“I Quit Lit” and the new “Departure Eulogy”

Xie

Prof. Tim Xie testifies to CSU Board of Trustees on November 6, 2013 about failed restructuring.

“I Quit Lit” and the new “Departure Eulogy”

Professor Xie resigns to protect adjunct faculty

by Teri Shaffer Yamada

Recently, some slightly satiric joking about a new academic subgenre— “I Quit Lit”— has appeared in the columns of Slate, the Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere in the blogosphere.   Actually Zachary Ernst’s “Why I Jumped Off the Ivory Tower” (Oct. 20, 2013) deserves careful consideration.  (1)   A fine and thoughtful writer, Ernst’s dismay at leaving his philosophy position is visceral; but his love of teaching cannot outweigh negative consequences from the structural dysfunction of his institution.  He writes:

What makes me pessimistic about my own university and public universities in the United States in general is that their inability to adapt isn’t due simply to bad leadership or an unfavorable economy. It’s based on structural features that are self-reinforcing. Poor leadership drawn from huge corporations, an incentive structure that favors narrow specialization, and hostility to potentially disruptive research, all reinforce each other. Those of us whose interests don’t fit into that structure have some difficult decisions to make.

A 2013 survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education—“Attitudes on Innovation: How College Leaders and Faculty see the Key Issues Facing Higher Education”—shows that many faculty share Ernst’s concerns about the future of the academy. (Executive summary)

 Faculty members, in particular, are pessimistic about the future of higher education. Only one-third of faculty members say higher education in the United States is headed in the right direction, compared to two-thirds of presidents (see Figure 1). Among those most uncertain about the future are faculty members in the humanities (where departments have seen declining enrollments), those at public research universities (which have seen sharp cuts in state subsidies), and those who have been teaching more than 20 years. The faculty most optimistic about the future are those teaching in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—where government support has been high for much of the last decade.

A must-read survey, it explores the perception gap between faculty and academic leadership, a gap that hinders constructive change.

As the youngest and brightest tenured faculty flee from an organizational structure that cannot easily transform itself, the elders who form the largest percentage of the remaining tenured faculty approach retirement.  What structurally remains is a hollow layer of smaller departments and programs on the verge of collapse, years of budget cuts and retirements having eviscerated tenure lines.  As more adjuncts are used to fill in where tenured professors once were, the discussion about power—who runs a program in this situation—needs to be thoughtfully addressed. Or, it the silent decision just to eliminate this layer of the Humanities?

Notably, Stanford University has recently recognized this problem exacerbated by declining student enrollments.  The question—What to do about it?—for less endowed universities leads to a hard, potentially controversial discussion.  Better to have this tough debate  in the open where some strategic planning could be embraced by faculty and administrators as opposed to a silent,  slow death of so many programs like philosophy and physics, religious and ethnic studies departments, and even foreign language programs—many are now experiencing a prolonged death, or the fear of one, occurring without any discussion at all.

But I digress, my real intent was to add a new subgenre to the “I Quit Lit” oeuvre: the departure eulogy.   In my case, it will be for the Chair of the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies at CSU Long Beach, Prof. Tim Xie.  A fine man and wonderful colleague, a nationally renowned linguist and expert in Chinese language pedagogy, he has recently submitted his resignation as Chair along with a retirement letter to the university in order to save several of our highly valued adjunct faculty, skilled Chinese language instructors, from economic devastation when all lecturer courses were eliminated in the Chinese program due to imposed restructuring.  Prof. Xie is a ‘survivor’ of the Cultural Revolution in China.  Midst the gallows humor of who may die first from stress, we have discussed the failure of democracy and shared governance at our own institution: his closing comment,  “I thought America was different!” So I say on behalf of my fellow colleagues, we will deeply miss this noble and talented man.

 Footnotes

1. Equally compelling is Sarah Kendzior’s “The Closing of American academia: The plight of adjunct professors highlights the end of higher education as a means to prosperity.”

Further Reading on the structural critiques of  academic organizations

Henry A. Giroux, “When Schools Become Dead Zones of Imagination”  (Aug. 17, 2013)

Wellford Wilms, “How Kafkaesque Bureaucrats Are Ruining Education” (Aug. 19, 2013).


“MnSCU faculty distraught about system’s ‘bold shift’ to Soviet-style bureaucracy” (Monte Bute)

bureaucracy

    by Teri Shaffer Yamada, CSU Long Beach

(Thanks to Monte Bute, Sociology professor at  Metro State University,  for forwarding information  on this  issue.)

In fall  2012, Chancellor Rosenstone of the  Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, with its 54-campus system, declared that it must become more “strategic” and confront “’wicked questions’ around the future of higher education and the system itself.”  (1) He charged a new 46-member Task Force, split into three workgroups, to develop a ten-year strategic plan incorporating its vision of three broad topics—  the education, the workforce, and the system of the future— that would provide “the most cost-effective, highest value education” to all Minnesotans.

In June 2013, his task force described their 35-page, first-draft report of “Charting the Future” as a  “bold shift” for the MnSCU system.  Along with the merging of collective bargaining units, it advocated “campus and center mergers, relocating academic  programs and offering a single portal to the system’s online offerings.” This initial draft was open for comments and review over the subsequent four months.  The second draft, with a set of six recommended strategic priorities,  has just been published, with the report to be finalized prior to the November 2013 meeting of the Board of Trustees.

In response to the latest draft,   the Inter Faculty Organization (IFO), a faculty union representing 4,000 faculty members at seven Minnesota state universities, released this comment: “We oppose moving toward a Soviet-style management structure with centrally controlled decision making by bureaucrats who are far removed from the classroom.” The IFO’s key criticisms are that the plan could squeeze out innovation on campuses and emphasize job-training programs at the expense of academic ones: “Student program choices should not be limited to the programs supported by the business community.” (2)  See their complete comments below.

The IFO critique is denied by the administration, which emphasizes that collaboration is a core value of the 10-year plan.

A key to understanding this difference of perspective between the IFO and administration is the process itself.  Chancellor Rosenstone’s 46-member task force had a membership of 14-17 people per workgroup: typically two faculty, two students and two staff representatives, with approximately 50-60% of the remaining membership  the “administrative cohort’”(campus presidents, deans, trustees and Chancellor’s Fellows).  Administrators headed all three  work groups.

Were the six non-administrative representatives on a work group to agree on specific recommendations, they could still be outvoted by the administrative cohort. The lack of real power for faculty representation within this organizational structure is familiar to those of us who have served on university task forces with similar membership composition.  It simply provides a cover story for faculty participation.

The Catch-22 for a faculty representative on this type of structured task force is the genuine desire to make a difference.  If one faculty member refuses to serve, another will be appointed anyway.  Yet it is unlikely that one faculty opinion will sway the rest of the group given its composition.  Ironically, a faculty representative’s thoughtful ideas ultimately may be redirected to a means of oppressing fellow faculty rather than serving their interests.

Nancy Black, union president of IFO and a faculty representative on the “Education of the Future” workgroup, states that the June report took her by surprise: “We had what I would term, euphemistically, lively discussions,” she said, but her group did not vote on any of the recommendations. She said she did not see the final draft until it was made public June 19.    She also reports that faculty were “enraged at me for being a part of it.”  The truth  is  Nancy Black was never  “part of it”  since she was excluded from the smaller core of decision makers within her work group.  They are the ones who formed the first rough draft and circulated it among themselves for comment before forwarding it to whomever put the entire report together.

The game was rigged from the beginning, with the Chancellor’s questions that skew the outcome and the Task Force composition.  Given these two factors, the recommendations naturally reflect administrative interests.   These interests are currently to provide efficiencies that include weakening faculty power over the curriculum,  shared governance structures,  and faculty unions —that is shifting more control to the administration in a top-down organizational structure.    This efficiency objective incorporates the consolidation and elimination of programs and colleges—essentially the elimination of faculty and staff jobs— and the shrinking of knowledge or its elimination through the privileging of “professional” degrees.

The following statements are from the 2009 report “Bridging the Skills Gap”  found in the Task Force’s bibliography, a report we infer was used to shape their recommendations:

When jobs are created again, actual hiring patterns will vary by industry and by geography, but one pattern is already clear according to Lisa Belkin in an October 2009 New York Times article. Many of the low-skill, low-wage jobs lost during the current recession were held by men. Many of the jobs that will be created during the recovery will be filled by women because they cost less to hire—women earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man—and because they are concentrated in industries, such as healthcare and education, that are expected to grow….

Professional and related occupations will be one of the two fastest-growing and will add the most new jobs. Almost three-quarters of job growth will come from three occupations: computer and math occupations; healthcare practitioners and technical occupations; and education, training, and library occupations…. Management, scientific, and technical consulting services will grow 78 percent.  According to BLS, “demand for these services will be spurred by the increased use of new technology and computer software and the growing complexity of business.” (p. 9)

Through the Task Force’s  vision of efficiency, its 10-year plan eliminates choice and diversity of knowledge, both faculty values.   Administrative vision is also very costly to implement.  Just one item, the consolidation of online courses from 54 campuses into one portal, may require ten’s of millions of dollars in course redesign and a costly private provider for the unifying learning management system (LMS) or platform that will be required to link campuses or establish a supra structure over them.  There is no cost-benefit analysis attached to this report.  And we have yet to see how many costly administrators are projected to be eliminated with this bold vision.

(1)  The Chancellor’s questions shape the vision itself: These questions focus heavily on e-learning, technology, and workplace solutions responsive to business and industry as well as access and cost-saving efficiencies.

(2) IFL Board Response to “Charting the Future”   is available here.

The IFO Board Response to Charting the Future (CTF)

The IFO strongly supports Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ (MnSCU) strategic framework:

a. b. c.

Ensure access to an extraordinary education for all Minnesotans; Be the partner of choice to meet Minnesota’s workforce and community needs; Deliver to students, employers, communities, and taxpayers the highest value/most affordable option.

However, the IFO rejects the strategic recommendations of Charting the Future:

1. Charting the Future promotes centralization—a goal the IFO fundamentally rejects. According to CTF: “Our system values institutional autonomy and decentralization…. This culture is out of sync in a world where collaboration and synergy are needed….” (CTF:9). The CTF document is filled with proposals that promote centralization—for example, a statewide academic planning and program review process; a statewide facilities master plan; a statewide certification of competency based award of credit; a comprehensive statewide e-strategy; and continuing education and customized training through statewide collaboration.

Instead, student and community needs are best achieved through competitive and highly autonomous institutions that can quickly and nimbly change to meet local and regional needs. We oppose moving toward a Soviet-style management structure with centrally controlled decisions made by bureaucrats who are far removed from the classroom. Multi-layered, centralized bureaucracies tend to be self-perpetuating, and consume financial resources that could be better spent on student learning.

2. CTF fails to address the most pressing higher education issues on the minds of students, their families, and the legislators who represent them: student debt and the affordability of higher education. MnSCU sought a 3% tuition increase in 2013, a goal the IFO successfully opposed during the 2013 legislative session. In CTF, MnSCU pays lip service to affordability, without supporting policies to accomplish it. IFO supports efforts to reduce the cost of higher education, which is best accomplished through local control.

3. The MnSCU state universities have been a critical socio-economic asset for over one hundred years. The liberal arts university promotes the development and practice of analytical and critical thinking skills. The state universities provide an affordable and accessible four-year education for all Minnesotans, representing diverse and underserved communities and groups throughout the state. CTF does not sufficiently

recognize or value the long-established universities, and the communities within which they are located, particularly in Greater Minnesota.

4. Academic offerings should be driven by the demands of students and their families—not the demands of the business community. Businesses should fill their workforce needs by offering livable wages and benefits, quality in-house training, and desirable working conditions to attract the best employees. If employers offer attractive wages, benefits and working conditions, students will invest in the education necessary to obtain those jobs. Diverse education for a diverse community of employers strengthens Minnesota.

Finally, the IFO urges Chancellor Rosenstone and the MnSCU Board of Trustees to reject the CTF’s recommendations—including statewide academic planning and union consolidation that simply increase bureaucracy and centralization—and instead promote a vision for the future that provides student-driven choices for all Minnesotans. The IFO encourages legislators and Governor Dayton to oppose administrative strategies that lead to larger, costlier, and more centralized management structures. Instead, Minnesota leaders should continue to support efforts to work with faculty to ensure access to an extraordinary and affordable education for all Minnesotans. Far from resisting change, state university faculty are on the front lines of educational innovation, helping to ensure students, employers, communities, and taxpayers the highest value and most affordable option for higher education.