• Home
  • About Us
  • Guest Posts

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rose Aguilar had a segment of her show "Your Call" on KALW that focused on the UC Budget and the need for transparency. UCOP apparently decided was not to send someone to talk on public radio in San Francisco. But luckily Chris participated along with Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee and Kevin Sabo of UCSA.

You can find the episode HERE


Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015
As you may have heard, UC Care is suffering even more problems (or I should say people enrolled in UC Care are suffering more problems) as it heads into its second year.  On the one hand there are considerably higher premiums on many policies (you can see the new figures here and compare with your old payments).  But on the other, and even more significantly, UC Care continues to struggle to maintain Tier 1 service for all of the campuses.

On this issue, the most striking problem is the ongoing battle between Blue Shield and the Sutter Health system of hospitals.  The contract between Blue Shield and Sutter Health expired at the end of 2014 and conflicts between the two huge systems have prevented a new contract from being signed. UC is reporting that both sides have agreed, however, to a de facto extension of six months so that subscribers are not in any immediate danger of finding themselves without a health plan.  Both systems are seeking to portray themselves as defenders of patients (Sutter claims Blue Shield is trying to reduce payments while Blue Shield claims they are seeking to protect patients from imposed arbitration agreements and the potential of hiked premiums).  But of course each side is seeking to protect their own quite large revenues.

Although outside the control of UC, this crisis is reminiscent of the ongoing problems facing employees at UCSB.  As the UCSB Faculty Association has pointed out, UCSB still does not have Tier 1 access at the only full service hospital in their area.  If Blue Shield and Sutter Health cannot work the problem out, it is possible that the majority of the non-medical campuses will be left without access to their traditional range of health care options.

UC has provided some numbers to call at Blue Shield if you are having problems.  They can be found here.  It is also possible that other costs may go up during this dispute.


UPDATE:  Blue Cross and Sutter Health have agreed to a new 2 year contract.  You can find the press release HERE.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015
Here's a quick update on my way back from Vancouver, where I attended the Modern Language Association meeting.  Jeff Williams and I had a panel featuring some of the issues in our Johns Hopkins University Press book series on Critical University Studies: Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed covered it here.  Send us a book proposal!  Universities aren't going to recover or have the intellectual functions the world needs unless faculty get actively involved in their redesign. We're equally interested in historical work.

I also have a piece today at Inside Higher Ed on the weakening of the austerity logic that has been ruling public universities. Entitled, "The Higher Ed Austerity Deal is Falling Apart," it argues that three major (albeit unwilling) political partners are getting tired of accepting the "new normal" of never-enough-revenues at too-high tuition rates.  

I start by pointing out that 2015 promises more of the same, and then analyze the fractures that became visible at the November regents' meeting.  My premise is that austerity isn't a natural effect of the economy but the effect of a tacit political alliance among the major players that includes senior university managers, faculty, and students. The UC story will be familiar to blog readers;  the second half of the piece, less so.

At one point, I write, 
Although austerity theory still rules public colleges, three of its major players no longer project future benefit from following their scripted roles: cutting and squeezing (administration), political compliance (governing boards), and tolerance for higher tuition and debt (students). It has become clear to them that these austerity policies will never make things better. 
When I re-read the piece this morning on line, I stumbled at that second sentence. Do these folks really know that only one engine is getting fuel and that therefore the plane is losing altitude? On reflection I think yet again that the answer is yes.  UC admin has been talking about the structural deficit to the regents for several years, and the students who spoke out last fall now think the Democrats are using the tuition freeze to let themselves off the funding hook.  

The question is more what to do with this knowledge. The immediate answer is to spell out the research and the teaching that get disappeared by funding shortfalls.  

At the MLA, there was an obvious conflict between the brilliance of the work, which has intellectual scope and depth that are better than ever, and the resources to finish and disseminate the research, which are nearly nonexistent. Our panel respondent, for example, was a grad student who couldn't afford to travel to Vancouver and thus went missing.  Sponsors of extramurally-funded research often require conference travel and fund their requirement.  On this point the humanities are underwater, with predictable delays.  Younger MLA scholars have never in my view been doing richer, more ambitious work with more important public implications--and yet never have more incomplete support to get it finished.

Second, there's teaching.  I'm on the MLA's Delegate Assembly, and on Saturday, at the end of a six hour meeting with a sustained focus on academic freedom, the Association's officers asked for input from the floor about how to respond to Arizona State University's recent raising of teaching loads for its non-tenure track (NTT) writing instructors by 25 percent (to 5-5), with no increase in pay.  An ASU dean was in the audience to explain the administration's rationale, which was that all university faculty have a notional five-course load per term, and the tenure track faculty who teach two courses per term are getting three courses of credit for research and service.   All the admin was doing, he said, was regularizing a lot of NTT instructors while rationalizing their workloads. 

The assembly took a dim view of this and of the other pieces of the dean's explanation. Many people objected to the exploitation of faculty who are now expected to offer meaningful feedback to 125 writing students a term.  Others pointed out the unilateral nature of the decision, in which admin tells faculty what to do with no regard for faculty expertise.  

My concern is also with the administrative framing. This assumes that college writing instruction is a commodity, both in terms of the instructor who delivers it, who need not be paid even the median US wage for 125 students, and of the student who is trying to master a skill by responding to individual feedback on their work.  ASU has a sophisticated idea of public education that is active and process oriented (see the linked article above), and yet asks instructors to deliver it under high school working conditions.  Why does anyone think you can create skills at a college level with a high school teaching load and for less than a high-school teaching wage? Because it's convenient to think that, because it allows cross-subsidies to think that, but also because administrators--and faculty--haven't spelled out in educational detail why we can't. 

Faculty need not simply to reject the framework but to explain why it's wrong: why we don't and can't have five courses as a teaching baseline for college instruction, for starters. We need to explain what students are supposed to learn in a writing class, show the level and type of feedback that requires, and then explain the working conditions that make that possible, including the maximum number of students that one can have to grade a certain number of pages per term with the cognitively required feedback.

Yes I know: who thought we were going to have to do this kind of explaining just so we could do our jobs? But this is how it is, and has been since the 1980s. The good news is that it marks the way colleges and universities are a decisive social power, which is why they are being fought over so relentlessly.

I thought about this when I happened on an article yesterday about tactics.  "The immediate response is bound to be a defensive one: fight the cuts." Yes, I thought, admin is finally doing this, as some faculty have done for years, but the power of the austerity framework, as the author writes, "has exposed the limited character of a struggle which remains a defensive one." 

The author continues to say that the defensive struggle "will get us nowhere if it is posed simply as a return to a state of things before the deluge"--very true! And it "cannot succeed unless it contains an active and positive content--of a new kind."  This new content, he concludes, needs to be embedded not in temporary and opportunistic political associations, but in "real and durable historical alliances" that lead to a "genuinely popular democratic social force."  This will involve, however, the transformation of "all the forces which are to be pulled together in this way."  

As some of you have guessed, the author was Stuart Hall, the year was 1980, and the subject was "Thatcherism--a new stage?"  University austerity is Thatcherism, historically and conceptually, but as I argue in the IHE piece it is now applied by Democrats and Labour as well as a by Republicans and Conservatives.  Opposition has not succeeded for Hall's reasons, which are insufficiencies of imagination and organization. In other words, we anti-austerians are not beating our heads against an inevitable historical trend or economic destiny, but have some new work to do.

So send us a book proposal!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015
Governor Brown released his 2015-2016 budget proposal today. As expected he demonstrated no willingness to back off in his opposition to tuition increases at UC and CSU or to attempt to buy them out.  Instead, he insisted that his own long-term proposals for Higher Education funding were correct and demanded more responsiveness from the segments.  We will be back with more in the near future but I wanted to point out some of the most significant points.

1. The Governor has kept to his plan to provide approximately 4% increases to both CSU and UC. (38)

2) But he has reaffirmed that this additional funding is contingent on the segments not raising tuition and, in the case of UC, not increasing non-state enrollment.  The language is as follows:

For UC:
General Fund Increase—An ongoing increase of $119.5 million General Fund
contingent upon the University keeping tuition at 2011‑12 levels in 2015‑16,
not increasing nonresident enrollment in 2015‑16, and taking action to control costs. 
For CSU:
General Fund Increase—An ongoing increase of $119.5 million General Fund.
This funding should obviate the need for CSU to increase student tuition and fees
and can be used by the University to meet its most pressing needs.  

3.  The Governor also makes clear his intention to take on the political fight with the segments (particularly with UC) over the nature and extent of state funding.  Unlike last year's budget proposal the Governor's office makes clear the extent to which increased tuition revenue has itself been underwritten by state funds (36-37).  This has been an issue waiting to blow up for several years now.  Apparently the Governor's office has decided that now is the time.

4. The Governor is also insisting that his proposed task force on costs be instituted immediately. (40-41).  As with most of the Governor's approaches to the University the possibility that quality may cost more rather than less money is ruled out from the start and there is little evidence that he expects academic value to enter into the discussion.  Again, here is the language:

To this end, at the Governor’s request, the UC Regents are expected to form a
committee, staffed by the Administration and the UC Office of the President, to reduce
the University’s cost structure. This committee will solicit advice from a broad range of
experts, review data and develop proposals that allow the University to deliver quality
education at a lower cost and obviate the need for increased tuition or increasing
out‑of‑state enrollment. Specifically, the committee will gather information and develop
proposals to decrease University cost drivers, enhance undergraduate access, improve time‑to‑degree and degree completion, review the role of research, and explore the use of technology to enhance education. The committee’s proposals will be considered by the full UC Board of Regents. These proposals, in conjunction with the University’s sustainability plan, will inform ongoing discussions on efficiencies and reforms to improve the cost structure, student access and outcomes at the University.

It should be understood that in this context "outcomes" does not refer to learning but to degrees or certificates.

5.  Most of these proposals were predictable.  There is one oddity worth noting in the Budget. In discussing State debts and liabilities the Governor includes UC Retirement.  His proposal does not, suggest that he is putting any funds towards helping with that issue.  But in treating UC Retirement as a State debt is he conceding the point that the State has obligations towards the UC Retirement system or is he attempting to pressure UC to move even further in reducing the benefits of the UC Retirement system by lumping it with other systems more immediately subject to political control? Only time will tell.

If you are only interested in the Higher Education section of the Budget you can now find it here.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Monday, January 5, 2015
Governor Brown gave his 4th and final inaugural address today and said very little about higher education.  Instead, he focused attention on other issues: K-12 education, criminal justice, the environment, and his favorite issue of all--controlling spending.  It is certainly possible to see his lack of focus as a positive thing for the state's public colleges and universities.  His recent ideas have not been great, and relative neglect might lower the temperature to allow serious thinking on how to raise educational quality in the state's higher education institutions.

Unfortunately, what little he did say is not encouraging.  Here are his comments on higher education:
With respect to education beyond high school, California is blessed with a rich and diverse system. Its many elements serve a vast diversity of talents and interests. While excellence is their business, affordability and timely completion is their imperative. As I’ve said before, I will not make the students of California the default financiers of our colleges and universities. To meet our goals, everyone has to do their part: the state, the students and the professors. Each separate institution cannot be all things to all people, but the system in its breadth and diversity, through real cooperation among its segments, can well provide what Californians need and desire.
Several points stand out here: the displacement of "excellence" (admittedly a vacuous term) by "timely completion"; the implicit opposition to further tuition hikes coupled with a lack of real commitment to address the problem of tuition through state funding; and a belief in the inadequacy of the campus's efforts.  "To meet our goals, he said, "everyone has to do their part: the state, the students, and the professors." Since Gov. Brown has already indicated that he believes the state is doing enough and that students should not be asked to do more,  then what is left? The professors, who must be blocking timely completion and affordability by not teaching enough students and not going online enough. 

Here then is the problem with Brown's approach to higher education: in his mind the problem is not that students do not get enough time to work with faculty; it is that they get too much time. Instead of figuring out a way to fund an educational experience that enables deeper learning and higher skills he wants to speed up the process and make it more Amazon-like than it already is. As many have pointed out, higher education has been using adjuncting and massification to create teaching "efficiencies" for thirty years.  They have reduced degree productivity and quality, and cannot now suddenly increase them.

Dealing with a 1970s-model of educational efficiency will be one challenge for 2015.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Thursday, January 1, 2015