Digital storytelling project from CHLS 498, CSU Long Beach. Reflects history and social significance of the discipline.
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.
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.
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.
National leaders discuss organizing, funding ideas at 4th Campaign for the Future of Higher Ed meeting
The 4th national meeting of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education last weekend took on some of the toughest challenges confronting the faculty across the country, including the hard-sell push toward online education and the harsh cuts to public funding of state colleges and universities.
Leaders of faculty, students, and higher education staff from 14 states and national organizations heard Jonathan Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union describe the revitalization of his union to take on attacks against teachers and public education.
His talk on “Lessons Learned from the Recent Chicago Teachers’ Strike,” which detailed how teachers built strongly unified faculty-community support for the schools, earned a standing ovation. Faculty participants lauded the connection between teachers and college faculty and noted the similarities in what all educators at all levels are up against.
Learn about the Chicago Teachers Union at http://www.ctunet.com/
The meeting also followed up on a previous decision to develop new ideas on how to fund public higher education and public support for students.
Three funding ideas were presented as papers that CFHE will release to stimulate discussion and to foster public hearings and other action at the state and national levels.
CFHE participating groups decided to take the three papers back to their respective states and campuses as examples of thinking that will actually rebuild, rather than tear down, public support for higher education. They will write opinion articles in their respective regional media on funding and take the papers as examples to policy makers.
One of these papers, by Bob Samuels, president of the AFT local that represents UC Lecturers, mapped the math that shows it is possible to “Make All Public Higher Education Free” to students by refocusing the money the states and federal government already spend.
Economist and AAUP national president Rudy Fichtenbaum’s paper shows how a very small “Financial Speculation Tax” would not only fund all public higher education in our nation but also help to stabilize the U.S. economy.
Stanton Glantz and Eric Hays, officers in the Council of UC Faculty Associations, provided the calculations on how much money per taxpayer it would take to “reset” higher education funding in California to a more reasonable, recent level. Alert: Not all that much. They are now working on similar calculations for other states.
Meeting attendees also heard about and debated a “Pay it Forward” funding model that would allow students to attend school without advance tuition and to pay a small percentage of their income in the future to fund the next generation of students.
Watch CFA Headlines for the public release of the CFHE funding ideas papers and for a link to a soon-to-be-launched web site to discuss and share ideas on “Funding Higher Education: The Search for New Possibilities.”
Finally, CFHE heard a panel discussion by four faculty members who teach online. They presented ideas on what does and does not work and on how to ensure students get the best possible education using online tools.
They cited some positives. Their students write a lot, since discussion is online. Every student can contribute a thought. It is helpful for non-traditional students with difficult schedules in locations far from a campus.
On the other hand, students indicate they sorely miss the face-to-face college experience. And the faculty cited high attrition rates; they said it works better for experienced students with strong foundations in learning and may be problematic for under-prepared students and for remedial classes.
The group decided to call for papers about online education similar to the papers developed on funding. Specific ideas and papers will be discussed at the 5th meeting of CFHE to take place in Ohio in May.
CFA officers, members and staff who attended the CFHE gathering thanked the meeting hosts, the Community College Association/California Teachers Association organized by Ron Reel, CCA president. He has been with CFHE since its founding news conference in Washington DC.
The next gathering will be jointly hosted by the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors, the Ohio Federation of Teachers/AFT, and the Ohio Education Association/NEA.
By any measure of moral greatness, a culture is judged by its treatment of the most vulnerable. In the case of knowledge workers in our higher education sector that would be contingent and adjunct faculty. With a Masters or Doctorate degree in hand, facing a crushing job market for tenure-track hires, those who honor and respect knowledge and aspire to the noble profession of teaching find themselves on one of Dante’s rings of hell as adjuncts. Exploited as cheap-labor academic field hands on plantations of higher learning, they earn as little as $1,000 per course with no benefits. No wonder the graduate students who curate Online PhD have produced the following statement and graphic:
The PhD’s Job Crisis
“A consequence of the “Great Recession,” states across the country have been mired in debt and forced to make dramatic cuts to higher education. As funding for higher education constricts, fewer tenure track academic positions for recent graduates are opening as universities increasingly turn to economically cheaper adjunct and part-time professors to instruct their ballooning classes. Amid this reduction in the demand for PhDs is the fact that the United States is producing a record number of doctorates. The result is a job crisis for PhD candidates and ultimately the diminished quality of education in America’s higher education system.”
“We Have a Dream,” Anne Wiegard’s welcome address at the New Faculty Majority Foundation Summit on January 27, 2012 (Washington DC) inspires us to move forward together for a better Education America. Teri Yamada
Anne Wiegard, President, President, New Faculty Majority Foundation
“We Have a Dream”
Thank you all for making time to travel here and join us.
Deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day.
I am a child of the Sixties. I lived just outside of Washington DC when Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there on August 28th, 1963, inspiring millions to march forward toward civil rights for African Americans. His words had a profound effect upon me. They still do. Much of what he said in his visionary “I Have a Dream” speech applies to all movements for social justice, including the one which brings us to Washington this weekend. Though the scale and gravity of the Civil Rights movement obviously and vastly overshadows ours, please allow me to liberally invoke King’s language to set the stage for what we hope will be a landmark moment in the movement to secure equity for contingent academic workers and transform higher education in America.
In a sense, like those Civil Rights workers who came with King to our nation’s capital to cash the check the architects of our republic had written, a promissory note guaranteeing all citizens the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we are here to cash a check, too. Our nation’s founders acknowledged that a true democracy cannot survive without an informed citizenry. They were implicitly signing a social contract honoring the belief that education is the cornerstone of this nation, a belief that is more widely held now than ever.
It is obvious today that the American higher education system has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as the majority of its faculty is concerned, not to mention the millions of students whose educations are indirectly compromised. College and university faculty spend decades preparing for and engaging in a profession that does not make good on its promise to provide commensurate, equitable economic and social status. Instead of honoring its obligation, the University of the United States has given the majority of college and university faculty a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’
But we refuse to believe that the bank of higher education is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of academic freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to Washington to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the ghetto of contingency “to the sunlit path” of equality. It would be fatal to overlook the urgency of the moment. Our legitimate discontent will not pass until there is change. The NFM Summit is not an end, but a beginning.
But there is something that I must say to all of you who stand on this threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place in the university we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for equity by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into counterproductive antagonism. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the contingent community must not lead us to a distrust of all administrators and tenured faculty, who, as evidenced by their presence here this weekend, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. We cannot walk alone. Let us join hands with anyone who wishes to ensure that all of our children and grandchildren will develop the advanced knowledge and skills they will need to meet the challenges of the 21st century, for such higher education cannot be achieved without empowering teachers to reach their full potential as well.
As we talk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. We can never be satisfied as long as our colleagues are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Tenure-track Only.” I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have fought for decades at great cost to yourself and your families. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for equity has left you battered by the storms of persecution or benign neglect. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Go back to your campus in Chicago, go back to your campus in Colorado, go back to your campuses in Georgia and Michigan, go back to your campus in New Jersey, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Together, we shall overcome.
Posted with permission of the New Faculty Majority 3/10/12
Editor’s note: This well attended event —”Reclaiming Academic Democracy: Facing the Consequences of Contingent Employment in Higher Education”—had comprehensive coverage in Inside Higher Ed:
1. Lee Bessette “New Faculty Majority Summit: Can We Bridge the Trust Gap?
2. Lee Bessette “The Time is Now: Report from the New Faculty Majority Summit”
3. Lee Bessette “Among the Majority”
4. Brian Croxall “Reporting from the New Faculty Majority Summit”
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
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.
(millions of 2005 dollars)
|Real GDP per capita
(year 2005 dollars)
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 .
The Assault on Public Employee Unions
Over the past three years we have seen the cumulative impact of a wide and varied number of unprecedented and unrelenting attacks on public employees in general and public employee unions in particular. This ongoing campaign is not a merely a series of individual and isolated events, but rather is an integral part of a well-planned long-term coordinated strategy to undermine working people’s livelihoods and destroy what remains of important hard-won collective bargaining rights. It is no great secret that this effort has been in a great part orchestrated and massively financed by a number of extreme-right wing millionaires and billionaires, including the once reclusive and secretive, but now increasingly infamous Koch brothers.
The most recent and glaring demonstration of the assault on public workers occurred earlier this year in Wisconsin. Newly elected Governor Scott Walker (whose campaign was heavily financed by the Koch brothers and their affluent allies) deepened an existing fiscal crisis by giving massive tax breaks to wealthy individuals (including campaign donors) and large corporations.
Using the budget shortfall as a rationale, the governor demanded that Wisconsin public employees make significant concessions concerning salaries and pension benefits. After the unions finally agreed to accept these unprecedented proposals, the real agenda emerged – to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees. Despite sit-ins at the state capitol and some of the largest protest demonstrations in the state’s history, nearly all union rights of most state workers were eventually revoked by law.
In addition to Wisconsin, several states including Idaho; Indiana; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Nebraska; New Hampshire; Ohio; Oklahoma; New Jersey, and Tennessee have recently enacted legislation restricting the rights of union members. Legislation has now been introduced in 43 states to change collective bargaining for public employees. Even in the ostensibly “blue state” of California, a ballot initiative has been filed that would amend the state constitution to prohibit the recognition of all public sector labor unions and prevent bargaining between these unions and government authorities.
It is important to note that such repressive and draconian measures, if adopted, might possibly violate existing international law, which definitively states that workers have a human right to organize and bargain collectively, according to Amnesty International.
It is somewhat encouraging that all of the media attention concerning the widespread vicious attacks on unionized public employees provoked a backlash, which has produced an outpouring of popular support. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken in February, 2011, expressed the sentiments of most Americans who now strongly oppose taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees. The poll found that 61% would oppose legislation in their state similar to the Wisconsin bill, compared with 33% who would favor this type of law.
Another example of this historic sea change in public attitude is reflected in a Bloomberg National Poll conducted last March, which clearly demonstrated that Americans firmly reject recent efforts to restrict the bargaining rights of union members. Interestingly, this survey also reported that 63% of respondents feel that corporations have more political power than unions. Public employees were viewed favorably by 72%, compared with 17% who saw them unfavorably. Of those individuals polled, 63% do not think that states should be allowed to break the promises previously made to their retired workers. Most importantly, 64% believe that public employees should have the right to bargain collectively. This result is also consistent with Parade magazine’s online poll, which found that 92% of the respondents believe that America still needs labor unions.
A solid majority of individuals polled in these surveys seem to have a clear understanding of the critical role played by organized labor in the struggle to achieve benefits for working people – benefits which unfortunately are often taken for granted. It was the unions that were instrumental in creating the eight-hour workday and the 40-hour workweek with overtime. It was union activists who successfully fought for paid employee vacation and sick days, genuine retirement security with pensions, and health benefit packages including medical, dental and vision care. And it was the unions that bravely took a stand against the blight of child labor, and stood for unemployment insurance, workplace safety laws, a minimum wage, Social Security and worker’s compensation. Because of the efforts of labor unions, society as a whole changed for the better.
Union members and non-union members alike need to remember the great successes and monumental gains of the past and recognize that they are being threatened by the critical situation the American labor movement is currently facing. In 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression and in the midst of often contentious and sometimes violent labor disputes, the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) was signed into law as an important component of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) New Deal. This legislation established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to assist workers in protecting recently won rights to bargain collectively over their terms and conditions of employment.
Eventually, based upon the percentage of all employed workers, union membership peaked at around 30–35% in the 1950s, which was also a time of unprecedented prosperity with a thriving and vibrant middle class. In contrast, for the year 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the nation’s union membership rate was 11.9%, down from 12.3% a year earlier. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million. Despite the general nationwide decline, California now leads the nation in reporting the largest number of union members (2.4 million) with a membership rate of 17.5%.
The most disturbing finding of the 2010 Labor Report was that the union membership rate for the public sector (36.2%) was massively higher than that for private sector workers (6.9%). Why has the labor movement lost so many members in the private sector? The answer lies partly with actual and threatened job losses due to the impact on the large manufacturing sector of both globalization and so-called “free trade” – trade which sometimes pays near slave-labor wages in developing countries. Manufacturing was the great union bulwark that had once provided American workers with good wages and solid benefits.
The other key factor is that public sector employees had limited, though important, protections against wholesale retaliation for union-related activities. In the private sector, employees who attempted to organize in the workplace were often intimidated or summarily discharged. The unfortunate reality is that joining a labor union is no longer viewed as being an employee’s “legally protected” right. According to the NLRB annual report for 2005, there were 31,358 people who were either disciplined or fired for engaging in union activities. A poll conducted in December 2006 found that 58% of non-managerial workers would join a union if they had the opportunity. An ever-present and genuine fear of losing one’s livelihood prevents uncounted numbers of private sector workers from being involved in union organizing, despite wanting to do so.
The current assault on public employee unions is due in great part to the fact that they are the last remaining vestige of what was once a viable dynamic force, fighting for the economic rights of workers in this country. Organized women and men employed in the public sector are now precisely targeted in the crosshairs of determined, ruthless and well-armed adversaries.
Unions may possibly be the last major impediment standing between the total domination of the political and economic system by an oligarchy composed of a new breed of obscenely affluent “uber-libertarian” iconoclasts who want to establish another “gilded age” for present-day America. These plutocrats vehemently oppose even the slightest leveling of the parameters of an inherently unbalanced power relationship that exists between employee and employer, which is attained through collective bargaining. With what can only be described as religious fervor, they are convinced beyond reason that government has absolutely no legitimate function regulating business or providing for basic human needs. The Wall Street dictum that “Greed is good” has been baptized and morphed into “Greed is godly.” The libertarian fringe element is fervently committed to “starving the beast” and destroying all of the social progress achieved since the passage of the New Deal. In fact, extreme right-wing animosity toward Roosevelt’s policies isn’t only confined to FDR; it starts with the “Square Deal” of Teddy Roosevelt, the “trust buster” and conservationist who set aside massive tracts of land for national parks and ushered in the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century.
These ultra-conservative zealots look forward to returning this country to what they believe were the “good old days,” even though it will inevitably result in the same horrible conditions experienced by most workers in the past. They want to restructure the economy in order to once again create a society which is composed of only the greedy few who have riches beyond their wildest dreams and the vast majority who exist in a permanent state of human wretchedness.
Already, we can see the emerging “looneytarian” impact on the political process, creating a topsy-turvy skewed world where billion dollar corporations have been declared to have the same free-speech rights as people, and thus can spend unlimited amounts of money to buy elections. In this kind of world, all public services will one day be completely privatized by predatory corporate interests; all schools will have tuition and all roads eventually lead to a tollbooth.
Recently, public employees and collective bargaining have become convenient scapegoats, being vilified and blamed for the intractable financial difficulties faced by many state and local governments grappling with the repercussions of the greatest economic downturn since the 1930s. The crisis faced by governmental agencies nationwide was not caused by public employee unions: it is the result of persistently high unemployment rates and collapsed housing prices which, along with unfair regressive tax systems that favor the wealthy, have resulted in enormous tax revenue shortfalls.
Our current economic situation is a direct consequence of the wholesale looting of financial markets by modern day robber barons engaging in a reprehensible new form of unregulated “casino capitalism.” These are the same individuals (with businesses interests that were “too big to fail”) who were subsequently bailed out when their financial “house of cards” not so unpredictably collapsed, and are now receiving obscene salaries, with accompanying bonuses and bewildering lucrative stock options. The benefits of a one-sided jobless recovery have not yet moved from the plush boardrooms of Wall Street to the threadbare living rooms of Main Street; the penthouse suite is now even further from the basement.
The tactic of the right wing is to convince the voters and taxpaying public that collective bargaining is responsible for widespread state and local budget deficits. This Big Lie narrative depicts living wages, comprehensive health care benefits, and retirement pension programs as outdated concepts which are prohibitively expensive. In the present day economy such advantages are unavailable to millions of private sector workers, and therefore this line of reasoning concludes that governmental agencies can no longer afford to provide these amenities to their “coddled and greedy” employees.
Significantly, the overall decline of labor unions over the past several decades has been a major factor in the increasing concentration of wealth in the United States and rapidly growing income inequality.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported on an analysis by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, which found that in the generation following World War II, economic gains were shared widely, with the incomes of the bottom 90% actually increasing more rapidly in percentage terms, on average, than the incomes of the top 1%. However, since the late 1970s, the incomes of the bottom 90% of households have remained about the same, while the top 1% experienced massive income gains.
The average pre-tax income for the bottom 90% of households is almost $900 below what it was in 1979, while the average pre-tax income for the top 1% is over $700,000 above the 1979 level.
Piketty and Saez determined that two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains in the most recent economic expansion from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1% of U.S. households, which held a larger share of income in 2007 than at any time since 1928. During those years, the real (inflation-adjusted) income of the top 1% of households grew more than ten times faster than the income of the bottom 90%.
The Financial Times notes that during this same period of economic expansion, the median US household income actually dropped by $2,000, which meant that most Americans were worse off at the end of a cycle than at the beginning. The annual incomes of the bottom 90% of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – increasing by only 10% in real terms over the last 37 years, during the same period in which the incomes of the top 1% tripled.
The Economic Policy Institute reports for the year 2009, the wealthiest 1% of U.S. households had a net worth that was 225 times greater than that of the typical household, which is the highest ratio ever recorded. Approximately one in four U.S. households had zero or negative net worth, up from 18.6% in 2007.
Although it is estimated that approximately 84% of the nation’s wealth is held by the upper 20% of the population (with the richest 1% hoarding almost 50%), researchers Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely reported that surprisingly, a panel representative of average Americans believed that wealth is distributed a lot more fairly in this country and greatly underestimated the present degree of our present inequality.
In 1973, chief executive officers (CEOs) were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now they are paid in excess of 300 times more. The New York Times recently commissioned a study which determined that for the year 2010 the median annual compensation of CEOs at the 200 largest U.S. companies was $10.8 million, a 23% increase from the year before. A USA TODAY analysis of data from GovernanceMetrics International found that for the same year, CEOs of Standard & Poor’s 500 index companies received a median average of $2.2 million from bonuses, up 47% from $1.5 million in 2009.
By contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 first quarter report revealed that the median wage for 98.3 million full-time workers was $755 a week. This amounted to an increase of only a scant 0.1 more than the prior year – very far below the 2.1 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index, which records the real cost of everyday living.
Robert Reich, former secretary of labor, points out that since the early 1980s a larger and larger share of the nation’s total income has been transferred to the very top. He notes that in 1980 the richest 1% of Americans received 10% of total national income, compared to over 20% of national income now. The result of this 30-year trend has been that the middle class lacks sufficient purchasing power to boost the economy without going deeply into debt. Reich writes, “The American economy can’t get out of neutral until American workers have more money in their pockets to buy what they produce. And unions are the best way to give them the bargaining power to get better pay.”
To view the assault on public employee labor unions as merely an isolated and limited campaign is to lose sight of the big picture. Attacking the last bastion of unionism is a bold tactical move; but it is just part of a cold and calculated strategy to finally destroy what is left of the middle class. If we eventually lose the middle class, we will also lose America as we presently know it.
The middle class in modern America was created out of the hard-fought battles of the labor movement in conjunction with the progressive policies of the post New Deal era. It is important to note that during this time period the “rising tide of unions lifted all boats” as it can be shown that collective bargaining raises the general salary levels of all workers, even those who are not unionized. Neither non-union nor represented employees should easily dismiss or forget the importance of this “invisible hand of the unionized marketplace.”
Despite all of the recent setbacks for the American middle class there have recently been some extremely encouraging developments, such as the exponential growth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a solidly grassroots effort which has now received the support of organized labor. The powerful and compelling argument that 1% of the population massively benefits at the great expense of the remaining 99%, may eventually begin to resonate with an increasingly frustrated and angry populace.
Late in the year 2011, we look forward with guarded optimism to a better future for this country with a revitalized and committed universal labor movement, including both private and public sector employees, supported by union members and non-members alike, which could become a driving force that will protect the important gains made over the past several decades for all working people. We must fully engage in a protracted struggle to save the middle class with all of our available resources, so that the promise of the American Dream will indeed become a reality for future generations.
Nancy Welch, a professor of English at the University of Vermont, relays a contemporary Dickensian tale of academic life in her guest blog .
A tale of "haves and have-nots" (or life and death) at the University of Vermont
When University of Vermont President Daniel Fogel resigned this summer in the wake of a Peyton Place scandal involving his wife and a vice president, trustees rewarded him with a golden handshake that has proved much more shocking for Vermonters than who in the administration building was trying to sleep with whom.
According to the deal Fogel struck with trustees, he’ll receive a monthly salary of more than $35,000–including a car, housing, and “wellness” allowance–for a leave that’s to extend to the start of the Fall 2013 semester. At that point he’ll join the English department at an annual salary of $195,000–more than double the department average for a full professor.
How do the trustees justify such largesse, especially when students face another tuition hike and campus workers have been told to expect frozen wages and benefit cuts? On the grounds of compassion, explained board chair Robert Cioffi: the former president has “poured his heart and soul” into the university; he now needs the university’s support given “the personal issues he is facing.”
I would have liked these trustees to have met one of my colleagues, Steve, who passed away in Summer 2008 just after he poured his heart and soul into teaching a summer session first-year composition class. Steve taught at UVM for nine years. Most often, he was given three composition courses each semester, six courses a year not including summer. But UVM still called him “part-time,” which meant that he wasn’t eligible for UVM’s health insurance plan. As a result, he paid $356 each month for an individual insurance plan, with a deductible of up to $18,750 a year.
When he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and underwent two rounds of debilitating chemotherapy, he could have used–he desperately needed–time off. (He would bring a chair with him into the Xerox room so he could sit, head resting on the copier, while Xeroxing handouts for his students.) Given that he was also caring for his disabled father, some compassion from the university he’d served would have been both welcome and deserved. But in two rounds of negotiations with “part-time” faculty, UVM’s administration declined to recognize that faculty teaching six, eight, and more courses a year are not in fact part-time and should receive UVM healthcare benefits. Steve now needed not only to pay $356 a month for his insurance but $8,200 for each chemotherapy infusion. He continued teaching at UVM; he also began teaching additional courses at other area colleges. He was teaching to save his life.
In summer 2008 after he held final conferences with his students, returned their papers, and turned in their grades, Steve checked into hospice and a few days later died. I attended the funeral lunch and met his parents. They were so proud that he had been a lecturer at UVM. And I am so ashamed at what this university’s administration did to him and continues to do to others.
So, Mr. Cioffi, meet Steve. And try meeting more faculty, service workers, and staff. It might deepen your acquaintance with people who make remarkable contributions to our state university and who are miraculously able and willing to be UVM?s heart and soul without car, housing, and “wellness” allowances. It might also broaden your idea of compassion and how broadly it should be shared.
For further information:
Fogel’s separation package
[The trustee chair’s defense of the package was in the Burlington Free Press story “Governor Says Compensation Is Corporate” that is only available to subscribers or through ProQuest]
Editor: See Johann Neem's quote in the Aug. 26, 2011 New York Times article "Online Enterprises Gain Foothold as Path To College Degree."
During the last legislative session in Washington state, faculty and other supporters of quality higher education fought a losing battle against legislation to recognize Western Governors University (WGU), an online private institution based in Utah, as a state institution. Indiana and, more recently, Texas have also recently formed partnerships with WGU (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/08/04/governor_perry_partners_with_western_governors_university)
I have long sought to figure out what troubles me so much about our legislators’ willingness to support this questionable institution. Was it WGU’s lack of teachers? Was it the complete lack of regard for research or for academic freedom? Was it that the state was outsourcing its public responsibilities? Was it that WGU, despite proclaiming to serve working adults, pays its president almost $700,000? Was it WGU’s labor practices, which undermine shared governance? Was it WGU’s misleading claims about its cost to students?
The answer, I finally realized, was something deeper. The fundamental problem with WGU is that it is anti-intellectual.
Of course, anti-intellectualism is a reality of American public life, and at times a good one. At its best, it ensures that intellectuals are both responsive and responsible to the broader public. At its worst, however, it undermines the university’s role as a sacred space for the promotion of knowledge.
This is shocking. WGU, and its for-profit online cousins, are opposed to the core mission of the university: to cultivate the life of the mind. Universities maintain—in fact they cherish—knowledge. They teach knowledge; they interpret and maintain old knowledge; they produce new knowledge. Those of us who teach and research joined the academy because we believe that knowing is worth more than money; the search for truth is a calling. To teach students and to pursue research is to engage in something worthy.
WGU, on the other hand, seeks to deskill the professoriate and students.
First, it has no faculty. It can barely be said to have teachers. WGU’s “course mentors” are not expected to develop course material, much less engage in creative teaching and research.
It’s not just about designing curricula, however. As all teachers know, the formal curriculum—what is on the syllabus—is a starting point. Much of the real thinking takes place in carrying out the syllabus’s promise—in the discussions inspired by assigned readings, in experiments that test hypotheses, and in conversations about papers and ideas. It is here that professors play a vital role helping students not just to complete assignments and pass assessments, but to become thoughtful, to ask good questions, and to get below the surface of things. (This is also why MIT can make its syllabi public without fear of losing students.)
The problem of deskilling is that teachers are no longer expected to be, or even allowed to be, models of intellectual life. They are simply facilitating students’ access to predigested material. Students at WGU may interact with “mentors” but not with scholars.
This is not meant as an insult to those who are employed by WGU. It’s a structural claim about the organization of work. As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, if you carry the division of labor too far you give a worker “no occasion to exert his understanding.” Whether that’s good for society at large is one question, but certainly it’s a bad idea for an institution devoted to thinking.
But, WGU would respond, it focuses on students not teachers. The traditional university, WGU claims, is faculty-centered rather than student-centered. The reality is quite different. All colleges and universities must be responsive to student needs and the broader market. What’s really at stake is the balance of power between faculty and management. WGU redistributes power upward, to its management.
Moreover, WGU is not interested in students actually learning. Its liberal education requirements are laughable. The depth of its studies is insulting—its own promotional material tells students that they can finish a term’s length of work in a week. Unlike most American colleges and universities, WGU does not demand that students think, learn, and change as part of being educated. WGU, in short, not only deskills teachers, it deskills students.
Instead of students, WGU seeks customers. WGU’s education has no value other than the degree itself. It is completely utilitarian. There is no broader civic mission, nor any hope that college educated adults will learn how to be better women and men. Rather than offering a college education, which takes time, their promotional material asks potential customers: “How quickly would you like to earn your degree?”
The students who seek out WGU and other similar institutions are not to be blamed. Americans need, and deserve, high quality technical education. Whether WGU can live up to this goal without good teachers remains to be seen. But technical education is not the same thing as baccalaureate education. Both are necessary and valuable forms of higher education, but they serve different purposes and have different goals.
WGU and other institutions like it pose a challenge to the university that extends well beyond labor concerns. Yes, WGU has outsourced and divided labor in ways that threaten academic freedom and shared governance. But what makes WGU even more insidious is that it has outsourced thinking itself. It is no longer a university.
What became clear in debates over WGU in Washington state, however, is that our legislators do not value college education. All legislators want is to increase the number of people who can claim college degrees.
Editor: Please send your blog submissions to email@example.com. I’m especially looking for faculty in Texas and Florida to update us on the situation in those states.