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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saturday, September 26, 2015
The Council of University of California Faculty Associations and the American Association of University Professors write to protest the following remarks made by University of California Regent Richard Blum and then supported by Regent Hadi Makarechian during the discussion of a proposed Statement of Principles Against Intolerance at the Board of Regents meeting on September 17, 2015:

“I should add that over the weekend my wife, your senior Senator, and I talked about this issue at length. She wants to stay out of the conversation publicly but if we do not do the right thing she will engage publicly and is prepared to be critical of this university if we don’t have the kind of not only statement but penalties for those who commit what you can call them crimes, call them whatever you want. Students that do the things that have been cited here today probably ought to have a dismissal or a suspension from school. I don’t know how many of you feel strongly that way but my wife does and so do I.”

These remarks by Regent Blum explicitly invoke his wife, U.S. Senator from California Dianne Feinstein, and threaten negative political consequences for the University if the proposed Statement of Principles Against Intolerance is not revised so as to be agreeable to him and Senator Feinstein.  As such, they violate the spirit, if not the letter, of Article IX, Section 9 of the California Constitution, which declares that "The university shall be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its regents and in the administration of its affairs."

Whatever varied opinions we may hold on the proposed Statement of Principles or any other matter for University discussion, we should all join in rejecting any attempt by a Regent to influence University deliberations by calling on external political forces in this manner.

The complex and competing issues involved in developing a suitable Statement of Principles Against Intolerance are matters of discussion and intellectual inquiry within the University. The purpose of academic freedom is to protect such inquiry from external political interference, and it is the duty of the members of the Board of Regents to uphold academic freedom and to protect the university from external constraints on this freedom. So it is very troubling to hear a Regent make statements that directly undermine free inquiry and the independence of the University. It is particularly disconcerting in this case, because among the central issues are academic freedom and free speech.

We understand that individual Regents, in their private capacity, like many others in the community, may hold strong views on this and many other issues. However, in their official capacity, the Regents have the responsibility to uphold the rights of University administrators and faculty to determine internal University policies through established processes of shared governance free of external political pressure and threats from any source, including the Regents' own spouses, relatives and friends. We call upon the Regents, the President, and the Provost to provide explicit assurances that they will support and protect the independence and integrity of the continuing discussions of a possible Statement of Principles Against Intolerance.

You can find more information at: 



Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 1

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday, August 23, 2015
As Dan Mitchell has been reminding us, UCOP has appointed a Task Force to implement the Regents agreement to reduce pension benefits for future employees.  As a result of the Committee of Two, UCOP has agreed to lower the amount of employee salary that can be counted towards UCRP to approximately $117,000.  They are proposing that some form of hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan be created to allow employees to save above that $117,000 limit.  UCOP is also proposing that an all-defined contribution (DC) plan be developed that would allow future employees to opt out from the defined benefit plan entirely.

UCOP insists that the "New retirement benefits options are being developed as a result of the budget agreement between UC and state leaders, which included nearly $500 million to help pay down UC’s unfunded pension liability." But there are several issues that need to be raised about this claim.

1.  UCOP refers to the nearly $500M that the University will receive from the state in exchange for pension modification.  But the University will have received only $96M upon the creation of the new pension tiers. I understand that the actual state budget promises only this one year of funding. Although President Napolitano and Governor Brown may have agreed on the larger number, there is no sign that the Legislature or its leadership have agreed.  What future budgets will look like is always unclear. UCOP, in effect, is proposing a serious reduction in pensions for future employees in exchange for less than a third of the money they now estimate they will have to spend to complete UCPATH.  Will their predictions for future state pension contributions be more accurate than their predictions on UCPATH?

2.  There is no evidence that either the Governor or the Legislature asked that UC create an option for a stand-alone DC plan. Sacramento's concern had to do with the limits on the salary on which benefits could be accrued, which is consistent with its hostility to high levels of UC executive compensation.   The notion that there needs to be a stand-alone DC plan appears to have emerged from UCOP or from some other source within UC.  President Napolitano's justification for this proposal seems to be that it is what has happened in the private sector so it should happen at UC.  But we should recognize that the shift in the private sector occurred not because of widely accepted actuarial proof that DC plans are better for employees but because they enabled businesses to shift the cost of retirement onto retirees. There was nothing natural or inevitable about it. It was not driven by a desire to stabilize or improve retirement security for employees.   

In addition, you'll recall that the University engaged in a serious debate about this question only a few years ago and decided to retain its long-term commitment to a DB plan.  Rather than appointing a task force to determine the best way to implement this new plan UCOP should engage in an open discussion about whether or not this is actually better for employees. There has not been, to my knowledge, any reason to think that the relative benefits of DB vs DC plans has changed in the last few years.  If anything, the weight of the argument suggests that DC plans are worse for employees and may in fact be worse for employers.  DC plans raise the fees on accounts, force employees to assume greater risk, and tie individual retirement fate even more closely to the stock market.  From the vantage point of employers, DC plans increase fees and reduce incentives for employees to stay. There is also--despite assurances to the contrary from UCOP--the danger of ultimately undermining the the DB plan by leaving it an "orphan" plan--moving funds needed to sustain it over the long term into other more volatile directions.

3.  Nearly two years ago, Colleen Lye and James Vernon documented the decline in the quality of UC faculty salaries and benefits.   The 2014 Mercer Remuneration Study confirmed these findings (see slides 33-34 for a summary).  UCOP's acceptance of the state's pension limits and even more so its eagerness to move away from a commitment to a DB plan simply accelerate this decline.  Although I think that there are reasons to cap accrual salary in exchange for sufficient state-funding on an ongoing basis, this is not the deal that UCOP has achieved. And the policy drift towards the Defined Contribution plan is an entirely different matter.  UCOP seems to be removing the conditions that promote loyalty to the institution and seeking to encourage faculty to consider UC a way-station rather than a home.  It is the self-destructiveness of existing conventional wisdom at its most short-sighted.

The faculty, and the Senate as part of the faculty, needs to insist that the Task Force be empowered to decide--after wide-ranging discussion and employee consent--whether a DC plan is good for the university and employees.  It should not be limited to deciding how to implement such a plan. 

In other words, the Task Force needs to maximize the interests of future employees and not simply implement the practices of the private sector.

UPDATE:  Dan Mitchell has now written a new post that very helpfully lays out the problems with "orphan" pension plans.
Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 1

Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015
The Democratic candidates public college plans are more interesting than most coverage has implied (brief comparisons are here). They are all variations of "Debt-Free College" proposals, to use candidate Martin O'Malley's term, structured in part as federal bailouts of state universities.  They are grossly underfunded, but they establish new principles and could launch a new political struggle for public eduction reconstruction.

My suspicions thawed as I read through them. It's hard to work in the sector and not be excited that maybe the federal government will save public universities from their states.  It's equally hard not to be excited about real reductions of student costs and student debt, which have led to U.S. attainment declines, the unjustifiable burdening of Millennials, and other assorted evils.  More pressure to fix debt was added by a shocking St. Louis Fed report whose findings were summarized by the NYT coverage as "Racial Wealth Gap Persists Despite Degrees."  The headline should have been, "Racial Wealth Gap Increased by Getting Degrees."  Gaze at this figure for a while (from the original report--as already explained by Shapiro & Oliver twenty years ago):

College not only doesn't end racial stratification--it increases it.

So what are the chances of a fix? Bad for now, but better later.

The Obama Administration has been laying some groundwork: it just announced a revised "pay as you earn" (Repaye) plan, under which "Monthly loan payments for participants in the repayment program will be capped at 10 percent of their discretionary income. Any loan balance remaining after 20 years of payments will be forgiven."  This will lead to big cuts in monthly payments for lower-income graduates--from $333 to $61 in the NYT article's example as well as de facto loan forgiveness.

The big new campaign announcement was the New College Compact, Hillary Clinton's battleship of a college plan that is trying to swamp Bernie Sanders' College for All sailboat with sheer tonnage of items addressed.

Mrs. Clinton's plan involves mostly breaks in interest payments on student loans (one-third of her total).  Another chunk would go to an "innovation fund" for developing some non-college learning infrastructure and better information and enforcement of existing loan regulations (it's a hodge podge).  Half of her new funds would go to grants to state colleges to offset tuition reductions, coupled with unspecified new quid pro quos about tuition and cost reduction.  Her total is $350 billion over 10 years.

Bernie Sanders's plan is not so different, except it focuses less on cracking down on bad actors in the sector and has an annual total of $70 billion, or twice Mrs. Clinton's.  There aren't yet a lot of details to sweat, though clearly Mr. Sanders's figure is much closer to the price tag that would make free public college a reality.  Mr. O'Malley lacks details but has the most heartfelt rhetoric.

There are a few general issues worth mentioning.

First, the political center on public colleges has moved.  It has moved left, away from letting "market forces" continue to pile up student costs and student debt.  Free community college has been endorsed by the US President.  Free 4 year college is now on its heels.  In almost no time, politicians like Mr. O'Malley have started to write, "today, our kids aren't getting the same bargain that my dad did" as the new common sense.  Bob Samuels has pointed out that a couple of years ago his book Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free made him a "lone, crazy voice in the wilderness."  Now "free" is respectable as part of mainstream debate.

Second, we're witnessing not just a changing political balance but a paradigm shift. The Democratic college plans try to (1) lower debt payments by (2) reducing public college tuition so that less debt is incurred in the first place. They propose to do this by (3) giving federal money directly to state colleges to offset lost tuition income and (4) forcing state legislatures to stop cutting higher ed and even rebuild its funding. Jordan Weismann has a helpful summary of the new Democratic consensus.

This combination of elements is a very big deal. It would roll back our de facto federal voucher program for college students in which non-research federal money goes to students who turn it over to the school of their choice in the form of tuition.  Many or most states will fight this as they fought Obamacare, and for the same reason--expanding a public service they don't like with new federal money that requires a cost share from them.   There will be blood. But we have hit a milestone that might remind some people of the road to Medicare, which established the public-good principle for full health care coverage in retirement, which then made accomplishment the responsibility of public funding.

The third issue is that tuition increases for resident B.A. students are going to stay off the political table.  Of course in the short or even medium run, politicians won't actually replace tuition revenues with public funding increases. This is bad news for public U operating budgets, and this no doubt why short-termers at public universities are preemptively denouncing free tuition. It's good news to people like me who want to see the case for the public funding become politically cheaper by making the case for constant tuition increases politically more expensive.  The intellectual and ethical arguments for the public side are there, and now their political price is coming down.

Fourth, the senior managers who try to drift to the political center are going to miss it, since it has moved.  That is what has been happening in California, where Janet Napolitano thought tuition increases had a few more years of political life than they actually did.  Time's almost up for non-resident tuition increases--there's maybe a year or two more before a major backlash against selling UC flagship seats to non-residents while redirecting residents to the campuses they didn't want.  The new center is under active construction and it would be good for the heads of systems to be part of this, which they won't be if they spend their time fighting it.

Fifth, the Democrat's means won't achieve their alleged ends.  The candidates still propose no-new-taxes positions.  They want to pay for the biggest change in university policy in a couple of generations with marginal revenues: the reduction of rich folks' income tax deductions (Mrs. Clinton); a Tobin tax on financial transactions (Mr. Sanders). Both are good ideas for general policy reasons.  Neither offers either sufficient money to buy off the states or the deeper principle that would build public support.

That deeper principle is the public-good value of having a very large number of unindebted people with bachelors degrees.  A related principle is that the most efficient way to pay for a public good is with general taxes. You want to increase a public good's consumption (e.g., vaccinations), not ration it with a market price system or carve the revenues up with banks and other providers in an orgy of profit-taking.  Everyone can understand this public-good argument if US politicians actually make the argument.  The Democrats lost their momentum 40 years ago when they stopped making it, and they won't recover politically until they do--and they may end up giving it to a resurgent third party instead.

So what does this encouraging shift in national politics have to do with Phyllis Wise, the recently resigned-fired-not fired-resigned chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?  She emblemized old-school corporate management that will keep a federal fix away.

There has been plenty of coverage of the most recently turmoil in what has been a bad year for UI brass, culminating in Dr. Wise's resignation that became a firing that became a resignation again.  Corey Robin offers the definitive incredulous untangling of last week's events, in which Phyllis Wise resigned, had her resignation rejected by the Board so they could fire her, which led her to threaten them with further disclosure in an email that was followed by a second resignation letter, which this time was accepted. A sample of Prof. Robin's breakdown:
1. Salaita is hired but then is told, no, you’re not really hired, so that he can be fired. Wise is forced to resign, but then is told, no, you’re not really resigned, so that she can be fired. 
2. Wise complains that not only is she the victim of a university administration that puts politics above principles and reneges on its contracts with its employees—all true, by the way—but that such actions are also “unprecedented."
3. Suddenly, the UI Board of Trustees is concerned about contracts with its employees. . ..
Suffice to say that no chicken has ever come so accurately home to roost.

But the deeper problem is the overall practice of management revealed by the initial firing of Steven Salaita and the subsequent lawsuit, discovery, email publication, and initial court decision affirming most of the Salaita counts. When the Board found out about Steven Salaita's angry tweets about Israel's Gaza attack last summer, they became completely obsessed with one of the 120 people who were being appointed as professors in the UI system--an associate professor from Virginia Tech that had been hired into a program I doubt any of them had ever heard of before.  So there was the lack of an ability to maintain perspective, to set priorities, to decide what is important to the long-term health of the University and what is a side show.

Here we have a fiduciary body that is prone to impulsive politicization. Next, there's the will to intervention from above. The Board of Trustees translated a passionate conviction held by a small, powerful group into an overturning of an elaborately collaborative campus decision, in this case the hiring protocol that had been completed with an offer tended to Prof. Salaita and his acceptance of it.  In its move to dismiss his lawsuit, the University claimed that they had never entered into a valid contract with Prof. Salaita, so no abusive intervention was made. In his thorough rejection of this claim, Judge Leinenweber describes various kinds of language that could have made clear the contract was contingent on the board, none of which was used, and then notes that appointment power had been delegated to deans.  "If the deans had no authority to make any binding offers, the University would have been confused as to why 120 professors showed up to work when no one with actual authority had offered them a job" (19).

Similar judgments had been offered by a wide range of UIUC and other faculty a year ago, when the Board still had a chance to calm down and let the hire proceed. They ignored all of these.  This second problem is the Board digging into an oppositional relation toward its own university community and internal processes, and the third is the routine insistence that "no mistakes were made."

There's a further set of bad management practices revealed in Chancellor Wise's emails about Prof. Salaita.  There's the compulsive secrecy about the content and basis of deliberations and decisions, which are then routinely whitewashed in press releases.  This has become so common that we hardly notice it anymore, but it means that the larger community lacks the information that would allow it to come to an informed judgment, which is supposed to be the whole point of universities.  It also sinks executive groups into the epistemological blindness of their closed circle, which becomes inbred under pressure.

In the Salaita case, senior officials had agreed that he had in fact been hired, was joining the UIUC faculty, and should be subjected to an unpleasant tongue-lashing from Chancellor Wise when he arrived.  They sometime between 7:25 am and 1:55 pm on July 24, 2014, they undecided this and shifted to blocking an appointment they now claimed had never been made.  There seems to have been pressure from heavyweight donors that the UIUC administration failed to deflect--another management issue of a lack of independence towards outside interests that are increasingly plutocratic.

The decision must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it meant suppressing the history of the administration's view that he was hired, which they had held as recently as that morning.  It meant running with an unconvincing rationale for unhiring Prof. Salaita that subjected them to widespread scorn and the campus to a national boycott, and all for nothing, since their position has now been thrown out of court.  What had happened, to quote from another context, was that "the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy." The academic world sensed this at the time, but could not prove it, and it was endlessly denied in the administration's public relations campaign that has now been shown to be founded on a lie.  This has had very bad consequences for Steven Salaita, but also for the University of Illinois.  Complex organizations thrive or decline by trust and goodwill, which underwrite their powers of collaboration.

The Wise Affair may seem like an anomaly or a day at the office in the rough and tumble of state politics.  So Dr. Wise was trading Steven Salaita for Board chair Christopher Kennedy's support for her College of Medicine proposal, in John K. Wilson's valuable reading of the email record: what did you expect?

My point is that we have to expect much better.  We have to build better academic governance at the state level or the federal bailout will either never happen, or never work.  To do this, we'll have to face the fact that the CEO model has failed for universities: to invoke Thorstein Veblen's critique of business reason, the CEO must above all make the sale, and making the sale often requires hiding the truth.

You may think public universities have been muddling through pretty well with this marketing approach most of the time.  I'm sorry to say that you would be wrong.  Exhibit A is a quarter-century of declining public funding. Exhibit B is a long list of administrative sins that legislatures trot out to refuse meaningful restorations.  Nothing is more likely to block federal solutions than state government's deep distrust of senior university leaders.

University of Illinois folk have made good reform suggestions (eg. Kirstin Wilcox, Michael Rothberg, Martin F. Manalansan IV and Ellen Moodie), all of which involve something we thought we had-- an open university, freestyle discussion, and bottom-up forms of planning. These moves towards active governance by faculty and staff are as important as the public funding policy changes.  We won't get close even to the funding reforms of Hillary Clinton's unless we can get past the management model of Phyllis Wise.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 7

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday, August 7, 2015
At his blog mainly macro, the economist Simon Wren-Lewis comments on how the Labour party members who like Jeremy Corbyn (at left) for his anti-austerity policies have been misdescribed as radical: "Talk to some, and being anti-austerity has become synonymous with being well to the left. Of course in reality it is just textbook macroeconomics, . . . [and in]  2009 . . . the need for fiscal stimulus rather than deficit reduction was the position advocated by a centre/left Labour party in the UK, and the Democrats in the US. It cannot be surprising, therefore, that among a relatively well informed electorate that is the Labour party membership an anti-austerity position is still seen as a sensible policy."

The explanation for mislabeling "sensible" as radical, Prof. Wren-Lewis writes, is that while most of the Labour base stayed where it was, the Very Serious People in Labour have moved to the right, in the direction of austerity.

Something similar happened long ago in public universities in North America.  Senior managers and governing boards adopted a view that had previously been confined to conservative think tanks and political subcultures, which was that voters now saw a bachelor's degree as a private good, meaning that "the era of public funding was over."  This view became VSP common sense, and public funding has never recovered.  The two halves of that last sentence are related. There isn't a simple linear causal link between assuming austerity and receiving it, but the belief facilitates the practice.  VSP and voter preferences diverge, as Larry M. Bartels has shown, and austerity politics are more popular with the former.

For those late to the party, I'll retell a UC example.  In the spring of 2007, an aide to the Board of Regents chair gave me a friendly hallway lecture at a UC Board of Regents meeting on the end of public funding just after I'd spoken on the need to rebuild public funding. This was a year and a half before the 2008 crisis hit, so the austerity paradigm was not tied to economic conditions.  Austerity was also not tied to financial rationality: UC's budget was still in trouble from the 2002-05 cuts, as I had just been explaining on behalf of the Academic Senate, and it has not re-stabilized since.  But the austerity paradigm was tied to many kinds of regental convenience, starting with its use as an excuse for political passivity.  The aide was using the "end of public funding" to tell me why the Board would ignore the Senate's formal recommendation that they request a funding increment that would get UC back on its 2000-01 funding track.  

don't enjoy recalling this story, but I sometimes do because it was the moment I belatedly realized that our post-public, austerity-UC was the operating assumption within the University leadership itself.

We know what happened next. After 2008, this paradigm has made it easier for governors and legislatures to cut and not restore, since it established a "new normal" that defined down the limits of reasonable budget requests.  The results have been predictable.  A recent report concluded that "forty-seven states — all except Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming — are spending less per student in the 2014-15 school year than they did at the start of the recession."  

It's worth noting that the mechanism that entrenched austerity at public universities was similar to Prof. Wren-Lewis's description of Labour party shift. We had a widely accepted if rarely argued notion that universities mostly produce public benefits with a high non-market value (public knowledge through research, complex intellectual development through mass quality instruction, deep learning for good jobs). This implied the need for strong public funding and low private costs, meaning no or low tuition. This was the "sensible" position that was still out there as austerity was digging in.  But the end-of-public-funding folks did not stage debates where people could show up. There were no venues for defending the public good position and opposing the others, no time and energy to discover and fight what Foucault called the micropolitics that transform institutions and governance itself.  One day voters woke up to find that their common sense has become oppositional or even radical not because general opinions changed but because the leadership consensus drifted right.  

So the question then and now was, how should regular citizens and employees respond?  Permanent austerity's many tangible effects continue to unfold. Some are hard to measure, like reductions in grad and undergrad educational quality.   Some are easy to measure, like the reductions in the value of employee pension and health benefits that we've seen at UC and elsewhere. These effects are controlled by the VSP austerity paradigm against which all "saltwater" economists rail, to no avail.

Long ago, Albert O. Hirschman outlined canonical responses to situations like this.

1. Loyalty.  This means accepting the new normal as normal and getting on with things--writing the grants, grading the papers, reviewing the files etc. in familiar competent ways.  In the short term this keeps things going, so it works if the problem is temporary. If it's not a temporary problem, loyalty makes the problem worse by failing to search for a solution and sometimes obstructing or marginalizing those who do.

2. Exit.  Employees quit the organization or a specific unit. They can modify this to "neglect," in which they stay in place but minimize their contribution to an organization they no longer like or feel at home in.  Exit can provide lots of information about conditions at a university.  The examples that receive press coverage are usually departures of large STEM labs (from UCSD to Rice in 2011, from UCLA to USC in 2013, from UCSD to USC this year, in a case that has already been in court).  One of the PIs who went to Rice said that their group was fleeing the effects of the "support gap" between public and private universities around the country.  This resource gap is a critical problem that is already affecting the role of public research universities in the country's science ecosystem (I go into some detail here).  Someone whose work is endangered by such shortfalls will look to see whether senior managers are addressing the problem directly, and have any hope of solving it. If they don't see these things, they are more likely to leave.

3. Lawsuits.  Albert Hirschman didn't name this, but Jerry Brown has. It works for individual remedies but not so much for collective ones.

4. Voice.  This covers a whole range of efforts to fix the larger system, from departmental retreats to faculty blogging to committee and commission service to regents' meeting protests and much much more.   Within voice we can identify a few major styles.

One is politicization, as when people try to discredit school "reform" by tracing it to anti-union ideologies and to money provided by foundations or people who are anti-union; or UC Regents' austerity policies by tracing them to their largely plutocratic status.  Whatever one thinks of it, this mode is hard to use in the situation we're in now, which has been nicely described by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson as policy drift.

Policy drift has some basic features.  It is marked by a new normal that was not openly debated before it was announced as true or irreversible or both.  Second, the new normal is established by a series of small, technical, and/or disguised compromises that are driven by one party and supported by the opposition party.  In the case of tax and service cuts, the Democrats have served as the enabling opposition: they don't share the theory (public services hurt prosperity) but they co-author the practice (austerity).

Third, the post-facto debate that is triggered by the general discovery of a new normal like austerity, which most affected people don't actually want,  is confined or neutralized by the bipartisan consensus that produced it.  When Democratic regents are as convinced as Republicans that the era of public funding is over, discussion of a reversal will not get beyond the complaining stage.

Similarly, it's hard to have an open discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of UC privatization when the mere use of the term is opposed by senior university officials who are progressive Democrats.  Drift brings endless lamentation and "tough choices" that don't fix anything, but it can't be stopped by logic and evidence.

Another example is the tenure issue I've been writing about (Inside Higher Ed and Remaking): there was no popular shift in the land away from "just cause" employment--the core principle of tenure--and toward at-will firing. The shift took place among decision-makers in a wide range of sectors across the country for various economic and political reasons.  And yet the bipartisan forms of support for academic tenure make it harder to make the more general case for just-cause employment that would solidify public support. The default situation is that at-will firing will remain the norm, and academic tenure will stay an endangered exception.

Yet another example of policy drift: defined benefit (DB) pensions used to be seen as a sensible provision for low-cost retirement security.  Then decades of counter argumentation--brought to us by the financial services industry, market economists, and pension raiders--redefined DB pensions as an expensive luxury that employees didn't deserve.  Most people didn't change their minds about the enormous value of a safe retirement, or embrace philosophical critiques of DB pensions as the best means to that end. They succumbed to get-rich stories, various financial incentives, and a general sense of inevitability created by a long series of technical compromises.

The University of California still has a DB pension.  In the midst of the Great Recession, the Academic Senate and the UC Commission on the Future reaffirmed its efficiency for employees and its value to the University (in attracting and retaining top faculty and staff, and in encouraging a large, unquantifiable loyalty effort from them). But recently President Napolitano has been bargaining bits of it away--there will be a cap on accrual, and now she has defined as inevitable a non-DB tier for new employees.  The latter apparently came not from the state (which does want the salary cap) but from UCOP.  An indirect explanation appeared in a newspaper.
“This is where the pension world is moving, and for public institutions, it makes a lot of sense,” Napolitano told The Sacramento Bee editorial board in May. “It’s much more portable, so for many people that will be an attraction. There are lots of gives and takes in all of this.”
This is indeed "where the pension world is moving"--for the VSPs who control pension policy. It is not where the pension world is moving when that includes the people who pay into pensions.  People didn't change their mind about the value of DB pensions and demand a new portability even with a lower and less-secure benefit.  But some VSPs did.  The pension world that includes financial analysts now also worries about a Baby Boomer retirement crisis, and some of them are calling for a return to formula-based pension pools.   But the absence of an inclusive, evidence-based discussion before the decision is allowing UCOP to restructure UC employee retirement and health benefits slowly, boiling-frog style.  (I understand that UC unions are opposing the new DC tier, as are the Faculty Associations.  Where is the Academic Senate?)

My point here is that policy drift is great at keeping an opposition from forming. It is better at this than open ideological warfare.  The upshot is that academic "voice" strategies have to adapt themselves to policy drift. To wit, voice will need to:

(A) Show how a particular policy is the product of drift, meaning that it is neither necessary nor intellectually coherent nor inherently stable (its maintenance requires lots of effort and money).

(B) Show how the policy drift detracts from working life and overall well-being. People won't get involved in organizational redesign unless it will make a difference to their working lives.

(C) Accept the enormous amount of effort required to dislodge a "drift" consensus.   For example, the education economist Walter McMahon has confronted the private-good drift by writing a fantastically detailed four-hundred page book to show that private market benefits are a fraction (at most one-third) of the total, most of which is non-market and/or public benefit, such that the current market framework will cause society to underinvest in universities.  Of course the book wasn't enough to break the paradigm.  The media's reduction of a B.A.'s value to lifetime wage increments continues without a break, which means that many more people need to give Prof. McMahon a hand.

(D) Address the consensus on the basis of professional ethics and expertise. A familiar example is Paul Krugman: his column today says the Republicans "can't be serious," not because they are conservative but because they have stuck themselves with "crank economics, crank science, crank foreign policy."  Prof. Krugman writes as though politics must be intelligent and that it is his professional obligation to hold it to standards of argument and evidence. He's right.  Faculty and staff should do the same in relation to institutional policy. The founding principles are fundamental: the right to professional self-definition; the obligation to articulate the ethics of one's professional practice; the obligation to act on them.

 (E) Create a counter narrative, an alternative paradigm. In the absence of clear framing principles, continuously advanced, debated, and rearticulated by faculty and staff, the senior managers  of any organization will naturally respond to the demands of powerful actors inside and outside the institution.  Governor Brown, various party leaders, influential business people, the most senior faculty et al. always outweigh the assembled faculty and staff--unless there is a strong culture or guiding ethos as critical theorist Amanda Anderson uses the term.   The silence of the faculty means the politicization of the administration.  Only an articulated ethos can hold the parts together.

(F) Build what the artist Céline Condorelli calls a support structure for building these counter narratives.  Departments or Senates or unions could sponsor working groups focused on addressing specific problems created by drift.  A better idea would be free-standing centers not tied to existing units.  Professors Ann Bermingham and Catherine Cole hosted a "charette" that brought faculty, administrators, and senate leaders together for several days.  It was a strong start on a process that needs to happen regularly over time to build trust, common terms, have long drawn-out fights, and evolve new ideas into systems and practices.

Another example: the education anthropologist Susan Wright once got a large grant to fund a UK research center (the Centre for Sociology, Anthropology, and Politics) whose "approach [was] to try and create 'space' for staff and students, in the midst of fast-moving changes in Higher Education, to reflect on their own values, aspiration and practices, and determine their own agendas for developing their learning and teaching." The center re-granted to groups to set up discussion and decision processes. The goal--this is me projecting a bit--was to take the values, expectations, and practices of particular groups and articulate them into an ethos.   Such a project has to be bottom-up: the UC Commission on the Future didn't change the paradigm as it had hoped because it was top-down and therefore intellectually narrow.

I realize what a hassle this sounds like.  I too had always wanted a job where there wouldn't be too many meetings.  But the alternative to having open, long form debates and getting our everyday practices into full public view is what we have now: unending policy drift.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article25517704.html#storylink=cpy
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 5

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday, July 28, 2015
I'm tired of band-aids on university policy problems that never heal the underlying wounds, so I asked that we faculty do some new things in a piece that appeared in Inside Higher Ed last week.  Called "Time for a New Strategy," it argues that defenses of tenure and academic freedom will increasingly fail, as they did in Wisconsin this year, unless we call for the same protections for all employees.

The big advantage, I argue there, would be that we faculty would no longer base our claim to academic freedom on an exceptional status that most of the public doesn't accept. Another advantage would be that we would no longer have to rely on our university boards and executives to protect us, which is also not working well.  A third advantage would be that we could broaden our claims to public benefits beyond the competitive excellence that we generally mention first as tenure's product.

For a crib on all this, the Wisconsin-Madison School Education does a better job of excerpting it than I just did.  And I wrote a headnote to a link for the Universities in the Knowledge Economy (UNIKE) project of which I'm a part.  Do have a look at the piece if you have time. I was surprised that none of the IHE comments called it unrealistic, pretentious, impossible, overblown, or anti-excellence, so maybe I can drum up some of that kind of criticism a little closer to home . . .

Faculty Talking in Public: the case of Sara Goldrick-Rab

I know that direct public engagement won't always be easy or pleasant for faculty--but not for the reasons we may think.  Wisconsin provided another example this month with the backlash against the higher education sociologist Sara Goldrick-Rab's effort to contact incoming undergrads with information about the legislature's changes to the Madison campus where they were arriving.  In May, she saw some high school grads tweet pictures of themselves as happy #FutureBadgers, then contacted them with links to articles about budget cuts and the striking of tenure protections and shared governance from state law. "I hate to bring bad news but" began the first of these, with a link to a Wall Street Journal piece. As Angus Johnston's excellent overview at Student Activism explained,
Some of the students responded to her tweet, she responded to some of their responses — tweeting that she thought they should know about the recent events at UW because she assumed they would want “a degree of value” and she didn’t “want students 2 waste their $.” 
And that was it. The whole thing amounted to about a dozen tweets over the course of a little over an hour late one Sunday night, with pretty much nobody watching.
But one of the students contacted a member of the Madison campus College Republicans with the claim that Prof. Goldrick-Rab had harassed them, someone reviewed her abundant twitter feed and found a tweet comparing conservative Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to Hitler, which broke unwritten rule number 1 of the twitterverse ("never compare anyone to Hitler--not even Hitler"), and before you knew it there was a tell-all exposé in the College Fix that began like this:
Shocking new allegations emerged Wednesday against the University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who tweeted that Scott Walker and Adolf Hitler share “terrifying” similarities. 
The University of Wisconsin Madison College Republicans put out a press release alleging that sociology Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab also tweeted at incoming freshmen who support Scott Walker, antagonizing them about the Republican governor’s budget cuts to the University of Wisconsin system. 
“The College Republicans of UW-Madison call on the University of Wisconsin-Madison to address the harassment of these future Badgers on Twitter who were doing nothing but showing their excitement for attending this university,” the group’s chairman, Anthony Birch, stated on its Facebook page. “Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab: We find the way you have approached the dialogue around the intersection of politics and our university’s future disgusting and repulsive.”
Nothing surprising here: everyone is reading their assigned lines, the appointed roles are being played, and a good time is being had by all--except for Prof. Goldrick-Rab, who picked up some nasty tweets calling for her to be fired.   This is of course the kind of thing that prompts everyone to wield academic freedom like a police shield against the crowd calling for the democratic removal of an annoying professor.

So naturally the professor could count on her university to stick up for her right to send higher ed public policy information to the public, which includes incoming students, whom she'd found via public tweets.  Not.  After their meeting on July 20th, the Faculty Senate's executive body, the University Committee, released a statement (now removed from the agenda page) stating that Prof. Goldrick-Rab was a courageous defender of the shared governance that the Committee was charged to uphold and that had been so seriously weakened by recent legislation: “While claiming to stand for academic freedom, . . .[she] has in fact damaged that principle and our institution with inaccurate statements and misrepresentations.”

The committee members gave no examples and offered no evidence, but must have been censuring her claims that quality was damaged by budget cuts.   For they wrote, "we are deeply dismayed with the actions Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab has taken toward students and faculty on Twitter in recent weeks to discourage them from coming here."  The Committee, apparently lacking a member with expertise in academic freedom or higher education policy, seemed to assume that academic freedom should be limited by the needs of brand loyalty.  You can be a nationally-renowned expert on higher ed policy, as Prof. Goldrick-Rab is, but may not claim that the state's attacks on budgetary stability, tenure, and shared governance are hurting the quality of UW-Madison.

You might think I overstate, but when is the last time the UW-Madison University Committee issued a public admonishment of an individual faculty member?  Badger brand was clearly also on the students mind: "It's not a waste [of $] if you're going to Madison," a student replied to Prof. Goldrick-Rab.  (She answered back plaintively: "University is changing as we speak. Maybe look at info?")

The University Committee felt no apparent concern about Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank's claim  (as reported by Scott Jaschik) that the University had not been changed at all:
I feel compelled to respond to those who may question whether the University of Wisconsin-Madison is still a great place to learn and to teach. The answer is a resounding yes -- and I know that because I hear it daily from students, faculty members and staff as well as alumni, donors and friends. Any institution has its critics, and especially in social media, it’s important to remember that the loudest voice usually isn’t the most accurate. The Badger community is strong and continues to stand for excellence in education, in research and in community outreach.
As Joan Rivers would have said, "Can we talk?" Yes it's true--everybody's great.  The faculty are great, the staff are great, the students are great, the alumni are great--all just as great after the state budget was passed as they were before.  That's not the point.  The point is that the institutional infrastructure is less great, and the governance relations are less great, the job protections are less great, the resources that protect class size, professor interaction, individual feedback, and student learning are less great, and the institutional funding to support extramural grants are less great.   The point is that Wisconsin politicians made the UW System less great while denying their actions were doing that--and the Madison chancellor agrees that after budget cuts and tenure termination nothing is less great!  So does Ray Cross, UW System president, who in the aftermath actually thanked "legislators for their collaborative spirit and willingness to continue an important dialogue."  No harm done by cuts or deleted tenure! Ray heart WI leg!  There was no "dialogue" at all--or was there? And in the midst of this, the University Committee targets one of the small number of faculty voices that is independent of the legislative-administrative consensus that UW is as-great-with-less, and goes after her.

UC Faculty and the UC Budget

The practical consequence of this management by marketing is that it aborts public awareness of the need for public funding, tenure, and shared governance before it can be born.  This blog has often commented on the California version of the capitulation that undermines the university's public claim while demobilizing supporters (Mark Yudof was our great master).   It works in the fog of public relations that has replaced honest and open discussion within universities of real problems and of how to fix them.  Senior management's publicity culture forces candid assessments into a position of oppositionality (what Chancellor Blank calls "the loudest voice [that] usually isn't the most accurate").

Failed strategies persist through an imbalance of power that is partly organizational (administrators have decision rights and access to information that faculty, staff, and students do not).  Failed strategies also persist through a lack of accountability for disastrous results at the executive levels of academia, business, and government alike.  The consensus dogma that "the era of public funding is over" has guided university leadership for the better part of a generation, and it has conspired to suppress public funding. We have seen this for years in California, and it is happening now in Wisconsin. Same playbook. Same failure.  Same chin up carrying on irrespectively.

The UC Regents meeting last week offered another case in point. This spring and summer this blog offered a series of posts on what the state budget actually does to UC finances this coming year (Chris, Joe, Michael, Joe).  Were you to compare these analyses to the July Regents' Committee on Finance 2015-2016 budget document, you would find that this document paints an incomplete picture.  It omits the past history of Board of Regents budget requests, admits no downside, declares victory, and concludes as follows:
By adopting the provisions of the funding framework agreed to by the Governor and the University, the budget approved by the Legislature puts UC in a strong financial position that provides the University with predictable and stable support for the next four years and offers students and their families the certainty to confidently budget for the costs of a UC education. This outcome resulted from the spirited debate over appropriate funding levels for higher education in California sparked in large part by the plan adopted by the Board in November.  The University has come a long way since then, a result that should be welcome by all University stakeholders. (6)
Cue romantic music, like at the end of The Player.  The University has no funding problems, the funding gaps don't exist, the Committee of Two (President Napolitano and Governor Brown) was in fact a state-wide spirited debate, and everyone is in love and having babies who can all afford UC.  This is the official story presented to the Board that has formal fiduciary responsibility for the long-term health of the University.

Some of the missing pieces of the picture appeared in a statement from the co-chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, English Professor Celeste Langan.  Among other things, she noted that the above document
misleadingly claims that the final budget “incorporates the funding framework developed by UC and the Governor.” If you’ll recall, the “framework” of the May Revise proposed that the state make a contribution of $436 million toward the unfunded liability of the UC Retirement Plan.  The final budget, however, promises only a “one-time payment” of $96 million; there is nothing in the budget that commits the state to two additional payments of $170 million.
Prof. Langan also noted that the legislature did not require the addition of a defined-contribution pension tier but that UCOP is advancing that idea anyway, for unknown reasons of its own.  She added a critique of strategy:  "The Council of UC Faculty Associations is opposed to the University making permanent changes in the structure of its retirement plan in exchange for a very modest one-time contribution from the State."

This presentation brought faculty "stakeholders" to the table and offered information that was missing or even misstated in the official documents.  And yet it was jammed into a 2-minute slot during the public comment period hours before the Committee on Finance meeting, and was cut off halfway through.  In this context, the faculty speaker who takes shared governance seriously, carefully analyzed the documents, and represents a faculty organization is rabble-ized by the governance format, the content is made oppositional, the consensus sails on without a scratch, and failures persist without being processed or having their tactics corrected.

The Function of Very Serious People

For years I've been noting the frustration and disappointment that many faculty and staff feel with the low standard of argument and debate in university affairs--with the secrecy, the withheld information, the exclusion of working faculty and professional staff, the closed circles of discussion, and the strategies that don't work but that are used again and again. It has reminded me of the impatience, disbelief, and occasional anger I started to see in Paul Krugman's columns around the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003, and that resurfaced with a renewed intensity in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, where he watched already-refuted dogmas prevail regardless of their results.  Prof. Krugman started to refer to the people who could impose failed strategies again and again as Very Serious People whose status and influence made them immune from criticism, even when it came from the lofty pay grade of a Nobel prize winner like him.

Prof. Krugman is disturbed all over again by the application of failed austerity dogma to Greece, and recently linked to a Henry Farrell post at Crooked Timber that defines the VSP.
People whose beliefs are reinforced and widely circulated so that they are socially and politically influential, even when they are manifestly wrong, are Very Serious People. The system provides them with no incentives to admit error or perhaps to understand that they have erred, even when their mistakes have devastating consequences.
Prof. Farrell adds, "the problem with VSPs is not that they are biased (we all are) – it’s that the systems around them magnify that bias, reinforce it, and reflect it, creating the risk of vicious feedback loops of self-satisfied yet consequential ignorance (as in the Iraq war)."  He contrasts VSP syndrome with democracy, which has an epistemological advantage:
it harnesses mulishness and rancorous dispute, to reveal the information that is latent in the disagreements between our various perspectives on the world (which are inextricably intertwined with our value judgments). However, when certain people’s perspectives are privileged, the value of democracy is weakened. Their perspectives will continue to prevail, even when they are wrong. Weak arguments that they make will be treated as strong ones, while strong arguments made by their opponents will be treated as weak ones.
There's further interesting material there, but you see the connection.  Public universities also have a serious VSP problem. It  fuels our intellectual crisis of purpose and blocks good communication with the public.

We faculty have saved ourselves enormous time and effort by letting our own VSPs run the operation inside and out. But we can't afford this anymore.  We're going to have to practice open public argumentation instead, as I was trying to say in IHE.  What I mean is that we can't have academic freedom without organizational democracy.  Academic freedom's current decline is good proof of that.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 4

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thursday, July 16, 2015
By Jennifer Ruth, Portland State University
Tenure is what makes shared governance real and shared governance is one of the primary reasons faculty need tenure so it’s no surprise that the University of Wisconsin System Omnibus Motion” explicitly guts shared governance while going after tenure: “Delete current law specifying that the faculty of each institution be vested with responsibility for the immediate governance of such institution and actively participate in institutional policy development.” Governor Walker’s target audience is not the higher education community: it is the Republican Party. In Locus of Authority: The Evolution of Faculty Roles in the Governance of Higher Education (2015), William Bowen and Eugene Tobin—two men with long careers in higher education—want much the same thing as Walker but since we (people involved with higher education in one way or another) are their audience, they’ve worded their arguments a little differently. Indeed, one might read their book and, along with Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed, conclude that it “offers neither a wholly faculty- nor administration-driven perspective [but rather] seeks to deliver a friendly but urgent message about the importance of shared decision-making to higher education's future.” However, this would be a serious misreading.

Bowen and Tobin argue that universities must rewrite their rules so as to meet the demands of the twenty-first century. If they intend to reclaim their role as “engines of mobility,” institutions of higher education need to feature strong leadership at the presidential level, to use technology aggressively, and to implement what they call a “professional teaching staff.” About this last, they write:

“There is, in our view, an important opportunity at this particular stage in the evolution of faculty roles for new thinking about structures. The benefits of new thinking could be substantial. . . . Universities would be well-advised to acknowledge (as some already are) that full-time faculty have been filling essential teaching roles for many years, and to move expeditiously to consider creating analogous ‘professional teaching staff’ structures. Tenure-track faculty should cooperate with such efforts and not simply bemoan reductions in their relative numbers. There is surely a place in academia, and it should be a respected place, for talented individuals who do not aspire to publish the truly distinguished work of scholarship that would make them top candidates for a tenured position...” (161)

Eligibility for tenure is not part of the deal: “We do not think the conferring of tenure is necessary or desirable for professional teaching staff, given institutional needs to preserve staffing flexibility.” (163) Note that they invoke “flexibility” only moments after citing the long-term (“many years”) and “essential” reality of current teaching faculty. 

Bowen and Tobin do not acknowledge the importance of job security for the exercise of academic freedom. Instead, they claim that faculty on fixed appointments can enjoy what they repeatedly refer to as “basic” academic freedom. The teaching staff should have, they write, “some basic organizational protections for the core elements of academic freedom.” (163) (It is telling and related that they never use the word “professor”—just “teachers” or “staff.”) Buried in the middle of the book is this: “Core values of academic freedom should not be tied too tightly or too narrowly to tenure-track or tenured faculty." (164)  Tenure does not make good on the promise of academic freedom; rather, it is a recruitment tool and reward, applicable only to the “truly distinguished.” In short, it is a status symbol.

Bowen and Tobin do not explain how their position on the undesirability of tenure for teaching relates to their position on shared governance. But we can figure it out by recalling that much earlier in the book they pointed out that the erosion of tenure has weakened the collective faculty’s power with administration. The fewer the number of tenure-track positions at an institution, the weaker its shared governance. By explicitly discouraging tenure for teaching, and telling tenure-track faculty not to “bemoan” their shrinking numbers, while simultaneously explaining that faculty’s role in shared governance has declined with tenure’s decline, they come down on the side of “strong leadership” not “shared decision-making.” Whereas “academic freedom” is airy and immaterial in this book, “shared governance” is just doublespeak. 

The locus of authority for The Locus of Authority is top administrators and their Boards while faculty authority is restricted to curricular matters narrowly defined; delivery methods, encompassing online development, are not faculty purview, for example. They add that one “critical” reason why faculty should be denied substantial influence in governance is that they have “a conflict of interest.” (151) Viewing tenure as a status symbol, they appear to willfully disregard its original rationale as developed by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP): the provision of a high degree of job security so that faculty can negotiate difficult matters with relative objectivity.

Bowen and Tobin take great pleasure in comparing and contrasting the leadership styles of various University presidents but their digressions about specific individuals should not distract readers from their overarching point: strong presidents who consult with faculty render shared governance unnecessary. Strong presidents are bosses – smart, charismatic, persuasive bosses but bosses. For them, this is a good thing, because shared governance is in fact the major obstacle preventing institutions from responding effectively to the challenges of the 21st century.

It’s not hard to connect the dots. A professional teaching staff “solves” the problem of a toxic labor system by legitimating faculty through regularized contracts and inclusion in governance. Inclusion in governance of non-tenure track faculty, in turn, “solves” the problems they perceive with shared governance by ensuring that the majority of faculty are not peers empowered to deliberate upon the university’s interests as a whole but are managed employees.

Since the American Association of University Professors issued its 2012 report The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appointments, the idea that the majority of faculty participating in governance might be doing so without tenure has become increasingly accepted. Should the unlikely bedfellows created here --AAUP activists wanting justice for NTT faculty on the one hand, administrators wanting less interference from faculty on the other—give us pause?

As more and more non-tenure track faculty are involved in service and governance at various institutions, a new story is taking shape—that of a seemingly egalitarian world exposed as a cut-throat workplace under the strain of budgetary crises or hiring disagreements. In places where off-track faculty are involved in service and governance, equality has not somehow reigned but rather a pretense of equality that papered over a Glengarry Glen Ross reality.

Take a 2009 Academe article entitled The Unhappy Experience of Contingent Faculty.The anonymous author describes life at his or her university before and then after the 2008 recession:

“Working across disciplines in teams, the faculty appears cohesive, with little distinction made between those on and off the tenure track. In fact, NTT faculty serve on annual merit committees with tenured faculty and the same criteria used to assess the performance of the nontenured are applied to the tenured. In other words the college seems to run in a fairly egalitarian manner. In the 2008-2009 academic year, however, this egalitarian approach changed.” 

She or he describes an ugly post-recession world of secret ballots distributed only to tenure-track faculty, reductions of positions made for financial reasons passed off as curricular modifications, and the replacement of “Professor” titles with the term “lecturer,” etc.

The anonymous writer ends the piece by recommending that universities “treat [NTT faculty] with the same respect as tenure-track faculty” and that they be given “a voice in governance.” But this is what she or he argued they in fact already had before 2008-9. The next recommendation seems more to the point: “Administrations should review cuts to such faculty positions with the same due consideration they would give to tenure-track positions.” Is it realistic, though, to ask administrators to treat two groups of workers with different contractual status the same? Could they legally do so if they wanted to? The more logical conclusion for the writer to draw from his or her experience is that real equality means equal eligibility for tenure.

Like Bowen and Tobin, Michael Bérubé and I also argue that universities that turned to off-track faculty with higher teaching loads after 1970 must now legitimate these faculty. We contend, however, that the only way to do so honestly is through the tenure system. For shared governance to survive as the defining feature of the American university, the majority of non-tenure track teaching-intensive positions must become tenure-eligible.  The difference between a university in which the majority of faculty are tenure-eligible and one without tenure (or one in which tenure is reserved for a research-focused minority) is not the difference between one model of higher education and another.  It is the difference between an institution with academic freedom and one without it.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 12