administrators

"This Week": The NLRB Ruling on Faculty Unions

On "This Week," Inside Higher Ed's free news podcast, two experts on faculty and labor, William A. Herbert and Gary Rhoades, discuss the recent ruling of the National Labor Relations Board that may make it much easier for unions to organize faculty members at private colleges and universities. Sign up here to be notified of new editions of "This Week."

 

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Essay sees the possible collapse of austerity politics around higher education

For years now, the main trend in public university policy has been to impose budgetary austerity on them. Regardless of the revenue level that universities seek or the efficiencies they announce, the result is always the same: inadequate public funding coupled with rising tuition and student debt.

On the surface, 2015 promises more of the same: more austerity, more fees, more adjuncts, more tech, more management, and more metrics— metrics as a substitute for money. Years of attacks on austerity economics by prominent critics like Paul Krugman have not damaged austerity politics, which favors some powerful interests and which has hardened into a political culture. Our public universities have been stuck in a policy deadlock that I think of as halfway privatization. This has meant the worst of both worlds: not enough tuition and endowment income to escape the perma-austerity of state legislatures, and not enough public funding to rebuild the educational core. 

There are signs now that this framework is coming unglued. One of them is the tuition debate that started up again at the University of California Board of Regents meeting in November 2014. 

University officials opened with their only revenue move — a tuition hike. UC President Janet Napolitano, who had been the Democratic governor of Arizona and then President Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, proposed an annual 5 percent hike for UC students for each of the next five years.  The state’s Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, responded by saying the hike would break an agreement in which the state is to increase California State University and University of California funding 4 to 5 percent per year on the condition that tuition stays frozen, as it had been for three years.

From there, the parties made a series of scripted points. Napolitano responded that UC couldn’t maintain academic quality with funding levels that were lower that when the recession began. The state replied that UC had more than made up for the massive cuts with its even more massive tuition increases. UC officials countered that the state’s math was wrong. An existing line was redrawn in the sand: we need more versus you have plenty. Much of the state’s top brass showed up to argue against Napolitano and the regents. Though the speeches were especially passionate, no votes were changed. The tuition hikes passed 14-7, with every politician on the board voting no.

Some editorialists were impressed that Janet Napolitano had started a new public discussion of the university’s fate, and yet the austerity script generated the standard follow-up gesture of split-the-difference.  UC officials said they would rather have the state buy out the tuition increase by adding $100 million to the general fund allocation of about $3 billion. In response, Democratic leaders hatched his-and-hers halfway measures. His, from the Democratic president pro tem of the state Senate, was a full tuition hike buyout funded by a raid on the legislature’s halfway measure of last year, a “middle class scholarship” plan, plus a hike in the triple-tuition paid by non-resident students. Hers, from the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, was half a tuition buyout linked to higher teaching loads for faculty and a gesture toward “zero-base budgeting.”

Regardless of which components prevail, the austerity outcome is already programmed: not enough money to fix basic problems. The California tuition fight is about who would pay an additional $100 million, but that comes to 1.4 percent of the university’s core budget of $7 billion, and is a drop in the bucket of its $27 billion overall budget. UC also says it has a structural deficit: exact size varies, but one estimate was $2.4 billion by 2015-16. The tuition increase (or state buyout) comes to 3.3 percent of that, so that the university system would need about 25 years of such increases to close the deficit it will have next year.

UC managers and state politicians are debating mirror versions of the same austerity molecule. Either way, academic planning is ruled by insufficient funds, and quality upgrades are kicked further down the road. The university system actually needs 16 to 20 percent annual increases in funding for five years to get back on track, and yet the budget script assures that the university will neither ask for nor receive the reinvestment to do so, defined as growing at the same rate as state personal income. The tuition debate and its larger narrative aren’t about advancing public higher education but about sustaining the austerity already imposed on it. The outcome for students, year after year, is that they pay more tuition to get less education.

And yet something has happened in the last few months. The three leading players began to tire of their roles.

First, there are the university’s senior managers. Their deal was to accept austerity, but instead they were getting insolvency. They had spent every year since 2008 announcing major efficiency programs, but political leaders were never satisfied. Operated from the Office of the President in Oakland (UCOP), these programs had nine-figure savings goals, consumed immeasurable amounts of staff time, pushed expenses onto already-suffering campuses, cost the central administration most of whatever good will had remained among the rank and file, and yet still didn’t help the university.  

One flagship efficiency measure, an IT centralization plan called UCPath, has missed all its time and cost milestones and is now being funded through borrowing. The most likely outcome is that the university will spend $220 million to save a net $5 million per year over a couple of decades while going into debt to do it. The university could get real savings through major structural simplification, but that would take knowledge, money, and trust that UCOP doesn’t have, and bottom-up initiative that it doesn’t support. All this efficiency programming has done little to close the deficit. 

Faced with weak results and mounting unpopularity, an administrative glove or two finally came off. The university’s senior budget official used phrases like “I fundamentally disagree with the notion that tuition increases have made up for cuts”— fighting words in the deference culture that normally prevails — and appeared on multiple radio and TV shows to plead the university’s case. Political leaders can keep forcing university officials to accept their lump of coal, but the change this year is that perma-austerity has undermined their united austerity front.

As for the Board of Regents, the deal was that cooperation would maintain prestige and not produce humiliation. Board members have been very good at taking their austerity medicine — with the expectation that someday it would reward them with improved fiscal health.

One sign of health would be for the state to rescue the regents from their single biggest fiduciary mistake, which was to have stopped employer and employee contributions to UC’s retirement fund and not to have restarted them for almost 20 years. But the state’s Democrats have been as unwilling as its Republicans to fund the state share of the employer’s re-started contributions, now at 14 percent of payroll, although it has always done this for the California State University system. Since the state has also been unwilling to fund cost of living increases, the result of the restart in employee contributions was a 12 percent faculty pay cut between 2010 and 2013.

The board resembles the faculty in one way, which is its lack of political clout, and they are now angrier about this than I have ever seen them. One regent described the state’s relation to higher education funding as “breach of contract,” and this was just one of many expressions of frustration and disgust. Cost-free complicity between the university board and state leaders has come to an end in California. Its days may be numbered elsewhere.

The third major player is the undergraduate student body, for whom the deal was to pay more for the same, not to pay more for less. Worried about jobs and skills, they have started to zero in on declines in educational quality. As part of the tuition hike debate, Caitlin Quinn, a student government leader at UC Berkeley, said, students “aren’t seeing this supposed quality education. I've been [at UC Berkeley] for three years and ever since I've been here students have been struggling to see the value of a UC education. We’re in huge classes. I’ve been in classes as big as 800 people. I don't think there's more than one or two professors who know me by name.” Students increasingly doubt that public universities can give them the individual attention they need to build the special capabilities now required by a permanently demanding job market.

As a result, UC students were as disgusted with the austerity Democrats who opposed tuition hikes as they were with the UC officials who proposed them. The tone was nicely captured by a UCLA Daily Bruin editorial that began, “State Senate Democrats say they ‘stand with California’s students and their families’ with their new proposal for funding the University of California.... But this is an outright lie.” 

Students were now calling not just for flat tuition but also for the public reinvestment that would rebuild quality. They were clear that no decision-maker was offering this. There was a new multilateral hostility to all of the solutions proposed by the university and the political establishment — a pox on all your houses! Events this past fall began to decouple mainstream students from the mainstream policy options in a way the country hasn’t seen since the 60s.   

The weakening of higher ed's austerity front reflects the weakening of Democratic fiscal politics. For years, Democrats called for inclusive progress without paying for it through the taxation levels of the high-growth postwar economy.  This has helped them to hang onto wealthy liberal donors and the progressive upper-middle class, but lost them the confidence of most working people.  Their “politics of drift” allowed them to coast along with Republicans on the investments of the past, even as the freeways, laboratories, electrical grid, and everything else aged and declined.

By 2000, the country no longer had the world-leading pubic infrastructure that would sustain the inclusive economy Democrats still said they wanted. Public research universities were primary victims of their austerity drift. Austerity Democrats have been as invested as Republicans in the fantasy that prosperity’s infrastructure didn’t need high levels of investment, just more techno-efficiency that somehow needed no investment itself. 

Although austerity theory still rules public colleges, three of its major players no longer project future benefit from following their scripted roles: cutting and squeezing (administration), political compliance (governing boards), and tolerance for higher tuition and debt (students). It has become clear to them that these austerity policies will never make things better. 

The decline of austerity’s political coalition offers a second chance to two other parties. One is the body of university faculty, whose senate voices have largely echoed those of their administrations. The other consists of the families of college students, who are poorly organized and have not held politicians accountable for their destructive cuts. Each has a crucial piece of the puzzle. Educational quality can’t be defined and pursued without the faculty. The full impact of student debt can’t be understood without the families who, through mechanisms like Parent PLUS loans, are now indebted for college along with their children.

Were these groups to push for real public reinvestment, they would face weaker opposition from the austerity coalition than they would have faced in the past. A strong push would make 2015 the year that the country finally started to rebuild its public universities and colleges. 

 

Christopher Newfield is professor of literature and American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Professor Sorry for Sharing Racially Insensitive Content

An adjunct professor of sociology at several New Jersey institutions denied allegations of racism this week, after a someone claiming to be a former student reported the instructor for sharing racially insensitive material on Facebook, according to the South Jersey Times. "I feel terrible," Nancy Reeves told the newspaper, saying she had only reposted some 20 images from the “Mexican Word of the Day” page because they were “plays on words.” The posts, some of which show an unattractive man in a sombrero, parody dictionary entries making fun of Mexican accents, such as: “Asbestos. I did jur [sic] lawn asbestos I could."

The Times reported that an anonymous person claiming to be a “humiliated and offended former student” of Reeves’s sent copies of the instructor’s posts to several media outlets and several colleges where she works, expressing concern that Reeves’s racial attitudes might affect her grading. Reeves said she was “blindsided” and that she wished that if “someone were that upset they would've come to me first.” She denied ever basing a grade on anything other than tests, papers, class discussion participation and attendance. A former student of Reeves’s interview by the Times who did not give his name said Reeves was not a racist.

Joe Cardona, a spokesman for Rowan University, where Reeves works, said administrators don't condone the posts' language and were looking into the student complaint. Dan Hanson, a Widener University spokesman, said the institution doesn't approve of "racism of any nature," and would take appropriate action after learning more about the case. Andrea Stanton, a spokeswoman for Rowan College at Gloucester County, said it had received an anonymous complaint and forwarded it to the office of equity and diversity for investigation. Reeves told the Times she’s already unfriended many friends on Facebook who were former students and said she would not friend students in the future. She could not immediately be reached for additional comment.

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Student Sues U. of Oregon Over Alleged Sexual Assault

A University of Oregon student is suing the university and its men's basketball coach, alleging that they knowingly recruited a basketball player who had previously been accused of sexual assault and suspended from Providence College. That player, Brandon Austin, was one of three members of the Oregon basketball team who were accused of sexually assaulting the female student last year. All three were suspended for up to 10 years, or for as long as it takes for the female student to graduate. The three athletes were not charged, Oregon Live reports, though the district attorney acknowledged that the Eugene Police Department's investigation concluded that there was "no doubt the incidents occurred."

The suit also alleges that the University of Oregon scrubbed the players' transcripts of any references to sexual misconduct, making it easier for them to transfer to play elsewhere. Austin was able transfer again, this time to Northwest Florida State College, where he is now a member of the basketball team. Steve DeMeo, Northwest Florida State's head basketball coach, has acknowledged Austin's previous suspensions, saying at the time of the transfer that "the college has decided to give this young man an opportunity to continue his education."

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Dartmouth Charges Students With Cheating in Ethics Course

Dartmouth College has charged 64 students -- many of them athletes -- with cheating in a sports ethics course, the Valley News reported. According to the course's instructor, Randall Balmer, dozens of students frequently did not attend the class, and instead handed their clickers to other students who then used the devices to respond to questions during in-class assignments. The course was originally created, Balmer said, to help college athletes who struggled with Dartmouth coursework. The university declined to comment on the matter, but did confirm the number of students facing potential punishment, which could include "suspension or separation."

Though less common within the Ivy League, the incident is the latest in a string of academic scandals involving athletes at selective institutions. A report released in October detailed a decades-long pattern of academic fraud at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where 3,100 students enrolled and passed classes they never attended

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Canadian professors spar over limits of academic freedom

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The U. of New Brunswick stands behind a professor who said Asians are ruining the "British" city of Vancouver.

How to discuss diversity and inclusion on campus (essay)

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Diversity and inclusion can be challenging ideals to discuss, let alone realize. Elizabeth Simmons shares strategies gleaned from conversations with trusted colleagues.

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Essay on ways MOOCs helped and hurt debates about future of higher education

As the hype around MOOCs has subsided, a frequently asked question in university circles today is: Who have massive open online courses helped or hurt?

Providing free and open access to content from revered institutions is laudable. But enrollments at elite colleges’ MOOCs do not translate into revenue at the vast majority of colleges and universities, many of them already cash-strapped. And learning that fails to deliver credit that leads to a credential may not yield much for students, even if they enjoy the courses. MOOCs may have been more faddish than altruistic.

For MOOCs to be important long term, they must be more than a curiosity.  A 2014 study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education found that only 4 percent of those who had registered for a MOOC actually completed it. The curious are obviously much less likely to see a course through to completion than are serious students seeking a credential to help them advance in their lives.

Studies like the one out of Penn suggest that MOOCs may have little long-term utility for students. And for institutions, the risks of issuing credit for MOOCs could have a serious impact on their operating income. Most of those who have created MOOCs have invested a lot of sweat equity in return for relatively little, and no meaningful income for provider universities that contributed their brand and reputation to support the concept.

Higher education needs to be affordable, but it cannot be free. As aptly observed by Michael Cusumano of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the software, music, video, book publishing, newspaper, and magazine industries are “still struggling to recover from the impact of free,” and many companies within those industries never did. In fact, two-thirds of the public software product companies operating in 1998 had shuttered by 2006. While a variety of factors may have contributed to their demise, the proliferation of free products was chief among them, points out Cusumano, a fact that should be kept in mind as we evaluate the impact of MOOCs on higher education.

At a time when many colleges and universities are struggling to justify their value proposition and find financial sustainability, marking their core product to zero seems to be misguided, an observation that is gaining currency among higher educators worldwide. This practice also raises a question whether free implies little value.

Giving away education can make sense in some cases. For instance, the country of Colombia, which has offered MOOC-like courses through SENA, its agency focused on providing practical and technical educational courses to increase employment, and India, which is considering putting high-demand courses online for workforce training may prove that free and open courses online can be effective in up-skilling societies. It is important to keep in mind, however, that these initiatives are seen as a public good and, as such, are fully funded by the government and not by institutions that need to find their way to self-sufficiency.

Using technology to deliver relevant, affordable, and credential-bearing education from top universities to help more citizens progress in their lives is within the incredible potential of the Internet and can be done inexpensively and at scale, as MOOCs have demonstrated.    

While the participation of top universities in the delivery of MOOCs has helped further legitimize online learning and infuse higher education with much needed innovation, it has not proven to be the anticipated game changer for either students or universities. History has shown us that giveaways are a gambler’s game and not a strategy for a sustainable future.  

Randy Best is the chairman and CEO of Academic Partnerships.

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New study finds men more likely to doubt evidence of gender bias in science fields

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New study on online comments suggests big gap in the way men and women perceive evidence of gender bias in sciences. What does that mean for efforts to diversify STEM?

Florida State Sued Over Alleged Rape by Football Star

The woman who says that Jameis Winston raped her is suing Florida State University, The Tallahassee Democrat reported. Winston, a star quarterback who on Wednesday announced plans to enter the National Football League draft, has denied raping her. Numerous journalistic investigations have raised questions about whether Florida State or local authorities took the charges seriously. The suit charges that the university largely refused to investigate and didn't fill the woman in on her various legal options. The university again on Wednesday denied wrongdoing in the case.

 

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