Outsmarting the Matrix: Transforming the Privatization Trend in Public Higher Ed
Teri Shaffer Yamada, Prof. of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach
There is a window of opportunity for constructive change over the next six months during the build-up to the November national election. But this change requires engaged faculty working together in innovative ways. And it requires a new strategy eschewing a “university business as usual” mentality. That reality is gone: there is no business as usual at the public university.
So our current moment in history demands we organize around commonalities and develop different forms of more effective action. If we act strategically, we have an opportunity to alter the privatization momentum that threatens the survival of meaningful public education for the 99%.
We could start by unabashedly embracing and valorizing the greatness of “our values.” We transform and enrich the lives of our students because we care (1). We live in a media culture that foregrounds violence and cruelty, where selfless concern isn’t typically newsworthy unless it is driven by anger or hyperbole. Yet everyday kindness happens and without it we would be much diminished. And our “story” is compelling across ideological lines simply because we base it on shared values of “American democracy”: opportunity for all. Framed in the context of education, it is access to quality instruction that develops an educated demos. In turn, our students provide the citizen power to run a government and economic system that reflects the needs and talents of the 99%. That may sound quaint, but imagine the outcomes if our current Hobbesian trajectory of consolidating power remains unchecked.
So what defines this matrix? We are now confronted with a mirror reality of the dismantling of K-12 public education. We have been out-organized and out- financed as reflected in Steven Brills’ reportage “The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand” from the New York Times (May 17, 2010):
….Schnur, who runs a Manhattan-based school-reform group called New Leaders for New Schools, sits informally at the center of a network of self-styled reformers dedicated to overhauling public education in the United States. They have been building in strength and numbers over the last two decades and now seem to be planted everywhere that counts. They are working in key positions in school districts and charter-school networks, legislating in state capitals, staffing city halls and statehouses for reform-minded mayors and governors, writing papers for policy groups and dispensing grants from billion-dollar philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Teach for America’s founder, Wendy Kopp; and the New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein could be considered the patron saints of the network.
This is the matrix: a network of well-placed and well-funded powerful individuals with shared values, who can impact state and federal agencies and legislators through influential friends or lobbyists, media and foundation access, and sponsored think-tank publications. We have allowed this to happen: “power abhors a vacuum.”
We can begin by changing our approach. We can shift to “motivated reasoning” as we seek to change hearts and minds (2). And we can message our values based upon the target audience.
As we learn from the impressive successes of the for-profit education matrix, we recognize the importance of shared values. It forms the foundational connectivity of the network of relationships required to establish a power base. Thoughtful leadership throughout a wide network is necessary to accomplish the change we do believe in: re-democratizing public education. Several important meetings will take place under the auspices of AAUP, NEA and CFHE over the next few months (3). What is an effective strategy these three can develop together and communicate to the grassroots to deflect further damage to public higher ed? Can we move quickly enough?
One possibility for promoting change is to emulate the strategy of ALEC. We could start by developing one piece of legislation that most faculty unions could promote to their state legislators. The California Faculty Association (CFA) worked for several years to pass a transparency bill so that the public could have access to the financial records of the “for-profit” side of the California State University system. CFA is currently sponsoring a bill to democratize the CSU Board of Trustees as part of an action plan published in its recent white paper “For-Profit Higher Education & the CSU: A Cautionary Tale” . Are other faculty unions sponsoring bills? What is the most beneficial bill we could introduce in a range of states to protect public higher ed? What is the most “elegant” strategic plan at the federal level? The “outcomes-assessment” obsessed federal Department of Education often disappoints but there may be some leverage there as well.
There are also global trends we need to consider: the ubiquitous embrace of “common core standards,” including our own Department of Education. This trend has filtered down to the accreditation commissions in the United States.
The Lumina Foundation has funded a pilot program on “degree qualifications” at the college level—common outcomes for AA, BA, MA degrees across the United States— through the Western Association of Colleges and Universities (WASC). The first set of “volunteer” institutions will be reporting in April on their progress in implementing and assessing the Lumina “degree qualification profile.”
Beyond the new trend to measure graduation and retention rates, we can be restructured internally through changed accreditation standards that demand we measure “value-added degrees” through common-core standards assessments or track the type of jobs our graduates acquire after leaving the institution. The for-profit higher ed sector is being nudged in this direction to make it more accountable to the federal government for its voracious consumption of public funds through PELL grants and military initiatives that fund education. Some for-profit providers can fund their entire operation through these two sources alone. Their lobbyists insist that public higher ed be subjected to the same assessments.
Every faculty member should pay attention to new directives imposed by their institutional accreditation agency. If the end result is a diminished capacity to offer a wide range of degrees since programs must justify their existence through proof of job placement as an outcome, we may become a different kind of vocational training institution that has lost the soul of a liberal arts education.
Be sure to track the forthcoming reports on the 2012 Bologna Ministerial Conference on the GlobalHigherEd blog. There will be further discussion there on common international standards which would impact us nationally.
EXCERPT FROM GlobalHigherEd The European Higher Education Area: Retrospect and Prospect (Posted: 22 Mar 2012 07:24 PM PDT)
First, the 2012 Bologna Ministerial Conference:is expected to bring together 47 European Higher Education Area ministerial delegations, the European Commission, as well as the Bologna Process consultative members and Bologna Follow-Up Group partners. The meeting will be an opportunity to take stock of progress of the Bologna Process and set out the key policy issues for the future. The EHEA ministers will jointly adopt the Bucharest Ministerial Communiqué, committing to further the Bologna goals until 2020.
Second, The 2012 Bologna Policy Forum:organised in conjunction with the Ministerial Conference is aimed to intensify policy dialogue and cooperation with partners across the world. The theme of the third Bologna Policy forum is “Beyond the Bologna process: Creating and connecting national, regional and global higher education spaces”. The Policy forum has four sub-themes, which will be addressed during the parallel sessions, namely: “Global academic mobility: Incentives and barriers, balances and imbalances”; “Global and regional approaches to quality enhancement of Higher Education”; “Public responsibility for and of HE within national and regional context”; “The contribution of Higher Education reforms to enhancing graduate employability”. This year’s edition of the Bologna Policy Forum will be finalised with the adoption of the 2012 Bologna Policy Forum Statement.
1) Those of us who participated in the feminist philosophy movement of the 1980s know this as the “ethics of care.” See “Ethics of Care” in “Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy.” March 24, 2012.
2) See Dan Kahan’s definition based upon “motivated cognition” which refers to “the unconscious tendency of individuals to fit their processing of information to conclusions that suit some end or goal” in “What Is Motivated Reasoning and How Does It Work?” See also a great video clip with a discussion of this concept “Dan Kahan — The Great Ideological Asymmetry Debate.” Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollar Professor Law and Professor of Psychology at the Yale Law School. His research focuses on “cultural cognition” (how social and political group affiliations affect our views of contested areas of ‘reality’) and motivated reasoning.
3) CFHE (Campaign for the Future of Higher Education) is having its Third National Gathering in Ann Arbor on May 18, 2012, hosted by the Michigan Conference AAUP. Contact CFHE.firstname.lastname@example.org for further information. Registration is free.
California Faculty Association. “For-Profit Higher Education & the CSU: A Cautionary Tale” March 19, 2012
Brills, Steve. The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand. New York Times. May 17, 2010.
Kahan, Dan. “What is Motivated Reasoning and How Does it Work?” May 4, 2011.
———. “Dan Kahan- The Great Ideological Asymmetry Debate” February 13, 2012.
Lederman, Doug. “What’s ‘Good Enough’?” Inside Higher Ed. April 14, 2011.
———. “What Degrees Should Mean.” Inside Higher Ed. January 25, 2011.
Lumina Foundation. “The Degree Qualifications Profile: Defining degrees: A new direction for American higher education to be tested and developed in partnership with faculty, students, leaders and stakeholders.”
Blog report by Teri Yamada from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Nov. 4-6. Special thanks to UMass Profs. John Hess and Heike Schotton , political science student Daniel Finn, and PHENOM’s Ferd Wulkan for taking the lead in organizing this event.
The second national gathering of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) is taking place at UMass in a warm and welcoming Boston this weekend. Over seventy participants from 18 states are meeting to continue the discussion on the future of higher education that began in Los Angeles on January 11, 2011. Representatives from the initial L.A. gathering ultimately ratified seven guiding principles “Quality Higher Education for the 21st Century.” These focus on access, equity, affordability, and quality as core principles in CHFE’s effort to maintain public higher education as a right for everyone in the United States.
The UMass gathering is structured around a series of workshops and discussions that address issues facing a national grassroots movement with the intent to preserve public higher education. These include the importance of overcoming challenges to unity and solidarity by strengthening ties among college sectors, between adjunct and tenure-line professors, students and faculty. One workshop explores how to engage the media about the real crisis in higher education: a political issue regarding public policy priorities.
The meeting began on Friday evening with opening remarks, including information from students associated with Occupy Boston, who encouraged the development of stronger student-faculty alliances across the nation. Some participants also gave short reports on current concerns and trends in privatization occurring in their state and campus system. A similar pattern emerges across the United States: restructuring through disinvestment, sharp tuition increases, and the undermining of collective bargaining agreements. This pattern of restructuring reveals the intent to eradicate faculty governance as power is consolidated at the top management level of public colleges and universities. New York is currently on the list of extreme examples illustrating this privatization trend, although faculty in many states — Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Oregon, to name a few—are facing a range of challenges around restructuring. Prof. Gary Rhoades (ASU) encouraged the participants to re-imagine public higher education according to their values.
The highlight of Saturday morning was the launch of CHFE’s Think Tank under the direction of Rhoades and an advisory panel. This think tank is established to support sound public policy on issues in higher education while developing research that will serve as the basis for constructive change. Three reports are imminent: “100s Not Served: Who’s Not Going Back to Community College;” “Who Is Professor Staff And How Can S/he Teach So Many Classes?”; Misplaced Priorities: Refocusing Resources on the Core Academic Mission.” These inaugural reports will provide a counter-narrative to the current national framing of privatization as the sole choice for public higher education. They will foreground the flaws in the current rhetoric of student success in new management’s “efficiency” agenda to graduate large numbers of students as quickly as possible while downsizing faculty and weakening quality. The report by Maria Maisto, Esther Merves and other scholars associated with the New Faculty Majority— “Who Is Professor Staff And How Can S/he Teach So Many Classes?” —will examine the serious issue of contingent faculty work life, including a lack of academic rights and job security, factors that also undermine student success.
The event will conclude on Sunday with a discussion on the future direction of CFHE.
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.
Guest blogger Gary Rhoades is Professor of Higher Education at the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education, for which he served as director from 1997-2008. Recently, he served as general secretary of the AAUP. Rhoades’ scholarship focuses on the restructuring of higher education institutions and of professions in the academy, evidenced in his books, “Managed Professionals: Unionized Faculty and Restructuring Academic Labor” (SUNY 1998), and “Academic Capitalism and the New Economy” (with Sheila Slaughter, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).
Some variation of “charter universities” has been implemented in public policy in several states (and is being considered in others, such as Ohio) as an innovation that enables institutions to be more productive with less public money. The attraction of the charter concept to many policymakers and university presidents lies in its promise of more entrepreneurial opportunity and less governmental regulation. A prominent feature of most charter policies is that in exchange for less state appropriations universities get less state regulation over certain budgetary (e.g., construction projects) and personnel (employment rights) matters, and tuition is deregulated, with universities getting greater flexibility to differentiate and raise tuition. Not so prominently featured is the greater regulation of academic matters, in stipulations to meet performance measures in various student outcomes. Charter policies seem to offer a new path for what many see as the new normal of limited or less public funding for higher education. It is said to solve the challenge of how to provide more students with more effective, high quality education for less public money.
Yet the evidence indicates otherwise: charter universities are more of the same. Moreover, they not only offer little promise of resolving the key social, educational, and political challenges of the day, they actually exacerbate the problems we face.
One key shortcoming of the concept is that it is applied to only the four-year part of public higher education, cutting out much of the system that serves many and in some states most of the college student population. Indeed, the policy generally applies only to a select few of the universities, which already have become less dependent on state appropriations and less devoted to the needs of the state they were created to serve.
Charters lead elite public universities to continue to increase tuition far above cost of living indexes even as institutions decrease access for in-state students of modest means and less. Charters incentivize universities to charge students more. That is leading more students who previously would have started at a university to go to a community college. And that, in turn, is reducing access for first generation students, students of color, and immigrant students—the growth populations of the 18-24 year old population—as community colleges cap enrollments, turning students away because they lack the human capacity to serve them. Charters exacerbate the social problems of heightened tuition and reduced access, rationing higher education by money not just by ability. They continue a thirty-year pattern of academic capitalism in which flagship universities, in pursuing more revenues, have become engines of social inequality.
Charters also compromise public higher education’s ability to increase quality and effectiveness. By incentivizing efficiency in producing more students for less money, they encourage universities to continue down the path of increasing class size (and student faculty ratios), reducing the proportion of tenure-track faculty, and increasingly exploiting contingent faculty who are subjected to sub-par working conditions, leading to sub-par learning conditions. The overriding emphasis on narrow conceptions of productivity encourages universities to demand less of students. It also encourages them to pursue the easiest path to increased graduation rates (which rather than student learning, satisfaction, or success after graduation, becomes the sole measure of “effectiveness”), to chase those students most likely to succeed and run away from the growth population of students. Ironically, universities spend increasingly less, on balance, on educational personnel, programs, and activities, investing more in leisure facilities and activities to attract those upper middle class students who are most likely to succeed and least likely to require financial aid.
Finally, the public policy of charter universities fails to focus universities on serving the state, its students, its communities, its small and medium sized businesses, its social and technological challenges, and its future vitality. Charters isolate institutions from one another, pitting them against each other in pursuit of revenues, prestige, and “world class” status. This individualistic focus comes at the expense of institutional cooperation and coordination in the broader interests of addressing states’ structural challenges, for instance, in laying the foundation for a new economy. Charters reflect a failure of political vision and will to undertake the major collective project of investing in the state’s future.
In sum, charter universities do not offer a new path to do more with less. They are more of the same. They fail to redress the basic challenges in public higher education—limiting tuition to ensure access, increasing quality and effectiveness, and holding institutions accountable for better serving the public interest. Charters offer a continued path of heightened tuition and social stratification: charging students more for less access to smaller proportions of professors and student service professionals. They encourage institutions to continue to pursue efficiency measures that compromise quality. And in focusing on universities that have been reducing their commitment to the public interest, and in formally releasing them from obligations to the communities in which they are situated, the charter concept fails to provide systemic strategies for laying the foundations for the future. Finally, charters offer universities more regulation of academic matters for less public money and less regulation of financial and personnel matters. Charters chart the wrong course for all concerned.
By Gary Rhoades