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

Hurricane Sandy and New York City

Our hearts go out to our colleagues and everyone on the East Coast battered by  Hurricane Sandy, the second October megastorm in two years.   May an outcome  of this devastation be the recognition of climate change   and the beginning of a rational public policy and action to address it, including the construction of  a more resilient electrical grid and  public infrastructure.

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

A deep existential dread pervades many of my colleagues in education  as Nov. 6 approaches.  And it is not just because we are in California with its problematic Prop 30, which would be the  coup de grâce  to public education if it fails.   This election could signify the closing of opportunity for any significant pragmatic action to protect what remains of public higher education across the country. The outcomes on Nov. 6 could be a further blow to unions, who despite faults, have worked hard to protect workers rights in the face of a relentless onslaught of big money, and reactionary legislation to gut them.

And I can be counted as one educator in this election season disappointed by the lack of debate on the state of  defunded public higher  education across the nation and the instability for young educated adults in the new lackluster economy.   I can see the impact of a dramatically changed economic reality on my students since the fiscal collapse of 2008: seniors about to graduate troubled by their chances on a job market that provides no career stability or upward mobility.  One of my students, a talented software programmer in the gaming field, works from contract to contract  asking for a permanent position at each job with no result.  Or there is the mature student, a biology major in my capstone course, who has survived rising  tuition costs in the CSU with a “good job” at Starbucks and may have to stay since jobs in her area of expertise are scare; or her partner also in the science business who does get highly paid contracts, but they are all short-term and he worries constantly about  the next short-term job.   This is an age of contingency for all workers, blue or white-collar,  and my students wonder whether they will ever have the economic security to even start a family or own a house.  The American Dream feels  very fragile to my graduating students in California in an age of business opportunism eager to exploit contingent labor.  This is a global trend , of course, pitting young educated adults against each other in the hunt for more stable jobs.

Is it the same across the states? Just last month many of us received the following message from  the American Association of University Professors (AAAUP) explaining the seriousness of union busting in Michigan:

 Dear AAUP Members:

In attacks on working families similar to those we saw in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Michigan legislature and governor have decimated collective bargaining rights in the state. In Michigan, this has been done not in one omnibus bill but with an onslaught of individual bills, railroaded through committees with the arrogant attitude, “your voice doesn’t matter.”

Fearing this pattern might continue though the next legislative session, and possibly lead to a so-called right-to-work state, the labor movement has initiated a ballot campaign to amend the Michigan constitution. The proposed amendment would protect the basic right to negotiate for fair wages and benefits with an employer.

Our friends and colleagues in Wisconsin and Ohio stood their ground and fought back with the power of collective action reminiscent of the 1930’s. It is now Michigan’s turn to carry the movement forward.

As we have seen over the past couple of years, corporate special interests have amassed staggering resources to use in their attempt to destroy collective bargaining rights. We therefore appeal to our AAUP colleagues from across the country to join us in preserving the labor/management relationship that has been so successful in creating the American middle class.

Our colleagues in Michigan need your help. To see how you can help, please visit the Michigan AAUP conference website (http://www.miaaup.org/).

Rudy Fichtenbaum President, AAUP

In California, funded by super PACS (including Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers).we have Prop 32 on the Nov. 6 ballot that would make political action close to impossible for unions here.   May we shake off the dread and act to make sure this doesn’t happen as we inspire our colleagues to become politically engaged by getting out the vote this week.  This is all hands on deck!

In his recent blog .”…Same as the Old Boss”  (below) Bill Lyne  provides a case study of the ongoing privatization of public higher ed in Washington State:

In a move that would make Dick Cheney proud, Education Secretary Arne “Aren’t I cool because I play basketball with the president” Duncan recently convened a secret meeting of higher education bosses to help him figure out how to do to higher ed what he has done to K-12.  According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, the meeting included top officials from prominent MOOCs, other players in online learning, veteran experts on course redesign, college administrators, people from powerful foundations, leaders of several of the major higher education associations, technology vendors, and for-profit college representatives.

“Few actual faculty members were invited to the meeting,” reported IHE. “And no high-profile faculty advocates attended.”  In the doth protest too much portion of the program, “education Department officials repeatedly said during the meeting that they recognize the leadership role faculty must take in any teaching and learning developments.”

Yeah, well if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.

In related news here in Washington, Governor Gregoire has now made her appointments to the Student Achievement Council, a longtime state bureaucrat with zero education experience is now running our community college system, and Rob McKenna thinks college professors are blowhards who should be turned into temp workers.

For those who haven’t been reading the fine print, the Student Achievement Council almost exactly fills the footprint left by the recently deposed Higher Education Coordinating Board.  Scott White is probably rolling over in his grave after the bill he introduced to scrap the bloated and ineffectual HEC Board has only produced a lot of wasted time and money to replicate the HEC with the SAC.

The governor’s appointments to the SAC all seem like fine people, but while the names have changed, the lineup overall is distressingly familiar.  A bunch of lawyers and managers and a token student (who will, depending on her willingness to go along, either be co-opted or marginalized), none of whom bears much resemblance to an actual educator.  As with every other task force, board, council, and committee appointed to ride herd on public higher education, there is no faculty member, no one who does the work of education, no one who knows from daily classroom experience what student achievement might actually mean.

For the past thirty years, U.S. public education has been going to way of U.S. health care.  Like health care, education is something that should be a right that has been inexorably turned into a commodity as a public good has been made more and more available for private profit.  The funding model has shifted from taxation to debt (much to the delight of the financial industry), eroding both the accessibility and quality of college.  Real educators generally object to this shift, which is why the new appointees to the SAC were chosen precisely because they are managers and not educators.  Kind of the same way that the people chosen to run health care are always managers and not doctors.

As public higher ed was eviscerated over the past four years, the HEC board stood by and didn’t raise a fuss, choosing instead to do endless tuition studies and produce lots of charts with pretty blue arrows.  It’s a pretty safe bet that the new SAC can be counted on to be just as acquiescent.

 Meanwhile, just down the street at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Olympia perennial Marty Brown has been named Executive Director.  When last we saw Mr. Brown, he was throwing a fit to any reporter who would listen about the faculty contract at Western Washington University.  Despite the fact that Western professors’ salaries, adjusted for cost of living, ranked in the bottom fifteen percent in the country, Mr. Brown felt it was “a mistake” for the Western trustees to negotiate a contract with the faculty that included small raises.

This disdain for faculty, along with his complete lack of experience as an educator, should help Mr. Brown fit right in at the SBCTC, where hundreds of well-paid managerial employees with benefits oversee a system that is well on its way to becoming a sweatshop.  At some of Washington’s community colleges, up to 80% of the faculty are badly paid part-time itinerant workers with no benefits.  As SBCTC Director, Mr. Brown will have access to study after study that shows what a difference well-qualified permanent faculty can make.  He will also have the expertise of thousands of professors readily available.  The smart money is on his taking advantage of neither, instead continuing to rely on the squads of non-classroom consultants and “experts” who will continue to peddle the notion that doing more with less has no effect on a student’s education.

 Alas, these also seem to be Rob McKenna’s confidantes.  Mr. McKenna has made education the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign and he certainly gets it right when he talks about how he wants to increase funding for higher education.  And he consistently recognizes the damage done by years of cuts to higher ed.

 But when he gets down to specifics, it becomes clear that the Attorney General has drunk the managerial Kool-Aid.  In a higher ed speech at WWU’s Munro Institute this summer, Mr. McKenna cogently made the case about higher ed funding, but then moved into the trickier areas of instruction and teaching.  After a few banal remarks about online learning and “blended courses,” he launched into this observation about the nature of teaching:

 “We’ve got to move from a model where you always have a teacher or a professor who is, as someone put it, the ‘Sage on the Stage’ to where you’ve got a professor or a teacher who’s the ‘guide by your side.’  This is a phrase that I learned from Sam Smith at Western Governor’s University (WGU), I thought it was pretty striking.”

What seems novel and striking to Attorney General McKenna is actually pretty old and tired.  “Sage on the stage” and “guide by your side” have been around since at least the early 1990s and have been co-opted by the for-profit education movement as a way to demonize professors as pompous windbags and convince prospective student customers that a badly paid unqualified pal on the other end of a digital connection is better than a genuinely qualified instructor.  (The irony worth noting here is that almost every time some self-styled education expert trots out the sage-on-the-stage insult, he or she is usually speaking from a stage to a passive audience, just as Rob McKenna was at the Munro Institute.)  It’s no surprise that McKenna picked this up from Sam Smith, the lobbyist for WGU, where they have no faculty, just “course mentors.”

 McKenna’s lack of connection to real educators becomes even clearer when we take a look at his higher education position paper.  Buried near the end is a proposal to eliminate tenure, a move that would guarantee Washington’s universities would never again be able to recruit high quality faculty.

Chris Gregoire, Marty Brown, and Rob McKenna are doing nothing to improve the quality of higher education, but they can take solace in the fact that they are right in step with Arne Duncan.  Though they all come from different points on the ideological compass, they all firmly agree that major policy and funding decisions about higher education are best made without any actual educators in the room.

When the Duncan cabal got down to their business of identifying the obstacles to their brave new world of McEd, the things they pointed to were financial aid rules, pesky accreditors demanding some sort of accountability, and the “faculty culture” created by those nasty professors who stayed in school into their thirties and took jobs paying much less than they could have made as business people or lawyers, just because they don’t really care about students.

Given their mania for efficiency, it’s probably a good thing that Arne’s army kept the professors out of the room.  They would have just muddled things with questions about massive disinvestment, the difference between real education for responsible citizens and job training for docile employees, and why everybody in the room was sending their kids to real colleges while claiming that the MOOCs were good enough for everyone not in their tax bracket.

 The NFL Referee lockout demonstrated once again that nobody protects quality, integrity, and safety like organized, professional practitioners and that bosses, no matter what manner of pious bullshit they may publicly spew, are mostly interested in squeezing workers as hard as they can.  The bosses who have now focused on higher education are determined to make sure that today’s children get tomorrow’s education equivalent of replacement refs.

(permission to repost granted by the author)

 


The Curricular Dimension of De-funding Public Higher Education

Guest blogger Johann Neem is Associate Professor of History at Western Washington University and author of the book "Creating a Nation of Joiners" (2008).

"The Curricular Dimension of De-funding Public Higher Education"

As Washington looks toward the next special legislative session, higher education is again on the cutting block. It is likely that new cuts will be forthcoming absent new taxes. As a result, the cost to students to attend college will continue to rise.

A major reason why public college tuition has been rising in Washington is not because it costs so much more to attend college these days, but because the portion of that cost subsidized by the state has declined dramatically. As the state cuts, more of the cost is borne by students and parents.

Commentators have noted the effect rising tuition has on student debt, but few have paid attention to curricular dimensions. As tuition increases, however, legislators have responded by making fundamental changes to college education that threaten to redefine college’s very purpose. It is worth pondering whether this is a direction we wish to take.

At the heart of American college is what is known as “general education.” In addition to one’s major, college students take courses in different disciplines and areas in order to gain a broad education in the arts and sciences — a liberal education.

General education took its modern form after the 1945 publication of “General Education for a Free Society,” by a Harvard committee under its president, James Bryant Conant. Conant argued that specialization and depth must be balanced by general education and breadth. Modern universities and faculty were too focused on their disciplines, and students suffered. In Conant’s words, general education refers to “that part of a student’s whole education which looks first of all to his life as a responsible human being and citizen; while the term, special education, indicates that part which looks to the student’s competence in some occupation.”

General education takes time and money. As legislators shift the burden to students, they have sought to bypass general education requirements to make college degrees cheaper, faster to obtain, narrower in focus, and geared more directly to vocational training.

The key two programs are Running Start, which allows 11th and 12th graders to enroll in college courses at the state’s expense, and the more recent “College in the High School,” which urges high schools to offer college credit courses.

Both programs are designed to save the state and students money. Both send the message to students that general education is unimportant and the more quickly you can get it over with, the faster you can graduate and get on with life. Both erode the campus experience of which general education is a large part.

The last legislative session witnessed a three-pronged attack on general education. The first was the establishment of Western Governors University-Washington, which has almost no general education requirements when compared with other colleges. Western Governors University (WGU), instead, criticizes colleges for requiring so much “seat time.”

The second was a bill granting Boeing and Microsoft huge tax breaks for a scholarship fund for students majoring in science, engineering, health care and other high-demand fields. Legislators were not troubled by allowing two large corporations to determine which subjects ought to be prioritized. Students majoring in the humanities would be out of luck, as would those choosing to pursue careers that Boeing and Microsoft do not prioritize

The final prong was a bill urging colleges to develop three-year degrees for advanced students, as if avoiding a year of college ought to be a reward for hard work. In fact, advanced students may benefit the most from the arts and sciences. We should give them an extra year for free. The only explanation is that legislators consider college primarily job training and see the extra time required to gain a general education as wasteful.

If colleges wish to respond, they will have to make the case that general education matters. This will require effort. Faculty must become as committed to their general education students as they are to students in their majors, and administrators must fund smaller, more engaging courses and sequences. Students should leave college valuing their general education as much as their major.

Washington’s legislators face a dilemma. Citizens want and deserve access to post-secondary education in order to get better jobs. But there are many avenues to this end, including high-quality certification and apprenticeship programs. We instead have sought to make college fit all students without being willing to fund it. In doing so, we threaten what makes distinctive a college education while forcing many students to spend years earning a degree they neither want nor need.

A more balanced approach would preserve and fund college education for students who want it, while offering quality alternatives to those who wish to get the training they need for a better job.

Editor’s Note:  First published as “Retreat on funding carries real costs”  on “HeraldNet,”  Oct. 15, 2011.  Republished with permission of the author.


Western Governors: The Anti-Intellectual University

  Editor: See Johann Neem's quote in the Aug. 26, 2011 New York Times article "Online Enterprises Gain Foothold as Path To College Degree."

 

      Guest blogger Johann Neem is Associate Professor of History at Western Washington University and author of the book "Creating a Nation of Joiners" (2008).

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 teri.yamada@gmail.com.  I’m especially looking for faculty in Texas and Florida to update us on the situation in those states.


Faculty Productivity Considered

Guest blogger Johann Neem is Associate Professor of History at Western Washington University and author of the book "Creating a Nation of Joiners" (2008).

“Faculty Productivity Considered”

In a recent post “Campus CFO’s are Right” (1) on The Chronicle of Higher Education website, education reformer and critic Richard Vedder slams faculty for their low productivity, and urges that faculty be required to be in their office from 9am to 5pm, and to teach more classes.

Vedder seems to have lost touch with the creative economy of the 21st century, drawing instead from the 19th-century theories of Frederick Winslow Taylor. He seems to think that creative work can be produced on an industrial model. He makes several mistakes here.

First, he assumes that there is a productivity problem. There is no reason to think this. Studies in fact show that faculty often work over time to meet their teaching and scholarly goals. Moreover, productivity cannot be measured by the number of classes taught, but by the effectiveness of the classroom experience. Efficiency requires doing the same for less, not doing less for less.

Second, he assumes that creative work can be standardized and made predictable. In fact, the most creative businesses have sought to develop college campus-like environments. The entire culture of Silicon Valley, including large corporations like Microsoft, has been oriented around fostering creativity by allowing employees greater flexibility. Thus, businesses build campuses, order pizza, and even provide couches and common areas. They allow their employees to work all night, or all day. The best corporations know that creative work is not done on a factory model, but instead by setting clear goals and allowing workers to meet them in their own way.

Despite Vedder’s accusations, colleges have been at the forefront of productivity. The best businesses have emulated colleges. Vedder’s solutions would undermine productivity rather than increase it.

Vedder offers two objections to this claim. First, he argues, that most scholarly research is trivial. That is his judgment. In fact, the purpose of scholarly research is not to gain a high number of readers, but to influence our understanding of the world. If scholars read it, and if they use it to pursue new knowledge, it matters little whether most of it reaches the general public. What matters is whether it is used in ways that help the public. And here, there are many examples. Small research innovations in science can be combined to produce new innovations of greater reach, whether as commodities like a fuel-efficient car, or simply deeper understandings of the nature of atoms.

The same is true in the humanities and social sciences. Scholarly work is translated to the broader public through teaching, through textbooks, and through the work of popularizers and synthesizers. New York Times columnist David Brooks, for example, relies heavily on social science research for his best-selling books. The same is true for historians David McCullough and Gordon Wood. What matters, then, is not whether a particular article or book has sold thousands of copies, but whether it is a contribution to our understanding of the world. And if it is, in time it will be used.

Vedder’s second objection is that most faculty never publish an article each year. Of course, again he is making some mistakes. Scholarly research takes time. In history, a single article can take years of research—much of it, of necessity, outside the office. By forcing more publishing more quickly, Vedder will ensure the triviality he fears.

More important, most faculty publish little because most American colleges are focused on teaching and have high teaching loads. Vedder uses the low teaching loads at a handful of American research institutions like UT-Austin to account for the low scholarly productivity of faculty at teaching institutions. He is simply stereotyping and mixing categories.

One must wonder, then, what motivates Vedder. Perhaps he simply dislikes faculty because they have the ability to exercise control over their working conditions. Perhaps he supports the trend reallocating authority in American work life from workers—whether faculty or unionized employees—to managers.

But I think that there is a deeper issue. Vedder cannot fathom the fact that faculty teach and write because they want to share knowledge with the world. If they wanted to make money, they would have gone to business school, law school, or architectural school and then worked in the kinds of offices Vedder admires. But what makes faculty so productive is that they are motivated by other ends, that they are mission oriented. Most corporations struggle to develop this sense of mission in their employees in order to increase productivity; colleges have it handed to them. Their faculty are willing to work harder for less money than other professionals because they are committed to a calling.

Vedder’s perspective is not that of someone seeking to improve teaching and scholarship. Rather it is of someone who thinks that faculty must be controlled and put in their place. It seems that Vedder cannot imagine a world in which people believe in their work, and thus he seeks to impose incentives and rules that would fundamentally alter the source of faculty creativity and hard work.

Editor’s note:

(1) Ironically, you can get to Vedder’s article by TYPING the address in the URL: http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/campus-cfos-are-right/29787

Victor Borden has a very interesting and informative article “The Accountability/Improvement Paradox” in Inside Higher Ed (April 30, 2010) http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/04/30/borden

Please send your update about the current situation of higher education in your state or your commentary on national trends affecting public higher education to teri.yamada@gmail.com.



BAD MOON RISING: The Situation in Washington State

Guest blogger Prof. Bill Lyne is President of the United Faculty of Washington State, which represents all faculty at Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University, and The Evergreen State College.  Lyne  is a professor of English at Western Washington University, where he has worked since 1995.  He is the former president of the United Faculty of Western Washington.

BAD MOON RISING: The Situation in Washington State

Here in Washington, we’re not yet Wisconsin or New Jersey, but we’re not far behind.  With a Democratic governor and both houses of the state legislature controlled by Democrats, you’d think we might be doing a little better.  But with the most regressive tax system in the country (if you’re a Microsoft millionaire in Washington, you pay about 3% of your income in state taxes, if you’re struggling to get to the poverty line, you pay about 16%), a block of senate Democrats who vote consistently with Republicans, and an initiative process that allows billionaire developers to demagogue a frightened and angry electorate into thinking that tax reform would be the end of the world as we know it, we’ve seen the same sort of war on the public sphere, social services, and the middle class that’s been taking place in other parts of the country.

In the wake of a series of all-cuts budgets, thousands of people have been thrown off the health care rolls, social services for the homeless and the indigent have been cut dramatically, and you now have to pay if you want to visit a state park.  Thousands of public employees, schoolteachers, and community college and university employees have been laid off.  Those public employees who still have jobs will be taking three percent pay cuts, paying more for their health care, and getting less in contributions to their retirement plans.

Higher education has been cut by a cool billion dollars in the last three years and by 2013, tuition will have gone up by about 60% over four years.  Last year in California, UC President Mark Yudof lamented the possibility that state support for the University of California might fall below the 50% mark.  Here in Washington, we crossed that line two years ago, and by 2013, student tuition will account for about 70% of our state university budgets.

It is almost an accident that Washington has six excellent public universities.  Even before bankers destroyed the economy, Washington consistently ranked in the bottom five in the nation in both total public university funding and in public university participation rates.  This seems counterintuitive in a state that has one of the highest percentages of citizens with Bachelors degrees or better, until we remember that Washington is such a desirable place to live.   The de facto public policy in Washington has been to outsource the education of the people who take Washington’s best jobs and have taxpayers in other states pay for it.

This year, that policy was further reinforced by a special Higher Education Task Force appointed by Governor Gregoire.  This task force, chaired by Microsoft’s General Counsel and composed almost exclusively of Seattle business elites, was charge with finding “a realistic and viable long-range funding strategy that provides Washington’s students with affordable higher education opportunities.”  Showing a breathtaking lack of imagination, the best these rich folks could come up was to recommend unlimited tuition-setting authority for the universities so that they might try to keep up with cuts in state funding.  And just to help push the privatization plan further along, two of the major players on the Governor’s task force, Microsoft and Boeing, pledged a whopping 5 million dollars a year (from companies that earned $3.3 billion and $18.7 billion in profits in 2010) for five years to a private scholarship fund and then took a victory lap as education saviors.  This from the people who were among the major donors to a campaign to defeat a higher-earner income tax that would have provided three billion dollars for education.

Along with cutting half the funding to our state universities, the legislature also recently made the very cynical move of declaring Western Governor’s University, a completely online “university” with virtually no faculty or faculty-student interaction (read about it here: http://www.ufws.org/content/i’m-going-western-governors-university), as the seventh official Washington State university.  This costs the state nothing but allows it to claim it has increased degree production by ripping people off with faux populism.

For all of their lip service, it’s pretty clear that the business and political elites in our state are not genuinely committed to a robust public university system.  If we continue down the road that we’re on, real university education will be more and more available only to the privileged and everyone else will have to limit their horizons to inferior vocational training.  If we’re going to turn it around, it will take a genuine populist rebellion.

For more information about the situation in Washington, check out these websites:

The United Faculty of Washington State Blog:

http://www.ufww.org/ufws/blog

The College Promise Coalition:

http://www.collegepromisewa.com/

Four Year Institution Political Action Committee:

http://www.fyipac.org/

 

 

SEND YOUR BLOG COMMENTARY ON THE SITUATION OF PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION IN YOUR STATE TO teri.yamada@gmail.com