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

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

A Teacher’s Take on Online Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised : Deconstructing the CFHE News Briefing (February 12, 2013) on Funding Hi Ed.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised : Deconstructing the  CFHE News Briefing (February 12, 2013) on Funding Hi Ed.

tumblr_mhbhstLtSM1r4tplxo1_500Teri Yamada, Prof. of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach

“Contemporary society, observed the late Cornelius Castoriadis, has stopped questioning itself.  Lack of genuine questioning —at once a questioning of self and society—is fundamental to the political deadlocks of contemporary social life”

(Anthony Elliot  from “The New Individualist Perspective: Identity Transformations in the Aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis”)

At the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) news briefing, three scholars representing faculty across the U.S. strongly advocated for a change in state and federal funding of public higher ed. Their request— stop capitulating to a dysfunctional NEW NORMAL — was directed at politicians and administrative leaders with the power to change a funding system that longer works for most Americans.

Three scholars—Professors Samuels, Fichtenbaum and Glantz—presented    different common-sense solutions for funding public higher education based on tax reforms or spending state and federal dollars more wisely.  All proposals attempt to reverse the privatization trend in public higher education that shifts the expense from the state and federal government onto the most vulnerable families and individuals.  These scholars share the concern that a failure to fund quality public higher education equally for every American gradually leads to a diminished democracy with a two-tiered class system.  It is past time to rethink this problem and take action to correct it.

  • Bob Samuels in “Making All Public Higher Education Free” argues for reallocating monies used for state and government education subsidies. According to his research, the cost for free undergraduate public education in 2009-10 was $127 bil.   The total amount of state and government dollars currently allocated to college-saving programs, grants, subsidies and student loan expenses would cover this cost AND stop the horrendous problem of   student debt.
  • Rudy Fichtenbaum in “How to Invest in Higher Education: A Financial Speculation Tax” proposes a responsibly administered, modest tax of no more than .5% on speculative financial transactions.   The U.S. had a small financial transactions tax from 1914 to 1966.  Its diminished relative now supports the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Many other nations— Great Britain, Singapore, France and Finland, for example— have a financial speculation tax with the subsidiary benefit of reducing speculation while providing funding for public projects.
  • Stanton Glantz in  “Financial Options for Restoring Quality and Access to Public Higher Education in California: 2012/13” suggests we reset student fees to the 2001 level.  Glantz provides an analysis to show that a $48 tax per median California taxpayer would restore the state to that 2001 level.  Otherwise, the offloading of public higher education costs to private individuals will continue to make education less affordable to the public.  A tax like this in each state would return public education to the status of a public good.

The facts in these three proposals were reported on a number of online education venues. I was disappointed, however, in reportage that failed to emphasize the despair faculty feel over the current damage to public higher education.   It is authentic concern and frustration that compel faculty to develop such proposals.   If this trend of defunding continues what is positive about our current public higher ed system will be tossed out in the madness of  “efficiency” reform.  We will end up with a one-size-fits-all commodity education for children who cannot afford private colleges: a second-class education for second-class citizens.

The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) and Inside Higher Ed (IHE) reporters papered over the political message of failed leadership, although the IHE reporter did quote Glantz’s comment on urgency: ”We’ve got to get policy makers and individuals who represent institutions to stop wringing their hands and address the problem.”   Samuels, Fichtenbaum and Glantz were unified in criticizing the failure of college presidents and political leaders to question and mitigate the negative influence of neo-liberal economic policy on public higher education.   It is unconscionable to passively accept the New Normal as an excuse for maintaining a dysfunctional status quo.  Inaction is not an option.   In contrast, NEA reporter Mary Ellen Flannery more accurately emphasized the urgency of the faculty message, the reason for this news briefing.

It is also interesting that no reporter took advantage of Glantz’s suggestion to contact a college president.  Since the “failure of leadership to question and create change” was the seminal subtext of the three faculty proposals, it is ironic that most reporters would adhere to status quo coverage of facts not message.   Glantz’s suggestion would involve more effort, perhaps impossible in the face of time constraints imposed by short deadlines.  The Chronicle of Higher Ed blogger had his post up within hours of the event.  Calling a few campus presidents may not be an option with a two-three hour deadline.  This is not the moment, however, to reflect on the decontextualization and flattening of news that occurs in the immediacy of the tweets and blogs of “networked time”.    Glantz’s suggestion would necessitate finding a campus president “engaged enough” to have read the three proposals and “brave enough” to respond to reporter’s questions with the possibility of an “unpopular” quote ending up in print for all to read.  Easier and safer for a campus president just to ignore it all.    Perhaps for the next set of research proposals, CFHE organizers will send notification in advance to an array of campus presidents mentioning that reporters might call.   And if no president is willing, interested, or able to respond, that type of dismissal and disengagement from faculty concerns is itself newsworthy.

Those of us teaching in the public higher ed domain are watching our administrators dismantle the liberal arts mission of our institutions while denying such action or blaming the New Normal for it.  They can’t help it; it’s not their fault; the state budgets made them do it; STEM matters.  Administrative emotion has become coldly authoritarian.  If capitulation to the New Normal continues,  those disciplines hardest to monetize and located in small programs and departments—foreign languages,  philosophy, ethnic studies—will be eliminated as  tenure lines are not replaced.  Following the SUNY model, general education requirements will be streamlined into pathways as public universities reduce  “product lines.”  Pressure to graduate everyone in four years mandates a factory-like system for state colleges.  Does the public care?  We think they should.

What will be lost in ten years is the cultural space that our institutions once provided for intellectual experimentation and development.  They provided a safe haven for learning, which valorized choice over restriction, community engagement over individualism.  If this efficiency trend continues, our students will be managed through a three-four year delivery pipeline with diminished chance to change a major or even add a minor.  The spirit of discovery, which may take more than ten minutes, will be wrung out of the institution.

It is ironic that those in political office who do not teach demand “efficiency and quality”.  They have no idea about the sorry state of the technological infrastructure in our classrooms.  Their fantasy of a speedy pipeline education that utilizes “cheap” online instruction will not make the United States more competitive in the global economy.  Nor will our streamlined “student product” satisfy the “worker needs” of 21st century corporations.  Our administrators in their “detached engagement” tell us this new normal is a done deal.  It is all about improving efficiency to provide a “good-enough” education for the 99%.


Fear and Trembling: Nov. 6 and Public Higher Ed.

Hurricane Sandy and New York City

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.

Our colleagues in Michigan need your help. To see how you can help, please visit the Michigan AAUP conference website (

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)


The Power of Two: Leveraging Academic Senates and Faculty Unions

The Power of Two:  Leveraging Academic Senates and Faculty Unions

Student arrests during protest against tuition increases, Nov. 17, 2011, CSU Board of Trustees meeting.
Photograph by Stefan Agregado

Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies

The challenge—for government, for universities, and for unions—is to recognize that while the environment is changing and the pressures are intense, adaptations must be made in ways that ensure that short-term fixes do not compromise sound public policies, such as the right to form associations and collectively bargain. Nor can short-term fixes be allowed to compromise fundamental public priorities, including access to an affordable, high-quality college education, and prudent, long-term financial planning by the government (1).

Across this nation, the ideology of disaster capitalism sadly continues to undermine affordable access to a quality liberal arts education (2).   Like mad hatters at a tea party, the governors of Pennsylvania, Ohio, South Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky slash budgets to public education while giving tax breaks to the rich (Jaffe).  In a panic, our public higher ed administrators make decisions without faculty input, reminding my colleague from China of his past experience there:  damaging and draconian.

What strategic response is there to a management that ignores its own university policy in tough times, often while demanding civility as a form of suppressing dissent? At the campus level, we need to be more engaged in academic senates and faculty unions while recognizing the power of synergy.  Keeping senates and unions at odds or co-opting them is a strategic advantage for authoritarian management.  Both senates and unions need to maintain independent integrity.  For senates, integrity means upholding university policy, essentially  maintaining faculty control over curriculum and programs; for unions, it is the support of faculty through enforcing the collective bargaining agreement.

Acting together, academic senates and unions present a formidable force against bad decisions of authoritarian administrations.  When senates and unions fail, we see outcomes like the reactionary and disruptive reorganization of the entire public higher ed sector in Connecticut, a draconian imposition of “efficiency” and standardization (3).   The inspirational faculty unions in Ohio collaborated with their public sector union colleagues in the “We are Ohio” movement to repeal SB 5  in fall 2011(Fichtenbaum). This bill would have undermined collective bargaining for all public workers in that state (4).    Collective action—joining across lines of “perceived” difference—in a single concerted action is the power of convergence. The power of two forces combined — activist academic senates and faculty unions—would at least slow down the thoughtless dismantling of public higher education.

Two  patterns to watch out for: corporatization or restructuring through pay-for-play funding,  and  the authoritarian corporate president.

Gary Rhoades and Sheila Slaughter, among  others, have provided extensive examples of corporatization through pay-for-play funding and its consequences.   In our current era of privatization, pay-for-play deals will be even harder for executive administrators to resist.  A recent example of academic pay-for-play occurred at Florida State University  (FSU) which received a $1.5 million grant from the Charles G Koch Charitable Foundation.  The Koch grant stipulated a series of hires and programs to support the study of free enterprise economics, including a course featuring the works of Ayn Rand. It also specified the hiring of non tenure-track  instructors for ‘gateway’ courses in this new program (Jaschik). Two faculty were hired with a Koch foundation representative included on the hiring committee as stipulated by this deal.

The Koch brothers now have similar agreements with more than 150 American colleges and universities (Greenwald).  As state universities are defunded, the pressure to accept these deals becomes ever more irresistible for stressed administrators.  Some see no hope of adequate funding from the state ever again—the new normal— and  they feel irresponsible if they refuse these funds.   Although a faculty panel at FSU, consisting of four former presidents of its Academic Senate, found there was no wrong doing with the Koch deal, one wonders if the results of their investigation might have been different with a strong faculty union voice.

Florida State University currently has about half of its faculty who are members of its union United Faculty of Florida, which has been struggling to regain power in the state after being essentially dismembered by Governor Jeb Bush in 2001 (5).  We can speculate that a strong academic senate allied with a faculty union not in the process of struggling to reinstate itself may have stopped Koch’s interference in the curriculum content of the Economics Department.  The FSU faculty panel did determine that such agreements should not be done in the future.   In contrast, the FSU Student Senate introduced a resolution denouncing the university’s acceptance of big donations from foundations in exchange for their influence on departments and curriculum (Goodman).  Imagine all three aligned!  Imagine members of academic senates, students, and union leaders jointly lobbying their legislature to restore state funding or engaging in unified  media campaigns.

The second dismantling pattern is the “authoritarian corporate president,”  often the “new” president (or provost) who organizationally moves  her institution into a CEO-like, hierarchical business model by dismantling or disrupting faculty governance and the power of  the faculty union.  A good example is President Liebergott of  Emerson, who turned against the union she formerly led in order to freely transform “her” institution without the barrier of consultation (Gravois).  Most presidents have never run a successful corporation.  And even if they have corporate experience, like our former CSU Chancellor Barry Munitz, they still frequently impose flawed plans (5).   As faculty know, consultation and transparency form the core of successful change in a public university.

The authoritarian president will not appreciate his campus’s faculty union.  It should be no surprise that faculty unions across the United States are often vilified by administrators as being antithetical to shared-governance systems.  As former president of Florida University Charles E Young states: “…I believe faculty bargaining units are inimical to the growth of strong shared governance” (Smallwood).  On the contrary, I would suggest that independent faculty unions and ethical academic senates working together to support university policy through collective bargaining agreements would enhance stronger  shared governance on campuses.  Perhaps that is not the kind of shared governance Mr. Young has in mind.


1. This comment by Pamela S. Silverblatt, vice-chancellor for labor relations and chief labor negotiator at the City University of New York is one of several comments found in “Forum: The Future of Faculty Unions”

2. Disaster capitalism, coined by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine signifies multinational corporate moves  to profit from privatization forced upon financially troubled countries by the International Monetary Fund.    See her explanation “Naomi Klein: Disaster Capitalism” on YouTube 

And it is not just here but a global phenomenon, see Compton and Weiner.

3. Comments from a colleague at Central Connecticut State University: “In January 2012 in Connecticut , a new statewide system for Higher Education under a new Board of Regents (BOR) was created for the four state universities, twelve community colleges and one state college.   In these last few months,  major initiatives springing from the “completion agenda” and its major sponsors – the Lumina Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – have been forthcoming, and more seem on the way.   These initiatives include a new transfer and articulation policy that will homogenize academic programs across the institutions, a common GenEd core across the system based on core competencies, the making of new transfer associate degrees, a heightened emphasis on workforce development, and a new legislative initiative that nearly prohibits all forms of remediation at both the state universities and the community colleges.   Just last week, the BOR held a workshop in which McKinsey and Company presented their “Winning By Degrees” report — an appalling document that detailed a list of “best practices” from institutions with particularly high rates of productivity (measured as number of degrees per dollar spent).   Their recommendations include: increase student-faculty ratios, use more part-time faculty, reduce expenditures on all non-instructional activities, and “disaggregate instruction,” by using less “skilled labor” to grade and proctor and by using standardized course designs.”

4. The situation of faculty unions in Florida is a sad case of union busting.  In 2001 Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature scrapped the statewide Board of Regents, replacing it with boards of trustees at each of the eleven campuses.  The United Faculty of Florida was told it no longer had a collective bargaining agreement since the regents no longer existed.  The faculty union had to reorganize  at each campus with membership drives starting from the ground up (Gravois).

5.  See  Matthew Stewart’s “The Mangement Myth” for a deconstruction of management ideology or hucksterism that has inflicted American corporations.

Works Cited:

Compton, Mary and Lois Weiner, ed. The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers and Their Unions. New York: Palgrave, 2008.

Fanon. Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Penuin, 1976.

Fichtenbaum, Rudy. “Rudy Fichtenbaum Addresses SB 5 Referendum Rally Crowd” April 9, 2011.

“Forum: The Future of Faculty Unions.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 24, 2011

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Continuum, 2000.

Goodman, Howard. “University Students Recoil at Koch Influence.”  Progress Florida. Feburary 2, 2012.

Gravois, John. “Florida Court Orders Restoration of Collective-Bargaining Rights to Faculty and Employee Unions.” The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Gravois, John.  “From Friend to Foe.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 8, 2005.

Greenwald, Robert.  “Are the Koch brothers teaching you?” Daily Kos. January 24, 2012.

Jaffe, Sarah. “5 Right-Wing Governors Gutting Schools to Fund Prisons, Tax Breaks for the Rich…And a Bible Theme Park.” AlterNet, Feb. 26, 2012.

Jaschik, Scott.  “Mixed Verdict on Koch Grant.”  Inside Higher Education. July 18, 2011.

Slaughter, Sheila and Gary Rhoades.  Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2009.

Smallwood, Scott. “Union Blues in the Sunshine State.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. April 2, 2004.

Stewart, Matthew. The Management Myth: Debunking Modern Business Philosophy. New York: Norton, 2009.

Occupy Student Debt Campaign: April 25 is 1T Day

  Guest blogger Ann Larson is a graduate of the English doctoral program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She blogs about education and politics at  She is an organizer of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign.

Occupy Student Debt Campaign: April 25 is 1T Day

On April 25, 2012, total student debt is due to surpass one trillion dollars. This staggering figure, which is higher than credit card debt, is a burden endured by millions of American families. Two-thirds of public college students leave school with debt, an average of $24,000 per student. Jeffrey Williams has called student debt a form of indenture because many students must labor for decades, often their entire lives, to pay for the right to an education. This wasn’t always the case. The City University of New York and the University of California were free or low cost for much of the 20th century. Many countries around the world fund public higher education. The US should rejoin that list.

What has happened to the US system of college financing?

We all know that the price of college has skyrocketed in recent years. Tuition has risen 400% since the 1980s, twice the rate of inflation. Certainly, this is partly the result of reduced state funding. But the story is also more complex. The high cost of college and the consequent debt burdens of American families are the result of a collusion between lenders (ie, banks) and the federal government which guarantees student loans against default. As Bob Meister and Nate Brown have shown, public colleges are public in name only, since high-paid administrators often manage them like businesses, pledging students’ tuition dollars to Wall Street to improve their institution’s bond rating in capital markets.

Students who can’t find jobs in this recession to pay back their loans (an increasingly likely prospect) are simply cogs in the machinery of capital accumulation, as their colleges become sites for generating profit for the one percent. Debtors can have their wages garnished and, as the Washington Post recently reported, it is not uncommon for retired people to be harassed by collectors about loans they took out decades before.

What can we do?

Young people are told from an early age that a college degree is a minimum requirement for a middle-class standard of living, and as such students have no choice but to become debtors if they want to earn a living wage. Occupy Wall Street has finally given students, families, and educators a platform for resisting this debt and for rethinking the financing of public higher education.

On 1T Day —April 25, 2012—students, educators, and activists from around the country will be participating in a national day of action against student debt. In Union Square, in NYC, the Occupy Student Debt Campaign is staging a mock jubilee, a write-off of all student debt. The jubilee will be followed by a celebratory march, as we take our lives – and our educational institutions – back from Wall Street.

There will also be solidarity events at locations around the country. We invite others to join us. One-T Day events include everything from mock jubilees to teach-ins on student debt in classrooms and public squares. If you’re a teacher, you might talk about student debt with your students on April 25. If you’re a student, you might organize a forum for students to discuss what high debt burdens mean for them.

The goal of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, and the many other groups that have endorsed this national action, is to change the conversation about student debt. Our message is clear: education should be a right and a public good, not a source of debt or profit.

Selling Water By the River: Reflections on AAUP and NEA’s national leadership strategy

Earl Warren Japanese Garden, CSU Long Beach

Selling Water By the River:  Reflections on AAUP and NEA’s national leadership strategy

Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach

In our current gilded age where all politics is business, we educators yearn for ethical leaders to admire.   Under assault in the trenches, our faculty unions are undermined at the local level, often by both political parties who are using this bad economy to privatize public education.  It is depressing as we fight the good fight against multibillionaires.   Therefore, we can at least hope that our national education associations will have our backs, effectively lobbying for us at both the federal and state levels to stop this wildcat privatization.  As associations who represent us, we expect NEA (National Education Association) and AAUP (American Association of University Professors) to model the highest standards of ethical conduct and leadership as we struggle daily on our campuses to organize against faculty apathy, and as we lobby our state legislatures to act responsibly for the public good. In our local fights for equity and access to public higher education for every qualified student in our respective states, in our struggle to maintain quality education and academic freedom, in our efforts to preserve secure jobs with benefits, we need help!  We need effective ethical help.

Our expectation of ethical and effective leadership holds true for both AAUP and NEA.  Both serve the public higher education sector as our national representatives to the media and the Department of Education in Washington D.C.  How our AAUP and NEA leaders comport themselves, what they say to the media, to Arnie Duncan and President Obama, reflects back on the entire higher education sector.  It is time for some self-reflection.

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education commentary, former AAUP general secretary Gary Rhoades made a number of points about leadership and the difficult questions that AAUP must face if it is to survive as a respected and effective association.  The challenges are great.  But we all will be diminished if AAUP is unable or unwilling to embrace constructive criticism and prove by its actions that transformation is possible.  The United University Professions  (SUNY), have demonstrated the consequences of unresponsiveness by their February vote to end affiliation with AAUP after twelve years of relationship, citing a number of complaints including poor communication and lack of responsiveness.

NEA has also challenged patience.  Several years ago, NEA decided to establish or form a relationship with a proprietary affiliate called the NEA Academy (1) .  This Academy’s purpose it to serve as a portal to “online professional development products,” which means it provides a link to other providers’ online courses for teacher continuing education and Master’s Degrees.  Claiming to have a Content Quality and Review Board, the NEA Academy has published its Requirements for Inclusion in its products list.    These requirements include such standards as “content that aligns with NEA policy.”   One of the top three providers for NEA Academy’s courses is Western Governors University (WGU)

NEA stipulates that its vision is “a great public school for every student” and that its mission is “to advocate for education professionals.”  It promotes public education as a core value: “We believe public education is the cornerstone of our republic. Public education provides individuals with the skills to be involved, informed and engaged in our representative democracy.”   The question then is why does NEA embrace Western Governors University, a private, anti-faculty union provider of online courses?  How does this fit with NEA’s mission to advocate for “education professionals” when WGU is an institution that eschews teacher-based instruction; it has no teachers.  Why do this when so many excellent public universities and community colleges across the nation have online programs of the highest quality which adhere to the philosophy that teachers form the core of education?  Shouldn’t educators also deserve “a great public school” for their continuing education?

When our national associations fail to serve us well —as we battle on the ground to protect faculty jobs and save collective bargaining, to preserve adjunct positions with benefits and job security, to ensure quality control over curriculum, to save public education and academic freedom—we must wonder whom AAUP and NEA are serving.


(1) This relationship needs further clarification.  NEA Academy charges a course fee for its portal services.


Rhoades, Gary. “Forget Executives the AAUP Should Turn to Grass-Roots Leaders” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 January 2012.

Schmidt, Peter.  “AAUP Loses Major Affiliate at SUNY” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 February 2012.


DISCLAIMER:  Restructuring Public Hi Ed is curated solely by me.  All editorial decisions as to what is posted are based upon my interest and concern about restructuring in the public higher education sector.  These blog posts should in no way reflect upon any other person or organization since this is a “personal blog.”   Please send your blog posts and comments on restructuring in public higher education for consideration to me at

Time to reverse course: ‘We’ are not broke — and Minnesota can do more to educate our young

Southwest Minnesota State University

Prof. Kolnick mentions California in his blog below.  The CSU has the sad distinction of making the U.S. Department of Education’s list of the top 32 public, 4-year universities in the United States with the steepest tuition increases from 2007-2010 as reported in SFGate: “Now, the U.S. Department of Education has premiered a database on its web-site comparing college costs of all kinds. Of 32 public, four-year schools in the United States with the steepest tuition increases from 2007 to 2010, 22 are CSUs, with tuition rising 35 percent at Humboldt State at the low end, to 47 percent at San Diego State.”  This year, if the budget situation in California does not improve, the CSU will face restructuring that could destroy the integrity of our institutions.   ty


Time to reverse course: ‘We’ are not broke — and Minnesota can do more to educate our young

Jeff Kolnick

                                                   Guest blog by Jeff Kolnick, professor of History, Southwest Minnesota State University

Recent reports have indicated that accumulated student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion and is greater than the nation’s combined credit-card debt.  In response to this bad news, we hear the usual: We are broke and must adapt to the new normal of diminishing resources and austerity.

With the Legislature now in session, we have a chance to reverse course on what is a profound generational betrayal of our young people. I refuse to believe that “we” are broke or that we are living in a period of diminished resources. I am forced to turn to the facts rather than the fantasy that passes for conventional wisdom these days.

America is a richer nation now than it was when I was an undergraduate, 1977-1982. Back in those days, another period of recession and high unemployment (remember stagflation?) my college tuition was much lower. I am from California and began my career at Fullerton Community College, where tuition was free.

Did he say free? Yes, free. I paid absolutely nothing for three years of excellent education with outstanding faculty. You can adjust for inflation all you want, but free is free.

After I transferred to UCLA, I paid a whopping $1,657 for two years of quality education. Imagine, a BA degree awarded from an elite university for less than $1,700. 

Minnesota used to have low tuition too
But that’s California, you say – a state run by hippies. Well, Minnesota also used to have low tuition. According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, between 1993 and 2009, a period when per-capita income in Minnesota increased from $22,302 to $42,549, tuition at the University of Minnesota went from $3,421 to $10,756. At State Universities the increase was from $2,521 to $6,373, and at two-year schools the increase was from $1,950 to $4,548. These increases were during a time when the wealth of Minnesota nearly doubled.

But heck, that was Minnesota. Was America a richer nation when I went to college? Were we somehow less broke? Of course not. As the chart below indicates, we were a poorer nation by every measure in 1980 than we are now. In 1980, in constant dollars, our per capita GDP was $25,640 and today it is $42,204. Looked at another way, the United States is more than twice as rich today as we were in 1970.

Year Real GDP
(millions of 2005 dollars)
Real GDP per capita
(year 2005 dollars)
1970 4,269,900 20,819.74
1975 4,879,500 22,592.27
1980 5,839,000 25,640.46
1985 6,849,300 28,717.52
1990 8,033,900 32,112.35
1995 9,093,700 34,111.44
2000 11,226,000 39,749.59
2005 12,623,000 42,612.30
2010 13,088,000 42,204.92

So I ask you, where are the diminished resources? Where is this broke nation? To find out who is broke you can visit our state colleges and universities, where students are paying super high tuition because my generation has decided to slam the door shut on the very opportunity that allowed me to become an educated citizen.

Today, Minnesota state policy (Minnesota Statutes 136F.01) is that the state will fund 67 percent of the cost of a college education. In fact we are paying only about 30 percent of the cost of a college education, and students are paying the remaining 70 percent. MnSCU institutions are incredibly efficient. MnSCU appropriations for this biennium are the same in real dollars as they were in 1999; we are educating many tens of thousands more students, and the total cost of educating a student per capita has remained roughly the same.

Reneging on commitment started with Pawlenty
The state’s decision to renege on its commitment to paying two-thirds of the cost of a public education began under the Pawlenty administration. As recently as 2002, the state honored the law and only began its generational betrayal under the former governor, a man who, like me,needed and used public higher education to jumpstart his career. [PDF, page 45]

It is time to refute the lie that we are broke! WE are not broke! Some of us are broke, some of us are in debt and going deeper into debt. But the United States is a richer nation now than it was 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago. The trouble is that all of the money has gone to the top 5 percent and those at the top are not as generous today as they were 30 years ago when I got a world-class education for $1,657.

America has the money to rebuild its infrastructure and educate its citizens. In 1955, when we built the interstate highway system and expanded opportunity in public higher education, per capita GDP was $15,128.12,not the $42,204 it was in 2010. In those days we acted like a nation that looked out for one another, and we prospered together. Today we act more like a pack of wolves, except that wolves do not eat their young.

Reposted from MinnPost.Com (Tues, Jan 24, 2012) with permission of the author .

10 consequences of state cuts to public higher education

MPR reporter Alex Friedrich blogs on MPRNews On Campus. His entry provides a synopsis of the challenges we face  as the trend to defund public higher education persists in this economic downturn. 

10 consequences of state cuts to public higher education

When states cut spending on higher education, it’s not just a matter of colleges doing more with less.

The consequences appear to go much further.

The long decline in state funding for higher education — lasting a couple of decades or more in some states — appears to have caused or accelerated some major changes in how some state-run colleges and universities function, judging from what I’ve been reading and hearing over the past year.

The trend is so strong it has caused CFOs of public colleges and universities to rank declining state funding as, in the words of the Chronicle of Higher Education, “far and away the most worrisome factor facing their institutions.”

Below is a list I’ve made of the developments that appear to be linked to that rollback.

The background: Budget cutbacks

This year, at least 20 states proposed cutting hundreds of millions of dollars — up to a billion dollars in California’s case — from higher-education funding. For some — such as California and Minnesota — 2011′s final cut reportedly represents the largest in their histories. Many proposals ranged from 10-20 percent (see chart), and in another dozen states or so, proposed cuts went up to 5 percent.

The size of the actual cuts varies from system to system and even school to school, but news reports show cuts in the following states:

  • California (20 percent)
  • Minnesota (10.5 percent)
  • New Hampshire (20-48 percent)
  • Washington (24 percent)
  • Pennsylvania (19 percent)
  • Michigan (15 percent)
  • Arizona (24 percent)
  • Colorado (20.9 percent)
  • Texas (14 percent)
  • Nevada, (15 percent)
  • Utah (14 percent)

It’s not just a one-off. In many cases, this year’s cuts are part of a 10-15-year trend in which states have been scaling back their commitment to funding higher education. Just last year, state support per student hit a 25-year low, according to Paul Lingenfelter of the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

A few examples:

The great rollback in California has prompted University of California Chancellor Mark Yudof to remark:

“If that’s not a sign of being an unreliable partner, I don’t know what is.”

So what have the consequences been?

1) Tuition increases

Tuition is the traditional way for public schools to make up for cuts in state funding. So as state spending has increased, tuition has steadily risen. Some states have reported year after year of increases that have caused tuition to double in some states. (See sidebar)

2) Less financial aid

Though some awards are up, a number of states are cutting. Ohio cut need-based grants the most: 66%. Alaska and Michigan: 50%. Hawaii and Utah: 33%. Cuts or freezes have also been proposed in Arkansas, Florida, New Mexico and Tennessee. Minnesota has cut back on its often generous (often full-ride) Promise Scholarship. Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship, a full ride for all high school students earning a B, is now partial.

3) More out-of-state students

Colleges and universities are courting more students across state lines because the schools can charge them more — two to three times more than in-state students, in many cases.

In addition to the University of Minnesota, a quarter of whose students come from out of state, universities in Arizona, Texas and Washington have started recruiting more or have announced they’ll do so. Out-of-state students account for 18 percent of admissions at the University of California system, compared to 12 percent two years ago. At UCLA and Berkeley, that figure is about 30%.

At the University of Colorado – Boulder, for example, one professor writes that because a third of the students come from out of state, “the result is that almost two-thirds of the university’s total tuition revenue comes from one-third of its students.”

Such practices are reportedly causing resentment among prospective in-state students who feel locked out of a system they feel should serve them.

4) Student migration

It’s not just other states’ universities that students are seeking out. Some students once headed for public universities are setting their sights on privates. Macalester College President Brian Rosenberg has written that he’s getting students who need the

Tuition will vary from college to college and even program to program, so here’s a sampling of some of the tuition increases seen in various states:

  • Wisconsin: 5.5 percent (with similar increases in the past several years)

college’s more generous financial aid policy, or just want to get away from “larger classes, fewer faculty members, and declining graduation rates at the publics.”

And some California students, tired of struggling to get the classes they need in pared-back programs, are looking at private colleges despite their higher expense.

5) Less time to explore

Pressured to provide education to more students despite the limited number of seats, universities in Minnesota and Utah, for example, are considering charging those who have enough credits to graduate (but don’t) more per credit than other students. The higher cost of further classes is suppose to prompt them to graduate, though it could be costly for students who are finding themselves, or have changed their majors late in the game.

6) More adjuncts, less academic freedom

With less money to spend on teaching staff, universities are increasingly turning to adjunct faculty — part-time, usually with no benefits — because they’re a cheaper alternative to tenured faculty. A college can cover three to four times the number of classes with adjuncts than with tenured faculty, one Texas professor has estimated, and Governor Branstad of Iowa recently announced it was a budget-saving measure his state was taking.

A decade ago, a third of all faculty were adjuncts. One estimate puts it about fifty percent now. It’s at least 60 percent at community colleges — which had only 20 percent on average 40 years ago. It’s not necessarily just a college-by-college choice, either. Texas tried last year to replace some tenured faculty with adjuncts.

“Almost two-thirds of the university’s total tuition revenue comes from one-third of its students.”

– Professor Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The problem? It’s not that adjuncts aren’t qualified. But critics say many are overworked, running from college to college several times a day, with no office, no training, support or other resources, little academic freedom and low pay. As a result, many adjuncts say they have less time to with students.

The debate has been not whether a college should use adjuncts, but how many. Widespread use of adjuncts has raised concerns that student performance is suffering as a result, but the jury may still be out.

Adjuncts’ lack of academic freedom, and its hard-to-quantify consequences, are also an issue. Adjuncts complain their evaluations are often solely reliant on the whims of student evaluations and administrative politics, which creates pressure to give easy grades and avoid controversial subjects.

7) De facto privatization

After Northern Arizona University CFO Jennus L. Burton watched state funding drop from a third of the university’s budget to less than a quarter, he told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Northern Arizona University is becoming a semiprivate university.”

He’s not alone in making such a comparison.

A wave of de facto privatization is hitting public colleges and universities around the nation as private money (such as tuition, donations, grants and revenue from side businesses) replaces public money — until state support is merely token.

Although American students at public research universities pay about half the cost of their education on average — and those at privates about 56 percent — 14 states had universities that took 60 percent or more of their revenues from tuition and fees, according to Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability data published in the Chronicle. Those students at public research universities in Colorado, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Vermont pay more than 70 percent, and students at the University of Vermont pay 83 percent.

(That’s looking at the amount of money coming in from tuition. If you add other sources of non-state money, the state’s share is even smaller. The University of Michigan, for example, now counts state funding at just 7 percent of its budget. The University of Oregon is at 9 percent.)

That has prompted a number of universities — such as those Colorado, Oregon, Massachusetts and Virginia — to pursue more autonomy in an attempt to get free of costly state regulations in areas such as purchasing decisions, hiring, tuition levels, and construction.

“Northern Arizona University is becoming a semiprivate university.”

– Northern Arizona University CFO Jennus L. Burton

(It has also prompted some lawmakers — such as in Colorado and Michigan — to propose saving the state money by severing the state’s relationship to the universities there.) Pushes for autonomy have also occurred at the campus level in Louisiana and school/departmental level in California and Minnesota.

8) Private-style variations in pricing

Although tuition is often the same across degrees and campuses in the same state system, that appears to be changing. We’re seeing a push for “market-based” tuition — such as what’s found in graduate programs in Florida and in Virginia — in which public institutions charge more for the more popular (or expensive) programs, charge more at selected campuses, or charge more to those students seen as wealthy enough to pay.

That last element is part of a “high tuition/fee – high aid” tuition model in which wealthier students effectively subsidize those with lower incomes. But the practice has raised concerns over whether it really improves access to higher education or the quality of instruction. Critics fear the model, among other things, sends low-income students into “sticker shock” or forces them to take on high debt, while prompting wealthier students to consider private schools.

9) Increasing role of soft money

Colleges and universities, especially research universities, must rely ever more on “soft money” – outside money from research grants, corporations and private donors — especially in the hard sciences and medicine.

“If that’s not a sign of being an unreliable partner, I don’t know what is.”

– UC Chancellor Mark Yudof

The practice has long raised concerns over two central questions: Who calls the shots under soft money operations — the state or the donor? And who is served — the public good or the commercial or ideological needs of the donors?

That’s because donors might put strings on the money, critics say, deciding what’s to be researched, taught or published. Or they  might push universities to stifle research that goes against their interests.

Two fairly recent examples:

  • Toyota in Carbondale. After a Southern Illinois University professor conducted research last year that he said showed that faulty electronics were the cause of Toyota’s high-profile sudden-acceleration problem, Toyota, a big donor, turned on the heat. One Toyota employee questioned whether the school should continue to employ the professor, two Toyota employees resigned as advisers to Southern Illinois’ auto technology program, and Toyota took back offers to fund two internships.
  • Florida State and the Koch Foundation A foundation funded by Charles Koch, a libertarian, caused an uproar when it gave $1.5 million to the Florida State University economics department. Its agreement allowed the foundation influence in the hiring and evaluation of professors, set up a “market ethics” course that had Ayn Rand as required reading, and started an “Economics Club” that promoted free enterprise.

10) Fewer four-year, two-year graduations?

Remember the budgetary need to push students to graduate on time? That very need could itself be preventing on-time graduations.

State spending cuts mean fewer professors and fewer courses, and a number of students have complained they haven’t been able to take the classes they need to graduate on time.

The problem might be more severe at community colleges, some of which are finding they don’t have the capacity for the increasing enrollment during economic hard times. They have no endowments, and so rely more on state funding (along with tuition and local taxes) than many four-year schools.

The ones who suffer aren’t just middle-class, bachelor’s-bound students, but often lower-income students, remedial students and unemployed workers who need retraining — three groups less able to afford tuition increases.

The remedial students could take another hit because of cuts. Some experts question whether the increased use of adjuncts — which I’ve mentioned above — has possibly made it harder for community colleges to improve those students’ performance.

The Hechinger Report writes:

More than half of community-college courses are taught by part-time, adjunct professors who typically make $1,000 to $3,000 per course and who don’t get benefits.The widespread use of adjuncts has led to questions about the quality of adjunct faculty, who are largely untenured and often have little to no training in or experience teaching remedial classes.


Reposted on Oct. 10, 2011 with permission of the author from  August 23, 2011.