STEM Crisis Myth Revealed: Industry Leaders and Politicians Need a Surplus Army of STEM Workers (Clayton Pierce, Ph.D.)Posted: March 29, 2014
Great compliment to Boak Ferris’ article “Why English Matters: What the Science Says.” Reblogged from Clayton Pierce’s blog “Education in the Age of Biocapitalism.”
Over the past 10 years especially, calls to increase Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering (STEM) output from our country’s schools has been deafening. It is impossible to listen to almost any policy maker or CEO speaking on the topic of education reform in the U.S. who does not couch their entire analysis on the STEM worker shortage crisis the country is currently facing. Schools and universities in the U.S., if they are to do one thing, so the story goes, is to produce a massive STEM workforce that can help the economy roll past fast moving competitors such as India and China (insert any other country that scores better on the trends in international mathematics and science study [TIMSS] test). The problem with this story, as Harvard Law School senior research associate Michael S. Teitelbaum has recently pointed out in his study on the STEM workforce shortage, is that it…
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by Teri Yamada
I want to talk to you today about narratives of the education apocalypse, about eschatology and mythology and MOOCs and millennialism, and I do so not just as a keen observer of education technology but as someone trained as a folklorist. As much as being an ed-tech writer compels me to pay attention to the latest products and policies and venture capital investment, I am fascinated by the stories we tell about all of this. I am fascinated by what I see as some of the dominant end-times myths of the business world, of the tech industry. I am fascinated by how these myths — these sacred stories — are deployed to talk about the end of the world —or at least “the end of the university as we know it,” as Techcrunch puts it with the fervor of a true believer. Audrey Watters (7 Nov. 2013 from “The Education Apocalypse )
Those vested in the status quo lash out with political and personal attacks. They hatch conspiracy theories about plots to destroy public education. They do everything but confront the reality that the system they are defending has failed….If we don’t completely transform education, we are defaulting on the American Dream. Jeb Bush (Education Reform Address to the American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC], Aug. 09, 2013)
Those of us who have lived abroad, specifically in Asia, come to appreciate the American Dream enchantment that enraptures many of our friends there. (1) Although its dreamy edges are fraying, “America” in Asia is still imagined as a near magical realm, a place where dreams come true and anything is possible. Historically, America has provided some valuable cultural space for certain makeovers (and snake oil salesmen), as Mark Twain notes, and before him, Alexis de Toqueville.
But this cultural space, allowing for upward mobility, has dramatically changed. Now “Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe” (New York Times). In 2013 we have a huge inequality gap that Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and professor of economics at Columbia University, warned against in “The Price of Inequality”
It is not uncontrollable technological and social change that has produced a two-tier society, Stiglitz argues, but the exercise of political power by moneyed interests over legislative and regulatory processes. “While there may be underlying economic forces at play,” he writes, “politics have shaped the market, and shaped it in ways that advantage the top at the expense of the rest.” …. In short, those with power use it to insulate themselves from competitive forces by winning favorable tax treatment, government–protected market share and other forms of what economists call “rent seeking” (New York Times).
The current political focus on a higher ed makeover keeps concerned academics busy defending their disciplines rather than using their considerable talent to solve policy problems. Demeaning higher ed has become a rhetorical device in a dysfunctional political environment, reinforcing the current structural economic problems. Blaming the academy for its inability to prepare students for many jobs that don’t exist deflects public attention from the real problem that must be addressed—economic power that influences news media and politics: “The importance of Stiglitz’s contribution (and that of other dissidents) to the public debate cannot be overestimated. The news media and the Congress are ill-equipped to address the role of economic power in shaping policy. Both institutions are, in fact, unaware of the extent to which they themselves are subject to the influence of money” (New York Times).
Enter the brilliant and charismatic Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity, a useful distraction ushering in the Year of the MOOC (2012) makeover. From a free, open-source connectivist model developed by Canadians George Siemens and Phil Hill, Thrun and Coursera’s Daphne Koller, among others, made over the concept with a promise of commodification that attracted venture capital. Thrun and California Governor Jerry Brown connected to mutually embrace MOOCs as a transformative power in the makeover of California’s pubic higher education system, framed as resisting the solutions online education could offer. This makeover was announced in a Los Angeles press conference —Re-Booting California Higher Education—framed as a discussion about 21st century skills on January 14, 2013 (edSurge) . The President of San Jose State University, Mohammad Qayoumi, announced pilot programs with both Udacity and edX, neglecting to consult the faculty. (2)
See also Jeffrey R. Young’s ebook, Beyond the MOOC Hype: A Guide to Higher Education’s High-Tech Disruption (2013)
MOOCs went viral. Just a handful of politicians, university presidents or university board members, who quickly embraced the concept of MOOCs mostly without research or debate, became media darlings. “By early 2013, nearly every major institution of higher learning–from the University of Colorado to the University of Copenhagen, Wesleyan to West Virginia University–will be offering a course through one of these platforms” (fastcompany). Paradoxically, a Chronicle of Higher Ed survey during the summer of 2013 indicates only 8% of faculty and 5% of college presidents believe that MOOCs’ will have a potential positive impact on future higher education in America. (3)
Thrun’s current re-makeover is attributed to the failed San Jose State pilot project. He states: “We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product …. It was a painful moment” (UV Letters). This new Udacity makeover transforms their MOOC courses into a more conventional online learning commodity. It will be, Thrun admits, “‘the biggest shift in the history of the company,’ a pivot that involves charging money for classes and abandoning academic disciplines in favor of more vocational-focused learning…. ‘We changed the equation and put people on the ground.’ By adding mentors and a help line, and making phone calls to remind students to do their work…” (UV Letters).
So how are we informed by this tale of transformation? What does it say about us and American culture: the rush to embrace the illusive quick fix in Makeover Nation? Does our fixation on power, brilliance and wealth as ‘value’ cloud our judgement? Compare Thrun to Jeb Bush, yet another education makeover expert. Claiming policy success as Florida’s governor due to the state’s improved K-12 test results, he ignores the fact that these test scores plummeted in 2009 (Reuters). No matter! With his current remake, he eschews No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for Common Core and digital technology. Bush, with powerful political and corporate connections, promotes his lucrative Foundation for Excellence in Education—vouchers, cyber schools, and mandatory online classes for K-12—supported by ALEC and others. (3) There is profit in this frenzy to makeover higher ed in America.
Higher education is an enormous business in the United States–we spend approximately $400 billion annually on universities, a figure greater than the revenues of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter combined….(fastcompany)
We already have seen the greed, power, and nonchalance of the for-profit, on-line ed sector in the past decade and the disappointing inability of the federal government to reign in its excesses. And it is true that parents are rightfully frustrated by the high cost of tuition and genuinely fearful for their children’s future even with a B.A. They want assurance their college investment will be worth it, that their children will get a job when they graduate. No one can blame them for this.
But the reality check is harsh. Making education cheaper or better will not create enough jobs or solve the economic inequality gap. MOOCs won’t solve this problem either. We typically cannot guarantee a child will secure a job with a B.A. in any discipline without a network of connections and internships. There are just not enough good jobs being generated in most economies, including Egypt, Italy, Spain, Tunisia, Japan and China. Meanwhile MOOCs are perceived differently in Europe, Asia and the Middle East with their distinct educational infrastructures, regulations, and need for open source access. (3)
Where does this leave us in the U.S.? Social Philosopher Ulrich Beck predicts unprecedented global displacement of unemployed workers searching for jobs in our age of “liquid modernity,” an era of uncertainty that Anthony Eliott describes as an age of “corporate networking, short-term project work, organizational downsizing, self-help manuals, compulsive consumerism, cybersex, instant identity makeovers and therapy culture.” (4) A first step might be pausing to assess the complexity of our present moment with its threat of dismantling the very core of higher education— yet another makeover without a center. Some faculty are standing up to this: Rutgers U. graduate school faculty who voted to block a Pearson partnership because it doesn’t save student’s money (insidehighered); the philosophy professors at San Jose State whose “Open letter to Professor Michael Sandel” about their Udacity concerns went viral (insidehighered) Faculty must lead change having understood the complexity of this challenge, including broader influences that are driving the current federal preoccupation with performance metrics (see clip below on British connections). As Cathy Davidson, cofounder of Duke University’s HASTAC program advocates: university professors need to make a case for what they do in the classroom more articulately and persuasively to the public, legislators, donors and students “because if we don’t, it will be made for us. And we won’t like the result” (edSurge).
For some background on the British connection to the U.S. Dept of Education’s current infatuation with performance metrics see Prof, Mark Stiles’ short documentary, “The Avalanche that Hasn’t Happened.”
1.This started from the enormous popularity of the soap opera Dallas in the 1980s and has received assistance from the multiple, highly profitable Disneylands that sprouted in Japan and China. For the global reach of Dallas, see also Ien Ang’s 1985 Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination, Menthuen, London. p. 11 ISBN 978-0-416-41630-5. The new 2012 version was broadcast globally including Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.
2. President Qayoumi was everywhere in the media, including a write up as one of the ‘top ten’ tech innovators in The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s publication “The Digital Campus” (May 3, 2013) and the more news about the failure of the Udacity pilot.
3. The blog “Global Higher Ed” has a set of excellent links on Thrun and also on MOOCs in other countries. See “Mapping Coursera’s Global Footprint” on November 19 and “Briefly Noted (reactions to Sebastian Thrun’s Fast Company hagiography).
4. Anthony Elliot, “The New Individualist Perspective: Identity Transformations in the Aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis.” (Autum 2010).
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.
MOOCs at U Minn — “Educating for democracy: the power of presence” (Lars Christiansen and Michael Lansing)Posted: July 26, 2013
This essay is reposted from MINNPOST with permission of the authors.
Educating for democracy: the power of presence
This summer, in collaboration with the educational company Coursera, the University of Minnesota began offering Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). The decision brought a national debate about the transformative effects of the Internet on colleges and universities to Minnesota. Other local schools are also exploring the possibilities of MOOCs. Meanwhile, faculty either wring their hands or join in as ongoing debates about the meaning and consequences of online-only education continue.
Those who boost for MOOCs promise more access to higher education with lowered costs. Yet they make assumptions about teaching that obscure the complicated ways in which people successfully learn. Rarely do these commentators attend to the power of presence in teaching and learning. These assumptions often lead to overstatements regarding the democratic potential of online-only education.
First, they assume that technology refers only to devices for online coursework. Too often, pundits conflate technology with the latest version of Internet-ready computers, pads, and smartphones. In fact, chalk and chalkboards, pencils and papers, dry erase markers, overhead projectors, cameras, slide machines and video projectors are also technologies. Teachers and learners used technologies long before medieval Europeans invented universities.
More than ‘sages on stages’
Third, pundits presume that more typical forms of education consist only of “sages on stages.” Yet colleges and universities offer learners much more than lectures. Most institutions provide more diverse experiences, including: discussions, internships, lab work, field work, archival research, literature reviews, group projects — and, of course, online discussion boards, wikis, blogs and web pages.
Fourth, MOOC boosters assume that education is about the thinking mind, not the feeling body. For the last 100 years, educational theorists have consistently rejected such dualistic thinking. Philosophers such as John Dewey and Mark Johnson insist that feelings and emotions — which emerge through sensory capabilities of the person in their surroundings — remain crucial to intellectual endeavor. Feeling and thinking are phases of an experience, not separate and distinct acts.
Left unchallenged, these assumptions lead those who advocate for online-only learning to argue that the format supplies the same learning experience as face-to-face settings. In their mind, online education delivers the same thing as existing forms of higher education, but makes them cheaper and more accessible.
Online education offers promise it can’t deliver
It doesn’t. Instead, an experience with far less potential is being offered to greater numbers of people, even as boosters present it as the same experience as the varied forms of education that already exist. Online education offers the promise of something it cannot deliver. It robs the very people that it claims to enrich. The rush to online learning also undermines and devalues educators who understand and deploy the vast opportunities for powerful learning that come from engaging the whole person.
After all, content is not an abstract thing that teachers merely communicate to students. Learning occurs through any number of distinct experiences. The qualities of every educational experience matter. By itself, online learning — involving sitting (or standing) at a computer, looking at a screen, scrolling with a mouse, and typing with a keyboard — offers a limited experience. When presented as a substitute for or alternative to direct experience and embodied presence, online learning insults rather than enriches.
In contrast, physical presence offers the gift of embodied interaction. To be sure, some instructors succumb to giving boring lectures to students who remain uninspired, disconnected, and passive. Others, however, embrace a multitude of experiences to help students learn. They work hard to evaluate the educational value of every reading, lecture, site visit, guest lecture, film, puzzle, problem, research project, laboratory experiment, performance, or service and community-based project for learners.
Ignoring embodied experience: a major step backward
The power of presence must find a place in public debates about the merits of MOOCs. This requires educators to take seriously the sensory capabilities of students, as well as the role of feeling and emotion in learning. Teaching that ignores embodied human experience represents a major step backward in educational practice. It also reveals a staggering ignorance of educational philosophy and theory.
Minnesota’s colleges and universities should work to empower students in their quest for higher education by reducing tuition and debt instead of embracing disembodied online-only learning. Then they could increase access to an education that cultivates excitement about learning, develops a wide range of skills and competencies, and fosters empowered citizens committed to making a better society. All learners — irrespective of socio-economic circumstances — deserve nothing less.
“It’s not what it seems: Online in a social world”
Having taught a mixture of partial and completely online Sociology courses at CSU San Marcos since 2000, my experiences have been similar to those described by Prof. Jeff Kolnick (see Restructuring Public Hi Ed of 3/15/2013). Like Kolnick, I found online education to be very effective in general, and to have special advantages in two areas: 1) at providing strong interaction with a wider range of students than one gets in the classroom and, 2) at allowing students the flexibility to work their studying around the increased work and family demands they are encountering. Also like he noted, experience of many faculty at CSUSM was that effective online education usually took more time than a typical classroom taught course, and did not work well with large classes.
Though I found online education to be effective and to generate good interactions with students, I have strong concerns about the push for online education as a solution to budget problems. Why? Because administrators and policy makers are confusing online with automated, and because a key socialization characteristic of education is being overlooked in the push for efficiency.
Online is not automated: The cost arguments used to promote online are far too often based on an assumption of reducing personnel costs by setting up courses that either run themselves or run with most of the work done by lower-paid technicians. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) seem to be particularly setup along these lines. From conversations with colleagues who teach online, the main efficiency in teaching online is that students can schedule classes to fit in with their schedules and thus be more productive in the class, there is no efficiency for the faculty who teach them.
Though many colleagues and I don’t find online to be that efficient, we are likely to be biased. In fact, two clear situations come up where a more automated online might work, though the value of such online remains questionable. One situation where online would work is where the course focuses on a relatively closed set of skills and doesn’t contain the critical reflection that one normally expects as part of a college education. The second situation where limited faculty engagement might also be successful is for work with that limited set of students who already have strong knowledge of the subject and in fact could have tested out of the course rather than taking it. Neither of those situations seem to provide strong arguments for online college-level education.
Socialization: The just-noted focus on automating content highlights a key problem that is not being addressed in the push for online education (regardless of the level of automation.) In the push for online, we seem to be forgetting about the role of a college education in building interaction skills and in encouraging the sorts of cross-pollination that happens when people from different backgrounds and perspectives casually interact. While colleges are focusing on more and more efficiency, leaders in the post-industrial economy are realizing the high value in the seemingly wasted time chit-chatting while waiting in line for a double-latte. As indicated in the discussions around Marissa Mayer’s decision to end employees ability to work from home at Yahoo, actual face-time is a key component of the creativity needed in the contemporary workplace. For young adults not yet in the workplace, a physical college with classrooms, snack bars, sidewalks, and faculty offices is an ideal location to hone their abilities to interact with, and benefit from, the perspectives of others from different backgrounds and life experiences.
Given the value of college as a socialization agent, how does online education fit in? In the balance of the demands on modern students, I would argue that online education can play a role, but that there also needs to be very conscientious planning to make sure students have a significant proportion of actual face-time with diverse sets of other students and faculty. To insure a good mix of experiences with other students, care needs to be taken to make sure that completely online courses are not clustered into specific fields of study or at specific levels (e.g., all prep courses), and to require that an identifiable and not insignificant (e.g., 50%?) portion of a student’s involve face-to-face interaction. Doing this would require a high level of planning, and support from administration for that planning, regarding the place of online education in degree requirements.
Going back to the beginning, from my own experience, online education can work and be quite effective. But, if we move from a narrow focus of education within a course and instead look at the broader implications of being in an educational environment, then we see that very careful consideration should be given regarding the role of online coursework within the totality of the student experience.
To back up this need for comprehensive planning, one final observation. Circumstantial evidence from my own online teaching is that many of the students who did well in the courses talked about informal face-time that they had with other students through other shared classroom courses. If this observation is common in online courses, then it turns out that online education works best when it is not as solo as one usually assumes. When it is, in fact, not really 100% online but instead involving informally created study groups.
Our hearts go out to our colleagues and everyone on the East Coast battered by Hurricane Sandy, the second October megastorm in two years. May an outcome of this devastation be the recognition of climate change and the beginning of a rational public policy and action to address it, including the construction of a more resilient electrical grid and public infrastructure.
Fear and Trembling: Nov. 6 and Public Higher Ed.
A deep existential dread pervades many of my colleagues in education as Nov. 6 approaches. And it is not just because we are in California with its problematic Prop 30, which would be the coup de grâce to public education if it fails. This election could signify the closing of opportunity for any significant pragmatic action to protect what remains of public higher education across the country. The outcomes on Nov. 6 could be a further blow to unions, who despite faults, have worked hard to protect workers rights in the face of a relentless onslaught of big money, and reactionary legislation to gut them.
And I can be counted as one educator in this election season disappointed by the lack of debate on the state of defunded public higher education across the nation and the instability for young educated adults in the new lackluster economy. I can see the impact of a dramatically changed economic reality on my students since the fiscal collapse of 2008: seniors about to graduate troubled by their chances on a job market that provides no career stability or upward mobility. One of my students, a talented software programmer in the gaming field, works from contract to contract asking for a permanent position at each job with no result. Or there is the mature student, a biology major in my capstone course, who has survived rising tuition costs in the CSU with a “good job” at Starbucks and may have to stay since jobs in her area of expertise are scare; or her partner also in the science business who does get highly paid contracts, but they are all short-term and he worries constantly about the next short-term job. This is an age of contingency for all workers, blue or white-collar, and my students wonder whether they will ever have the economic security to even start a family or own a house. The American Dream feels very fragile to my graduating students in California in an age of business opportunism eager to exploit contingent labor. This is a global trend , of course, pitting young educated adults against each other in the hunt for more stable jobs.
Is it the same across the states? Just last month many of us received the following message from the American Association of University Professors (AAAUP) explaining the seriousness of union busting in Michigan:
Dear AAUP Members:
In attacks on working families similar to those we saw in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Michigan legislature and governor have decimated collective bargaining rights in the state. In Michigan, this has been done not in one omnibus bill but with an onslaught of individual bills, railroaded through committees with the arrogant attitude, “your voice doesn’t matter.”
Fearing this pattern might continue though the next legislative session, and possibly lead to a so-called right-to-work state, the labor movement has initiated a ballot campaign to amend the Michigan constitution. The proposed amendment would protect the basic right to negotiate for fair wages and benefits with an employer.
Our friends and colleagues in Wisconsin and Ohio stood their ground and fought back with the power of collective action reminiscent of the 1930’s. It is now Michigan’s turn to carry the movement forward.
As we have seen over the past couple of years, corporate special interests have amassed staggering resources to use in their attempt to destroy collective bargaining rights. We therefore appeal to our AAUP colleagues from across the country to join us in preserving the labor/management relationship that has been so successful in creating the American middle class.
Rudy Fichtenbaum President, AAUP
In California, funded by super PACS (including Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers).we have Prop 32 on the Nov. 6 ballot that would make political action close to impossible for unions here. May we shake off the dread and act to make sure this doesn’t happen as we inspire our colleagues to become politically engaged by getting out the vote this week. This is all hands on deck!
In his recent blog .”…Same as the Old Boss” (below) Bill Lyne provides a case study of the ongoing privatization of public higher ed in Washington State:
In a move that would make Dick Cheney proud, Education Secretary Arne “Aren’t I cool because I play basketball with the president” Duncan recently convened a secret meeting of higher education bosses to help him figure out how to do to higher ed what he has done to K-12. According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, the meeting included top officials from prominent MOOCs, other players in online learning, veteran experts on course redesign, college administrators, people from powerful foundations, leaders of several of the major higher education associations, technology vendors, and for-profit college representatives.
“Few actual faculty members were invited to the meeting,” reported IHE. “And no high-profile faculty advocates attended.” In the doth protest too much portion of the program, “education Department officials repeatedly said during the meeting that they recognize the leadership role faculty must take in any teaching and learning developments.”
Yeah, well if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.
In related news here in Washington, Governor Gregoire has now made her appointments to the Student Achievement Council, a longtime state bureaucrat with zero education experience is now running our community college system, and Rob McKenna thinks college professors are blowhards who should be turned into temp workers.
For those who haven’t been reading the fine print, the Student Achievement Council almost exactly fills the footprint left by the recently deposed Higher Education Coordinating Board. Scott White is probably rolling over in his grave after the bill he introduced to scrap the bloated and ineffectual HEC Board has only produced a lot of wasted time and money to replicate the HEC with the SAC.
The governor’s appointments to the SAC all seem like fine people, but while the names have changed, the lineup overall is distressingly familiar. A bunch of lawyers and managers and a token student (who will, depending on her willingness to go along, either be co-opted or marginalized), none of whom bears much resemblance to an actual educator. As with every other task force, board, council, and committee appointed to ride herd on public higher education, there is no faculty member, no one who does the work of education, no one who knows from daily classroom experience what student achievement might actually mean.
For the past thirty years, U.S. public education has been going to way of U.S. health care. Like health care, education is something that should be a right that has been inexorably turned into a commodity as a public good has been made more and more available for private profit. The funding model has shifted from taxation to debt (much to the delight of the financial industry), eroding both the accessibility and quality of college. Real educators generally object to this shift, which is why the new appointees to the SAC were chosen precisely because they are managers and not educators. Kind of the same way that the people chosen to run health care are always managers and not doctors.
As public higher ed was eviscerated over the past four years, the HEC board stood by and didn’t raise a fuss, choosing instead to do endless tuition studies and produce lots of charts with pretty blue arrows. It’s a pretty safe bet that the new SAC can be counted on to be just as acquiescent.
Meanwhile, just down the street at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Olympia perennial Marty Brown has been named Executive Director. When last we saw Mr. Brown, he was throwing a fit to any reporter who would listen about the faculty contract at Western Washington University. Despite the fact that Western professors’ salaries, adjusted for cost of living, ranked in the bottom fifteen percent in the country, Mr. Brown felt it was “a mistake” for the Western trustees to negotiate a contract with the faculty that included small raises.
This disdain for faculty, along with his complete lack of experience as an educator, should help Mr. Brown fit right in at the SBCTC, where hundreds of well-paid managerial employees with benefits oversee a system that is well on its way to becoming a sweatshop. At some of Washington’s community colleges, up to 80% of the faculty are badly paid part-time itinerant workers with no benefits. As SBCTC Director, Mr. Brown will have access to study after study that shows what a difference well-qualified permanent faculty can make. He will also have the expertise of thousands of professors readily available. The smart money is on his taking advantage of neither, instead continuing to rely on the squads of non-classroom consultants and “experts” who will continue to peddle the notion that doing more with less has no effect on a student’s education.
Alas, these also seem to be Rob McKenna’s confidantes. Mr. McKenna has made education the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign and he certainly gets it right when he talks about how he wants to increase funding for higher education. And he consistently recognizes the damage done by years of cuts to higher ed.
But when he gets down to specifics, it becomes clear that the Attorney General has drunk the managerial Kool-Aid. In a higher ed speech at WWU’s Munro Institute this summer, Mr. McKenna cogently made the case about higher ed funding, but then moved into the trickier areas of instruction and teaching. After a few banal remarks about online learning and “blended courses,” he launched into this observation about the nature of teaching:
“We’ve got to move from a model where you always have a teacher or a professor who is, as someone put it, the ‘Sage on the Stage’ to where you’ve got a professor or a teacher who’s the ‘guide by your side.’ This is a phrase that I learned from Sam Smith at Western Governor’s University (WGU), I thought it was pretty striking.”
What seems novel and striking to Attorney General McKenna is actually pretty old and tired. “Sage on the stage” and “guide by your side” have been around since at least the early 1990s and have been co-opted by the for-profit education movement as a way to demonize professors as pompous windbags and convince prospective student customers that a badly paid unqualified pal on the other end of a digital connection is better than a genuinely qualified instructor. (The irony worth noting here is that almost every time some self-styled education expert trots out the sage-on-the-stage insult, he or she is usually speaking from a stage to a passive audience, just as Rob McKenna was at the Munro Institute.) It’s no surprise that McKenna picked this up from Sam Smith, the lobbyist for WGU, where they have no faculty, just “course mentors.”
McKenna’s lack of connection to real educators becomes even clearer when we take a look at his higher education position paper. Buried near the end is a proposal to eliminate tenure, a move that would guarantee Washington’s universities would never again be able to recruit high quality faculty.
Chris Gregoire, Marty Brown, and Rob McKenna are doing nothing to improve the quality of higher education, but they can take solace in the fact that they are right in step with Arne Duncan. Though they all come from different points on the ideological compass, they all firmly agree that major policy and funding decisions about higher education are best made without any actual educators in the room.
When the Duncan cabal got down to their business of identifying the obstacles to their brave new world of McEd, the things they pointed to were financial aid rules, pesky accreditors demanding some sort of accountability, and the “faculty culture” created by those nasty professors who stayed in school into their thirties and took jobs paying much less than they could have made as business people or lawyers, just because they don’t really care about students.
Given their mania for efficiency, it’s probably a good thing that Arne’s army kept the professors out of the room. They would have just muddled things with questions about massive disinvestment, the difference between real education for responsible citizens and job training for docile employees, and why everybody in the room was sending their kids to real colleges while claiming that the MOOCs were good enough for everyone not in their tax bracket.
The NFL Referee lockout demonstrated once again that nobody protects quality, integrity, and safety like organized, professional practitioners and that bosses, no matter what manner of pious bullshit they may publicly spew, are mostly interested in squeezing workers as hard as they can. The bosses who have now focused on higher education are determined to make sure that today’s children get tomorrow’s education equivalent of replacement refs.
(permission to repost granted by the author)
I have just returned from six weeks in Cambodia. Since 1996, I have worked there for most summers to assist Khmer colleagues rebuild the higher education sector. The Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) has a number of buildings spread throughout the city. The RUPP building shown at the left contains the science labs which were stripped of every item and turned into holding pens for pigs by the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). Not only was the entire material infrastructure of the country dismantled and destroyed so was the intellectual infrastructure with over 90% of teachers, professors, judges, lawyers, doctors killed with the back of their head smashed in with a club (bullets were too precious to use) or they died from hard labor, extreme exposure, or from starvation, or a variety of illnesses — malaria, dengue, influenza, etc. At least 90% of all library materials were destroyed as the Khmer Rouge used paper from books to roll cigarettes or for fuel. I mention this because during the 1950s and 1960s Cambodia had the best public school system in Southeast Asia and now remains in runner up place for the worst. It has been very difficult for Cambodia to reconstruct the intellectual capacity it once had in the late 1960s to be competitive in the new global economy. There are unknown consequences to dismantling a functional, however imperfect, public education system. Of course, in our case, it doesn’t require the Khmer Rouge.
We Are All Corporate Professors Now (and what to do about it): Summer Reading Mashup
by Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach
Over the past few months a number of excellent academic writers and public intellectuals have published information on the “corporate professor.” Some contend that the formation of this role is aligned with the politics and economics of an “inverted totalitarianism” that has been overtaking American democracy since the 1970s (Hedges). The question arises: How can we protect shrinking public spaces of open discourse—our own university’s capacity to protect and foster academic freedom and diverse research—in an age that promotes brand over content?
For how we got here, start with Ethan Schrum’s “A Bibliographic Essay on the University, the Market, and Professors” in The Hedgehog Review (Spring 2012). This is a nuanced, well-researched historical overview that covers the two major structural shifts in the “constantly changing university”: post WWII and the ascent of neoliberalism from the 1970s. The general public, which once viewed public education as a common good in the 1960s, has been propagandized into a perceptual shift that valorizes free markets and the university as a private good. It is during that thirty-forty year process that unknowingly and unintentionally we became corporate professors.
With Schrum’s overview as a basis, continue to explore the role of the corporate professor in Gaye Tuchman’s essay “Pressured and Measured: Professors at Wannabe U.” also in the same issue of The Hedgehog Review. Here is her understanding of the historical and economic context in which we find ourselves:
“Student consumerism, the control of faculty through metrics, the endowment, the division of athletics, and the commodification of education are all linked in a fairly straightforward manner. Emphasizing the individual right to profit for decades—indeed, the rights of the individual over the responsibilities of the individual to the group—neoliberalism has been identifying education as a private good. It has also stressed the virtue and ubiquity of modern corporate organization, especially its ability to compete in a global economy and to “grow profits.” In part because universities have adapted to these tenets, in part because they have been conforming to the “best practices” of other institutions, in part because states have been putting their money into other activities, such as funding prisons to force miscreants to take responsibility for their actions, the relationship between higher education and the states has changed. Colleges and Universities have become ever more corporatized…. (They) have struggled to find alternative revenue streams, such as sales of and royalties from faculty inventions. Designing new regulations to promote productivity and to spur professorial compliance, they reward conformers and punish shirkers.”
Within this historical context the corporate professor, according to Tuchman, is “increasingly regulated by an accountability regime, a politics of surveillance, control and market management disguised as the value-neutral administration of individuals and organizations (italics mine). it is the structural analog of an audit culture.” We are all familiar with the imposition of student assessment metrics by our regional accrediting commissions, most significantly over the past decade as their own accountability came under scrutiny through the federal government’s displeasure over graduation/retention rates and PELL grants.
In response to assessment demands outsourced to us by our own university management under pressure from accrediting commissions seeking to prove their own accountability to the federal government, we have embedded student learning objectives in courses and programs; measured them through a variety of instruments; written reports on outcomes. We email our reports to assessment coordinators or administrators who coordinate that process. They gather this data into massive, time-consuming reports which they forward to regional accrediting commissions in preparation for site visits. All of this to prove that we are “accountable”; yet, I have never received feedback from management on any annual assessment report or plan that I have submitted. Under the threat of program elimination, reluctant corporate professors have slogged through assessment report production. We must prove through data and assessment that we and our programs are “valuable.” Through our efforts, in a sort of halo effect, academic managers acquire “value” and subsequently our accreditation commissions. In this way we have inadvertently become conformists of value.
The time-consuming nature of program and course assessment is a topic taken up in Dave Porter’s “Assessment as a Subversive Activity” in AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom (2012, v. 3). Since it is a response to two previous articles in AAUP JAF (2011) critical of the “relentlessly expanding assessment movement,” it provides a good overview of critical opinions regarding the whole university assessment regime. Porter has a point in reframing the problem of assessment in terms of a “lack of institutional integrity and the manipulative managerial style of administrators who do not understand the learning process and educational systems sufficiently to implement assessment programs effectively” (2). That resonates as true; however, faculty are not in a position to fire incompetent administrators. Only the campus president has that authority. Not a single administrator with multiple negative faculty evaluations on performance reviews has been fired during my twenty-two years on campus.
We are experiencing a structural flaw in the organization of the “public” university: administrators exercise much more power over faculty through the assessment regime than faculty do over administrators. I suggest we seek an adjustment. Our colleagues at the University of Virginia have demonstrated success in rebalancing power through concerted collective action, enabling the reinstatement of Teresa Sullivan. We could begin to change the management/faculty power imbalance by rotating qualified faculty into a significant number of administrative roles for three-year terms with an option to renew. Could academic senates facilitate structural change by voting to implement this type of plan as a five-year pilot program? The reduction of highly paid administrators would result in cost savings with the potential of a better managed public university.
There is a dangerous correlation between the assessment/metrics regime and the loss of creative space for research in the corporate public university. If research doesn’t generate money through patents or grants, if a project’s outcomes can’t be quickly measured for short-term gain, then it has no measurable value in Corporate U. And it if can’t be measured, it appears to have no value. Moreover the metrics of assessment are now wedded to the corporate professor’s tenure and merit pay. This culture of accountability ensures the public that tax dollars are not “wasted on useless professors.” Different points are assigned to various types of publication. A certain number of points must be scored over a certain number of years to receive merit pay with little recourse for grievance. Texas seems to be particularly keen on this type of standardization (3). A culture of surveillance of this nature is not conducive to risk-taking in research. Thus we undermine our own global competitive edge through a narrow-minded accountability regime.
Several scholars and think tanks have published commentary and reports that express concern over the decline of research institutions in the U.S. Some attribute this to the corporate culture of the university that emphasizes individual competition over collaboration, and quick money over larger, expansive forays into the unknown (2).
Wrapping up, here is an email advertisement I received last spring in advance of our regional accrediting commission’s (WASC) annual assessment gathering (ARC) with its many vendors (1). I have removed the company’s name for legal reasons; the bold type is theirs. It reminds me of a billboard I saw in Phnom Penh recently selling “newness’” as fashion (anything new and trendy must be good so buy it!):
We couldn’t say it any better than WASC
“U.S. higher education is in the midst of a paradigm shift. We face economic, technological, political and social challenges and more change is on the horizon. It is clear that we must transform higher education … but how?” – ARC webpage
We couldn’t have said it better: New paradigms, New media. New methods. New modalities. Each aimed at delivering the ultimate student experience, all for the greater good.
At XXX Systems, we know student outcomes are your highest priority. And that colleges and universities today are also looking to improve business performance – by containing and reducing costs, by branding themselves to attract the best students, by standardizing and automating business processes.
Not to mention keeping pace with an unforgiving environment of reporting and accountability.
To stay ahead of these disruptive events and paradigm shifts, you need a disruptive technology — you need XXX Enterprise …a twenty-first century academic management system that’s Innovative…Integrated…Intelligent” (4).
1. WASC may be listening to criticism from both the federal and local levels. See Fain’s “Rise of the Accreditor? See also Keep’s “The Worrisome Ascendance of Business in Higher Education.”
2. For example see Atkinson and Stewart, Kiley, Clay, Chomsky, and Nelson below.
3. Adjuncts tragically are even more marginalized, see Berrett’s “Underpaid and Restless: Study Presents a ‘Dismal Picture’ of Life as a Part-Time Professor.”
4. For another view on disruptive technology see Neem’s “Disruptive Innovation: Rhetoric or Reality?”
Atkinson, Robert and Luke A. Stewart. “University Research Funding: The United States is Behind and Falling.” Information Technology and Innovation Foundation report. May 2011.
Atlas, Ben. “Chris Hedges on the Inverted Totalitarianism and the Commodification of Culture.” December 12, 2010. Benatlas.com
———. “Chris Hedges on the Corporate Neofeudalism.” December 12, 2010. Benatlas.com
Berrett, Dan. “Underpaid and Restless: Study Presents a ‘Dismal Picture’ of Life as a Part-Time Professor.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 20, 2012
Chomsky, Noam. “Academic Freedom and the Corporatization of Universities.” University of Toronto Scarborough, April 6, 2011.
Clay, Rebecca. “The corporatization of higher education: The intermingling of business and academic cultures brings both concerns and potential benefits to psychology.” American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology. 39.11 (December 2008).
Donoghue, Frank. “Tenure: Yes or No?” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 14, 2012.
Fain, Paul. “Rise of the Accreditor?” in Inside Higher Education. July 10,2012.
Giroux, Henry A. “Beyond the Politics of the Big Lie: The Education Deficit and the New Authoritarianism. Originally a Truthout Op Ed. June 19, 2012.
———.“Zombie Politics, Democracy, and the Threat of Authoritarianism – Part I.” Peter Lang. June 2011.
Higgs, Steven. “Commodifying Education: The Corporatization of the American University“. Counterpunch. November 2011.
Jaschik, Scott. “U.S. Decline or a Flawed Measure?” Inside Higher Ed. October 8, 2009.
Keep, William. “The Worrisome Ascendance of Business in Higher Education.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The June 21, 2012.
Kiley, Kevin. “How to Stay on Top.” Inside Higher Ed. June 15, 2012.
———“Big Target, Bigger Cuts.” Inside Higher Ed. January 18, 2012
Neem, Johann. “Disruptive Innovation: Rhetoric or Reality?” Inside Higher Ed. June 26, 2012.
Nelson, Libby A. “Where Will the Money Come From?” Inside Higher Ed. July 12, 2012.
Porter, Dave. “Assessment as a Subversive Activity” AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, 3 (20012).
Roberts, Yvonne. “The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz — review.” The Guardian, July 13, 2012.
Somek, Alexander. Individualism. Oxford University Press, 2008. Review in The International Journal of Constitutional Law
The National Research Council. “Research Universities and the Future of America.” 2012
Wilson, Robin. “Faculty Power Brokers at UVa.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 1, 2012.