is likely to become whether the university can afford George Ross. We therefore urgently call upon you to reconsider and dramatically shift both CMU’s priorities and your leadership style. As you prepare your remarks for this afternoon, we hope for some sign that such a change in direction is forthcoming so that we may join with you in working to protect and enhance our academic community and returning CMU to its vision of becoming a “nationally prominent university known for integrity, academic excellence, research and creative activity, and public service.”
Jeffrey Weinstock, Department of English
Guy Newland, Department of Philosophy and Religion
Neil Christiansen, Department of Psychology
blog post, September 18, 2011
Beware the College Degree Bashing Trend
If teacher-bashing is so last year, college degree-bashing may be the conservative whipping boy issue for you. It’s becoming quite trendy to thoughtfully observe that, maybe, everyone shouldn’t go to college. That argument is a red herring of the first order, a public policy distraction pretending to be a legitimate workforce development issue.
Don’t be fooled by the “college isn’t for everyone” argument. When conservatives say it, it’s simply a bit of fallacious reasoning leading to their two larger goals: reducing public investment in education and growing the low-wage, low-skilled workforce.
When educators, economists and workforce development specialists say “college may not be for everyone,” what they mean is that a higher education must continue to innovate and adapt, meeting students’ and businesses’ needs. Higher education is critical for everyone, and some students may benefit from modifications to the traditional university structure.
After all, college as we know it is less than 100 years old. Yes, Harvard is working on 400 years in the higher education business, but its current course offerings look nothing like the 1711 curriculum or even their 1911 curriculum. Schools can and will change because people’s needs change.
Conservative policy places the interests of Minnesota’s highest income earners ahead of most Minnesotans. When conservative higher ed policy advocates say, “college may not be for everyone,” they mean that public resources shouldn’t be invested in helping average people prosper. They seek to deny education and training opportunities, limiting lifelong income-earning opportunities and, in the process, create a growing low-skilled workforce.
To compete in the global marketplace, Minnesota’s public colleges and universities must do more than ever. They must translate dramatically changing workplace needs into courses of study, preparing students to work differently than their parents and grandparents. And, public schools are being asked to achieve this mission with dramatically fewer financial resources.
Minnesota needs high-functioning colleges and universities, with open access and financing available to all students. It’s our path to prosperity. Higher education moves Minnesota forward. So, when you hear pundits bashing the college degree, don’t fall into the conservative trap. We need more access to learning, not less.
Reposted with permission of the author (first published, August 2011)
On the impact of defunding public education in Minnesota, please also see Katie Douglass’s blog post Declining Funding Degrading Quality: “According to new Minnesota Department of Education data, the statewide average inflation-adjusted per-pupil state aid will have declined by an estimated 12.8 percent from 2003 levels by the 2012-13 school year. In addition to cuts, underfunding has forced districts to rely on operating levies to make ends meet, putting a greater burden on local property taxpayers. Ninety percent of districts in Minnesota are under a levy.”
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]