MOOCs at U Minn — “Educating for democracy: the power of presence” (Lars Christiansen and Michael Lansing)Posted: July 26, 2013
This essay is reposted from MINNPOST with permission of the authors.
Educating for democracy: the power of presence
This summer, in collaboration with the educational company Coursera, the University of Minnesota began offering Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). The decision brought a national debate about the transformative effects of the Internet on colleges and universities to Minnesota. Other local schools are also exploring the possibilities of MOOCs. Meanwhile, faculty either wring their hands or join in as ongoing debates about the meaning and consequences of online-only education continue.
Those who boost for MOOCs promise more access to higher education with lowered costs. Yet they make assumptions about teaching that obscure the complicated ways in which people successfully learn. Rarely do these commentators attend to the power of presence in teaching and learning. These assumptions often lead to overstatements regarding the democratic potential of online-only education.
First, they assume that technology refers only to devices for online coursework. Too often, pundits conflate technology with the latest version of Internet-ready computers, pads, and smartphones. In fact, chalk and chalkboards, pencils and papers, dry erase markers, overhead projectors, cameras, slide machines and video projectors are also technologies. Teachers and learners used technologies long before medieval Europeans invented universities.
More than ‘sages on stages’
Third, pundits presume that more typical forms of education consist only of “sages on stages.” Yet colleges and universities offer learners much more than lectures. Most institutions provide more diverse experiences, including: discussions, internships, lab work, field work, archival research, literature reviews, group projects — and, of course, online discussion boards, wikis, blogs and web pages.
Fourth, MOOC boosters assume that education is about the thinking mind, not the feeling body. For the last 100 years, educational theorists have consistently rejected such dualistic thinking. Philosophers such as John Dewey and Mark Johnson insist that feelings and emotions — which emerge through sensory capabilities of the person in their surroundings — remain crucial to intellectual endeavor. Feeling and thinking are phases of an experience, not separate and distinct acts.
Left unchallenged, these assumptions lead those who advocate for online-only learning to argue that the format supplies the same learning experience as face-to-face settings. In their mind, online education delivers the same thing as existing forms of higher education, but makes them cheaper and more accessible.
Online education offers promise it can’t deliver
It doesn’t. Instead, an experience with far less potential is being offered to greater numbers of people, even as boosters present it as the same experience as the varied forms of education that already exist. Online education offers the promise of something it cannot deliver. It robs the very people that it claims to enrich. The rush to online learning also undermines and devalues educators who understand and deploy the vast opportunities for powerful learning that come from engaging the whole person.
After all, content is not an abstract thing that teachers merely communicate to students. Learning occurs through any number of distinct experiences. The qualities of every educational experience matter. By itself, online learning — involving sitting (or standing) at a computer, looking at a screen, scrolling with a mouse, and typing with a keyboard — offers a limited experience. When presented as a substitute for or alternative to direct experience and embodied presence, online learning insults rather than enriches.
In contrast, physical presence offers the gift of embodied interaction. To be sure, some instructors succumb to giving boring lectures to students who remain uninspired, disconnected, and passive. Others, however, embrace a multitude of experiences to help students learn. They work hard to evaluate the educational value of every reading, lecture, site visit, guest lecture, film, puzzle, problem, research project, laboratory experiment, performance, or service and community-based project for learners.
Ignoring embodied experience: a major step backward
The power of presence must find a place in public debates about the merits of MOOCs. This requires educators to take seriously the sensory capabilities of students, as well as the role of feeling and emotion in learning. Teaching that ignores embodied human experience represents a major step backward in educational practice. It also reveals a staggering ignorance of educational philosophy and theory.
Minnesota’s colleges and universities should work to empower students in their quest for higher education by reducing tuition and debt instead of embracing disembodied online-only learning. Then they could increase access to an education that cultivates excitement about learning, develops a wide range of skills and competencies, and fosters empowered citizens committed to making a better society. All learners — irrespective of socio-economic circumstances — deserve nothing less.
State-Mandated Online Degree Programs: The Threats to Real Learning, True Access, Employability, Citizenship, and National Security (Boak Ferris)Posted: April 7, 2013
Guest blogger Boak Ferris, author of the e-textbook Think and Rethink, is a former test-coordinator, current 30-year faculty member, and writer at CSU Long Beach.
State-Mandated Online Degree Programs:
The Threats to Real Learning, True Access, Employability, Citizenship, and National Security
States, governors, universities, in their rush to provide ostensible “increased educational access”—but more likely to cut education costs—are speeding out of control downhill to mandate that universities generate online degree programs and online credit-satisfying courses. Downhill is the operant term, as advocates of these programs have not fully analyzed the risks and dangers, first, to the overall quality of American life and education, second, to the American spirit of innovation, independence, and creativity, and third, to American public safety. Also at risk are our national reputation as the world leader in quality secondary education, our historic democratic compassion in granting one-on-one access between any student and a specialist/experienced educator, our intentions to maintain a civilized public body, and indeed, our national security. Until certain urgent issues are addressed, and solved, educational policymakers must exercise restraint in establishing mandated online degree programs.
First, educators in a classroom play a much greater role than rambling about specialized stuff. Recent neuroscience research and breakthroughs have demonstrated that human learning is a motor process. Even learning abstract subjects is best anchored in pedagogies that require students to engage motor processes. The most lasting learning takes place when students can watch, in person, an expert model the skills and leverage disciplinary knowledge expected to be applied in a specific profession. Students also need to demonstrate, via writing or speaking, their evolving acquisition of these skills and knowledge. It’s more than spectating during an online presentation on how to do something. A live, present student can immediately ask a live, present expert about obstacles and roadblocks confronting the learning process. These golden opportunities to rapidly learn and spontaneously engage diminish when students do not share the same loci as their experts. Of equal value are the opportunities for students to observe the application of motor skills and analytical methods from outside their elected fields of study, via general education electives, so that they can learn to cross-associate the best that other disciplines offer to the standard sets of skills they will eventually need in their chosen professions. Thus, American education in a physical classroom involves a democratic—and professionally socializing—process, some or much of which must be lost, if students become more like agreeable sheep sitting at distant computer monitors.
High school students often arrive to college too passive. Critical thinking skills have all but disappeared, as college professors around the country have written about and can attest. Perhaps the passivity is a natural artifact of media-device addiction coupled with a state of permanent hypnosis produced by obsessing over national testing standards on so-called facts. Still, the freedom to speak with, and challenge, a physically present professional has drawn invested students from all over the world to matriculate in American universities. But imagine the possibility, if badly designed online courses, with untold numbers of enrolled students, end up mechanically providing inflexible course curricula. Consider the possibility that very little distance exists between a blanket standardization of curriculum across a variety of degree-granting institutions and institutionalized fascism of university content overseen by a few CEO/CFO administrators who may have little to no successful in-class teaching and improvisatory experience.
Also, once faculty become disinvested from curricular decisions, and once cross-applicable, broad-spectrum knowledge, academic and pre-professional experience, and artistic skills (i.e., outside-the-box innovation) are considered “irrelevant” or separable by the interests of private investors and “education vendors,” then American education becomes solely a capitalistic endeavor, where conflicts of interest must eventually play a sole role in driving curricular offerings and specific degree programs. Lobbyists for investors and vendors can approach university administrators with their particular “brands” and perhaps insist on brand placement being tied to funds, resources, and the sole teaching of specific courses and disciplines and the granting of degrees. Does an educated democratic citizen of the United States truly believe that engineers, scientists, and business students seeking degrees benefit by not having to take art or liberal arts or languages or ethics classes? The lifeblood of science advancement depends on publication, whereby professional documentation leverages linguistic skills to yield logical and theoretical rigor. Transferring these skills to students belongs to the purview of linguistic experts who understand how graduates must eventually learn to compensate for the limitations and irrationalities inherent in all human languages.
As an example illustrating the necessity to maintain arts and letters in a complete scientific education, consider that Galileo, a man of science, seemingly initiated the science revolution in Europe. Indeed, Galileo worked as an experimenter and observer, leveraging his motor skills, in a 3-D space, but he also was a man of letters, who wrote up his results in order to better understand and reflect on the foreseeable hidden prejudices lurking in his analyses. Now juxtapose Boccaccio, however, who single-handedly invented both European humanism and rationalism, thereby giving birth to and setting the ideological precedents for the Catholic-Galileo’s “scientific impulses,” by way of his literary masterpiece, The Decameron, published two hundred years before the appearance of Galileo. In that work, the narrator implicitly challenges God’s policy of non-interference in the recent Plague. Boccaccio’s literary, rhetorical, and comic techniques shook Europe loose from a primitive, anti-education Catholic church, by articulating an implicit call for a human-based response—requiring measured methods (rationalism) to confront the obstacle that threatened humanity’s survival. Literary artists have always questioned and re-envisioned the causal forces of the cosmos, leading to myriad advancements in science. Art inspires science which informs art and so-on, a mighty recursive engine of innovation. Do budget-conscious curricular designers really wish to remove arts, literature, philosophy, and languages from a potent higher-education experience? And to do so in a one-size-fits-all online setting? It’s like moving from a jet engine to a one-stroke lawnmower.
Arguably, then, a true democratic top-notch education must never be tied (down) to cost-effective shortcuts-to-degrees in a country that wishes to maintain a competitive global edge. Evolving young professionals most need a supervised domain of space and time where they can develop and practice—and cross-associate—a wide range of skills sets.
However, once policy makers blend into one pot education, curriculum, brands, testing, degrees, and money, then a Democratic American education becomes prostituted. Money for degrees, quick and dirty, in and out the door. These are not alarmist concerns, as some CSU’s already have corporate sponsors for different divisions and departments and colleges, whereby implicit external pressure rationalizes reducing so-called irrelevant courses, the kinds of courses that delay students toward acquiring useful rapid degrees: humanities, art, ethics courses, music, and foreign languages curricular offerings, among others. My own home CSU, over the last few years, has implemented similar such curricular changes and policies, with more pending, to my shame and sadness. Such deletions may serve private institutions, but they are certainly not satisfactory for public and state universities, where students need to develop humanistic, cross-cultural, linguistic, and compassionate “citizenship” skills. (California’s Governor Brown has not let on that he sees these dangers.) Frankly speaking, news stories of lame-duck online programs failing have increased over the past year and a half, largely because the programs’ constituencies and clientele have not graduated nor found success, notwithstanding the rapacious and usurious financial practices associated with these programs. To put it briefly, national employers know whom they wish to hire, and where from, and their hiring practices will serve as the ultimate certification of successful secondary institutional online degree-granting programs. Late-breaking news, as of April of 2013, shows that indeed, national employers are reluctant to hire, perhaps because they suspect that the omnipresence of online courses betokens a lack of citizenship skills in candidates. Graduate schools will similarly screen successful candidates by undergraduate institution reputation. If the CSU-system wishes to truly serve its students and guarantee employability, why would it want to follow these online failures? Why would legislators admire these failures?
Note how a very strong secondary public effect intensifies and speeds student-learning, when learners “compete” and educators are present in the same physical space. Competition to learn is also felt more keenly by candidates when they can see and hear their “classmates.” Similarly, watching an immortal drama or a comedy or political speech in a public space shared by other thinkers responding audibly increases a spectator’s awareness and sensitivity to the nuances of art and performance and ideology. Premature babies grow faster and respond more positively when a live musician plays music in the nursery, as opposed to those infants who heard the same music piped in over loudspeakers. Human charisma produces more impact in person, than over a television or monitor. When tied to learning, the tangible aura of a present gifted instructor inspires students to learn faster and more enjoyably, whereas the square shape of a monitor arguably squeezes a viewer’s brain forward into an unreal and distant 2D cartoon. Neural-mapping research shows that learning among students proceeds faster and embeds longer when experienced in a shared three-dimensional visual and acoustical space. Also, in an era where public policymakers encourage diversity, how much can diversity be respected when a threatened state-mandated curricular uniformity underlies online degree programs and courses? Currently, localized public universities construct specialized curricula to serve students belonging to nearby populations or sub-populations, students who end up working for local industries and employers—a necessary service that may end if a “one-size-fits-all” education package is “legislated” for the sake of “consistency.”
Furthermore, “classrooms,” plural, imply the existence of neighboring classrooms, adding to the public perception of knowledge and other intangibles gained transparently. Faculty, students, and observers walking by can witness what transpires in a public university classroom, sans any “secrecy.” The implicit transparency of democratic and public educational practices contributes to a shared sense of evolving professional responsibility among instructors, students, and visitors alike. Public classrooms provide an arena for a “live” screening process whereby experienced instructors can directly observe students, participating, working quietly, or in teams. The public nature of American higher education discourages and inhibits psychopaths and, to a lesser degree, sociopaths (who are more adept at hiding in plain sight), from advancing to positions of responsibility. People of aberrant psychopathology require institutionalized practices that allow them to hide, work, and advance in secrecy to further their aims. How can it not be mentioned or considered that criminals will benefit from a “knee-jerk” proliferation of online degree-granting programs? Evil requires four little helpers to engender chaos: fear (No money!, Students will challenge the status quo!), ignorance (Is there evil? What is it? Let’s not learn about that.), complicity (look the other way. Stand aside. Institute practices to help it proliferate.), and a dark space where it multiplies unnoticed. It also requires people in positions of authority who know better to “pretend” that evil doesn’t exist, that evil is a supernatural concern, not one of confronting everyday anti-social human behaviors. To understand evil and its etiology means to “see it,” recognize it, interrupt and eliminate its causal factors, and thereby, leave it to a culture of the human past.
At our university, recently, we all signed mandatory intent-to-inform acts in cases where faculty suspect child abuse occurring to any of our students. The expectation placed on our experienced judgment reflected an appropriate professional concern. Our duties include custodianship of a free and democratic society. But faculty and university officials will be less able to meet such duties and obligations to protect society or even to recommend candidates for professional service when all we see are “avatars”—or perhaps a single camera lens. And note that at least one CSU intends to use students! as faculty (called Instructional Student Assistants) in its online program(s). As an undergraduate I would have been a good candidate to serve as an ISA running an online course for my home university—except. Except—I had not the maturity, experience, or insight to recognize abusive personalities, to avoid their manipulations, or to deflect them back toward their assignments and academic and citizenship responsibilities.
All of the above lead to another immediate and urgent concern, which should engage Homeland Security, often overlooked in online education incentives, and which involves confirming the identities of enrolled students. How does the instructor of record, or indeed a university administration, know if a student enrolled in online curricula is the person doing the work and achieving the degree? Yes, high-school seniors must verify their identities and complete college-level testing to apply to and enroll in a university, but identities can be stolen or “piggy-backed” or duplicated. Outright criminals, who need entry to professional work or graduate school, could easily “buy” an identity, and then a degree simply by hiring desperate scholars to do online work for them. At some private universities, it’s already possible to buy a degree, i.e., without attending class—and that may be bad enough. But the concern here centers on public universities, where policymakers should consider a graver threat. Imagine a terror cell, wishing to infiltrate positions in government and industry, but needing advanced degrees, stealing or duplicating identities, and then hiring substitutes to attain those degrees on their behalf, so as to gain access to our citizenry—and/or to our infrastructure. Their cause could be aided by finding at least one willing faculty member, advisor, or administrator at the university of record. By the time employers or graduate schools found out the frauds, it might be too late. As a former testing coordinator, I had the responsibility to address identity frauds, and I can vouch for this scenario above not being some kind of movie-fantasy. Adequate identity and security checks for online enrolled students do not exist at this stage of our technology, especially in an era when cash-strapped state and public universities already struggle with the easily-hackable student-population management software they have available so far. By contrast, in a physical classroom, the student of record must be present with approved student identification, which an instructor can spot-check.
These concerns, and others not listed here for lack of space, all urge taking deep responsibility, conducting thorough analysis, and engaging in cautious planning prior to enacting premature policies and legislation prior to rolling the big snowball of state-mandated online degree programs.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised : Deconstructing the CFHE News Briefing (February 12, 2013) on Funding Hi Ed.Posted: February 19, 2013
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised : Deconstructing the CFHE News Briefing (February 12, 2013) on Funding Hi Ed.
“Contemporary society, observed the late Cornelius Castoriadis, has stopped questioning itself. Lack of genuine questioning —at once a questioning of self and society—is fundamental to the political deadlocks of contemporary social life”
At the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) news briefing, three scholars representing faculty across the U.S. strongly advocated for a change in state and federal funding of public higher ed. Their request— stop capitulating to a dysfunctional NEW NORMAL — was directed at politicians and administrative leaders with the power to change a funding system that longer works for most Americans.
Three scholars—Professors Samuels, Fichtenbaum and Glantz—presented different common-sense solutions for funding public higher education based on tax reforms or spending state and federal dollars more wisely. All proposals attempt to reverse the privatization trend in public higher education that shifts the expense from the state and federal government onto the most vulnerable families and individuals. These scholars share the concern that a failure to fund quality public higher education equally for every American gradually leads to a diminished democracy with a two-tiered class system. It is past time to rethink this problem and take action to correct it.
- Bob Samuels in “Making All Public Higher Education Free” argues for reallocating monies used for state and government education subsidies. According to his research, the cost for free undergraduate public education in 2009-10 was $127 bil. The total amount of state and government dollars currently allocated to college-saving programs, grants, subsidies and student loan expenses would cover this cost AND stop the horrendous problem of student debt.
- Rudy Fichtenbaum in “How to Invest in Higher Education: A Financial Speculation Tax” proposes a responsibly administered, modest tax of no more than .5% on speculative financial transactions. The U.S. had a small financial transactions tax from 1914 to 1966. Its diminished relative now supports the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Many other nations— Great Britain, Singapore, France and Finland, for example— have a financial speculation tax with the subsidiary benefit of reducing speculation while providing funding for public projects.
- Stanton Glantz in “Financial Options for Restoring Quality and Access to Public Higher Education in California: 2012/13” suggests we reset student fees to the 2001 level. Glantz provides an analysis to show that a $48 tax per median California taxpayer would restore the state to that 2001 level. Otherwise, the offloading of public higher education costs to private individuals will continue to make education less affordable to the public. A tax like this in each state would return public education to the status of a public good.
The facts in these three proposals were reported on a number of online education venues. I was disappointed, however, in reportage that failed to emphasize the despair faculty feel over the current damage to public higher education. It is authentic concern and frustration that compel faculty to develop such proposals. If this trend of defunding continues what is positive about our current public higher ed system will be tossed out in the madness of “efficiency” reform. We will end up with a one-size-fits-all commodity education for children who cannot afford private colleges: a second-class education for second-class citizens.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) and Inside Higher Ed (IHE) reporters papered over the political message of failed leadership, although the IHE reporter did quote Glantz’s comment on urgency: ”We’ve got to get policy makers and individuals who represent institutions to stop wringing their hands and address the problem.” Samuels, Fichtenbaum and Glantz were unified in criticizing the failure of college presidents and political leaders to question and mitigate the negative influence of neo-liberal economic policy on public higher education. It is unconscionable to passively accept the New Normal as an excuse for maintaining a dysfunctional status quo. Inaction is not an option. In contrast, NEA reporter Mary Ellen Flannery more accurately emphasized the urgency of the faculty message, the reason for this news briefing.
It is also interesting that no reporter took advantage of Glantz’s suggestion to contact a college president. Since the “failure of leadership to question and create change” was the seminal subtext of the three faculty proposals, it is ironic that most reporters would adhere to status quo coverage of facts not message. Glantz’s suggestion would involve more effort, perhaps impossible in the face of time constraints imposed by short deadlines. The Chronicle of Higher Ed blogger had his post up within hours of the event. Calling a few campus presidents may not be an option with a two-three hour deadline. This is not the moment, however, to reflect on the decontextualization and flattening of news that occurs in the immediacy of the tweets and blogs of “networked time”. Glantz’s suggestion would necessitate finding a campus president “engaged enough” to have read the three proposals and “brave enough” to respond to reporter’s questions with the possibility of an “unpopular” quote ending up in print for all to read. Easier and safer for a campus president just to ignore it all. Perhaps for the next set of research proposals, CFHE organizers will send notification in advance to an array of campus presidents mentioning that reporters might call. And if no president is willing, interested, or able to respond, that type of dismissal and disengagement from faculty concerns is itself newsworthy.
Those of us teaching in the public higher ed domain are watching our administrators dismantle the liberal arts mission of our institutions while denying such action or blaming the New Normal for it. They can’t help it; it’s not their fault; the state budgets made them do it; STEM matters. Administrative emotion has become coldly authoritarian. If capitulation to the New Normal continues, those disciplines hardest to monetize and located in small programs and departments—foreign languages, philosophy, ethnic studies—will be eliminated as tenure lines are not replaced. Following the SUNY model, general education requirements will be streamlined into pathways as public universities reduce “product lines.” Pressure to graduate everyone in four years mandates a factory-like system for state colleges. Does the public care? We think they should.
What will be lost in ten years is the cultural space that our institutions once provided for intellectual experimentation and development. They provided a safe haven for learning, which valorized choice over restriction, community engagement over individualism. If this efficiency trend continues, our students will be managed through a three-four year delivery pipeline with diminished chance to change a major or even add a minor. The spirit of discovery, which may take more than ten minutes, will be wrung out of the institution.
It is ironic that those in political office who do not teach demand “efficiency and quality”. They have no idea about the sorry state of the technological infrastructure in our classrooms. Their fantasy of a speedy pipeline education that utilizes “cheap” online instruction will not make the United States more competitive in the global economy. Nor will our streamlined “student product” satisfy the “worker needs” of 21st century corporations. Our administrators in their “detached engagement” tell us this new normal is a done deal. It is all about improving efficiency to provide a “good-enough” education for the 99%.
A Humanities Near-Death Experience: Administrative Mismeasure in the California State University (CSU) SystemPosted: September 22, 2012
The herky-jerky pattern of CSU administrative activism has intensified since 2008. It appears the administrative intent behind such activism is to guide an often under-informed Board of Trustees on a path of curriculum reform and unit reduction over which it actually has no legal or moral jurisdiction. This “activism” struck again in September as campuses were just settling in to the new academic year.
This time it came in the disclosure that the CSU Board of Trustees would be discussing the elimination of a system-wide general education (GE) requirement at its next meeting: nine units of upper division capstone GE courses would be eliminated in Fall 2013. This agenda item appeared without any prior consultation with the CSU’s Academic Senate (ASCSU). In its quest to graduate students as rapidly as possible through reducing the unit requirement for graduation, the CSU administration failed to understand the structural harm this sudden 9-unit elimination would impose on small humanities programs, such as foreign languages, ethnic studies programs, philosophy and religious studies, which rely on these large GE courses to support their smaller programs. Nor did it seem to comprehend the significance of general education for the CSU’s “highly valued degree” so touted in this system.
The shock of this proposal and its implications for the humanities in the CSU created immediate panic across the 23-campus system. Our activist ASCSU moved rapidly to oppose this plan and succeeded in having the offending item removed from the Board of Trustee’s agenda. This is not a small victory for faculty governance in the CSU. This success is especially important in the context of several tough years of defeat for faculty oversight of the curriculum as the CSU Board of Trustees eliminated the American Institutions requirement by rewriting the state’s education code (Title V) re SB 1440 (Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, 2010) and ignored faculty expertise and objections to a new and expensive statewide remediation program (Mandatory Early Start).
Below are the comments prepared by the Executive Committee of the ASCSU in response to this proposal to eliminate the upper division GE requirement. It also mentions resolutions on Propositions. 30 and 32. Prop. 30, Governor Brown’s budget initiative, will implement a $250 mil trigger cut to the CSU if it fails to pass in the November 6 election. Prop. 32 is a union-busting measure, heavily funded by the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove’s SuperPac. teri yamada
Comments to the CSU Board of Trustees
September 19, 2012
ASCSU Chair Diana Guerin
A few weeks ago, I had hoped to be sharing a resolution from the Academic Senate recognizing the faculty honored as the outstanding professors at the campuses of the CSU. Unfortunately, as I will report in a moment, an intervening event prevented that resolution from being developed.
I can report to you that last week the Academic Senate passed resolutions on Prop 30, Prop 32, and your agenda item pertaining to the potential budget cut should Prop 30 fail. These have been forwarded to you.
In discussing with the Academic Senate leadership the topics to cover in today’s report to the Board, immediate past chair Jim Postma suggested talking about the workings of the CSU as an airline. Please bear with me.
If the CSU were an airline, let’s imagine together the fleet of planes. In my mind I see jumbo jets, gleaming white with black trim, and big red letters proudly proclaiming CSU on the fuselage and tail.
In CSU Airlines, the Trustees are like the Board of Directors. You oversee the activities of the organization, including establishing broad policies and objectives, appointing executives, and monitoring human and financial resources.
Next we have the campus presidents, who are CEOs in charge of overseeing the day-to-day operations at various hubs. They ensure that operations are in line with the policies and objectives set by the Board.
Who are the passengers on CSU Airlines? They are the students. In 2012, CSU had over 425,000 students seeking passage to their intended destinations.
These student-passengers are flown to their destinations by the pilots of CSU Airlines, the faculty. In 2011, CSU Airlines had about 10,000 full-time pilots and 6,000 pilots on associated commuter airlines, our lecturer faculty. The pilots are hired because of their specialized knowledge and expertise in flying the jets. It is their responsibility to deliver the passengers safely to their intended destinations.
Of course, many other employees are critical to keeping our airliners flying on schedule—mechanics, flight attendants, ticket agents, baggage handlers, and so forth, and these are analogous to the various staff and administrators on the campuses.
Everyone in CSU Airlines has an important role, and the smooth operation of the airline is dependent upon the employees performing their clearly designated duties and responsibilities.
So, back to reality.
According to the Board of Trustees Report on Governance, Collegiality, and Responsibility in the CSU adopted in 1985, “Collegial governance assigns primary responsibility to the faculty for the educational functions of the institution…” This includes curriculum and methods of teaching. Due to the faculty’s knowledge of the subject matter and pedagogic expertise, this makes good sense.
Not only is the authority of the faculty over the curriculum delineated in your own policy, but it is set forth in law. Faculty authority is also recognized in documents guiding the profession, such as the American Association of University Professors Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, which has been commended by the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
Thus, faculty authority over the curriculum is well established.
Notwithstanding these dictums, we on the Academic Senate were stunned to find item 3 on your Educational Policies Committee agenda when it was posted to the web on Friday, September 7th, because we received official notice just a few moments earlier in an email stamped 3:49 pm.
In our hypothetical CSU Airlines, we view this as the equivalent of someone bringing a bomb on board our plane.
We were stunned that our security procedures had failed us.
We were stunned because we met twice over the summer on June 1st and August 15th with Academic Affairs leadership for the purpose of jointly establishing security measures to prevent bombs on board our planes.
We were stunned because we met with Academic Affairs leadership at the Chancellor’s Office on August 15th and had what we believed to be a collegial meeting to discuss the agenda item specified as “new and continuing CSU initiatives relevant to ASCSU.”
We were stunned to realize that this item eviscerating general education was apparently known to Academic Affairs at the time of our meeting on August 15th yet it did not appear on any of the lists shared with us nor was it mentioned during our two hour meeting.
On August 23rd one of the senators contacted me, to tell me that a decision had been made to eliminate upper division general education requirements. I assured him I would check on it and immediately sent an inquiry via email, to which there was no reply. I followed up a few days later, again receiving no reply. I checked with the chair of the Chancellor’s General Education Advisory Committee, who indicated no knowledge of such a proposal, in no uncertain terms. In response to my subsequent phone call here at the Chancellor’s Office, I was told the administrator was working on a project and unable to respond. Hence, I officially learned of agenda item 3 only shortly before it was announced on your agenda.
After intense discussion during the past week, the Academic Senate was provided an opportunity to review the substitute agenda item a few hours before we adjourned last Friday. We note that the item suggests that faculty agree with the proposal. On the contrary, we were not able to review the proposal with care; it came to us much like a hijacker’s note rather than a request for review or assistance.
Over the past few years, the Academic Senate has expressed its concern that the CSU has undertaken many curriculum-related initiatives which began at the system-wide level without appropriate consultation with faculty. This latest example is perhaps the most egregious and has not only undermined the work of our Executive Committee, the Academic Senate, and the trust of the faculty, but also made further progress on SB 1440 transfer degrees more challenging to achieve and led to unnecessary upset on the campuses at the start of what is to be another very trying year.
The Academic Senate Executive Committee was committed to establishing procedures to work proactively with administration to identify issues of mutual concern in the shared governance process envisioned in Board policy, enshrined in the law, and promulgated in the standards of the profession.
The original agenda item proposing to eliminate upper division general education and reduce lower division GE was developed without any faculty consultation. The faculty consultation on the substitute agenda item is analogous to the actions the pilot and crew would take to get the bomb off the plane upon reading the hijacker’s demands.
It is certainly true that our airline wants to have on-time departures and arrivals. It is also undeniably true that when flying from Los Angeles to Chicago, it would be foolhardy to land in Des Moines rather than Chicago simply because the scheduled arrival time is reached. The goal is and should be to travel to the ticketed destination, not to fly the plane for a specified period of time. In other words, faculty agree with and seek to further the goal of students graduating within four years. However, that four-year mark should not be more important than the quality and completeness of the education our students receive. Some journeys take longer than others. Some journeys require more fuel than others.
Pilots are responsible for ensuring that there is sufficient fuel onboard, including a safety factor [that is, more fuel than is strictly needed]. That fuel amount is affected by the size of the jet, weight of the passengers and cargo, headwinds, and so forth. Quite clearly, the pilots doing the calculation for fuel needs are better enabled to make those decisions than the CEOs of the airline. If nothing else, they are aware of the passengers, baggage and weather conditions for each flight. Teaching faculty on our campuses know our students best, and understand the factors that affect students’ abilities to learn and to succeed. We need to leave sufficient latitude for our faculty to maximize student success, even if that means having a major program that is more than 120 units. Students might need to take 16 units per semester, for example, in some degree programs.
In closing, moving forward given such a breach of trust, respect, and integrity is going to be challenging. Our September plenary was hijacked, undermining progress on the agenda items jointly discussed with Academic Affairs leadership at our August 15th meeting.
Your policy on Collegiality states that “The governing board, through its administrative officers, makes sure that there is continual consultation with appropriate faculty representatives on these matters [that is, educational functions]. Faculty recommendations are normally accepted, except in rare instances and for compelling reasons.”
We therefore formally request that Board leadership and the Chancellor insure that faculty consultation has occurred prior to items being placed on the Board agenda on matters where the faculty have primary responsibility due to their knowledge of the subject matter and pedagogic expertise, such as on curricular matters. Please ask, “Where is the Academic Senate’s advice?” or “What do the faculty say?”
If such input is lacking, we request that you refer the item to the Academic Senate without placing it on your agenda. In this case, assuming that meaningful consultation can occur in the two months between the appearance of an item on the board’s agenda and action by the board is akin to asking the pilot to discuss next month’s flight schedule in mid-air while defusing a bomb.
The AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities states the following: “…A college or university in which all the components are aware of their interdependence, of the usefulness of communication among themselves, and of the force of joint action will enjoy increased capacity to solve educational problems.”
Your own policy recognizes the value of the process of shared governance, and recognizes the authority of faculty over the curriculum: “Collegial governance allows the academic community to work together to find the best answers to issues facing the university. Collegial governance assigns primary responsibility to the faculty for the educational functions of the institution in accordance with basic policy as determined by the Board of Trustees.”
We ask you to be vigilant: when others who are not pilots want to take over and fly the planes our students are on, please make sure they haven’t thrown the pilots off the plane. The pilots are the ones certified to fly the planes….
(Published with permission of the ASCSU Executive Committee, Sept. 22, 2012)
Selling Water By the River: Reflections on AAUP and NEA’s national leadership strategy
Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach
In our current gilded age where all politics is business, we educators yearn for ethical leaders to admire. Under assault in the trenches, our faculty unions are undermined at the local level, often by both political parties who are using this bad economy to privatize public education. It is depressing as we fight the good fight against multibillionaires. Therefore, we can at least hope that our national education associations will have our backs, effectively lobbying for us at both the federal and state levels to stop this wildcat privatization. As associations who represent us, we expect NEA (National Education Association) and AAUP (American Association of University Professors) to model the highest standards of ethical conduct and leadership as we struggle daily on our campuses to organize against faculty apathy, and as we lobby our state legislatures to act responsibly for the public good. In our local fights for equity and access to public higher education for every qualified student in our respective states, in our struggle to maintain quality education and academic freedom, in our efforts to preserve secure jobs with benefits, we need help! We need effective ethical help.
Our expectation of ethical and effective leadership holds true for both AAUP and NEA. Both serve the public higher education sector as our national representatives to the media and the Department of Education in Washington D.C. How our AAUP and NEA leaders comport themselves, what they say to the media, to Arnie Duncan and President Obama, reflects back on the entire higher education sector. It is time for some self-reflection.
In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education commentary, former AAUP general secretary Gary Rhoades made a number of points about leadership and the difficult questions that AAUP must face if it is to survive as a respected and effective association. The challenges are great. But we all will be diminished if AAUP is unable or unwilling to embrace constructive criticism and prove by its actions that transformation is possible. The United University Professions (SUNY), have demonstrated the consequences of unresponsiveness by their February vote to end affiliation with AAUP after twelve years of relationship, citing a number of complaints including poor communication and lack of responsiveness.
NEA has also challenged patience. Several years ago, NEA decided to establish or form a relationship with a proprietary affiliate called the NEA Academy (1) . This Academy’s purpose it to serve as a portal to “online professional development products,” which means it provides a link to other providers’ online courses for teacher continuing education and Master’s Degrees. Claiming to have a Content Quality and Review Board, the NEA Academy has published its Requirements for Inclusion in its products list. These requirements include such standards as “content that aligns with NEA policy.” One of the top three providers for NEA Academy’s courses is Western Governors University (WGU)
NEA stipulates that its vision is “a great public school for every student” and that its mission is “to advocate for education professionals.” It promotes public education as a core value: “We believe public education is the cornerstone of our republic. Public education provides individuals with the skills to be involved, informed and engaged in our representative democracy.” The question then is why does NEA embrace Western Governors University, a private, anti-faculty union provider of online courses? How does this fit with NEA’s mission to advocate for “education professionals” when WGU is an institution that eschews teacher-based instruction; it has no teachers. Why do this when so many excellent public universities and community colleges across the nation have online programs of the highest quality which adhere to the philosophy that teachers form the core of education? Shouldn’t educators also deserve “a great public school” for their continuing education?
When our national associations fail to serve us well —as we battle on the ground to protect faculty jobs and save collective bargaining, to preserve adjunct positions with benefits and job security, to ensure quality control over curriculum, to save public education and academic freedom—we must wonder whom AAUP and NEA are serving.
(1) This relationship needs further clarification. NEA Academy charges a course fee for its portal services.
Rhoades, Gary. “Forget Executives the AAUP Should Turn to Grass-Roots Leaders” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 January 2012.
Schmidt, Peter. “AAUP Loses Major Affiliate at SUNY” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 February 2012.
DISCLAIMER: Restructuring Public Hi Ed is curated solely by me. All editorial decisions as to what is posted are based upon my interest and concern about restructuring in the public higher education sector. These blog posts should in no way reflect upon any other person or organization since this is a “personal blog.” Please send your blog posts and comments on restructuring in public higher education for consideration to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guest blogger Deborah Keisch Polin is a parent, graduate student and education activist in Western Massachusetts. She is a member of the Education Radio Collective, a radio program that features interviews, testimony and analysis on issues facing public education in the U.S. through voices of teachers, parents, students, community members, education activists and education scholars, found at: Education-radio.blogspot.com. Please check out Ed Radio’s show on education and the 99% movement – We Are the 99%, Fighting for the “Public” in Education – at: http://education-radio.blogspot.com/2011/10/we-are-99-fighting-for-public-in.html
Reflections from UMASS-Amherst: The Occupy Campus Movement
As I sit down to write this post, I have several different tabs open on my browser that I keep compulsively checking – each keeping track of the happenings at various Occupy Movement/99% locations around the country on this International Day of Action. Just a few days after Zucotti Park was aggressively cleared, and thousands of dollars of supplies and personal possessions were destroyed, those who have been residents there for the past two months are undeterred by these intimidation tactics and are back at it, with overwhelming support from across the country as Occupy camps and actions emerge in more spaces daily.
I am particularly inspired by how this movement— in the streets, parks and on university grounds— is increasingly making the connection between the issues of the 99% and the fight for equity in public k-12 and higher education, and how it exposes the efforts to transform education – at all levels – into a profit-making enterprise. Teach-ins —by students, by faculty, and by community members -—are becoming just as commonplace and expected in these spaces as the use of the human microphone and the people’s libraries. Higher education students, staff, instructors and faculty are fighting back—demonstrating that we are fed up with increasing tuition and fees, overwhelming debt (student debt in this country now exceeds total credit card debt), unaffordable health care costs, curriculum driven by private research interests and classrooms that are increasingly surveilled. The connections between these and the Occupy Movement are obvious, and the opportunity to point that out is one we cannot afford to pass up.
There is no tolerance for dissent in the current climate of privatized attitudes shaping public education. Berkeley professor Celeste Langon, aggressively arrested during a recent Occupy Cal event at Berkeley, notes this in a post she wrote upon her release for the blog Remaking the University. In the following excerpt from that post, she writes about the university justification for breaking up the Berkeley encampment containing a language of corporate efficiency. She begins with a quote from Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Birgeneau: (Read the whole post here: http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/2011/11/why-i-got-arrested-with-occupy-cal-and.html)
We simply cannot afford to spend our precious resources and, in particular, student tuition, on costly and avoidable expenses associated with violence or vandalism. No one wishes to “waste” resources in this climate. Yet if one follows this logic one can see the looming threat: lawful assembly, peaceful dissent, and free inquiry—even so-called “breadth requirements”—can all entail some cost. They interfere with “getting and spending.” Dissent, like free inquiry, is sometimes inefficient. Dissent doesn’t always have a “deliverable.” But it takes time to determine a just answer to “What is to be done?”.
This attitude is contrary to the core of what higher education should ideally represent— an environment of critical inquiry, which includes an examination of the conditions of working and learning at a public university. Celeste Langon serves as a model for academics to resist this co-opting of their profession by corporate and elite interests. But she can’t stand alone. Not everyone is in a position to get arrested, but we each must ask ourselves what can I do – what does my dissent look like? Because inaction equals complicity in the destruction of academic freedom and of schooling as we know it.
My own state of Massachusetts ranks 46 out of the 50 states in per capita appropriations for higher education (See the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts for more data: http://phenomonline.org/). This is not a time for compromise with the university. At UMass-Amherst we have tried that, and conditions have not changed. Our graduate student union has successfully negotiated raises for graduate employees, only to have the university counter these raises with increased fees (by 7.5% this year alone). The health care benefits that the union has fought for have just been cut with a 17% increase in premiums and a 15% co-insurance requirement for any off-campus care, which includes Ob/Gyn services. This prompted panic among pregnant graduate students who suddenly have to come up with thousands of dollars in labor and delivery costs that they hadn’t budgeted for. These are just a few of the examples that push access to a public university education further out of reach for many students.
The encampment and rallies at Occupy Cal are an inspiration. On my own campus, Occupy UMass is off to a slow but steady start, with more of a presence each day. And I am struck by the flicker of hope and excitement I feel at the immense possibility this moment has opened. Access to quality education for all people must be at the center of this fight – and that fight must be now – there is no time left for negotiation.
Comments from the Editor:
Several excellent essays, written over the past few weeks, reflect Polin’s concern about protecting the intellectual space of the pubic university or college campus from corporatized violence and repression. See Henry Giroux’s Occupy Colleges Now: Students as the New Public Intellectuals and Juan Cole’s How Students Landed on the Front Lines of Class Wars.
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.