• Home
  • About Us
  • Guest Posts

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The most visible item on this week’s University of California Regents agenda has the Board considering a cap on the enrollment of non resident students. It appears towards the end of the second month of a Trump administration that has not dampened enthusiasm for debt-free college or free college but increased it.

Democrats in California, New York, and elsewhere are proposing debt-free plans and are weighing tuition-free as well ("Degrees Not Debt," "The $48 Fix"). In January, the California Legislative Analyst's Office published a report calculating the costs of debt-free college degrees in the state's public systems. When I extended their arithmetic for UC, it showed that UC could be debt-free for less than 10% of its current tuition income.

That would be an amazing thing. It would change what the public thinks universities can do for them. But the UC Regents are talking about a different tuition issue this week.

In California, nonresident (NR) enrollment was a ticking political time bomb that finally went off a year ago, when the State Auditor released a report finding, to quote its title, “The University of California: Its Admissions and Financial Decisions Have Disadvantaged California Resident Students.” The UCOP rebuttal didn’t appease the legislature, which translated the angry denunciations of some members into a proposal that nonresident undergraduates be capped at 10% of overall UC undergraduate enrollment.


UC’s response is to propose an overall UC cap at twice that level, or 20% of undergrad enrollment. The proposal grandfathers the three campuses that are now above that cap at their current levels (Berkeley at 24.4%, UCSD and UCLA nearly tied at just under 23%). It lets other campuses grow their NR student enrollment to the point that the overall university level, now 16.5%, reaches 20%.

The advantage for UC is that it can continue to grow overall nonresident supplemental tuition (NRST) revenues (which bring $26,682 in tuition on top of the $13,500 state-resident tuition and campus fees that NR students also pay). The disadvantage for UC is that this flies in the face of legislative desire, which is that NR enrollments stop growing and start getting cut back. Sometime this week, the Regents' proposal was downgraded to a discussion item, so that even this modest proposal will not be up for a vote.

I’m going to focus on aspects of one issue: does NRST actually work as public income replacement?

NRST is a prime example of privatization, since it partially replaces public funding—state general funds—with high tuition from individual students and their families. Privatization advocates have two main arguments. First, they say they didn’t “replace” public with private funding, since the public funding was already cut and they needed to fill a gap. Second, in the case of NRST, the tuition money comes with low costs, and the benefits are always far greater than these costs.

This year, both UCOP and Senate leaders are also stressing the blessings of diversity as uniquely offered by NR students. UC may have started privatizing reactively, but now seems to say that private funding is as good or better than public funding, at least in the case of NRST, which is per student $26,682 better than public funding. But is NRST in fact an example of privatization bringing both fun and profit?


When I first wrote about it in September 2009, I calculated that its financial benefits were overstated: senior officials announced gross income figures that didn’t deduct expenses or real non-monetary costs like the political goodwill required to maintain state funding. I called NRST one of the “nickel solutions” that can get to a 5% (or some other single-digit share) increase in a vulnerable revenue stream but not beyond that. I was using Robert Birgeneau’s plan to do what in fact has happened—ramp up the nonresident share of UC Berkeley’s undergraduate enrollment to about 25% of the total. Then-chancellor Birgeneau projected an increase of tuition revenues to $70 million at 25% NR enrollment.

In response, I estimated the benefit to the UC Berkeley budget had it already achieved a 25% share of NR students: 8% of full instructional expenditures as I calculated them, and 4% of overall campus expenditures. Hence the nickel.

UCSD professor of marine chemistry Andrew Dickson—and fellow UCPB vet—used a different methodology to come up with a similar estimate. Both of us emphasized hidden or indirect costs of adding NR students. These included new instructional and student support needs. They included the price of political resentment and backlash from the public and the legislature, which would appear in the concrete budget effect of either cuts or reduced public funding increases over the long term as the University proved once again that it didn’t need so much public money because it had so much private money, including tuition from that semi-infinite supply of international students who were joining a billion-strong global middle class allegedly hungering for an American BA.

This blog's NRST analyses suggested three worrisome features of UC advocacy.
  1. UC calculates the financial benefits as a gross income, not as a net. Indirect and nonmonetary costs (like political goodwill or student work hours) aren’t analyzed publicly. 
  2. It denies or deems temporary the anti-public aspects of the move. UC officials were then suggesting that NR enrollment would last only as long as the budget cuts and could be dialed back as soon as possible. 
  3. When someone does put political costs on the agenda, senior officials define them as effectively zero. The same goes for the costs to public funding. I have again recently had a face-to-face experience with a senior UC official who declared the feedback loop from private back to public to be nonexistent. In this view, UC’s continuous and successful efforts to increase private revenues never have and do not now teach politicians that they can cut state funds without hurting the University. 
In contrast, my research for The Great Mistake found statements going back to 1970 that inferred legislative obligations from tuition hikes. For me, the question is not whether tuition hikes dampen state funding increases but how much? How much public money do tuition hikes cost? My answer in 2009 was more than the 8% of your instructional budget or 4% of your campus budget reaped via expanded NRT. With only 4% annual GF increases and a tuition freeze following deep cuts, the UC system has been losing more than 8% a year compared to its structural needs (e.g., Displays 5 and 6; discussion of this “New Normal”).

What’s happened since? The state cut public funding and still hasn’t built it back. The University raised tuition and then the governor forced a freeze. The University ramped up nonresident enrollment, such that UC now has about 5 times the number of NR students that it had ten years ago. As in any social system, these elements of the funding model are interconnected.

Then, about ten years after the growth began, the State Auditor issued its report, and the political blowback began. UCOP responded in three ways. It posted a rebuttal that insisted the University has continued to admit all eligible resident students, rejecting the state’s claim that NR enrollments damaged access. It emphasized the pre-existing plan (page 8) to admit an additional 10,000 resident students, in spite of below-cost per-student funding from the state. And now, the regents will have a discussion of an NR cap that allows further NR growth at the non-flagship campuses up to an overall system total of 20 percent.


You can see the surface appeal of nonresident tuition from this UCLA budget slide, referring to $1.4 billion in core campus revenues in 2015-16.

NRST was 12% of the campus's core revenues, or over half the total tuition the campus gets from resident tuition. Given limits on the growth of state funding and resident tuition, NRST is no longer a temporary alternative revenue stream but a significant part of the overall budget. At least from the administrative perspective, Premise 2 above--NRST's temporary nature--is moot.

But remember that these are gross revenues. Let's look at NRST net income, and switch back to Berkeley to compare the 2009 calculations to the actual situation at nearly 25% nonresident enrollment.

Like all campuses, UC Berkeley grosses $40,182 per NR undergrad. We subtract gross in-state tuition of $13,500, since the campus would get this anyway with a resident student. (The University normally takes one-third of gross in-state tuition as “return to aid” to support financial aid programs, but NR students also pay this on the in-state tuition "base.") UC Berkeley thus receives $26,682 for replacing a resident student with a nonresident student, or for adding a nonresident student rather than adding a resident student.

Next, we subtract a round number of $10,000 for the marginal cost of instruction and related expenses for adding an additional student. These include new additional costs incurred by adding an NR rather than a residential student (a larger international office for visas and other paperwork; language support; academic tutoring; acculturation and integration programs--anyone who things social integration is cheap has never done it!) This reduces the net yield per nonresident student to $16,682. (In the table in regents’ item B4, page 7, the net is instead $15,862.)

Then, we encounter another subtraction. Undergrads who are residents of California also bring state general funding with them. This is the amount that has been cut so much over the decades--it is down from $19,100 in 1990-91 to $7,160 (in 2016-17 dollars, Display 3). But $7160 is far from zero. In the case when a nonresident student replaces a resident student, we subtract $7160. The net after deducting direct costs or losses for this kind of NR student, who replaces a resident, is $9522.

Hmm. If we posit that UC Berkeley decided not to add unfunded resident students and not to overcrowd its facilities, so that all nonresident students replaced a resident they might have taken were the state paying for them, we multiply this figure back by UC Berkeley's 7335 nonresident enrollments. In that case, we get a net NRST for the campus of $69,844,000. This is freakishly close to Robert Birgeneau's 2009 estimate of $70,000,000. More importantly, it is under 10% of the campus's gross tuition revenues. It is just under 4% of the campus's 2015 operating revenues. In short, NRST remains the nickel solution that it seemed to be in 2009.

A rebuttal to this analysis would object that its premise is wrong: UC Berkeley added resident students as well so NR students didn't simply replace them; the state wasn't paying for many of the resident students so there wasn't that $7160 difference to subtract; or it was paying $5000 instead. I agree that we would get different numbers if we changed the proportion of NR added to NR replacing residents and plugged in the state's shortchanging. There is a range of reasonable estimates of the NRST net. But they wouldn't increase the NRST totals enough, net of direct monetary cost, to justify making NRST a central and irreplaceable tuition strategy. That's my first conclusion. There's a price to the privatization of revenue streams, and it needs to be netted out.


Direct financial costs don't exhaust this price. We still haven't touched on the indirect and non-monetary or intangible costs of the NRST strategy. Some of the indirect costs are monetary. There are costs of competition for nonresident students in the form of new capital projects, better overall student services, better housing, and the like. (I'd refer doubters of these indirect costs to Berkeley's former VC for Administration and Finance John Wilton's analysis behind his comment, "Berkeley must now compete for its three most important revenue sources against the best private and public universities.")

Other indirect costs are costs to academic quality. This is a taboo subject in a University that is now engaged in a permanent campaign to fundraise from everybody, but the problem continues eight years after the crisis. This year, to compensate an angry legislature for NRST, UC enrolled the largest one-year number of new residential students in living memory. Campuses are handling the “surge”--on top of the continued growth of non-residents--with strategies like hiring non tenure track rather than tenure track faculty, growing course sizes, and endorsing short-cuts such as having some undergraduate work be graded by other undergrads. How do we quantify this cost of tuition-suppressed public funding--which may follow our graduates into their working lives--so that state government cares about it?

There are still other costs I will merely name. One is the public cost to national higher education as states race each other to swap students so they ca triple charge them. The Department of Education should confront this absurd escalation of overall national tuition charges, which drives some share of student debt, though even under Obama it did not.

Another other is the loss of political goodwill. This is hard to put a number on, but "The $48 Fix" calculated that UC is at least $3 billion in general funding below where it would be had it simply grown with the state from 2000 on (Table 1). Clearly not all of this gap can be traced to tuition hikes. But the annual state funding shortfall is 5 or 6 times larger than even the gross NRST revenue figure for the system-- to say nothing of the net.

We should do a few things going forward. Faculty should support the Senate's call that UCOP not just give the state an NRST cap (page 8), but call on it to buy out the NSRT--and set a wider precedent for restored public support.

We need to recognize that the three premises I mentioned above don't hold. We must see nonresident enrollment through a calculation of its net revenues that includes its indirect, political, and social costs. This means we must face the fact that when we include the cost to public support of the educational core, privatization is a money loser. This leads to the only viable alternative, a public-good model for the university that supports debt-free college,and a $48 Fix.

The same goes for research as well as teaching. Research funding and graduate education have also been destabilized by the private-revenue model. I'd ask faculty skeptics who think "multiple revenue streams" is the only way to keep Berkeley and other UC research on top: Are you better off today than you were 8 years ago, when we started to ramp NRST up?
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 4

Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017
The month since the inauguration has made it crystal clear that universities and colleges are going to face a wide range of challenges and attacks in the next few years.  President Trumps's appointment of Betsy Devos (known for her contempt both for public institutions and for the faculty within them) as Secretary of Education and Jerry Fallwell Jr. (a major recipient of federal funds through student loans) to chair a task-force on higher education both signal hostility to public higher education.  More generally, President Trump has made clear his opposition to some of the most important core principles of colleges and universities: open intellectual inquiry, the internationalism of knowledge and the free movement of ideas and researchers, and the idea that knowledge is best used when it is public and not subordinated to the interest of the state or political parties.  The Trump Administration and its allies have attacked the legitimacy of scientific research, imposed a gag order on the EPA and other government agencies, threatened the elimination of the NEA and the NEH along with the privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, issued an executive order refusing to admit people coming "from" a set of Muslim majority countries that, among other things, threatened the ability of students from those countries to continue their education.  Faced with a strong judicial rejection the administration is now preparing a new order.   But while it is likely to seek to meet the courts' objections, it is unlikely to veer from either its attack on the free movement of peoples or its false claims about the weaknesses in the refugee resettlement process.

Republican legislators have been equally eager to attack higher education.  From Arizona, to Iowa, to Tennessee, to North Carolina and beyond, legislatures have sought to intervene in the internal organization of public higher education by attacking unions, prescribing the ideological balance of faculties, stripping universities governance of autonomy, and placing limits on what can be taught. Not all these efforts will succeed, but they have marked an intensification of actions against higher education that built on precedents in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

These attacks suggest two, only apparently contradictory, conclusions.  The first is that the ascension of President Trump marks a distinctly new phase in American politics.  The second is that his victory has only made more obvious a pre-existing situation--the well-established domination by right-wing republicans of most of the levers of state government across the country.  Republican control became more extreme under President Obama, though it predated him.   Donald Trump's presidency has released whatever restraints there have been over the most revanchist elements in the Republican Party.  These parallel lines of attack--federal and state--present a set of challenges that higher education cannot ignore.

Although it is true that colleges and universities should not go out of their way to provoke the administration, it is a mistake to think that higher education will fly under the radar if it avoids confrontation.  Higher ed has been far too willing to reshape itself in the image of contemporary business and political culture and in doing so has made itself more of a target for the angers and passions that President Trump has helped consolidate. As Chris has noted, universities were all too eager to identify themselves with the high-tech financialized world that has left so many people behind.  Higher education is already a prime target in the new round of culture wars: its vulnerability has been heightened by a a highly selective misrepresentation of students that denigrates the important social issues they raise while ignoring the realities of their lives in the age of the debt crisis. Secretary Devos' recent comments about faculty indoctrination reveal nothing so much as her distance from real classrooms. There is no way to avoid confronting this hostility without taking a collective vow of silence.  To do that, would be to betray higher education at its core. It would in effect avoid the university's obligations to provide commentary and reflection on society itself.

It is important to recognize one thing as we contend with this new era:  the now traditional tendency of colleges and universities to mirror and incorporate the leading trends of the contemporary business and financial order will not protect its core functions of teaching and research. The notion of an entrepreneurial university whose greatest research value lies in start-ups and patents and whose benefits accrue primarily to individuals has only served to draw attention from the core actions of colleges and universities--teaching and open scholarship.  It has also bound them more tightly to a business culture transfixed by the endless search for monetization and market growth..

But it must be admitted that if administrators have not offered a vision that could meet the challenges of the current moment, neither have the faculty. We have too often accepted the benefits that accrue to us individually from the current system of labor and funding and failed to offer a coherent alternative for the future.  It is a task that can no longer be avoided.

I cannot go into all the areas that need to be rethought and reconstructed here. But an initial if incomplete list would have to include the following:

Colleges and universities will have to confront more directly their own role in the increasing inequality of American society.  It should hardly be controversial to note that in an age of trillion dollar student debt, and with the increasingly unequal distribution of resources across the range of higher education institutions, colleges and universities now are as likely to intensify social and economic inequality as they are to lessen it.  There are numerous reasons for this of course. But the incessant drive for distinction among institutions and their faculties highlights the contradiction between selectivity and access that has made the number of students applicants you reject a sign of quality and price a sign of desirability.  A new social contract that preserves access, funds quality, and ensures academic and intellectual autonomy must be developed and fought for.

It is also past time to address the obscene and immoral system of balancing the finances of colleges and universities on the backs of adjuncts and other precarious workers.  It is time for colleges and universities--including tenured and tenure-track faculty--to recognize that in a system where most faculty work under conditions of precarity, there is no real system of academic freedom (after all the purpose of tenure was to provide the security to do one's intellectual work without fear).  Beyond this, the internal inequity of our labor practices gives the lie to the notion that we function as community of scholars.  This problem will not be easy to fix.  After years of chipping away at tenure--Wisconsin's #faketenure is the most obvious example--legislature are subjecting it to explicit challenge.   Under emboldened Republican governments, unions are likely to face their most concerted attacks in years, thereby throwing into question the gains made by adjuncts and graduate students through their own organizing and collective bargaining struggles.  These problems occur on a national scale.

The faculty will need to take up anew the issues of academic freedom and faculty governance.  The recent series of controversies around Milo Yiannopoulos's appearances on college campuses have, if nothing else, pointed out the confusions that exist around notions of academic freedom and freedom of expression. In part, academic freedom and shared governance are in such confused states because of the widespread precarity of university employment. But faculty (and not boards or managers) need to renew both academic freedom and shared governance.  We need to move beyond thinking of academic freedom solely as a negative liberty that is fundamentally individualist in nature (where the issue revolves around censorship), and think seriously about the responsible exercise of the right as a form of shared governance in higher education.  I hope to discuss this further but for now I can only note that until we are able to articulate a notion of academic freedom as a reasoned if passionate right of argument rooted in a notion of the university as a self-governing community we will find ourselves trapped within the economy of the troll.

To return to where I began, I don't think that it is a coincidence that the Trump administration's most immediate challenges to colleges and universities have come from his travel ban and his threats against undocumented students and workers.  In the Trumpist imagination that spoke to a sizable proportion of the American people, refugees and undocumented workers condense a wider set of issues relating both to the demands of women and internal minorities for greater equality and to international organizations that displaced the power of the traditional nation.  Colleges and universities, despite their failure to achieve many of their proclaimed goals of inclusion and access do represent institutions that exist as much in relation to international communities as local ones.  There is no avoiding that particular status.  Colleges will need to figure out new ways to serve both communities far better than they have done in the past.  The first step in that, though, is confronting the ways that social and economic inequalities as well as a loss of common social purpose have rendered colleges and universities far too much like the dominant culture.   Until, and unless, higher education can reclaim a social purpose beyond return on investment it will be blow in the wind in the face of the challenges of the present moment.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 4

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday, February 12, 2017
The turmoil surrounding Milo Yiannopoulos's visit to Berkeley has garnered national attention.  Despite the reality that UC Berkeley as an institution honored the invitation of the College Republicans and that the protests by campus members were peaceful and in accord with everyone's First Amendment rights (I say nothing here about the individuals who invaded the protest intent on violence) right-wing figures from President Trump on down have used the incident to inveigh against the University and to threaten its funding and demean its students and faculty.

The eagerness with which the Right has attacked UC Berkeley (both the institution and the students, faculty and administrators) should not surprise us: it is clear that there is now a concerted effort from Iowa to Tennessee to Wisconsin to North Carolina and beyond to undermine the academic autonomy of public universities and to decimate employee rights.  In this situation it is more important than ever that universities and their leadership stand firm in their defense of reasoned debate and dissent no matter whether they agree with it or not.  From my perspective, at least, Chancellor Dirks' statement as to why he would not prevent Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus did just that--elaborating his reasoning and attending to the arguments opposed to it.

Unfortunately, at least one Berkeley administrator failed in this responsibility.  As you probably know, a group of Berkeley faculty wrote a series of letters to the Chancellor calling for him to prevent Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus. As they argued:

Yiannopoulos’ deplorable views pass from protected free speech to incitement, harassment and defamation once they publicly target individuals in his audience or on campus, creating conditions for concrete harm and actually harming students through defamatory and harassing actions. Such actions are protected neither by free speech nor by academic freedom. For this reason, the university should not provide a platform for such harassment.

And as they point out, Yiannopoulos had indeed singled out an individual at a previous speech at UW Milwaukee.  One does not have to agree with the call to disinvite Yiannopoulos (personally I don't) to recognize that the letter makes a series of arguments that need to be taken seriously.

But that is not the tack taken by Carla Hesse, the Dean of Social Sciences at Berkeley. Instead, she entered into Donald J. Trump's favorite mode of communication to tweet: "Because the facts still matter: Of 1522 UCBerkeley faculty, 88 (6%) signed letter to Ban Milo."

Leaving aside the fact that this statement came from a dean who last year pointed out that there could be legitimate reasons for urging restraint on abusive speech or who earlier this year appeared to have no difficulty in suspending a student run course in Palestinian studies to look at its syllabus at precisely the point that outside groups had complained about it, and leaving aside the fact that she understated the numbers of signatories, the statement itself is unconscionable.   For what could be its possible purpose but to marginalize the faculty signers, many of whom teach in her division, some of whom are junior faculty?  Shouldn't a dean who is genuinely committed to academic freedom and the right to dissent have aimed to stress that the faculty members were engaged in a serious discussion of an important issue?  Isn't that what universities are for?  Even more importantly, why not point out that UC Berkeley has been engaged in a deeply serious and open discussion of free speech and academic freedom--arguably the most engaged one since the 1960s? Does the dean think that the validity of an argument depends on how many people are saying it?

Especially at a moment when colleges and universities are attacked when they allow criticism of the current policies of the state and the increasingly hostile denigration of those on the margins or in minorities, it is incumbent upon university administrators to support the efforts of students and faculty at their institutions offering reasoned and important dissent.  Dean Hesse's tweet failed that responsibility.  Let's hope that others do not fail as well.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 5

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thursday, February 9, 2017
As you may recall, a bill to eliminate tenure was recently introduced into the Iowa State Senate. After a good deal of pushback it appears to have stalled.  But that doesn't mean that the state's Republicans are done trying to attack the rights of Iowa's public workers.  In their latest salvo, they are proposing to severely restrict the range of public employee collective bargaining (with the exception of police and firefighters) and also to make it more difficult to establish and maintain union representation. Although this is a widespread attack on all public employees, the proposed legislation will strike hard at the state's graduate student employees.

At the core of the proposed legislation are two important issues.  The first is to make it illegal to negotiate things like benefits or supplemental income or retirement.  In effect, the aim is to make it possible only to negotiate on wages and leave workers to the whims of their employers (or the Governor) as to issues such as health care.  Although University of Iowa officials have indicated that they would continue to maintain graduate student employees' health care, one never knows what would happen in the face of a gubernatorial decision to reduce benefits or in the case of funding cuts to the University.

The second and equally serious threat is posed in a change to the system for certifying unions.  The legislation would make it necessary for a union to get the vote of a majority of workers within a collective bargaining unit for the right to represent, as opposed to getting a majority of those casting a ballot.  This is a high hurdle for any union or any candidate: under these rules, the current Iowa Governor would not have been elected since he only received 59% of an electorate that was approximately 50% of the state's eligible voters.  It is especially burdensome to graduate student workers whose eligible unit members are so often in flux.  Moreover, the bill would force re-certification elections every two years.

In taking these steps, Iowa Republicans are seeking to undo a long-standing system of collective bargaining for public employees.  Since 1974 Iowa public employees have operated within a system that forbade strikes (and there haven't been any) in exchange for a system that recognized their right to bargain collectively over a wide set of issues.  Iowa's Republicans are now seeking to destroy that system and hamstring public employee unions.  Given the material constraints that graduate student workers (and graduate students more generally) live within, the most likely result is a reduction in Iowa graduate students' total compensation and quality of life.

But this is more than just an Iowa issue.  Iowa has long been a right-to-work state and its hostility to unions is clear.  But just as with Wisconsin, Iowa Republicans are part of a larger drive to attack unions and worker's collective rights across the country.  One Iowa Representative (along with one from South Carolina) has recently introduced a national right to work bill in the House of Representatives. These initiatives are not simply of local interest.  They threaten to roll back the recent gains that graduate students have obtained through the NLRB and the ability of academic workers everywhere to unionize and defend their interests through collective bargaining.   The result will be to worsen the working conditions and autonomy of academic professionals in general and further subject education itself to the dictates of politicians and managers.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 4

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Today Reclaim California Higher Education released its highly anticipated proposal to save the California Master Plan and with it affordable and public minded higher education: The $48 Fix.  The 48 Dollar Fix demonstrates the dramatic effects that California's foolish turn to privatization has had both on the affordability and quality of the state's higher education system and details the practicality of funding all three segments at the level of 2001 state support.  As the title makes clear, if this effort was done through an income tax surcharge it would add just $48 dollars a year to the income tax of the median personal income taxpayer .  The report also discusses other funding options so that the burdens would not be borne solely be personal income taxes.  But the bottom line is that a refunding of the state's higher education system is practical and would enable the three segments to better serve their students and the state at large.  It is worth reading and sharing.

Again, the Report can be found HERE.
Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 5

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Saturday, December 31, 2016
In 2017, universities will be tempted to follow a dual strategy: resist the Trump administration's discriminatory agenda while adopting its underlying business model.  In this case, they would oppose intensified hate crimes on campuses, exclusion of Dream Act students, explicit racial scapegoating, and government intimidation, balanced by periodic administrative crackdowns on faculty speech. At the same time, they would move the university further towards the status of a business, synchronizing with our businessman-president and his nominated Secretary of Education, the privatizer-in-chief.

This hybrid policy is made more likely by the fact that it is what universities have been doing for decades. They long ago learned to follow Clintonism's fusion of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism, of public causes with public austerity.  Donald J. Trump's election brought a quarter-century of Clintonism to an end when Trump convinced enough people that both halves of the double deal were bad--social liberalism had destroyed domestic security (crime, immigration, terrorism) while Obama's Clintonomics had wrecked the majority's economy.

So shouldn't higher ed keep its head down and muddle through? A look back at 2016 suggests this won't work. And it will help us think about what might work better in the new environment.

1. There's the university's weakening status as a public good. Public status itself continued to poll well in 2016. One major California poll found that 96% think the public higher ed system is important to "the quality of life and economic vitality" of the state over the next 20 year (77% said "very important"). These data are consistent with those of the Gallup-Lumina national survey.  And yet, as more than one college president pointed out this year, the university has "gradually lost its spoken commitment to serve the public good. We started representing our worth by using metrics such as research dollars and publications, endowment size, exclusivity in admissions, and national rankings."

University leaders have misread the popularity of public universities.  They speak as though citizens want to hear about the private good of jobs and wages. This year, they intensified the claim that college yields a high return on investment in terms of a wage premium over high school, and continued to neglect the non market, indirect, and social benefits of higher education. Since calculations have shown college's non market benefits are greater than the private market benefits (Walter McMahon), universities continue to encourage society to underestimate the total value of higher ed and to under-invest in it.

Ironically, the general public understands this: in the November 2016 poll, a far higher proportion of Californians said higher ed is important to the state's future (96%) than said it is necessary for individual success (49%).  Universities would sell better to taxpayers as public than as private goods.

But if the audience is Trump, shouldn't universities double down on private good benefits? To the contrary, universities are and always will be bad private businesses, for they give their return on investment away to students and society.  Conservatives like our businessman-president have known this from the start, and in fact the private-good kludge stopped netting large public funding increases  many years ago.  Universities will now need to explain their public value as part of a new social contract.

2. The way we fund research continued to hurt researchers, society, and university finances.  This year, federal funding for science was still below 2003 levels.  Even Harvard University has seen a major decline in its gross erall research revenues, and its vice-provost for research took to the New York Times to plead for the public research funding on which basic research entirely depends.  Grant application rates were so low that some universities contemplated science without sponsorship.  Yet as failure rates climbed for extramural grants, so did scientists' dependence on them. In a piece that was supposed to be about "fresh funding structures" for "research with impact," one observer that we continue to "have a system where problems are prioritized based on economic impact for the people who are going to do the studies."  Researchers move towards funded problems, whether or not the funding reflects their interest, even as funding declines.

Administrators continued to push arts and humanities faculty onto the STEM extramural funding model, though arts and humanities together receive less that one percent of federal grant funding. This push will insure that much of that research never happens.  When funding was okay, public universities could use institutional funds to support socially and intellectual valuable research that lacked external markets and sponsors.   The failure of external sponsors to cover full costs now forces universities to spend an increasing share of these in subsidizing those sponsors, and 2016 brought no apparent relief. Calculations I did for The Great Mistake suggest that the share of institutional funds going to non-sponsored faculty research is heading toward zero at public universities  (Stage 2).

One of the biggest public science stories in 2016 was the verification of the toxicity of the Flint, Michigan water supply by an academic researcher from Virginia--Marc Edwards, a civil-engineering professor at Virginia Tech.  He observed, "Normal people really appreciate good science done in their interest." He continued,
I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill — pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index — and the idea of science as a public good is being lost. 
This is something that I’m upset about deeply. I’ve kind of dedicated my career to try to raise awareness about this. I’m losing a lot of friends. People don’t want to hear this. But we have to get this fixed, and fixed fast, or else we are going to lose this symbiotic relationship with the public. They will stop supporting us.
Universities might learn that they could increase funding for science by going straight to the public with explicit public-interest science.  Maybe next year.

Regardless of where institutional funds wind up, public universities no longer have enough of them. A prominent example was UC Berkeley's announcement of a "structural deficit," which officials initially blamed on a funding equity scheme in the UC system known as rebenching.  My first pass analysis found that a major culprit was the institutional funds spent to cover research costs, which were themselves as large as the annual deficit, on top of the other growing costs, some research related, visible in UC Berkeley's financial reports.

I mentioned that the election of President Trump will encourage universities to spend even more money showing that they "mean business."  These efforts will have no effect on the Trump administration, whose leader, more than any in recent memory, ties moneymaking to financial transactions rather than to research, and whose nominees have opposed the research, particularly on climate, that bears on their extractive industries.

Trump's deaf ears are an opportunity not to echo Trump's profit goals but to support what these suppress--public-good research, and new funding models that can enable it.

3. In 2016, politics got in the way of traditional tuition hikes.  "Free college" went from a fringe ideal in 2014 to official policy for both Democratic presidential candidates.  State politicians rejected the University of California's call to raise tuition 5% a year for 5 years. UC came back at the end of the year with a 2.5% trial balloon increase, which got more abuse from these politicians (though it will probably go through in the form of a tuition "adjustment" coupled with a 5% increase in the Student Services Fee--now $1074 per year).  Since the 2008 financial crisis, public universities have lost revenue Plan A (state funding that grows in step with state personal income) and Plan B (tuition hikes above inflation).

2016 saw more of Plan C (fundraising) and Plan D (non-resident student tuition).  Plan C doesn't help general operations like instruction. Plan D has been ramped up at UC to the point that NRST will add nearly a third again to regular tuition revenue next year, will increase at a higher rate than resident tuition, and will contribute 40-50 percent of all new tuition revenue every year (Financial Sustainability Plan).  Though UC has locked itself into Plan D, the public dislikes it. When the PPIC poll I've mentioned asked whether more non-resident students should be admitted specifically so their high tuition could subsidize affordability for residents, 50 percent said flat out no, and another 25 percent said only if it doesn't reduce resident enrollments.

Public universities were also milking Plan E, higher housing and board charges, and Plan F, additional user fees of the kind California expanded in the wake of tax-capping Proposition 13. 2016 brought more of these down-list plans that offer back-channel (and often marginal) returns. Once people figure them out, there will be a political price for pursuing them.

Universities may think Trump politics will revive Plan B and let them hike tuition again.  But state Republicans, who control the majority of state governments, are as hostile to tuition hikes as Democrats.  Worse, universities haven't explained to the public the specifically good and unwasteful things they would do with more public money.  They haven't come up with simple, concrete goals like "we'd lower tuition 10%," or "we'd cut average class size 10%."

Instead of hoping for higher tuition, universities have to show that the current near-freeze on tuition (now averaging under 3% per year), coupled with a near-freeze on state allocations, has been wrecking educational quality.  They have to show specifically how this hurts present students and the future of their state.  Instead of trying for new tuition revenues each and every year, they should build a new paradigm that doesn't need them.  They should adopt "free college" by a particular year as the goal and work backwards to show the public revenues this will require--and then start submitting budget requests.

4. State cuts to public funding reversed themselves somewhat.  8 years after the financial crisis, forty states increased funding in FY2015 by an average of about 5 percent, and 2016 estimates were for another 4 percent.  But these increases did not get public university funding back to previous levels: when measured per student, they are still 15 percent below that of 2008.

There was a bit more discussion this year of the damage defunding has done to state economies.  In Washington state, where the state has cut university funding by nearly a third over a decade, even official priority fields are struggling to maintain basic access.  "'We’re turning away many, many, many good students,' said Greg Miller, chair of UW's civil and environmental engineering. 'They want to do what we teach. And we should be delivering.'”  Writing from Wisconsin, a former regent summarized the problem as, "Politics is cutting the heart out of public Ivies."

We've heard a lot about non-STEM job market problems.  But cuts to public universities, with their large enrollments and academic departments, are wrecking the academic STEM market too.  By 2016, only 1/4th of biomedical PhDs are getting tenure track academic jobs.  State cuts continued to damage the knowledge economy and the STEM specializations that policymakers say they want. Anyone who cares about academic labor--the resistable rise of non-tenure-track hiring to teach STEM and non-STEM alike--must care about rebuilding the public funding on which core academic payrolls depend.

2016 was the fourth year after the overall state funding bottom, and yet some states continue to cut. Some, like Wyoming, are just starting their cuts now. Coast to coast, the minor funding recovery has not allowed colleges to get back to where they were, much less get better to match the more demanding economy. "The Dream Stalls at CUNY" was the year's most graphic mainstream media portrait of slow and steady public university decline, and "the engine of mobility sputters" remains the national story.

5. Affordability remained a national crisis in 2016, as total student debt continued to increase.  Efforts to minimize the debt crisis continued--for example in two books, Game of Loans and Student Debt, by Brookings scholars--and universities continued to insist that high financial aid protects low-income students from the burdens of high tuition.  This unfortunately is not the case.  In fact, poor students are forced to borrow as much as middle class students, as I've been shouting since at least 2014.  Definitive evidence of the negative impact on students arrived with this fall's publication of Sara Goldrick-Rab's Paying the Price.   Based on an empirical study of 3000 Pell students, it not only confirmed that 9 of 10 Pell students graduate with debt, and that fewer than half graduate in 6 years, but chronicled the hardships and forced, restrictive choices that follow lower-income students through every day of their college lives.  The subtitle of Stephen Burd's New America report summed up the situation: "the news keeps getting worse for low income students."  (See Ellen Wexler's good summary.) When public universities become dependent on non-resident tuition, they replace need-based aid with "merit" aid to recruit affluent students from other states, which means increasing costs for low-income resident students.  The proportion of Pell students who are charged more than $10,000 per year by their public universities has gone from one-third to one-half in just five years.

In her overview of her book, Goldrick-Rab noted that things will get better when colleges "listen to students and give them the benefit of the doubt" in their descriptions of how the financial aid system actually works. The bigger cure would be free college, the advocating of which can insure you won't get invited to the summit meeting.  But I estimated in The Great Mistake that getting zero debt--buy buying annual cost of attendance down to $4000 for all eligible students--would cost $200 billion, or pretty much exactly what we pay every year for a financial aid system that keeps creating debt.

2016 put free college on the policy map.  Colleges should work during the Trump administration to keep it there.

6. University officials still pondered how to outsource their core instructional functions to tech companies.  During ed-tech's peak hype of Fall 2012 through Summer 2013, MOOC vendors issued an instruction set to universities that ended, "halt and catch fire."  Bad MOOC course results canceled that command, but the promise of disrupted higher ed continues, as Audrey Watters makes clear in "The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Issue a Press Release."    The MOOCs' educational failure was obvious, and their financial failure less obvious yet real--and yet the higher ed sector still waits for "software to eat the world," or at least eat the university.   Joshua Kim pointed out that a key 2016 book on the "platform revolution" imagined it would eliminate most colleges, echoing predictions by Clayton Christensen and Udacity's Sebastian Thrun during Peak Hype.

I actually want the hype to be true: I want mastery learning where most of the class learns as much as only the top tenth usually does, and creativity learning, where students learn to define problems, design research, and solve the horrible problems their elders are bequeathing to them.  But ed-tech saying it made learning easy made it harder.   Ed-tech ignoring funding problems made them worse.

One of this year's hopeful signs appeared in a piece on adaptive learning by ed-tech analyst Michael Feldstein.  Noting that a major study of it was inconclusive--"your mileage may vary"--he added,
the study does provide a reality check on the role of the learning sciences in the craft of education. We are learning more about how people learn all the time. But we are still at the basic research level, and we face daunting methodological challenges.  . . .
In order to get an empirically valid apples-to-apples comparison of the effects of adaptive learning, which is specifically intended to help students in the same class with different learning needs, you have to start by making sure that the students you are studying are the same as one another.
Setting aside the head-spinning contradiction, how often are the students in any two course sections, even within the same course at the same institution, similar enough for a valid controlled experiment?  The answer in the . . . study is "rarely."
My response to the current situation is yes, we should be doing as much as we can with instructional technology, but only where "we" means the instructors who know student variation directly.  That means bringing faculty and staff together in ways we haven't figured out how to do you.

Enhancing learning for all students is actually extremely hard, and this may be why ed-tech in 2016 seemed more focused than ever on selling to the back office. fOne example is enterprise software that might be able to run budget analyses of individual function costs in specific departments or courses.  Over the course of the year, I heard from several people that these systems are starting to squeeze out budgets for academic computing.

Another use is surveillance: at UC we got a reminder in January when a faculty committee leaked the information that UC president Janet Napolitano had used a data breach at UCLA as a reason to install 3rd-party hardware "to monitor and possibly record" all traffic with the outside world at all UC campuses.  Nearly a year later, nobody outside confidential administrative committees knows how extensive these programs are. The suggestion that UC has its own bulk data collection program was rejected but not refuted, and the parameters of the actual program remain unknown.  We have the odd situation in which nearly all of my university colleagues send sensitive material through gmail run through their local cable provider rather than through university servers.

Ed-tech's bigger horizon is "unbundling" the university, where it serves as means and pseudo-destiny. David Theo Goldberg pointed out "The Dangers of the Uberization of Eduation," several of which deserve special mention. One is the secrecy of the algorithmic system, which makes the provider unaccountable.  (The legitimacy of one-way governance in academia continues to be an understudied topic.)

A second is the sidelining of learning as such. In Goldberg's phrase, "The certification autogenerated by the platform, much like the Uber receipt on one’s smartphone, is more about customer service, liability and immunity from potential litigation than it is about the acquisition of consequential knowledge."  A third is the decoupling of one discipline from another in the period in which we are supposed to be bringing them together, particularly across the qualitative-quantitative divide.

And fourth, unbundling will further weaken the status of the professions in the country--particularly the "liberal" professions devoted to human development"--as well as eliminate the vestiges of a faculty already fractured by the extramural grant system and adjuncting, and therefore less of a body tied to a specific institution and endowed with deliberative authority and political rights.

Universities are self-unbundling already, in part because it helps replace multilateral relationships with managerial authority.  (On the latter theme, see John Warner's "U of Chicago Asks for Safe Space-for Administrators"; also Angus Johnston.)   One group that suffers are its students, where a sense that administrators don't care about them will harm their alumni loyalty in the future and harms their learning now. (Daily Cal columnist Chris Yamas broached this topic in August.)

Any business that outsources its core functions is on the road to perdition. But with unbundling that's a feature not a bug.  Though most people in ed-tech don't support such outcomes, ed-tech as such doesn't know whether it wants to transform consciousness with better learning or replace consciousness with automation.  It also continues to coast on the "late-tech" Silicon Valley premise, "with this app you can fire a lot of people and keep their money."  Until ed-tech can explain how we can enhance academic labor rather than shrink it--ed-tech will hurt instruction rather than help it. As Kim pointed out, "To the extent that colleges focus on the centrality of the educator / learner relationship - a relationship that can’t be scaled or substituted by technology - will be the extent to which today’s postsecondary institutions continue to thrive."

7. Unequal funding continued to cut attainment--and increase inequality. The 2016 presidential campaign was one long rampage about the inequality boom in many dimensions.  The same problem afflicts higher ed, and this year saw no improvement.  Although the Obama administration called for free community college, no one has called for massive reinvestment in the less selective colleges that educate the majority of the country's students, and an even higher percentage of its students of color.

In California, UC campuses seem to operate in the more unequal regions of the state; perhaps there is a national pattern.  The grotesque inequality of higher ed resources was brought home again for me in February, where San Francisco State's historic College of Ethnic Studies was threatened with a 14 percent cut while Stanford was announcing a $750 million endowment for Rhodes Scholarship-style scholarships to Stanford for a handpicked global elite. My estimate was that the Stanford fellows would receive about 30 times more money apiece than an SF State Ethnic Studies student.

Much of the problem is ongoing racism: one study this year plumbed the depths of the American phobia about affirmative action, and found that people would rather see colleges admit legacy children of former graduates than consider race in admissions.  In his discussion of the limits of affirmative action debates, Matthew Clair denounced the relegation of the knowledges of identity to the status of non-knowledge, signaled by the Supreme Court Chief Justice's question, "“What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?” Three years ago, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce issued a landmark report, "Separate and Unequal," showing that new white enrollments mostly go to selective colleges and new African American and Latino enrollments mostly go to open enrollment colleges, where they receive lower funding.   Nothing has been done in the meantime.  Although Abigail Fisher lost her Supreme Court case against the University of Texas's affirmative action program, that "massive blow against mediocre white people" was not a victory for equality or for the better graduation rates they would bring.

8. Universities helped U.S. society stay on its post-middle class course.  Breakdowns of the presidential vote suggested that non-college people don't see the "education party" as on their side. Pollster Nate Silver, atoning for his sins, found that "education, not income, predicted who would vote for Trump."  One conclusion is that higher education has its economic limits  But I would say this is really only true in its Clintonite mode. Clintonite higher education has not fought for the strong public funding that supports colleges that serve lower-income and rural communities, much less fought in the name of blue-collar and non-college people.   It has not blasted the inequality boom--that was Bernie Sanders--which depends on not rewarding people who increase their productivity with higher wages. Clintonite higher ed hasn't supported unionization or a high minimum wage as ways of supporting the society on which it depends for taxes.  Higher ed has moved increasingly towards the donors and other elites who have benefited from if not actively engineered the inequality boom in the first place.  Now it finds its middle class tax base eroded (the wealthy never wanted to be taxed for public colleges), and its constituency cynical about getting skills that American capitalism won't pay them for anyway.

The long siege against unions has lowered costs for companies, but it's part of a deeper and wider assault on the democratic prerogatives of knowledge communities.  The most visible higher ed conflicts of 2016 fell in this category.  I'm referring to the intersection of academic freedom, academic labor issues, and what we might call professional civil rights: The downgrading of tenure in Wisconsin (see Nick Fleisher's overview), the chronic overwork of 60 plus hour weeks for years on end, the absurd firing of assistant professor Melissa Click by the board in Missouri (and faculty reaction against it), expanded unilateral budgetary authority and faculty attempts to claw some back (a Yale example), the corrosive effects of two- and three-tier faculty employment systems (see Gillian Steinberg's critique), administrative efforts to police faculty's extramural speech, as in the Drexel case Michael just wrote about.

These are part of--and a growing reaction against--the withdrawal of the the university from setting standards for a truly desirable society.  This desirable society has in the U.S. always included self-managed working conditions and economic entitlements for which faculty and college graduate jobs have stood.  We, in the university, have watched while the early versions of these democratic conditions were withdrawn from our blue-collar friends, relatives, and neighbors. We, in the university, have stood by while democratic conditions were withdrawn from the majority of our instructional staffs. We have stood by while policymakers in withdrew democratic conditions from our own political and economic base, college graduates.  2016 was the year when the Electoral College vote punished the yuppie scum Clintonite-knowledge-economy-university-symbolic analyst complex for its crimes of indifference.

* * *

2016 was also the year of growing dissent from this system. Here are a few favorite clips in the midst of a mini-renaissance of writing about higher ed:

The New York Times' Editorial Board on the National Labor Relations Board's ruling that graduate students at private universities may unionize:
This week’s ruling allows graduate assistants to vote on whether to unionize, and if they do, for the students and the universities to bargain in good faith. . . . 
There will be plenty to discuss between the students and the administrations. In recent decades, as tenure-track positions at universities have declined precipitously, teaching and research — the mainstay of universities — have increasingly been taken up by adjunct faculty members and graduate assistants, without commensurate increase in pay, status or career opportunities. On many campuses, teaching and research assistants are essentially low-paid, white-collar workers, typically earning around $30,000 a year, most of whom will never get tenure-track positions. 
The question going forward is the extent to which those new unions will help improve working conditions in academic life.
Andrew Hoberek on the Melissa Click firing:
Click’s critics have painted themselves as defenders of the First Amendment and other freedoms against a privileged academic elite. But a world in which people’s main activity, vastly enhanced by the technologies of video recording and social media, is to discipline each other for infractions of civility, is hardly a model of universal freedom. It is in fact proto-totalitarian, in the old-school, Arendt and Orwell sense. All that is needed to flip it over into fascism is a strong leader who can symbolically embody all the freedom that ordinary people are denied, and spend their time denying others. A leader, perhaps, whose most admired quality among his followers is that he’s not afraid to say whatever he wants.
Dave Vanness's Open Letter on #faketenure in Wisconsin:
not a single member [of the Madison AAUP chapter] expressed that they are confident in President Cross or the majority of the Board of Regents’ ability (or desire) to protect UW System from continued budget cuts, program closures and faculty layoffs for reasons unrelated to educational quality. In fact, nearly all of us agree that they are at best complicit with our current state government’s desire to redefine the Wisconsin Idea as primarily a workforce training mission, and at worst actively engaged. . . .
This brings me to the second broad theme that has emerged. Despite near-unanimous inability to express confidence in our leadership, many of us are afraid that expressing that lack of confidence could bring harm to the university. State legislators have already publicly threatened us with further cuts and reforms after simply announcing the upcoming vote.
Taken together, these themes lead me to ask a very important question. If nearly all of us conclude that our leadership is failing, but we allow fear of reprisal to suppress our expression of that finding, then haven’t we already lost our academic freedom? If fear of the Board of Regents, the Legislature and the Governor stops us from exercising our responsibility in governance, then I am afraid we really have lost. What’s next? Will we allow fear to change what we teach or research or say in public? 
Philip Nel on why faculty members work so much:
As I am writing this article, I should be writing something else: an email to an editor, an email to an author, a letter of recommendation, notes for tomorrow’s classes, comments on students’ papers, comments on manuscripts, an abstract for an upcoming conference, notes for one of the books I’m working on. I cannot remember the last time I ended a day having crossed everything off my to-do list.
Why do academics work so much? . . .
My 60-plus-hour weeks have not led me to [ignoring a serious illness]. But I can see how it could happen. As [Kate] Bowles points out, “we don’t yet understand this as behavior that is harmful to others, not just to ourselves. We overwork like cyclists dope: because everyone does it, because it’s what you do to get by, because in the moment we argue to ourselves that it feels like health and freedom. But it isn’t.” To work long hours because everyone does it or because that’s how you get by is to live under stress. That’s not healthy. I often joke that I’m just barely keeping my head below water. 
And that is one of my points: Time is all we have. One day, we’ll reach the last page of the calendar, the clock will stop, and our time will cease. While it is a privilege to pursue interesting work, we also need to make time to live. 
My other point is that we need time to think. I mean this quite literally: thought requires time.
 Robert Matz on "the cultural implications of the myth that English majors end of working permanently at Starbucks"
To establish themselves in their careers, English majors need to show a bit more resourcefulness than do majors in narrowly preprofessional degrees. And year after year, that is exactly what real English majors do. They do not possess this resourcefulness in spite of their English degree or as a mere coincidence with it. Creative and independent thinkers are attracted to the English degree, and that course of study helps to develop their creativity and their initiative -- the same personal qualities that serve them so well in the working world after graduation. 
So why the barista joke? It reflects negative attitudes about the English major itself rather than the realities of an English major’s likely employment. Since coffeehouses are places for reading, writing and talking, spending time in a coffeehouse is a lot like spending time in the study of English. Naturally enough, English majors like to hang out in them. STEM majors have their labs; English majors have their Starbucks. The joke about the English major barista implies, however, that unlike the science done in a lab, the study of English, whether pursued in coffeehouse or classroom, is without value. What better punishment for wasting this time than being sentenced to work at a coffeehouse rather than enjoying its pleasures, serving those who presumably chose some more valuable and lucrative major? 
We will only really dispel the myth of the English major barista when we confront head-on the structural economic problems and the narrow market ideology that drive the fear behind it. Meanwhile, in their own refusal to succumb to this fear, English majors can be confident they'll do fine spending some time in coffeehouses -- whichever side of the bar they’re on.
Exactly. Higher ed for creativity, truth, beauty, love, pleasure, knowledge, literature, science, art, and the non-college brethren-- for the entire public.

Some good news in 2016: did I mention my book came out?  You've just been through the eight stages of its doom loop--leading in to the recovery cycle I didn't discuss here. Try the six-paragraph hometown version, by Santa Barbara school administrator Brian Tanguay.  Above all, many many New Years eve thanks to all of you who have engaged.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 3

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thursday, December 29, 2016
Since the election there has been much discussion of higher education's self-inflicted wounds. Mark Lilla and Nicholas Kristof, have trotted out the usual cherry-picked examples of alleged intolerance on (mostly elite) campuses as signs that universities exist at a distance from the real world.  Both have ignored the realities of life for most students and faculty, a point that shouldn't surprise us I suppose.  After all they are both locked into the New York media bubble whose gaze seems to extend all the way from Cambridge to Washington D.C.  These screeds would simply be unhelpful and annoying if they didn't serve to distract attention from more fundamental problems facing higher education today. For it is time for faculty and others committed to the future of universities and colleges to think more clearly about what needs to be changed in our own self-organization as we move forward.

One of the most glaring, if also most often ignored in public debate, is the working conditions of precarious faculty and its relationship to questions of academic freedom.  It is no secret that the large majority of teaching in colleges and universities is done by contingent labor (either graduate students or non-tenure track faculty).  Yet as both Bob Samuels and Lee Kottner have recently pointed out, the particular threats that contingency poses to academic freedom has been largely ignored.  Yet there can be little question that it is contingent faculty, not tenure track, let alone tenured, faculty who face the greatest dangers regarding their freedom to teach and to write.  After all, the very point of hiring contingent faculty is to preclude obligations to ensure them long-term or full-time employment.

In his post, Bob points to something as seemingly simple as using student evaluations for assessing contingent faculty.  I think that most of us believe student evaluations to be helpful in getting a sense of student responses but have limited purchase in evaluating the quality of teaching.  That is why there are alternative sources of evaluations for tenure track faculty.  But for contingent faculty, whose entire evaluation is based on teaching, there are rarely if ever alternatives.  Contingent faculty, in other words, are at the extreme point of vulnerability in terms of offending or annoying their students. As Bob points out this situation places contingent faculty in an "impossible situation" when it comes to discussing controversial subjects.

Moreover, as Lee Kottner argues, the discussion around initiatives like Professor Watchlist has had little to say about the implications of the watchlist for adjuncts and lecturers.  Yet by virtue of being contingent they have less protection than do tenure track and tenured professors.  Institutions are far more easily able to remove them (unless they have union protections).  It is the very nature of "Just in Time" faculty hiring that it allows institutions to act with little warning or oversight.  Let's think of it this way:  can you imagine anything like the publicity or pushback that occurred over this week's Drexel or Oregon cases taking place because a college or university decided to fire an adjunct?  After all, it could be done with little publicity simply by a failure to rehire.  Other faculty would hear only after the person had not been renewed--if then.  At that point, administrators or departments could simply say that there was no need to renew the position.  Lacking the formal protections of tenure track faculty could anyone do anything?  And if they could, would they?

Indeed, one of the most important unlearned lesson of the Salaita case was that Professor Salaita was vulnerable precisely because he was between two secure positions.  But precarious faculty are structurally between positions in that sense.  Colleges and universities like to think of themselves as ethical communities; but that community it appears does not extend to the vast majority of employees.  Much ink has been spilled about specific conflicts over academic freedom in the last few years.  But so long as a majority of teaching is done by individuals whose employment can be terminated each term and who are dependent on not upsetting either students or tenure track colleagues, it is a mockery to claim that colleges and universities are places of academic freedom.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 3

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tuesday, December 27, 2016
As you have probably seen, George Ciccariello-Maher, a political scientist at Drexel University has come under fire for tweeting "all I want for Christmas is white genocide," following his tweet and his condemnation at Breitbart.  There have been calls for his firing and he has received death threats.  Depressingly, Drexel University issued a statement calling Ciccariello-Maher's statement "inflammatory" and declaring them "utterly reprehensible" and "deeply disturbing" and insisting that they "do not in any way reflect the values of the University."

I don't want to enter into a discussion or defense of Ciccariello-Maher's academic freedom here. Both Hank Reichman and Corey Robin have done so over the weekend and a petition has been set up to express support for Professor Ciccariello-Maher.  Instead I want to focus a little more closely on Drexel's response.

Professor Ciccariello-Maher has insisted that his tweet was a satirical response to the idea of "white genocide," a notion developed by some white nationalists that treats developments such as interracial marriage, multiculturalism or birth control as part of a conspiracy to commit "white genocide."  To be honest, I didn't know what the discourse was--and it took me all of about 5 minutes on the internet to discover its roots.  (For a more extended discussion see this article at Slate.)  I mention this not to get into the content of professor Ciccariello-Maher's tweet but to demonstrate how easy it was to figure out what it was about.  As far as I can tell that leaves three interpretations of Drexel's response:
  1. Drexel responded without bothering to find out what the tweet was about.  It therefore declared a professor's statement "reprehensible" without understanding what the statement meant.
  2. Drexel does think that the statement is reprehensible.  Which I guess means that it implicitly opposes interracial marriage, multiculturalism, and birth control.
  3. Drexel looked into what the statement actually meant but was still so cowed by the possibility of criticism that it condemned Professor Ciccariello-Maher's statement and insisted that he come in for further discussion. 
My suspicion is that we are looking at number 1.  But that is extremely disturbing in its own right.  It suggests that in the present climate the Drexel University administration is more concerned with the possibility of external criticism than they are committed to defending the freedom of expression of their faculty or even to take the time to understand the situation before they act.   In effect, Drexel is telling its community that they need to curb their own freedom of speech rather than say something that might be misunderstood.

It is this new context that makes the Ciccariello-Maher case both like and unlike cases we have seen in recent years.  His is not the first tweet that has produced criticism of faculty and in some cases punitive responses from administrations.  But his is the first case since the election and in the context of an increasingly empowered white nationalist movement.  There may be good reasons why individuals will choose not to provoke situations that will not help them in the long run.  But if colleges and universities fail to protect the academic freedom of their faculty they will purchase a brief moment of peace at the cost of the long-term destruction of their institution's autonomy and integrity.
Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 2