Friday, November 11, 2011

Another Reality (Remarks at UC Irvine Protest, 11/9/11)

By Rei Terada

In March 2010, about a thousand people at UC Irvine marched here and on the street, on University Avenue. I was amused that a couple of commentators wrote afterward that UCI students were “protesting reality.” Someone headlined a blog for The Atlantic, “Students Protest University Cutbacks, Reality”. This remark assumes that once reality has been determined, you have no right to say anything further. That assumption can be refuted in a number of ways, even if—and that’s an “if”—we don’t dispute the amount of the state budget shortfall since the recession of 2008. First of all, anyone who cares about reality should always ask, what makes the reality the way it is? What are the conditions on which reality depends? That is the question known as “critique,” and critique is the mainstay of the Enlightenment education that Universities historically support.

The condition of the reality that UCI students protested in 2010 is that the state has been defunding public education since before the global financial crisis. The UC Regents claim that this in turn is another inalterable and involuntary reality that they can do nothing about, but that’s not true. A few years ago it would have cost the median California taxpayer $32 to return UC funding to 2000 levels. Since then the economy’s grown even worse, and now it would cost $49. The UC Regents’ point of view is that the California taxpayer is ignorant or selfish, and should just cough up the $50—that the Legislature should impose a tax. But by doubling tuition since 2000, long before the global financial crisis--last week proposing to raise it again, 16% a year for the next four years--and giving almost a third of the places (31% at Berkeley now, for example) to out of state students paying $36,000 a year, the UC Regents give California taxpayers no reason to fund an education that they’re being told is no longer for them. Middle-class Californians can’t afford the tuition increases; they can’t bear to take on any more debt; and they have no reason to contribute when qualified students are no longer guaranteed a UC education.

The leadership of the university bears the responsibility for these community-destroying policies. The more they turn from public to private money, the less incentive the legislature has to raise revenues on the university’s behalf; and the more they privatize the university, the more middle-class tazpayers are right to feel that this whole project is no longer theirs. These arguments have been made in financial detail by Robert Meister of UCSC and Christopher Newfield of UCSB. UC Administration is turning the wheel in the wrong direction; and they have hired a president, Mark Yudof, who came in with a template for privatizing the university before the global financial crisis had even happened. President Yudof stated in print in 2007 that he intended to raise tuition by 32%--exactly the amount that the Regents did raise it in a first so-called “response” to the crisis: a response that predated the supposedly inevitable problem. The condition that supports our current reality of massive tuition increases and cuts is a program of privatization that actively weakens the foundations of citizen support and then blames the citizens for not being supportive.

Our reality would have been different if instead of making students pay—-and pay-—and pay—-and pay again, the leadership of the university had said something like the following:

“The state has been decreasing funding for decades, and we can’t go on any more. Now we’re in crisis. And in crisis the education of students and the well-being of our community comes first. The educational part of the budget will be the last to be cut. We will not be asking more from our lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers than we ask from our highest-paid workers. We will not be laying off janitors and food service workers while giving expensive raises to ourselves. We’ll be cutting from management. We’re asking for salary reductions from everyone making over $100,000 a year. We’re trying to renegotiate our contracts so that private money donated to us for non-educational purposes, such as construction, can be turned toward education and student support. And the cuts that we do have to implement will be shared equally, because every part of the university is equally valuable. To do otherwise would be crazy: it would pit groups of people against one another at the time when they’re most stressed. If everyone shares the cuts equally, everyone will realize that this concerns them personally. And we’ll restore the resources if and when our situation gets better. Nothing that currently exists is to be closed down permanently, even if we can’t run it right now. By staying together, we can affirm our community, whatever the practical hardships might be.”

That’s what I would have liked to hear in another reality, and that’s why this reality is well worth protesting.

You might think that even if reality is worth protesting, protesting doesn’t work to change it. My impression, for what it’s worth, is that student protests have slowed down the process of privatization, and in fact are the only thing that has had any impact on the process. It’s also clear that student protests globally have, along with Tunisia and Egypt, created the conditions for the current Occupation movement--California student protesters especially. Protesting reality today is no longer a joke in the way commentators thought it was in 2909-2010.

All of that said, however, it also makes sense to think of what the community wants to do in a way that goes beyond what it wants someone else to do, whether that’s the State or the UC Regents or local administration. It’s good, in the manner of Occupy, also to ask what the community wants to do regardless of what others think. It’s not just a matter of being in a terrible situation, but of how you want to live it. Just as there are things that money can’t buy, there are things that cuts can’t take away if you don’t let them. You can cancel a philosophy class, but you can’t defund critique--not against informed resistance. In the future it might become the case that you have to organize more of your own education; if classes you want to take no longer exist, you may need to connect with other people who want to learn it and teach it, and with their help take initiative to make it happen. While UC is pushing toward online classes for pay, we could make our own courses and post them online for free. Professors could allow in their classrooms UC students who are no longer enrolled because they couldn’t afford to pay or because they couldn’t make it academically because they were working so many hours. Students could donate their used textbooks to an exchange where you could leave an expensive textbook that you no longer needed and pick one up for free that you did need, instead of selling books back to the bookstore.

The fact is that UCI students already do a lot of things like this. There are already entirely student-run concerts and student-run lecture series and panels and radio stations and poetry societies and magazines to which the official culture of the university pays no attention, but this unofficial culture is thriving nonetheless. There is hardship involved in this--that is, doing these kinds of things is a lot of work and time, and it’s never for pay. But they make this time and place something that the plans of administrators are incapable of recognizing. What I’m describing now is not so much protesting reality as modifying it while continuing to protest it. The possibility of doing more of that, on the horizon now maybe by necessity, is the hidden potential of our lamentable situation: the possibility that students might transform the university at the moment when it’s being abandoned by its managers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Officer 14 Tweaks on the Line- Occupy Cal 11/9 (UPDATED ACROSS THE DAY)

Penn State students riot for football coach fired in coaching staff molestation scandal (grand jury report).  The Nation follows up with a comparison of Berkeley and Penn State.

Crowds at Occupy Cal - Daily Cal Coverage.  Mercury News coverage with photos. SF Chronicle story and slideshow.  The AtlanticWire has a digest of news coverage.
Occupy Santa CruzOccupy UCLA. Occupy UC Irvine, Occupy San Diego  

And here is a first-hand report from Irvine:

Report from Irvine by anonymous
"We had a spirited teach-in and march in which about 400 participated, followed by a General Assembly in front of the administration building. TA and lecturer union reps, librarians, queer student groups, graduate and undergraduate students, and faculty spoke at the teach-in. Between the teach-in and the GA the students marched into ongoing classes and through the science library and the UCI bookstore. They chanted "Students' needs, not corporate greed" and "Educate, Occupy. Take back UCI." The OC Register has of course written us up with special attention to our profanity. (At one station of the march, a student began his speech with "My name is Alexander, I'm a student here and I'm fucking pissed off!")" 

Berkeley City Council has decided not to renew mutual aid agreements with UCPD and neighboring police forces in aftermath of recent police violence.  h/t CC

Thousands March in London.

OWS and the Reeducation of Desire.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Links for November 9

Students, staff, and faculty engaged in protest across the UC and CSU systems today.  So far I've tracked reports from Berkeley, Channel Islands, Davis, Fresno Irvine, Long Beach Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma State.  I'm sure there will be more news as time goes forward.

Protests in London.  Surprise, Surprise, the Police were there as well.

CSU threatens to raise tuition next year by 9%.

Yudof starts to walk back early reports of tuition freeze. Now it depends on receiving large infusion from the state.

Did you notice that the state budget is looking really bad for next year?

The LAO responded to Brown's pension proposal.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Links for November 8

Yudof announced no mid-year tuition hikes.  I wonder if he is nervous about protests at the Regents' party next week?

UC Davis plows ahead with plan to increase out-of-state and international students.

Bob Samuels discusses the rising inequality at UC here and here.

CSU faculty, librarians, and coaches to hold 1 day strike at two campuses.

As the CBP notices, some of California's wealthiest are CEOs of corporations that pay no federal income taxes. Somehow I suspect that is not because they don't make enough to pass the threshold for taxation.

Ohio voters reject GOP effort to attack collective bargaining.  Even the NYT notices.

Remember all those conservative claims that the poverty statistics overstated poverty?  Well the newer method has taken a look--and the numbers are even higher especially among the elderly.  Of course you can't convince a University of Chicago economist of the facts..

Check out our new Documents for Dissidence box in the upper right.  It provides announcements and background information and analysis that might be useful for upcoming protests.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Story that Needs Changing

In the last few weeks I've given a number of talks on college campuses about the self-feeding devolutionary spiral in puliic university funding.  I've tried to describe the mechanisms that are continuing to accelerate decline, and identify points of resistance that could help with rebuilding.   The goal must remain mass quality rather than limited access to premium content.  Our higher ed system is stratified enough as it is, and "private good" solutions only make it worse.

Robert Mejia offers an overview of my "Rebuiling the Public University" talk at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.  By coincidence, I spoke in the same room a few hours after UI-Urbana faculty had met their new systemwide president for the first time, and heard him speak directly about his plan to take control of enrollments away from each campus and centralize them systemwide.  This struck me as the kind of administrative exercise that makes an executive's mark without improving the institution itself, and that distracts attention from the deeper issues of rebuilding funding and upgrading academic goals.

An example of the deeper issue occurred the day after the coverage of the Illinois faculty meeting, in an article in the Los Angeles Times on how California public universities are leading the way in public tuition increases averaging over 8% last year.  The article started with a causal connection between legislative cuts to public funding and increases to student tuition.  But it then cited an expert saying that the real problem wasn't public funding cuts but public campus inefficiencies, particularly the inefficiency of faculty who don't teach enough.

My critique of the elements of this damaging story is posted on the University of Illinois Faculty Association page.  I would like such critiques to be part of a broader effort to change the public narrative about the everyday work of public universities, so that yahoo solutions can't so easily get dropped into the middle of articles to distract the reader from the real issue.

The real issue is that imposing higher teaching loads and more on-line instruction on public universities won't reverse the relentlessly growing gulf between elite privates and their once-elite public peers.  The economists Robert Archibald and David Feldman, in their recent book Why Does College Cost So Much?, note that the inaugural, 1987 edition of the U.S. News and World Report rankings had eight public universities in their top 25. In 2010 the top-25 includes exactly 1 public university (UC Berkeley, at #21). 

The rankings are of course rather silly, but they do include measures such a per-student expenditures and average student-teacher ratios. On these measures of quality, public universities have been allowed to decline for decades. The decline is directly connected to falling public funding, which has never been replaced by the private sources so ardently discussed, in spite of the decades their advocates have had to achieve this replacement.

The result is stark, in Archibald and Feldman's terms:
In 1980, public universities spend roughly seventy cents per full-time equivalent student for every dollar that private schools spent.  By the middle of the 1990s, that figure had fallen to fifty-three cents per dollar.  These changes have consequences (p. 237)
We already know where the combination of cuts and "efficiencies"is taking us -- towards a class hierarchy of private over public, in which the latter, who teach close to 4/5ths of all college students, are forced to lower quality further while pretending they are not.

Teaching processes can always be improved, but public university executives need a much tighter focus on closing the funding gap with private universities so that we can close the gap in quality of service. Playing around with alternatives to rebuilding funding will only make the public-private gap that much wider .

Friday, November 4, 2011

Links for November 4

In Oakland, Occupy supporters and city officials debated at a public meeting.  And you can get more information here.

Assembly Budget Committee expects 5-8 Billion dollar deficit next year.

Students and professors are trying to steer graduates to useful work, offering alternatives to Wall Street.

Silicon Valley Investor donates $150 Million to Stanford Business School for program to fight poverty; proves irony is not dead.

Harvard Students Walk Out of Economics lecture class because they want education not propaganda.  Not sure what else they expected from Harvard economics though.

In Texas, one community college system board is debating whether to end tenure, they have already set up rules to punish tenured faculty from "grumbling" about superiors.

Occupy Wall Street is organizing a march against the bogus bank fraud settlement.   Greg Palast has the latest on Goldman Sachs' effort to pressure OWS's bank.  They are using taxpayer money to do so by the way.

Dean Baker points out that, despite some improvement in the latest job figures, at this pace it will take 33 years for the unemployment rate to return to pre-recession levels.

Thousands are moving their money to credit unions.

NYT tries to claim that poverty isn't so bad.  No joke.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Links for November 3rd

#OccupyOakland closes down nation's 5th biggest port.  UCOP appears to have asked its employees to stay away from the office, located near the occupation, and to work from home.

Colorado votes down a tax-increase measure for education.  The state governor wants to balance the budget by cutting higher education but much of the legislature is resisting.  The governor is a Democrat, and those opposed to higher ed cuts are Republicans.

In Wisconsin, Gov Scott Walker is targeting the UW system, with 7% of the state budget,for 38% of the cuts.

Bob Samuels analyzes UC compensation data, with special attention to salaries over $200,000.

Average student debt is also up 5% this year, to over $25,000.  The figures exclude debt incurred by students at for-profit colleges, as only 5 of 471 for-profits reported student debt figures.  Parental loans push the average to over $34,000.  California remains a "low debt state" (a bit over $18,000) (the report is here).

Higher Ed Watch discusses a cause identified in a recent Department of Education report: "the country’s public and private four-year colleges are now spending a greater share of their institutional aid dollars on trying to attract the students they desire than on meeting the financial need of the low- and moderate-income students they enroll."

Those mulling the fate of public pensions get a good reminder from David Atkins of the incentives in the financial community for putting public assets into play.

Students of management mishaps should make sure they didn't miss this NYT piece on cognitive fallacy: decision-makers routinely ignore evidence of the failure of their decision processes (h/t to Marcia).  One apparent cause:  "people who face a difficult question often answer an easier one instead, without realizing it." 

The three buildings at UC Davis with the top platinum rating from the Green Building Council are Gallagher Hall, home of the UC Davis School of Management,the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, nd the Tahoe Environmental Research Center in Incline Village, Nevada.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Links for Wednesday, November 2

Occupy Oakland Schedule for General Strike.  Live updates Other information.   Video

Colorado Voters say no to increasing taxes to pay for education.

Texas Board of Regents invests in company that trolls for course grading data; mandates that campuses sign on to it.

Regional Public Universities are lessening research commitments.

Universities intensify efforts to break into commercial world.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

We Can Restore California's Higher Education...If the Leaders Lead

By Stanton Glantz

cross-listed from KQED

Conventional wisdom says the UC and CSU funding crises are the inevitable result of recession-driven budget shortfalls, and the only solution is to soak students and their families.

But it's bunk. Shifting costs from the public to students is a deliberate act of public policy.

Well before the recession, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the UC and CSU presidents signed the Higher Education Compact. UC and CSU accepted huge cuts in state support and agreed to rapid annual tuition increases in exchange for a broken promise of future financial support.

And, though a Democrat, Jerry Brown is accelerating the transformation of higher education from a public good the people of California provide for the benefit of all to a private good students buy.

This is a radical reversal of the spirit that built California. But what's been done can be undone.

In fact, it would not cost much to push the "reset" button on California's entire higher education system, from community colleges to UC's graduate programs. We can roll fees back to 2000 levels, restore state funding and accommodate the students who've been forced out. And it would only cost the median taxpayer $49.

To today's jaded sensibilities that sounds far-fetched. But it wasn't so long ago that a passion for that kind of thinking built California in the first place.

This affordable "reset" will never happen unless university officials stop acting like highly-paid executives at financially failing corporations, start behaving like stewards of a public trust and start making the case to do it.