by Teri Yamada
I want to talk to you today about narratives of the education apocalypse, about eschatology and mythology and MOOCs and millennialism, and I do so not just as a keen observer of education technology but as someone trained as a folklorist. As much as being an ed-tech writer compels me to pay attention to the latest products and policies and venture capital investment, I am fascinated by the stories we tell about all of this. I am fascinated by what I see as some of the dominant end-times myths of the business world, of the tech industry. I am fascinated by how these myths — these sacred stories — are deployed to talk about the end of the world —or at least “the end of the university as we know it,” as Techcrunch puts it with the fervor of a true believer. Audrey Watters (7 Nov. 2013 from “The Education Apocalypse )
Those vested in the status quo lash out with political and personal attacks. They hatch conspiracy theories about plots to destroy public education. They do everything but confront the reality that the system they are defending has failed….If we don’t completely transform education, we are defaulting on the American Dream. Jeb Bush (Education Reform Address to the American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC], Aug. 09, 2013)
Those of us who have lived abroad, specifically in Asia, come to appreciate the American Dream enchantment that enraptures many of our friends there. (1) Although its dreamy edges are fraying, “America” in Asia is still imagined as a near magical realm, a place where dreams come true and anything is possible. Historically, America has provided some valuable cultural space for certain makeovers (and snake oil salesmen), as Mark Twain notes, and before him, Alexis de Toqueville.
But this cultural space, allowing for upward mobility, has dramatically changed. Now “Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe” (New York Times). In 2013 we have a huge inequality gap that Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and professor of economics at Columbia University, warned against in “The Price of Inequality”
It is not uncontrollable technological and social change that has produced a two-tier society, Stiglitz argues, but the exercise of political power by moneyed interests over legislative and regulatory processes. “While there may be underlying economic forces at play,” he writes, “politics have shaped the market, and shaped it in ways that advantage the top at the expense of the rest.” …. In short, those with power use it to insulate themselves from competitive forces by winning favorable tax treatment, government–protected market share and other forms of what economists call “rent seeking” (New York Times).
The current political focus on a higher ed makeover keeps concerned academics busy defending their disciplines rather than using their considerable talent to solve policy problems. Demeaning higher ed has become a rhetorical device in a dysfunctional political environment, reinforcing the current structural economic problems. Blaming the academy for its inability to prepare students for many jobs that don’t exist deflects public attention from the real problem that must be addressed—economic power that influences news media and politics: “The importance of Stiglitz’s contribution (and that of other dissidents) to the public debate cannot be overestimated. The news media and the Congress are ill-equipped to address the role of economic power in shaping policy. Both institutions are, in fact, unaware of the extent to which they themselves are subject to the influence of money” (New York Times).
Enter the brilliant and charismatic Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity, a useful distraction ushering in the Year of the MOOC (2012) makeover. From a free, open-source connectivist model developed by Canadians George Siemens and Phil Hill, Thrun and Coursera’s Daphne Koller, among others, made over the concept with a promise of commodification that attracted venture capital. Thrun and California Governor Jerry Brown connected to mutually embrace MOOCs as a transformative power in the makeover of California’s pubic higher education system, framed as resisting the solutions online education could offer. This makeover was announced in a Los Angeles press conference —Re-Booting California Higher Education—framed as a discussion about 21st century skills on January 14, 2013 (edSurge) . The President of San Jose State University, Mohammad Qayoumi, announced pilot programs with both Udacity and edX, neglecting to consult the faculty. (2)
See also Jeffrey R. Young’s ebook, Beyond the MOOC Hype: A Guide to Higher Education’s High-Tech Disruption (2013)
MOOCs went viral. Just a handful of politicians, university presidents or university board members, who quickly embraced the concept of MOOCs mostly without research or debate, became media darlings. “By early 2013, nearly every major institution of higher learning–from the University of Colorado to the University of Copenhagen, Wesleyan to West Virginia University–will be offering a course through one of these platforms” (fastcompany). Paradoxically, a Chronicle of Higher Ed survey during the summer of 2013 indicates only 8% of faculty and 5% of college presidents believe that MOOCs’ will have a potential positive impact on future higher education in America. (3)
Thrun’s current re-makeover is attributed to the failed San Jose State pilot project. He states: “We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product …. It was a painful moment” (UV Letters). This new Udacity makeover transforms their MOOC courses into a more conventional online learning commodity. It will be, Thrun admits, “‘the biggest shift in the history of the company,’ a pivot that involves charging money for classes and abandoning academic disciplines in favor of more vocational-focused learning…. ‘We changed the equation and put people on the ground.’ By adding mentors and a help line, and making phone calls to remind students to do their work…” (UV Letters).
So how are we informed by this tale of transformation? What does it say about us and American culture: the rush to embrace the illusive quick fix in Makeover Nation? Does our fixation on power, brilliance and wealth as ‘value’ cloud our judgement? Compare Thrun to Jeb Bush, yet another education makeover expert. Claiming policy success as Florida’s governor due to the state’s improved K-12 test results, he ignores the fact that these test scores plummeted in 2009 (Reuters). No matter! With his current remake, he eschews No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for Common Core and digital technology. Bush, with powerful political and corporate connections, promotes his lucrative Foundation for Excellence in Education—vouchers, cyber schools, and mandatory online classes for K-12—supported by ALEC and others. (3) There is profit in this frenzy to makeover higher ed in America.
Higher education is an enormous business in the United States–we spend approximately $400 billion annually on universities, a figure greater than the revenues of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter combined….(fastcompany)
We already have seen the greed, power, and nonchalance of the for-profit, on-line ed sector in the past decade and the disappointing inability of the federal government to reign in its excesses. And it is true that parents are rightfully frustrated by the high cost of tuition and genuinely fearful for their children’s future even with a B.A. They want assurance their college investment will be worth it, that their children will get a job when they graduate. No one can blame them for this.
But the reality check is harsh. Making education cheaper or better will not create enough jobs or solve the economic inequality gap. MOOCs won’t solve this problem either. We typically cannot guarantee a child will secure a job with a B.A. in any discipline without a network of connections and internships. There are just not enough good jobs being generated in most economies, including Egypt, Italy, Spain, Tunisia, Japan and China. Meanwhile MOOCs are perceived differently in Europe, Asia and the Middle East with their distinct educational infrastructures, regulations, and need for open source access. (3)
Where does this leave us in the U.S.? Social Philosopher Ulrich Beck predicts unprecedented global displacement of unemployed workers searching for jobs in our age of “liquid modernity,” an era of uncertainty that Anthony Eliott describes as an age of “corporate networking, short-term project work, organizational downsizing, self-help manuals, compulsive consumerism, cybersex, instant identity makeovers and therapy culture.” (4) A first step might be pausing to assess the complexity of our present moment with its threat of dismantling the very core of higher education— yet another makeover without a center. Some faculty are standing up to this: Rutgers U. graduate school faculty who voted to block a Pearson partnership because it doesn’t save student’s money (insidehighered); the philosophy professors at San Jose State whose “Open letter to Professor Michael Sandel” about their Udacity concerns went viral (insidehighered) Faculty must lead change having understood the complexity of this challenge, including broader influences that are driving the current federal preoccupation with performance metrics (see clip below on British connections). As Cathy Davidson, cofounder of Duke University’s HASTAC program advocates: university professors need to make a case for what they do in the classroom more articulately and persuasively to the public, legislators, donors and students “because if we don’t, it will be made for us. And we won’t like the result” (edSurge).
For some background on the British connection to the U.S. Dept of Education’s current infatuation with performance metrics see Prof, Mark Stiles’ short documentary, “The Avalanche that Hasn’t Happened.”
1.This started from the enormous popularity of the soap opera Dallas in the 1980s and has received assistance from the multiple, highly profitable Disneylands that sprouted in Japan and China. For the global reach of Dallas, see also Ien Ang’s 1985 Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination, Menthuen, London. p. 11 ISBN 978-0-416-41630-5. The new 2012 version was broadcast globally including Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.
2. President Qayoumi was everywhere in the media, including a write up as one of the ‘top ten’ tech innovators in The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s publication “The Digital Campus” (May 3, 2013) and the more news about the failure of the Udacity pilot.
3. The blog “Global Higher Ed” has a set of excellent links on Thrun and also on MOOCs in other countries. See “Mapping Coursera’s Global Footprint” on November 19 and “Briefly Noted (reactions to Sebastian Thrun’s Fast Company hagiography).
4. Anthony Elliot, “The New Individualist Perspective: Identity Transformations in the Aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis.” (Autum 2010).
“The Achievement Gap Cannot Be Resolved by Isolating It”
All of us wish Mayor R.T. Rybak the best as he prepares to begin his new job tackling Minnesota’s achievement gap, by some measures the worst in the nation.
According to the Star Tribune, “Federal data indicate that Minnesota has one of the largest education achievement disparities in the nation. Most recently the state ranked dead last in four-year graduation rates for Latino and American Indian students, second to last for African-American students, and near the bottom for low-income students overall.”
We often talk about the “achievement gap” as if it were an isolated phenomenon. The solutions too often focus on the public schools alone. Reformers target teachers, or administrators, or the teacher unions, or the need for more charter schools, or the necessity for more and better testing, or the pressing need for tablet computers in every classroom. Rarely do Minnesotans focus on racism and discrimination.
The wider picture: discrimination and racism
The achievement gap cannot be resolved by isolating it. Based on recent reports, Minnesota ranks near the bottom in several other critical areas. Discrimination and racism are baked into Minnesota’s culture, and we are coasting on a reputation for racial justice that was established by Hubert H. Humphrey in the 1940s. For Mayor Rybak to succeed he will have to widen his vision to include an open assault on the icy cold racism that characterizes Minnesota.
Consider the facts:
Minnesota is at or near the bottom of the rankings as regards the “employment gap.”
- Recently MPR reported that, “the Twin Cities region has one of the country’s widest racial gaps in employment, according to the Economic Policy Institute.”
- In 2010 the same institute reported that, “Looking at the unemployment ratios with whites for Hispanics and African Americans … the Minneapolis metropolitan area stands out as having the worst relative disparity. The Minneapolis metropolitan area has a black-white unemployment ratio of 3.1 to 1. This means that blacks are 3.1 times as likely to be unemployed as whites. Additionally, the black-white difference in unemployment is almost 14 percentage points.”
Minnesota has one of the worst “health care disparity gaps.”
- A February 2012 article on the Minnesota 2020 website reported that, “while Minnesota ranks among the best in overall health quality, we have one of the nation’s largest health quality gaps by race.”
Minneapolis has an exceptionally high disparity in arrests rates for marijuana possession.
- The Star Tribune reported that, “while nationally blacks are 3.73 times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, in Hennepin County they are 9.1 times more likely to be arrested. Even more disturbing, however, is that in Minneapolis blacks are 11.25 times more likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. Moreover, the racial disparity increased by 112 percent between 2000 and 2010.”
Though we may not like to admit it, Minnesota is a racist state. Indeed, depending on how you count the data, we may be the most racist state in the union.
Part of a larger struggle
Now before I am accused of opposition to solving the achievement gap or opposing all forms of educational reform, let me say that I am only pointing out that to solve the achievement gap we need to admit that it is part of a larger struggle against racism that dramatically impacts our educational systems, our employment picture, our health care system, and our public safety institutions.
Before they are six years old, young people of color enter educational systems that reflect Minnesota’s frozen style of racism. Racism permeates President Barack Obama’s Department of Education. It is present at the Minnesota Legislature, the Minnesota Department of Education, and on our school boards. It is there among our teachers and administrators. It infects every level of the higher-education institutions that train our teachers.
Once they complete their education, they graduate into a state that rejects them and provides too few openings for joining the middle class. They experience a Minnesota that discriminates against men and women of color for jobs and health care and they live every day with police and sheriff departments that racially profile with impunity.
To solve the achievement gap, Mayor Rybak and his allies need to confront and root out racism and discrimination in the same forthright ways that Hubert Humphrey did in the 1940 and 1950s. Without this commitment, we can open as many charter schools as we want, we can bust the teacher’s union and fire all the teachers, we can revamp the systems of teacher training and collect as much data as we want, and we will still be left with one big gap — the racism gap.
Read the data — and confront racism
It is time for white liberals to look themselves in the eyes and stop blaming others for the problems that confront Minnesota’s communities of color. It is time for white liberals to stop dreaming up ways for communities of color overcome “their gaps.”
It is time for white liberals to get their own house in order and to confront racism where it is and when they see it. And if they cannot seem to find any to confront, they need to shake off their “Minnesota Nice” and wake up and read the data. And then they need to do something about it.
Jeff Kolnick is a professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Reposted from Minn Post with permission of the author
Digital storytelling project from CHLS 498, CSU Long Beach. Reflects history and social significance of the discipline.
“I Quit Lit” and the new “Departure Eulogy”
Professor Xie resigns to protect adjunct faculty
by Teri Shaffer Yamada
Recently, some slightly satiric joking about a new academic subgenre— “I Quit Lit”— has appeared in the columns of Slate, the Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere in the blogosphere. Actually Zachary Ernst’s “Why I Jumped Off the Ivory Tower” (Oct. 20, 2013) deserves careful consideration. (1) A fine and thoughtful writer, Ernst’s dismay at leaving his philosophy position is visceral; but his love of teaching cannot outweigh negative consequences from the structural dysfunction of his institution. He writes:
What makes me pessimistic about my own university and public universities in the United States in general is that their inability to adapt isn’t due simply to bad leadership or an unfavorable economy. It’s based on structural features that are self-reinforcing. Poor leadership drawn from huge corporations, an incentive structure that favors narrow specialization, and hostility to potentially disruptive research, all reinforce each other. Those of us whose interests don’t fit into that structure have some difficult decisions to make.
A 2013 survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education—“Attitudes on Innovation: How College Leaders and Faculty see the Key Issues Facing Higher Education”—shows that many faculty share Ernst’s concerns about the future of the academy. (Executive summary)
Faculty members, in particular, are pessimistic about the future of higher education. Only one-third of faculty members say higher education in the United States is headed in the right direction, compared to two-thirds of presidents (see Figure 1). Among those most uncertain about the future are faculty members in the humanities (where departments have seen declining enrollments), those at public research universities (which have seen sharp cuts in state subsidies), and those who have been teaching more than 20 years. The faculty most optimistic about the future are those teaching in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—where government support has been high for much of the last decade.
A must-read survey, it explores the perception gap between faculty and academic leadership, a gap that hinders constructive change.
As the youngest and brightest tenured faculty flee from an organizational structure that cannot easily transform itself, the elders who form the largest percentage of the remaining tenured faculty approach retirement. What structurally remains is a hollow layer of smaller departments and programs on the verge of collapse, years of budget cuts and retirements having eviscerated tenure lines. As more adjuncts are used to fill in where tenured professors once were, the discussion about power—who runs a program in this situation—needs to be thoughtfully addressed. Or, it the silent decision just to eliminate this layer of the Humanities?
Notably, Stanford University has recently recognized this problem exacerbated by declining student enrollments. The question—What to do about it?—for less endowed universities leads to a hard, potentially controversial discussion. Better to have this tough debate in the open where some strategic planning could be embraced by faculty and administrators as opposed to a silent, slow death of so many programs like philosophy and physics, religious and ethnic studies departments, and even foreign language programs—many are now experiencing a prolonged death, or the fear of one, occurring without any discussion at all.
But I digress, my real intent was to add a new subgenre to the “I Quit Lit” oeuvre: the departure eulogy. In my case, it will be for the Chair of the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies at CSU Long Beach, Prof. Tim Xie. A fine man and wonderful colleague, a nationally renowned linguist and expert in Chinese language pedagogy, he has recently submitted his resignation as Chair along with a retirement letter to the university in order to save several of our highly valued adjunct faculty, skilled Chinese language instructors, from economic devastation when all lecturer courses were eliminated in the Chinese program due to imposed restructuring. Prof. Xie is a ‘survivor’ of the Cultural Revolution in China. Midst the gallows humor of who may die first from stress, we have discussed the failure of democracy and shared governance at our own institution: his closing comment, “I thought America was different!” So I say on behalf of my fellow colleagues, we will deeply miss this noble and talented man.
1. Equally compelling is Sarah Kendzior’s “The Closing of American academia: The plight of adjunct professors highlights the end of higher education as a means to prosperity.”
Further Reading on the structural critiques of academic organizations
Henry A. Giroux, “When Schools Become Dead Zones of Imagination” (Aug. 17, 2013)
Wellford Wilms, “How Kafkaesque Bureaucrats Are Ruining Education” (Aug. 19, 2013).
Has the CSU Forgotten Its Mission? The Decline of Ethnic Studies in California
by Teri Shaffer Yamada, CSU Long Beach
” The mission of the California State University is:
- To advance and extend knowledge, learning, and culture, especially throughout California.
- To prepare students for an international, multi-cultural society….”
In fall 2013, CSU faculty returned to campuses looking forward to a better year given their efforts to pass Prop 30 with its promise of stable budgets for the near future. Instead, many Ethnic Studies faculty have encountered a reign of “data” terror: a new administrative ideology that privileges the number of majors, course popularity, and fill rates over a broader vision of the CSU’s mission: to prepare students for a multi-cultural society.
Instead of promoting that mission, administrators across the CSU have stripped courses from Ethnic Studies, even courses that have a history of full enrollment. This administrative over-reach may be based upon a belief in a post-racial America, where Ethnic Studies courses are no longer relevant. Institutional efficiencies are more important; what is relevant now is STEM.
Concerned about this trend, over 50 faculty representing more than half of the system’s 23 campuses met at San Francisco State University on Friday, 18 October 2013, for the second CSU-wide Ethnic Studies Council meeting. Topics of concern included the downsizing, merging, or elimination of Ethnic Studies programs across the CSU; the treatment of professors of color in the system (1); how administrative ‘assessment’ of ethnic studies programs is being conducted without consciousness or value of the CSU’s mission. Professor Maulana Karenga ( Chair, Dept. of Africana Studies, CSU Long Beach) stressed the importance of genuine shared governance on campuses and the contradiction of the CSU “using diversity as a marketing tool while dismantling it.”
The most egregious example of de-facto program elimination is CSU Stanislaus, a designated Hispanic Serving Institution. The remaining two tenured faculty in the Ethnic Studies program there “have chosen to resign their positions as of 24 December, 2013 rather than help with what they believe amounts to the elimination of the program they have put so much effort into.” (2) The administration at CSU Stanislaus has refused to replace any of the four tenure-track positions the program once had. Another example of forced program reduction has occurred at CSU Long Beach in the Asian American Studies Program, which offered 14 courses in Spring 2010 reduced to 9 in Spring 2015. A new enrollment management directive apparently requires further reductions over a year in advance! These reductions include ASAM 120 (Asian American History), a course that typically fully enrolls.
The results of the second CSU Ethnic Council meeting included the nomination of six delegates to visit Chancellor White on November 11. Among their objectives for this meeting will be to report faculty concern over the CSU’s failure to fulfill its own mission to the people of California: to prepare students for a multicultural society.
Racial/ethnic makeup of California as percent of total population, 2010
- Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders make up 0.3% of California’s population.
- Asians make up 12.8% of California’s population.
- People of color make up 59.9% of California’s population.
- African Americans make up 5.8% of California’s population.
- Latinos make up 37.6% of California’s population.
- Native Americans and Alaska Natives make up 0.4% of California’s population.
- Source: U.S. Census 2010, U.S. Census Bureau
(1) A report from UCLA suggests that the UC shares issues about racial bias regarding faculty of color. See Stephen Ceasar’s “Study faults UCLA’s handling of faculty’s racial bias complaints” (Oct. 18, 2013).
“Nearly every faculty member of color had achieved tenure and professional success at the university, the report said, but they were still upset by the incidents of perceived bias, discrimination or intolerance they had experienced at UCLA.
Nearly all of them said they felt that the offending parties were never forced to face consequences for their actions.
The report states that UCLA’s reaction to such complaints has consistently been to attempt to placate the injured faculty member without repercussions to the offending party.
In 2012-13, African Americans made up 3% of faculty, while Latinos represented 6% and Asians made up about 17%. Whites made up about 73% of the faculty, according to the report.” Nearly every faculty member of color had achieved tenure and professional success at the university, the report said, but they were still upset by the incidents of perceived bias, discrimination or intolerance they had experienced at UCLA.
Nearly all of them said they felt that the offending parties were never forced to face consequences for their actions.
The report states that UCLA’s reaction to such complaints has consistently been to attempt to placate the injured faculty member without repercussions to the offending party.
In 2012-13, African Americans made up 3% of faculty, while Latinos represented 6% and Asians made up about 17%. Whites made up about 73% of the faculty, according to the report.”
(2) Oct. 12, 2013 letter to Dr. Joseph Sheley (President CSU, Stanislaus) from Lillian Taiz, CFA President. and Cecil Canton, CFA Associate VP Affirmative Action.
On a warm Monday afternoon in a packed Anatol Center at CSU Long Beach, newly recruited Chancellor of the CSU’s 23-campus system, Timothy White, easily charmed the audience of several hundred faculty, staff and students. The cleverly humorous Chancellor spoke of his enduring optimism in the mission of the CSU, California’s Master Plan, and the unique quality and success of CSU Long Beach in spite of six tight budget years. Fielding some tough questions with the grace of a seasoned diplomatic, his answers were compassionate and perceptive with an underlying toughness.
When asked about faculty concerns that STEM disciplines were being privileged over the Humanities, White responded that he hoped his own young son, potentially a future scientist, should also be reading the Great Books. On the question of Ethnic Studies in the CSU, he mentioned it should be preserved either as programs, minors, or departments. He has appointed former CSU LA President James Rosser to head his task force on this issue. The Chancellor’s Ethnic Studies Task Force is charged with investigating enrollment rates and other data for Ethnic Studies programs in the 23-campus system before a recommendation is brought to the Board of Trustees for a vote.
He thoughtfully fielded the question of CSU LB’s next president and the secretive process of his or her selection in accordance with a new system policy that shelters candidates from campus visits and interviews to protect their professional privacy. White mentioned that he had been selected in much the same manner and that our culture had changed since the past selection of both Presidents Maxim and Alexander. Now there are more openings than qualified “A-Team” candidates. He did state that if the final short list of candidates were all willing, a campus visit would be arranged pending approval of the Search Committee and Trustees.
Chancellor White takes charge of the CSU as it emerges from a bleak period of budget cuts, with a technology infrastructure in need of massive update and investment. On Sunday, October 13, the Los Angeles Daily News ran an article “Bottleneck courses resulting in students struggling to graduate” , which identified nearly 1,300 bottleneck courses causing student delays to graduation. Thirty-four percent of the courses are Liberal Arts (440 courses). The CSU identified the biggest factor causing this problem as “a lack of tenured faculty.” In fact, according to CFA LB statistics, there were 848 tenure-line faculty in June 2009 with 29,266 undergraduate students and 824 tenure-line faculty in January 2013 with 30, 931 undergraduate students. Student enrollment has increased while the number of tenure-line faculty has decreased, putting an extra burden of university service on younger tenure-line faculty and underpaid adjuncts. White was also asked about the 4-4 workload at CSU Long Beach compared to other campuses. He mistakenly equated this with a collective bargaining issue. Actually each campus can determine faculty course load based upon their budget process. This explains the lower course load at CSU Channel Islands, San Diego State and San Francisco State.
by Teri Shaffer Yamada, CSU Long Beach
(Thanks to Monte Bute, Sociology professor at Metro State University, for forwarding information on this issue.)
In fall 2012, Chancellor Rosenstone of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, with its 54-campus system, declared that it must become more “strategic” and confront “’wicked questions’ around the future of higher education and the system itself.” (1) He charged a new 46-member Task Force, split into three workgroups, to develop a ten-year strategic plan incorporating its vision of three broad topics— the education, the workforce, and the system of the future— that would provide “the most cost-effective, highest value education” to all Minnesotans.
In June 2013, his task force described their 35-page, first-draft report of “Charting the Future” as a ”bold shift” for the MnSCU system. Along with the merging of collective bargaining units, it advocated “campus and center mergers, relocating academic programs and offering a single portal to the system’s online offerings.” This initial draft was open for comments and review over the subsequent four months. The second draft, with a set of six recommended strategic priorities, has just been published, with the report to be finalized prior to the November 2013 meeting of the Board of Trustees.
In response to the latest draft, the Inter Faculty Organization (IFO), a faculty union representing 4,000 faculty members at seven Minnesota state universities, released this comment: “We oppose moving toward a Soviet-style management structure with centrally controlled decision making by bureaucrats who are far removed from the classroom.” The IFO’s key criticisms are that the plan could squeeze out innovation on campuses and emphasize job-training programs at the expense of academic ones: “Student program choices should not be limited to the programs supported by the business community.” (2) See their complete comments below.
The IFO critique is denied by the administration, which emphasizes that collaboration is a core value of the 10-year plan.
A key to understanding this difference of perspective between the IFO and administration is the process itself. Chancellor Rosenstone’s 46-member task force had a membership of 14-17 people per workgroup: typically two faculty, two students and two staff representatives, with approximately 50-60% of the remaining membership the “administrative cohort’”(campus presidents, deans, trustees and Chancellor’s Fellows). Administrators headed all three work groups.
Were the six non-administrative representatives on a work group to agree on specific recommendations, they could still be outvoted by the administrative cohort. The lack of real power for faculty representation within this organizational structure is familiar to those of us who have served on university task forces with similar membership composition. It simply provides a cover story for faculty participation.
The Catch-22 for a faculty representative on this type of structured task force is the genuine desire to make a difference. If one faculty member refuses to serve, another will be appointed anyway. Yet it is unlikely that one faculty opinion will sway the rest of the group given its composition. Ironically, a faculty representative’s thoughtful ideas ultimately may be redirected to a means of oppressing fellow faculty rather than serving their interests.
Nancy Black, union president of IFO and a faculty representative on the “Education of the Future” workgroup, states that the June report took her by surprise: “We had what I would term, euphemistically, lively discussions,” she said, but her group did not vote on any of the recommendations. She said she did not see the final draft until it was made public June 19. She also reports that faculty were “enraged at me for being a part of it.” The truth is Nancy Black was never ”part of it” since she was excluded from the smaller core of decision makers within her work group. They are the ones who formed the first rough draft and circulated it among themselves for comment before forwarding it to whomever put the entire report together.
The game was rigged from the beginning, with the Chancellor’s questions that skew the outcome and the Task Force composition. Given these two factors, the recommendations naturally reflect administrative interests. These interests are currently to provide efficiencies that include weakening faculty power over the curriculum, shared governance structures, and faculty unions —that is shifting more control to the administration in a top-down organizational structure. This efficiency objective incorporates the consolidation and elimination of programs and colleges—essentially the elimination of faculty and staff jobs— and the shrinking of knowledge or its elimination through the privileging of “professional” degrees.
When jobs are created again, actual hiring patterns will vary by industry and by geography, but one pattern is already clear according to Lisa Belkin in an October 2009 New York Times article. Many of the low-skill, low-wage jobs lost during the current recession were held by men. Many of the jobs that will be created during the recovery will be filled by women because they cost less to hire—women earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man—and because they are concentrated in industries, such as healthcare and education, that are expected to grow….
Professional and related occupations will be one of the two fastest-growing and will add the most new jobs. Almost three-quarters of job growth will come from three occupations: computer and math occupations; healthcare practitioners and technical occupations; and education, training, and library occupations…. Management, scientific, and technical consulting services will grow 78 percent. According to BLS, “demand for these services will be spurred by the increased use of new technology and computer software and the growing complexity of business.” (p. 9)
Through the Task Force’s vision of efficiency, its 10-year plan eliminates choice and diversity of knowledge, both faculty values. Administrative vision is also very costly to implement. Just one item, the consolidation of online courses from 54 campuses into one portal, may require ten’s of millions of dollars in course redesign and a costly private provider for the unifying learning management system (LMS) or platform that will be required to link campuses or establish a supra structure over them. There is no cost-benefit analysis attached to this report. And we have yet to see how many costly administrators are projected to be eliminated with this bold vision.
(1) The Chancellor’s questions shape the vision itself: These questions focus heavily on e-learning, technology, and workplace solutions responsive to business and industry as well as access and cost-saving efficiencies.
(2) IFL Board Response to “Charting the Future” is available here.
The IFO Board Response to Charting the Future (CTF)
The IFO strongly supports Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ (MnSCU) strategic framework:
a. b. c.
Ensure access to an extraordinary education for all Minnesotans; Be the partner of choice to meet Minnesota’s workforce and community needs; Deliver to students, employers, communities, and taxpayers the highest value/most affordable option.
However, the IFO rejects the strategic recommendations of Charting the Future:
1. Charting the Future promotes centralization—a goal the IFO fundamentally rejects. According to CTF: “Our system values institutional autonomy and decentralization…. This culture is out of sync in a world where collaboration and synergy are needed….” (CTF:9). The CTF document is filled with proposals that promote centralization—for example, a statewide academic planning and program review process; a statewide facilities master plan; a statewide certification of competency based award of credit; a comprehensive statewide e-strategy; and continuing education and customized training through statewide collaboration.
Instead, student and community needs are best achieved through competitive and highly autonomous institutions that can quickly and nimbly change to meet local and regional needs. We oppose moving toward a Soviet-style management structure with centrally controlled decisions made by bureaucrats who are far removed from the classroom. Multi-layered, centralized bureaucracies tend to be self-perpetuating, and consume financial resources that could be better spent on student learning.
2. CTF fails to address the most pressing higher education issues on the minds of students, their families, and the legislators who represent them: student debt and the affordability of higher education. MnSCU sought a 3% tuition increase in 2013, a goal the IFO successfully opposed during the 2013 legislative session. In CTF, MnSCU pays lip service to affordability, without supporting policies to accomplish it. IFO supports efforts to reduce the cost of higher education, which is best accomplished through local control.
3. The MnSCU state universities have been a critical socio-economic asset for over one hundred years. The liberal arts university promotes the development and practice of analytical and critical thinking skills. The state universities provide an affordable and accessible four-year education for all Minnesotans, representing diverse and underserved communities and groups throughout the state. CTF does not sufficiently
recognize or value the long-established universities, and the communities within which they are located, particularly in Greater Minnesota.
4. Academic offerings should be driven by the demands of students and their families—not the demands of the business community. Businesses should fill their workforce needs by offering livable wages and benefits, quality in-house training, and desirable working conditions to attract the best employees. If employers offer attractive wages, benefits and working conditions, students will invest in the education necessary to obtain those jobs. Diverse education for a diverse community of employers strengthens Minnesota.
Finally, the IFO urges Chancellor Rosenstone and the MnSCU Board of Trustees to reject the CTF’s recommendations—including statewide academic planning and union consolidation that simply increase bureaucracy and centralization—and instead promote a vision for the future that provides student-driven choices for all Minnesotans. The IFO encourages legislators and Governor Dayton to oppose administrative strategies that lead to larger, costlier, and more centralized management structures. Instead, Minnesota leaders should continue to support efforts to work with faculty to ensure access to an extraordinary and affordable education for all Minnesotans. Far from resisting change, state university faculty are on the front lines of educational innovation, helping to ensure students, employers, communities, and taxpayers the highest value and most affordable option for higher education.