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Tag: "higher education"

Who Knew Racists Were So Sensitive to Ridicule

[ 48 ] January 19, 2017 |

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Above: A Dignified Arizona Republican legislator

I guess I wouldn’t think Arizona Republicans would table their bill to ban the teaching of any course they think smacks of racial justice in their state’s public universities because the faint shadow of what used to be The Daily Show ridicules them, but then I wouldn’t have thought they would have elected a fascist reality TV show star to the presidency either.

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The Republican War on Higher Education

[ 47 ] January 13, 2017 |

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Above: One of Many People the GOP Wants to Make Sure Students Know Nothing About

Another year, another set of Republican legislators seeking to engage in a political war on those liberals in higher education. First, Arizona.

Saying students are being taught hatred at public expenses, a Republican lawmaker from Flagstaff is proposing new limits on what and how schools, colleges and universities can teach.

Rep. Bob Thorpe said a 2010 law that targeted “ethnic studies” courses at some public schools, including those at Tucson Unified School District, does not go far enough with its prohibition against teaching anything that promotes resentment toward another race. He wants to expand that list to include gender, religion, political affiliation and social class.

And Thorpe wants a ban on not just classes but any events or activities that “negatively target specific nationalities or countries.”

But it does not stop there.

HB 2120 would extend the new restrictions to community colleges and universities, not just in terms of what’s taught in the classroom but also any event or activity. And it gives the attorney general the unilateral power to withhold up to 10 percent of state aid if he or she determines a college or university is in violation.

Thorpe said Thursday his bill is aimed specifically at things like a “privilege walk” exercise sponsored by the University of Arizona and a course entitled “Whiteness and Race Theory” at Arizona State University.

This is of course nothing more than a politicized attack on higher education. Republicans want people like myself and the other members of this blog fired for teaching anything that does not confirm whatever the conservative talking points of the moment may be. And that takes us to Missouri.

College graduates in Missouri should be able to find jobs that correspond with their degrees, and their professors should help them do so, says State Rep. Rick Brattin, a Republican.

To make that happen, Mr. Brattin says, he would eliminate tenure at Missouri’s public colleges and universities. House Bill 266, introduced this month, would outlaw awarding tenure in Missouri after January 1, 2018. (The bill would not apply to faculty members awarded tenure before January 1, 2018.)

HB 266 would also require public colleges to publish more information, including the estimated price of individual degrees, employment opportunities expected for degree earners, and a summary of the job market for each degree, among other things.

But let’s be clear, for Brattin, a man who never attended college, this is about politics, not job prospects. The link also included an interview with him.

Q. Are you concerned that eliminating tenure would damage academic freedom, or professors could get fired for political reasons?

A. Like I said, in what area do you have protection of your job for whatever you say, whatever you do, you’re protected? You don’t have that. Their job is to educate, to ensure that students are able to propel themselves into a work force and be successful. That’s their job.

If they are going off the rails and not doing what they are supposed to as a hired staff of educating those kids, should they not be held accountable? Should they have the freedom to do whatever they wish on the taxpayers’ dime and on the students’ dime? That should be more the question: Should they have that freedom to do that? Their focus should be to ensure that we have an educated person to be able to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

Q. Specifically, what do you mean “things aren’t being done” according to a professor’s job description?

A. When we have college graduates making up 40 percent of unemployed Americans, after they have been promised if they come here and they receive this degree, they’ll be able to do this, that, and the other, and they find out it’s an out-of-date degree program or degree, it’s an injustice to our youth.

Something’s wrong, something’s broken, and a professor that should be educating our kids, should be concentrating on ensuring that they’re propelling to a better future, but instead are engaging in political stuff that they shouldn’t be engaged in. Because they have tenure, they’re allowed to do so. And that is wrong. It’s an abuse of taxpayers dollars. If you want to go get grant money, or you want to be privately funded to do your endeavors of whatever, that’s fine. When you’re on the taxpayer dollar, I don’t think that’s a proper use of the taxpayers’ money.

Q. Let’s say a geologist at the University of Missouri is tenured and his responsibility entails research. Part of his job is to do research on publicly funded dollars. Do you think that should be publicly funded?

A. If that’s his job and he was hired by the university to do x, y, and z, and he’s performing x, y, and z, that’s what he was hired to do. It’s when these professors receive tenure that they are all of a sudden allowed this astronomical freedom to do whatever they wish, and they’re virtually untouchable, I’m sorry, it’s taxpayer dollars.

There should be accountability with whatever you’re doing. And it’s quite clear by the numbers that what’s being done is not at the best level and the highest echelon that it should be.

Of course this guy doesn’t know anything about how higher education actually works. Since research is part of the job of a tenured and tenure-track faculty, maybe he could find out that his bill makes no sense. But then the issue is not “professors doing research” but rather “professors doing research conservatives don’t like.” You also have to love the a priori assumption that it is un-American to be able to speak your mind at work. This guy is a real peach.

I don’t know what the chances of passage of these bills are in the respective states, but given that Arizona already banned ethnic studies in K-12, this is certainly scary. And we can certainly expect many more bills like this as conservatives seek to destroy the American institution where liberalism remains the strongest.

The Cuomo Gambit

[ 76 ] January 3, 2017 |

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes a point during a meeting on tax cut proposals in the Red Room at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Cuomo has proposed cutting the state’s corporate income tax from 7.1 percent to 6.5 percent and eliminating it altogether for upstate manufacturers. He also has proposed paying more state aid as an incentive to any of New York’s 10,500 local governments that impose hard 2 percent spending caps and cut their costs by consolidating services with other towns, villages, cities and counties. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Here’s the thing about Andrew Cuomo. He will happily veto a bill that would grant the poor legal services and then just a few days later announce a plan for free college tuition at New York public universities for any family making less than $125,000 a year. What’s going on here? The short of it, I think anyway, is that Cuomo really wants to the be the presidential nominee in 2020. At the same time, he has no interest in challenging the power dynamics of the nation. He is a Clintonites Clintonite. So embracing middle-class rhetoric and middle-class welfare state expansions that get a lot of big publicity is something he can very much get behind while at the same time doing absolutely nothing to challenge Wall Street, the criminal injustice system, or the Republican Party. And in case you say that the free college tuition will help the poor too, we should remember that Cuomo is going to nothing useful to help improve the possibility that the poor and people of color are actually going to go to college. It will help a few, but it will not change a system that inherently discriminates against people with the least power in our society.

It’s completely fine for the left to get behind expanding free college tuition. Supporting this initiative is absolutely something I will do. But Andrew Cuomo is still a complete non-starter for the Democratic nomination and let’s be careful not to give him too much credit and legitimize his ambitions.

Bad Liberal Ideas?

[ 252 ] October 28, 2016 |

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Catherine Rampell is EXTREMELY CONCERNED that Democrats are going to think they have a mandate after the election. She wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. So she lists all the horrible ideas of “the left,” although she means liberals.

These are proposals such as bringing back Glass-Steagall, a banking law whose repeal actually had nothing to do with the 2008 financial crisis. Its resurrection is perplexingly popular on the left.

Or banning genetically modified organisms.

Or instituting a $15-an-hour minimum wage nationwide, even though that’s higher than the current median wage in four states and three territories.

Or free college for all, including rich people.

Or arbitrary tax carve-outs for items such as tampons (which constitute a giveaway to rich people, too, and ultimately require raising tax rates on everything else, which can disproportionately hurt poor people).

Well that’s a weird list. I hope we can all agree that indeed banning GMOs would be a stupid idea. Anti-GMO activism is second only to anti-vaccination as the worst idea floating around the left. Of course, there are problems around GMOs based around patent rights and corporate monopoly and that’s part of the GMO worries. But what motivates most of these people is concerns about pure bodies, which should be shunned.

But otherwise? Arbitrary tax carve-outs is a major goal of liberals? I mean, I don’t mind ending taxes on tampons, but no one is saying this is a major policy goal. Plus, a) we already have all sorts of arbitrary tax carve-outs and b) more important we have all sorts of ways rich people avoid paying taxes which should receive significantly more attention than small ways to help the poor.

Glass-Steagall? Is there any actual downside to bringing back this law? OK, it might not have stopped the housing bubble and Wall Street collapse, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. I don’t see how this is a terrible idea.

And as for the $15 minimum wage and free college, these are GREAT ideas, including for the rich. Yes, raising the minimum wage high enough to reduce inequality is something that should happen. If that requires a serious raising of other wages, then great. That’s precisely what has to happen if working people are going to live a dignified life. And including the rich under programs of free public college is exactly what needs to happen to get such a program passed. There is nothing wrong at all with that idea, unless your real concern is low taxes for the upper class. It’s not like Rampell doesn’t do quality work at times, so I don’t really get what this is all about except her own delusions about what the left is actually advocating.

Pennsylvania Faculty on Strike

[ 70 ] October 19, 2016 |

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Early this morning, 5500 faculty members on the 14 campuses of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, including my wife, went on strike because of PASSHE’s refusal to offer a fair contract. The university system has sought to effectively destroy these schools. They want to commit to even more adjunct teaching while also lowering adjunct pay up to 20 percent. The schools are offering pathetic pay rates and seeking major health care givebacks. 477 days after the last contract expired, the union (APSCUF) was willing to continue meeting, but as the hours wound down, PASSHE refused to come back to the table. APSCUF is trying to argue for binding arbitration. But the schools, with a weak hand because of the absurdity of the offer, refuses to agree to that. The strike will end if PASSHE agrees to that binding arbitration. Until then, the corporate war on higher education has forced 105,000 students to not get an education.

I know this isn’t Yale, Harvard, Columbia, or any of the New York schools that the lefties who went to those schools teach at since many couldn’t imagine lighting out for the territories. So this strike probably won’t get the kind of attention that we saw at Long Island University. But it’s equally important. More will be forthcoming.

…Since there seems to be some confusion, this has nothing to do with Penn State University. These are the affected schools.

Shorter STEM Experts: Please Invest in the Humanities!

[ 151 ] September 25, 2016 |

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It sure would be nice if politicians and university administrations actually listened to people in the STEM fields and invested heavily in the humanities and social sciences. The editorial board of Scientific American makes this point powerfully.

Kentucky governor Matt Bevin wants students majoring in electrical engineering to receive state subsidies for their education but doesn’t want to support those who study subjects such as French literature. Bevin is not alone in trying to nudge higher education toward course work that promotes better future job prospects. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a former presidential candidate, put it bluntly last year by calling for more welders and fewer philosophers.

Promoting science and technology education to the exclusion of the humanities may seem like a good idea, but it is deeply misguided. Scientific American has always been an ardent supporter of teaching STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But studying the interaction of genes or engaging in a graduate-level project to develop software for self-driving cars should not edge out majoring in the classics or art history.

The need to teach both music theory and string theory is a necessity for the U.S. economy to continue as the preeminent leader in technological innovation. The unparalleled dynamism of Silicon Valley and Hollywood requires intimate ties that unite what scientist and novelist C. P. Snow called the “two cultures” of the arts and sciences.

Steve Jobs, who reigned for decades as a tech hero, was neither a coder nor a hardware engineer. He stood out among the tech elite because he brought an artistic sensibility to the redesign of clunky mobile phones and desktop computers. Jobs once declared: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

A seeming link between innovation and the liberal arts now intrigues countries where broad-based education is less prevalent. In most of the world, university curricula still emphasize learning skills oriented toward a specific profession or trade. The ebullience of the U.S. economy, which boasted in 2014 the highest percentage of high-tech outfits among all its public companies—has spurred countries such as Singapore to create schools fashioned after the U.S. liberal arts model.

But hey, bullying students to avoid majoring in theater or Spanish is fun! And really, what would the knowledge of a foreign language or the ability to write effectively add to a employer?

Behind the Scenes at LIU

[ 46 ] September 15, 2016 |

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Read this interview with Long Island University librarian Emily Drabinski for some behind the scenes insight on the horrible attempt by the administration to lockout the faculty and crush the union.

It’s really important to note that the administration locked out the faculty at Long Island University Brooklyn before the faculty had a chance to review and vote on the contract as proposed by the administration.

When we met on Tuesday, September 6 — which seems like a year ago now — we had already lost our health insurance, we had already lost our wages, we had already been locked out of our communication systems at LIU Brooklyn. Longstanding tradition at LIU has been for negotiations to continue up until the final day of the contract, August 31, and then for the faculty to meet and ratify or not ratify the contract on the first day after Labor Day.

They knew that was the plan. I’m the secretary [of the union], I know that I had emailed and we had reserved a room [for continued negotiations]. They knew that was coming and they locked us out before that could happen.
Why do you think they took such measures?

Labor and employer relations at LIU Brooklyn have always been contentious — that is the task of a unionized workforce. We knew that things were going to be difficult.

When I arrived at LIU Brooklyn, there we six unions on campus; right now there are four. This is the president who has been hired to bust the unions, and she’s been successful so far. We knew she would be coming for us next.

But I don’t think any of us anticipated a lockout. It’s unprecedented because the lockout was so disruptive and so harmful to the reputation of the university as well as to the workers who were locked out. I was talking to my partner and asked, “What’s going to happen?” As we got down to the end — and we’ve been bargaining since April — the administration had not been moving, almost at all.

They’ve been meeting with us, they had been sticking within the letter of the law. They clearly know how to go right up to the line of bargaining in good faith, and they just stuck there.

They began advertising for replacement workers in July on Monster.com. Monster.com is I guess where you get your best higher education faculty to replace us. We assumed that was in the event of a strike, which of course we hadn’t and haven’t called.

My guess would be that they have been preparing for the lockout probably since the president arrived.

They told the press that the reason that they locked us out was to prevent a strike. We are a fairly militant union. We go on strike for working conditions, we go on strike for wages. That might have happened in this event — I don’t know, it’s hard to know now what would have happened had they not locked us out.

What they don’t say is that the other option was to negotiate in good faith and bargain a fair contract for the faculty workforce.

Just really amazing and brazen effort by the university president and no doubt the Board of Trustees. This story remains extremely important as if they succeed in busting the faculty union in the future, it sets a horrifying precedent for other schools to follow.

LIU Lockout

[ 92 ] September 7, 2016 |

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This is deeply disturbing.

Locking out a university’s faculty right before the start of classes seems like a drastic step, but that is just what Long Island University (LIU) did this weekend, when it barred all 400 members of its faculty union from its Brooklyn campus, cut off their email accounts and health insurance, and told them they would be replaced. The move came three days after the union’s contract expired. Now, the faculty is furious, and planning rallies and pickets with support from the American Federation of Teachers. On Tuesday, faculty voted 226 to 10 to reject a proposed contract from LIU, and the faculty senate voiced their support for a vote of no-confidence in the university’s president Kimberly Cline, 135 to 10. Faculty rallied outside the university’s Brooklyn campus Wednesday with a giant inflatable rat as classes began, taught by non-union members.

Labor historians say they can’t recall an example of a university using a lockout against faculty members. Kate Bronfenbrenner, a Cornell professor of labor relations, says they’re particularly unwise in the service sector, or any sector where a company has clients such as students and donors to placate. More typically, she says, lockouts are used in the industrial sector, where customers are removed from labor practices.

Why did the faculty reject the contract? Because it was pure union-busting all the way:

Arthur Kimmel has been an adjunct at LIU’s Brooklyn campus for more than 20 years. Under the terms of the proposed contract, he would have his income cut by 30 to 35 percent, he said. That’s because, in addition to the $1,800 or so per course he teaches, he has received pay for having office hours and money from an adjunct- benefits trust fund to help defray the cost of health insurance. Kimmel says the university’s proposal would eliminate the adjunct- benefits trust fund and payments for office hours, among other cuts. The new proposal would also decrease the number of credit hours he could teach, and establishes a two-tier system for adjuncts so that new employees would receive less than Kimmel does.

“I think that what the administration is doing, and has done from first day of the current president’s administration, is gutting the university and creating the archetype of the corporatization of the university, where the interest is not in education, but is purely financial,” he told me.

First, I really struggle to see how this turns out well for LIU. How do you replace an entire faculty? I know there is a massive oversupply of teachers out there since the same union-busting administrators now prefer to build themselves nice offices and give themselves 5-figure pay raises rather than hire faculty. But there are also lots of potential faculty who aren’t going to be scabs. This is awful for the students as well.

Worst-case scenario, for the university, would be that the National Labor Relations Board could decide that the university has committed the lockout in an environment of unfair labor practices, at which point LIU would have to pay back wages. But even the best case scenario probably isn’t great: Even if the school reaches an agreement with the union and the 400 faculty are given their jobs back, LIU will still be facing budget problems, which may be exacerbated by students staying away. And worse, it will be remembered as the place of higher education that was the first to lock out its faculty. Those wounds could last a long time.

But if it was to succeed, this is extremely frightening. This is a Gilded Age union-busting tactic used against a vulnerable sector in the New Gilded Age. Moreover, it is my sector. The precedent this would set would be titanic. It’s hard to see it happening at a place like my institution, which is very large and without a pool of eligible replacement faculty, but at smaller schools especially, I could see entire faculty unions being wiped out, pay lowered, and conditions worsened significantly.

You can donate to the LIU Lockout Solidarity Fund here.

Is It “Irrational” for People to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities (Or Even in the Sciences)

[ 211 ] August 28, 2016 |

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No, no it is not. After all, the job market for college graduates except for a very few fields is pretty terrible everywhere, at least in something having to do with the field of choice. What, are they supposed to go to law school? Go become teachers and be attacked by politicians? I guess they could drive for Uber! What a future!

But we have a national narrative that the humanities are worthless and that people are “irrational” for getting a Ph.D. in those fields. Aaron Hanlon in the L.A. Review of Books:

In a fascinating way, the NSF data challenges a long-standing narrative about job opportunities by field of study. We’re used to thinking of — more accurately, maligning — humanities students as idealistic, unsystematic dreamers prone to “Peter Pan syndrome,” irrationality, and reality avoidance. Humanities PhDs struggling to find sustainable employment don’t garner much societal sympathy, largely because it’s considered axiomatic that a person with a humanities PhD has no business thinking she possesses economic value. But when the scientists and engineers — the ones confirmation bias demands we view as rational and pragmatic — are caught in a rough job market flirting with something that looks like quixotic delusion, we’re forced to rethink our assumptions. Once it appears that it’s not just humanities students making unadvisable career choices, it suddenly becomes more difficult to victim-blame unemployed doctors (of philosophy) as a whole.

Indeed, when it comes to explaining the seeming contradiction of increases in earned doctorates alongside diminishing job prospects for PhDs, we’re still wedded to the irrationality narrative we’ve unfoundedly ascribed to humanities PhDs. This is the case even though 75 percent of earned doctorates in 2014 were awarded in science and engineering.

The irrationality narrative has accompanied even some of the best analyses of PhD job prospects. As a follow-up on an earlier attempt to explain why people keep pursuing humanities PhDs, Jordan Weissmann provided a telling compilation of Atlantic readers’ responses in 2013. Weissmann’s own conclusions include, per the familiar narrative, the idea that “arts and humanities students aren’t necessarily the most career-minded or pragmatic individuals,” and PhD seekers “aren’t aware of how much debt they might take on in the process of earning their Ph.D.”; readers responded along similar lines. In fact, of the 11 categories Weissmann’s roundup uses to organize reader responses, three deal with suggestions about asymmetric information (people do PhDs based on some form of ignorance or misunderstanding), three deal with suggestions about student irrationality (people do PhDs because love of subject, or of being a top student, blinds them to harsh economic realities), and two are corrective points of information that don’t offer a theory.

If we compare the tenor of Weissmann’s findings in 2013 with that of Laura McKenna’s 2016 Atlantic piece on “The Ever-Tightening Job Market for Ph.D.s,” we see a common premise in spite of the new data: there must be something lacking or irrational about the choice to pursue a PhD. McKenna’s concluding set of questions, simultaneously genuine and rhetorical, suggests as much:

Why hasn’t all this [employment] information helped winnow down the ranks of aspiring professors — why hasn’t it proved to be an effective Ph.D. prophylactic? Are people risking so much in the hopes of getting a cushy job with a six-figure salary […] ? Is it because academia is a cult that makes otherwise sane people believe that there is no life outside the university?

The problem is not people getting a Ph.D., whether in English or Chemistry. The problem is not that schools are producing too many graduates. The problem is that we are engaging in a national disinvestment in valuing the graduate degree and thus there aren’t jobs.

We’ve presupposed a scenario in which there really is a massive oversupply of PhDs, and thus PhD students must be irrational for treading into an oversupplied labor market. But that’s simply not true. PhD “oversupply” is just a euphemistic way of talking about the fact that colleges and universities haven’t met student-generated demand with a commensurate supply of full-time, tenure-track faculty. Instead, we’ve rendered the majority of faculty contingent, increased administrators and administrative staff by 85 and 240 percent, respectively, over the past 40 years, and created a massive holding pen of temporary postdoctoral positions in STEM. If we look outside of academia for good measure, we see similar evidence of increased dependency on contingent labor, decades of stagnant wages, and no increase in leisure time to accompany increases in economic productivity. In this light it becomes harder to claim that PhD students are especially irrational or shortsighted, since so much of the broader US workforce is facing similar problems.

So why do people pursue PhDs despite grim job prospects? For one, because job prospects elsewhere haven’t been great either. Though PhDs are a skewed sample for all kinds of reasons, they also have a lower unemployment rate than master’s, bachelor’s, associate’s, and high school diploma holders. Accepting the five to seven years of employment and insurance benefits that come with a PhD is hardly an easy decision, but in light of deteriorating stability in nonacademic jobs, and the low unemployment rates of PhD holders, it’s hardly an irrational one either. In fact, it’s reasonable to think that a society continually touting the value of STEM research, a college education, and the “knowledge economy” does value PhDs. It would be irrational to think otherwise.

Perhaps the most compelling reason one pursues a PhD, however, is what it means beyond the immediately commodifiable. When we say it’s irrational — and worthy of ridicule — to pursue any kind of education that doesn’t maximize earnings, we’re effectively pathologizing healthy desires to learn and teach, and to pursue a course of research with long-term benefits. In fact, prestigious funding schemes like the MacArthur Fellowship offer no-strings-attached funding precisely because they get better results by untethering fellows from immediate financial pressures. This is also the idea behind no-strings and open-access funding developments in biomedical science: if you want results, you have to think long-term in ways that markets don’t always support. The PhD is hard work, typically with day-to-day teaching, grading, or lab responsibilities, but it’s also a rare opportunity to pursue research that you care about but the market doesn’t, all while keeping the lights on.

Instead of hiring people with a Ph.D. as a tenure-track professors, colleges and universities instead have to build some new buildings, provide some ever fancier dorms, and most importantly, take the money for themselves to their escalating salaries, perks, and new administrator positions.

It’s completely fine to get a Ph.D., although at this point one should understand that a) you should never go to a program without a good funding package and b) you aren’t going to get an academic job at the end of it unless you are very, very lucky. But there also needs to be pressure for universities to invest in hiring these people, including in the humanities. But the managerial MBA class that runs the universities and especially the Board of Trustees has no interest in this.

The University: Brought to You by the Same People Who Brought You the Housing Bubble and the Great Recession

[ 55 ] June 9, 2016 |

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Hiltzik is of course right on every point:

But Katehi’s activities point to a disturbing trend in higher education, especially among public institutions such as UC: Universities are getting cozier with businesses and industrialists, and less discerning about the pitfalls of these relationships, which include accepting donations with strings attached. What’s worse is that universities are adopting the corporate model of profit and loss as though they’re businesses themselves.

Students already are losing out. They’re not only saddled with an increasing share of the direct costs of their education, but are offered a narrower curriculum as universities cut back on supposedly unprofitable humanities and social science courses in favor of science, engineering and technology programs expected to attract profitable grants and offer the prospects of great riches from patentable inventions.

In one of the most extreme examples, the State University of New York at Albany moved in 2010 to ax its French, Italian, Russian and classics programs. That left the institution looking like a glorified vocational school for engineers and research scientists.

But the issues swirling around Katehi, a Greek-born engineer, have exposed the same rift within UC Davis, where members of the science and engineering faculties defend her as an effective supporter of diversity in science and technical education, and members of the humanities faculty tend to see her as an avatar of the “privatization of the public university,” as three dozen humanities faculty members put it in a letter to the Davis Enterprise newspaper.

These developments, however, are based on fundamental misconceptions of the purpose and the economics of higher education.

For most of the post-World War II period, it was well understood that universities, whether public or private, operated under a model distinct from business. That began to shift in the 1980s and 1990s as American culture became fixated on the virtues of private enterprise, says Christopher Newfield, a literature professor at UC Santa Barbara and a leading critic of the corporatization of academia.

“Until then, the private sector wasn’t the model for the public sector,” Newfield told me. “But the prestige of the private sector now requires imitation by the public sector. It’s almost as if we’re intimidated.”

The corporatization of higher education is destroying it, high paid administrator by high paid administrator, exploited adjunct by exploited adjunct. For years, people have said that universities should be run like a business, as if that would be a good thing. And now they are run like businesses. Therefore, resources are concentrated at the top, dissent from mere employees like professors is not tolerated, students pay more and more to be taught by overwhelmed and tenuously employed professors, and dictates from the top tell universities to train students for precisely the jobs state corporate leaders want to hire in right this minute as opposed to training them to be flexible members of the workforce and society for the next half-century. It’s a disaster and it gets worse every year.

Today in the Neoliberal University

[ 55 ] April 13, 2016 |

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Normally, I avoid using the word “neoliberalism” whenever possible since people use it almost as irresponsibly as they use the term “genocide” to describe something they don’t like. But of course neoliberalism has a meaning, which includes the privatization of public resources. That is part, although not all, of the problem with academia today. With declining state resources for public universities, ballooning administrator salaries, increased competition to attract students through amenities, etc., there is a lot of room for private companies to profit. Add to this the fact that college and university governance boards, public or private, are increasingly made up of businesspeople instead of academics, and cutting programs, privatizing services, and slashing budgets is the way college administrators can rise. Thus it’s hardly surprising to read that the president of the University of Arizona and chancellor of the University of California-Davis took jobs as members of the DeVry Education Group board of directors.

As the president of the University of Arizona, Hart makes $665,000. As the chancellor of the University of California at Davis, Katehi makes $424,360. Like most leaders of public colleges, they are some of the highest-paid public officials in their states.

In February, they both accepted second jobs: as board members of DeVry Education Group, a for-profit education company, for which they would earn an extra $70,000 a year — plus $100,000 in stock.

Within days, California critics were calling for Katehi to give up her board seat, while others called for her to resign from her position at UC Davis.

DeVry, a for-profit university, is facing allegations from the Federal Trade Commission, which claims that the company made false claims about its job placement rates and its graduates’ earnings. By serving on DeVry’s board, critics say, public university presidents legitimize its practices.

“No public university representative should be sitting the board of a company that is still mired in scandal,” said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a group that co-wrote an open letter asking Katehi to step down.

But Katehi’s story goes beyond DeVry: she had also served on the board of the textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons, which critics believe constitutes a conflict of interest.

When the second board membership came to light, California Assembly Member Kevin McCarty called for legislative hearings.

“It is unseemly,” he said in a statement, “for the chancellor to be moonlighting side deals to fatten her bank account, especially when it runs contrary to the interests of our students.”

Nearly one-third of public college presidents serve on corporate boards. Most of those companies exist in far-flung industries, and the issues at play are different: Why should college presidents involve themselves with shipping, with search engines, with banking?

That’s a good question. College presidents will come up with answers to that question, but will avoid the real answer, which is that they are cashing in at the expense of their students. When the differences between (at least theoretically) not-for-profit education and overtly predatory private higher education scams disappear, it’s because public education is turning into the latter.

Student Evals and Sexism

[ 43 ] January 25, 2016 |

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As nearly every faculty member knows, student evaluations are a horrible way to measure teaching. That’s for many reasons. Students are primarily evaluating teachers on what grade they think they will get and the easiness of the class, whether you are a white male or a person of color or a woman, how you dress, etc. Yet student evaluations are often the only way administrations want to measure teaching because a) they don’t want to put the resources into evaluating teaching and b) they want to have happy customers who return the next semester. But these evals can be tremendously damaging, especially to the boatloads of contingent faculty who increasingly teach college courses. On the connection between evaluations and sexism:

There’s mounting evidence suggesting that student evaluations of teaching are unreliable. But are these evaluations, commonly referred to as SET, so bad that they’re actually better at gauging students’ gender bias and grade expectations than they are at measuring teaching effectiveness? A new paper argues that’s the case, and that evaluations are biased against female instructors in particular in so many ways that adjusting them for that bias is impossible.

Moreover, the paper says, gender biases about instructors — which vary by discipline, student gender and other factors — affect how students rate even supposedly objective practices, such as how quickly assignments are graded. And these biases can be large enough to cause more effective instructors to get lower teaching ratings than instructors who prove less effective by other measures, according to the study based on analyses of data sets from one French and one U.S. institution.

“In two very different universities and in a broad range of course topics, SET measure students’ gender biases better than they measure the instructor’s teaching effectiveness,” the paper says. “Overall, SET disadvantage female instructors. There is no evidence that this is the exception rather than the rule.”

Accordingly, the “onus should be on universities that rely on SET for employment decisions to provide convincing affirmative evidence that such reliance does not have disparate impact on women, underrepresented minorities, or other protected groups,” the paper says. Absent such specific evidence, “SET should not be used for personnel decisions.”

Needless to say, university administrations will at best pay lip service to this problem.

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