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.”