Friday, April 18, 2014

News for the Week

I just thought I’d share a round-up of some of the stories that have caught my attention in the last week.

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A map of the new Lake Kariba from the British National Archives

For reporting on the tremendous overreach of the national security state, the Guardian and the Washington Post received the Pulitzer prize, the most prestigious journalism award in the United States and beyond.  Without the reporting of these papers and, it should be said, the whistleblowing of Edward Snowden, we would never have known of the extraordinary overreach of the NSA and other arms of the security state.  We would never have known that members of the rogue intelligence agencies have lied in Congress and broken the law.

There are some Republicans and right-wing Democrats in Congress who think that Snowden and anyone who reports on him are traitors.  If they are defending serial lawbreakers who have violated the public trust, they need to take a long, hard look in the mirror, particularly given revelations that wittingly or otherwise, the NSA’s preoccupations with spying on citizens to perpetuate U.S. terror abroad prevented them from stopping the Heartbleed bug, something which is a real threat to the public.

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One of the most dramatic, harrowing, and touching stories I’ve run across in my research—well-documented by other historians—was the construction in the late-1950s of the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River, at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Then the largest man-made lake in the world, Kariba required the displacement of tens of thousands of people, whose departure from the Valley which was to be flooded was tragic and unwilling. 

Today, studies of that dam suggest that its structure, and contingency planning around its breach by the powerful Zambezi River in the context of a partial or full collapse, need revisiting.  I’ve never visited this part of either Zambia or Zimbabwe, but hope to get to Kariba one of these days, in part because I’ve read so much about the construction of the dam and the social costs associated with it.

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On a not dissimilar note, PBS is premiering A Fierce Green Fire, a film about the environmental movement.  It will be shown on Tuesday, Earth Day, and looks to be a powerful telling of the story of the emergence of this mass movement in the twentieth century.  It’s hard to imagine that not so many years ago “the environment”, “ecology”, and the health of our planet were not terms, ideas, or concerns in common currency. 

Concerns for the protection of species, the regulation of pollutants, the preservation of “natural wonders”, and the relationship between “natural” and “human” ecosystems and habitats were pushed by grassroots movements which harnessed new sciences.  Our world would be a very different place without the environmental movement, although our growth-oriented economy and inability to come to grips with the threat posed by climate change suggest that we have a long way to go.

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In another environmentally-related story, San hunters in Botswana are attempting to reclaim both their dignity and hunting rights which the government is seeking to deny them.  People for whom hunting serves both a cultural and economic purpose resent the fact that wealthy foreign visitors are permitted to hunt while people with a stake in the land and its resources are not. 

Countries in Southern Africa generally have more liberal hunting laws than their East African counterparts, where the illegal ivory trade is brisker and enforcement more difficult.  But global efforts to crack down on the hunting of animals like elephants have likely had an impact on the Botswana government’s policy, demonstrating the power of international conservation groups, which often pay little attention to events on the ground, or the human presence in many of the lands they regard as “wilderness”. 

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Perhaps afraid that President Obama’s embrace of the Bush administrations War of Terror will make the GOP look like a bunch of peacniks, Republican Senator Bob Corker is trying to start a war with his idiotic demand that the U.S. escalate tensions in Ukraine by shipping weapons to the region.

It was one hundred years ago this summer that the First World War exploded in Europe, driven by secretive alliance systems, the power of arms industries, mindless patriotism, and a diplomacy based on brinkmanship.  That senseless war cost the lives of millions. 

Corker is a mulish defender of the illegal war of aggression in Iraq which killed hundreds of thousands of people, so he appears to be someone who doesn’t understand or care about the consequences of his actions when they claim the lives of other people.  Hopefully his colleagues and the administration have better sense.

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Princeton researchers came out with a timely study which defines the U.S. as an oligarchy rather than a democracy, a characterisation that fits well with the massive redistribution of wealth to the upper classes at the expense of the working classes, who are also being stripped of their rights to organise and defend their economic interests by the wealthy and their representatives in Congress.

Political power in the United States is increasingly associated with great wealth, meaning that the middle and working classes, defended by people like Elizabeth Warren, are being written out of the political process.

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One smaller result of the monetisation of politics is the ever greater importance of hired guns.  Campaigns are increasingly about fundraising and targeting, and so “political experts” play a tremendous role in these campaigns, combining efforts to control the process with an utter lack of principles.

This week, the British Labour Party hired David Axlerod, one of President Obama’s advisors, to help them fight the 2015 election and regain power against a Conservative government which has implemented a harsh austerity regime on the country over the past several years. 

That in turn reminded me of the fact that Jim Messina, another Obama campaign officer, had last year joined the Conservative Party offering his services, and throwing any progressive principles he ever pretended to have out the window.  The fact that political campaigns are in the hands of these opportunistic thugs might explain why even in an ostensibly progressive party like the Democratic Party, there are so few conversations about the economic and social welfare of the public. 

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Clark Kerr's University of California: Book Review

Published in 2011, Christina González’ exploration of the University of California through the philosophy of its most famous President, Clark Kerr, is a timely contribution to debates about the future of the University of California.  In Clark Kerr’s University of California: Leadership, Diversity, and Planning in Higher Education (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2011), González departs from the premise that to understand the future of the University, we must understand its past.

González was personally close to Kerr, and clearly regards him as a near-unique figure in terms of his impact and philosophy from her vantage point of a long-time student of policy and governance in the higher education arena.  Early chapters are semi-biographical inasmuch as they provide context for Kerr’s upbringing and trace influences of philosophers and educational thinkers on the man who served as Chancellor at Berkeley and President of the UC at a time when the campus and system were undergoing great growth; when political challenges on- and off-campus destabilised the institution; and when the current model of tuition was imposed over Kerr’s protests. 

Kerr identified the most critical development of his tenure as the rise of the “Multiversity”, or the manner in which the traditional university was wrenched from its comfort zone and subjected to the utilitarian demands of a fast-changing society with the attendant goods and ills that process mandated.  González regards Kerr as the ideal leader during that period because of his leadership style, and various sections throughout the book offer musings on garden-variety Mammalia, namely hedgehogs and foxes.

In González’ reading of Kerr’s formulation (which is borrowed from other contexts), “hedgehogs are transformational leaders, while foxes are transactional ones” (12).  The essential argument of the book is that Kerr, a hedgehog, went out of fashion and was replaced by a series of fox-like University leaders.  González argues that now, as the University faces a new crisis, rule by foxes is not only inadequate, but has contributed to the rise of a misguided administrative cadre, and that we are ready for a new generation of hedgehogs in positions of leadership.

The chapters on Kerr’s philosophical journey, and some of the sections on internal UC politics in the latter portion of the book read a bit like inside baseball (although the examples are well-chosen and illustrative). 

González’ own argument is captured in a quotation from Upton Sinclair’s The Goose Step, wherein he quotes the daughter of Johns Hopkins’ first president.  Elizabeth Gilman wrote in the early part of the twentieth century that “the fine new buildings and campus have not to my mind compensated for a considerable lowering of intellectual ideals and accomplishments.  Money getting is horribly dangerous to institutions as well as to individuals, and the Johns Hopkins University has been out to get money.  It is true that this money has been given for education and not for profit, and yet even so, there may be the insidious temptation of adopting purely business standards” (30). 

Those “business standards” were part of what students in Kerr’s day criticised in his explanation and partial embrace of the “Multiversity”.  González argues that private and public universities are slowly converging on a model which will do a disservice to the public the latter are meant to serve, to the diversity of that public in particular, and most especially to undergraduate students, the last remaining sector of the campus to be significantly funded by decaying state support, a dubious distinction which absent sudden change puts those students in an unenviable position (120).

González'  treatment of Kerr is far from uncritical, and she notes deficiencies in his leadership style which left his response to student protests looking wooden and ineffective, creating an opening for the UC’s chief detractor, Ronald Reagan.  But Kerr himself remarked on the emergence of the “Unfaculty” (like the “Undead”) to describe what we would recognise today as the proliferation of unsecure lecturers and adjunct faculty who increasingly shoulder the teaching burden while forming a poorly-compensated, under-supported, and ill-cared for caste in the academic community (57).  González describes how “as tuition and fees are increasing, salaries and benefits for low-paid campus workers, such as food workers and janitors, are being kept low, oftentimes by outsourcing these jobs, giving rise to protests.  This process is aggravated by the fact that academics themselves are divided into two classes, a shrinking body of tenure-track faculty and an army of lecturers and researchers with no job security and lower compensation and prestige” (75).  This process is representative of trends in the workforce at large.

What I think must be a novel contribution of the book is its attention to diversity.  From the early twentieth century, the presence of women and minorities was seen as an impediment to “excellence” (143-47), the imperative in the intensely competitive world of U.S. universities.  The widely-praised Master Plan nonetheless embodied what González sees as Kerr’s primary defect, his failure to attend to the need for the representation of all Californians at the UC.  Because of the manner in which the Master Plan cut access to UC, it actually contributed to the segregation of higher education in the state at the very moment of the civil rights struggle (65).

For me, the weakness of the book was the extent to which it downplays the way in which the University is tied up in the state’s political economy.  In calling for a return of Hedgehogs as University leaders, González seems to assume that a visionary would be able to do what no one else has and persuade California’s anti-social, miserly public that it could stand to benefit from reinvesting in an institution it is on the cusp of losing. 

Conversely, although González recognises the complicity of the public, I believe she also understates the extent to which the openness to the privatisation and commercialisation of the University by some of its leaders has been adopted with enthusiasm rather than gritted teeth.  She writes, California’s public has “forced public universities to become privatized, with all that that entails in terms of differential compensation for its employees.  There is a cause-and-effect relationship between lack of public support for higher education and the tuition hikes that universities are experiencing.  To criticize the university for becoming more like a private business  is blaming the victim” (184).

But the UC Regents and some administrators have been very open about their desire to mould the University in the vision of their own corporate cave.  A good example of this came when UC hired Mark Yudof as its President.  In defending Yudof’s extraordinary compensation package, UC Regent Richard Blum (husband of Senator Feinstein), declared, “He’s expensive, but he’s worth it” (186).

González questions that received wisdom.  “Until now”, she writes, “the University of California has invoked the market to justify the salaries of its high-level administrators, and it was true that if it wanted to recruit the most highly-paid university executives in the country, it needed to meet and exceed the compensation they were receiving elsewhere.  But is it necessary or desirable to hire those kind of executives anymore?” (191). To González, to much of the UC community, and to most people in California, the answer is a blindingly obvious “No”.  And yet the Regents and upper-level administration persist in defending the value of outsized salaries that have yielded precious little in the way of material returns to the UC.

In debunking the logic behind the game, González writes, “What started as a legitimate competition for executive talent has turned into a game of musical chairs, in which executives move from institution to institution in pursuit of ever-increasing compensation, a system that is fostered by the search firms, which make a great deal of money with this game...It is a vicious circle: the more money an executive makes, the more desirable he or she becomes without any apparent consideration of actual performance.  In fact, some executives now are moving so often that they simply do not have time to accomplish anything anywhere” (229-30). 

This behaviour on the part of the unaccountable Regents—themselves occupying patronage positions dispensed by sitting governors—is only part of the problem facing California’s public, for whom “the high tuition-high aid formula is arcane and off-putting.  Students and their parents want to know the cost of tuition up front, and they want this cost to be moderate” (76-7).  González recognises the barriers this model—championed by Berkeley’s recent Chancellor Robert Birgeneau—imposes on many Californians, and the uncertainty that it introduces into people’s lives.  This uncertainty is no accident, of course, and mirrors the instability that poorly-regulated markets introduce into the wider job market.

González is unabashed in arguing for an expansion rather than a retraction of the Master Plan (226).  She does not provide a particularly concrete path forward for the reinvigoration of higher education in the Golden State.

But in her history of the UC and her exploration of the leadership styles through which it has been governed over the years, she provides an example of how such a reversal can occur.  Conventional wisdom today holds that UC has to adapt to the brave new world of the market, of high fees, and of declining state support.  Critics of the administration are dismissed and told to “get real”.  Proponents of public higher education are written off as unrealistic romantics. 

But González describes how in the early 1980s, UC President David Gardner, partly as a result of his particular leadership capabilities and partly as a result of favourable circumstances, was able to see a massive (32%) increase in funding for the UC (151ff).  Reagan’s late-1960s attack on the University might have begun a decline which looks irreversible from the vantage point of mid-2014.  But viewed from 1983, things might have looked differently, and this episode reminds us that as citizens, we retain some notional control over the circumstances in which we debate the importance of our public institutions.

González emphasis on individual agency might be overstated, particularly if restricted to the men at the helm of the UC.  But particularly at moments like ours when the inequity of our society is becoming increasingly visible, the public could be primed to launch a fight-back against the idea that educational decline is inevitable.  It might very well do so out of a recognition that we benefit as a collective from investing in institutions which possess the capacity to restore equity and vitality to our society.  In González view, which I very much share, UC has the potential to be precisely such an institution.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Surge of Fawning Coverage Obscures Jerry Brown's Reactionary Rule in California

Jerry Brown, in this third term as California’s Governor, seems immune not just to criticism, but in the national press at least, to anything resembling scrutiny.  In paper after paper and in one magazine after another, glossy profiles featuring the defiant-looking Governor have appeared.  Brown is quoted spouting classical sages and sounding by turns hard-nosed and Zen. 

His tenure since 2011 in Sacramento has generated a veritable cottage industry of crummy “Comeback” literature which proclaims him the Best Thing in California since gold was discovered, back when Brown was but a wee lad.  There are variants to this literature.  Some national commentators don’t even pretend to know anything about California’s politics, and just sit on Brown’s famously uncomfortable bench in his Capitol office and let their eyes get wider as the canny political operator leads them down the garden path. 

In the Huffington Post, William Bradley writes with far more knowledge and experience of California’s political scene, and is in a different way just as startlingly bad, although in his case it has more to do with treating politics like a game instead of a moral endeavour.  In the last few days, Bradley has launched a new one-man tendril of a strain of “Comeback” literature that earlier seemed to die out: the Brown for President 2016 sort.  Bradley cites a GOP operative who “recently talked about a potentially powerful Brown candidacy for president in 2016 with a strong story to tell”.


The latest evidence of Brown’s popularity comes in a poll which suggests that if the election were held today, Brown would secure 57% of the votes of “likely voters”.  His nearest Republican Party competitor, Tim Donnelly, is forty points behind, and Neel Kashkari, the pundits’ favourite to save the Republican Party’s brand, makes an impressive showing with all of 2%!  The Republican Party clearly has no interest in being saved.  It could also be, understandably, that the party has some difficulty in recognising “the 35-year-old dingbat from Goldman someone put in charge of handing out $700 billion bailout dollars” as its Saviour. 

Undoubtedly Brown’s popularity has something to do with the fact that he is something of a known quantity running against one professed cultural fundamentalist (Donnelly) and two economic fundamentalists (both Donnelly and Kashkari).  The Republicans on the gubernatorial ticket might very well welcome Texas Governor Rick Perry’s efforts to poach jobs from California.  Kashkari is a buffoon, whose “education policy” ran to a half dozen lines.  Donnelly is an Assemblyman famous for trying to carry a loaded gun onto an airplane.  Putting Donnelly in charge of a political system like California’s would be akin to handing a loaded gun to a raving lunatic. 

But any evaluation of Brown’s record should recognise that Bradley’s characterisation of Brown as having “[turned around] California’s once crisis-plagued state government by cutting the budget, raising revenue, and encouraging economic growth” rings hollow from the perspective of many Californians.

The recession ravaged California at the end of several decades of increasing economic inequality.  More and more people during that time, and particularly during the eight years of the Bush administration, were shunted down the social ladder.  Their vulnerability, not immediately apparent during more stable years, became tragically apparent when the bottom of the public sphere and the social net fell out from under them—or rather, was slashed from beneath them—in response to the recession and California’s budget deficits.

The nationwide response to recession, increasingly the norm particularly after 2010 was a cruel drive for austerity, which held that the black in the budget was more important than people’s lives, and that the spectacular wealth of the plutocrats who increasingly dominate our country was off-limits when it came to redistribution.  Instead, that redistribution had to occur amongst people in the middle class and below.

In other states, that might have provided enough leeway for the state governments to take something resembling a humane approach to its problems when it came to the provision of state-sourced welfare and public goods.  But California possesses a Byzantine political structure, with details of the tax code written into what is one of the world’s longest constitutions.  The Golden State’s political structure pits voters and the legislature against one another.

Most devastatingly, it is rigged towards making cuts, because it requires 66% of the legislature to vote to direct more tax dollars towards, well, anything, but only 51% of the legislature to rip the foundations out from beneath a population rendered vulnerable by national and statewide trends towards divestment from the public sphere, slow processes accelerated dramatically from 2008 onwards.

Arnold Schwarzenegger set grimly about the business of squeezing Californians and shaving down their institutions.  But it was Jerry Brown who gave a more credible face to austerity.  Our gimlet-faced Governor, elected by a wide margin in 2010, launched a stunningly regressive assault on schools, universities, parks, libraries, regulatory agencies, and the social safety net.  By so doing, he achieved the balanced budget of which the pundits are so enamoured.  But the human costs of Brown’s violently-reactionary program never feature in the calculations of such people. 

None of them ask what it means to use these cuts to fashion a society in which fewer people have access to quality public services like schools and universities and libraries and the social welfare resources that act as a stimulus to families who are the victims of economic forces beyond their control.  None of them have sought to measure the value of a balanced budget against the chronic damage done to those on whose backs the budget was balanced. 

The pundits’ excuse for neglecting these issues would likely be the passage of Prop 30—by voters, not Brown and legislators—which was sold as a “fix” by the Governor, but did nothing more than place a band-aid on the gaping wound the Governor helped his predecessor and the Crackpot Caucus (i.e. the California GOP) inflict on the state. 

Brown’s best moment for potential redemption after his sociopathic assault on Californians during the previous two years came in 2012, when Democrats won supermajorities in both the Assembly and Senate.  This could have been the chance to reinvest in our state’s beleaguered institutions, the strengthening of which would have been a boon to the working and middle classes.  It could have been an opportunity to tackle our broken system of governance.  It could have provided a moment for a debate about the responsibilities of those who govern—including California’s voters—and the value we place on democratic public institutions and democratic forms of government.

Instead, Brown threatened to go to war with Democrats in the legislature if they contemplated taxes.  He ignored outright calls for political reform.  He compared our state’s struggling, debt-burdened students to millionaire bankers.  He is wrenching the “community” out of our Community College system.  He is instrumentalising higher education.  He didn’t even mention the word “inequality” in this year’s State of the State Address.

Bradley praises Brown’s “future-oriented” agenda, citing the bullet train, and renewable energy, but not identifying who will ride the train that will likely serve fewer people than a overhaul and subsidy of the existing Amtrak system would achieve, or mentioning Brown’s decision to simultaneously endorse facking and roll back the remit of regulators who could assess the safety of the policy. 

Brown resembles less some classical sage in the agora of the “New California”, fresh from a comeback, than an addled Nero, fiddling to some orchestra only he can hear atop a social and economic tinderbox which he is actually well-placed to overhaul were he not so serially irresponsible. 

Given the cowardice and irresponsibility of the California progressives and Democrats who have given Brown a free pass, abetted by the bamboozled press, I can’t imagine a scenario in which he is not our Governor until January of 2019 (barring a successful presidential run, of course).  What is so shameful is that these coming years will be spent so unproductively, because of the refusal of this one man who sits atop his state and so obstinately refuses to come to grips with its emerging social chasms, the crumbling of its public sphere, and its devastating democratic deficit.  We need a Governor who will do more than take up space and contribute to the degradation of our polity, and Jerry Brown is unlikely to fit that bill. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Considering the "Multiversity" in California

Last week, I wrote a post about the political economy of the University of California.  I got a number of e-mails about it, with some good questions.  One common theme, that people approached from different directions, related to the priorities of the University system.  A number of people mentioned hearing statistics about administrative bloat.


There are currently 233,198 students across ten campuses.  In addition, there are 16,300 faculty at those campuses, and 133,000 staff.  This wasn’t the “two staff for every student” ratio that a couple of people mentioned, but if UC was primarily a teaching institution this ratio would nonetheless be a little disturbing. 

Before unpacking those numbers, it’s also instructive to take a look at where money comes from, and where in goes, in the context of the UC. 

The UC has an annual budget in the neighbourhood of $24 billion.  In 2012/13 the state contributed less than a tenth of that, $2.38 billion.  Students, through their tuition, contributed slightly over a tenth, $2.98 billion.  Much of the rest of the money comes from federal and state contracts, federal support through research grants to the National Labs, grants to students, and funding associated with patients on Medicare and Medicaid at the UC’s hospitals. 

Of that $24 billion, around $6.2 goes to things we would broadly support with teaching at the University: “classroom instruction, financial aid, and other operating costs”.  That seems like a startlingly small amount given that we generally think of Universities as focussing on the education of students.

But the numbers are a reminder that the University of California has become in a very real sense what its first President, Clark Kerr, referred to as the “Multiversity”.  Kerr described his idea as follows:

“The modern university was a ‘pluralistic’ institution—pluralistic in several senses: in having several purposes, not one; in having several centers of power, not one; in serving several clienteles, not one.  It worshiped no single God; it constituted no single, unified community; it had no discretely defined set of customers.  It was marked by many visions of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and by many roads to achieve these visions; by power conflicts,; by service to many markets and concern for many publics.

“It might have been called a pluralistic university; or a conglomerate university...What I wanted to do was to mark the contrast with a more nearly single-purpose institution having a more monistic spirit, a more monolithic leadership, and a single clientele”.*

I’ll come back in a moment to Kerr’s words, and his role in shaping the University.  But his idea of the multiversity is useful because it represents the reality that the University of California is no longer exclusively—or these days even mostly—a teaching university.  It runs three National Labs, which have no students, but employ teams of scientists and the large support staffs they require.  It runs five medical centers, with all of the doctors, nurses, and hospital support staff that requires.  UCSF, the Medical School which has no undergraduate students, is San Francisco’s second largest employer with some 21,900 workers, generating nearly 40,000 jobs across the Bay Area.  Even on campuses, active labs require not only faculty, post-docs, and graduate students, but also employees who do much of the preparatory work.  All of these facilities require custodial and maintenance work, there are dorms and dining halls and cafeterias, libraries, and academic units.

There is administrative bloat, to be sure.  The salaries of Chancellors, the President, and the alphabet soup of lower-order bloodsuckers—the people hired to fire the people who do actual work—are wildly inflated.  And the University—driven in part by a broken ranking system and its links to the political and economic elites of the state—engages in infrastructure projects which often seem as removed from reality as Telegraph Avenue does from the small town where I grew up. 

But the large number of staff is to a large extent not the result of a bureaucracy run rampant as the popular imagination would hold it.  Rather, it is a result of the University choosing, and the state asking the University to take on a whole host of roles that have little to do with the teaching of undergraduate students.

That said, there is room for serious debate about whether the University does all of these things well, and whether its priorities are in order.  Of those 16,000 faculty, most of them teach, although they are not always teaching all of the time: they have sabbaticals, research commitments, and outside grants which occasionally relieve them of their duties.  But teaching is augmented by many of the 50,000 graduate students.  Not all of them do much teaching, but many of them on doctoral academic tracks—as opposed to many masters students and professional tracks in business, law, etc—will teach at least once during their time as grad students.  In the humanities and social sciences, they teach a great deal more than that. 

Today, Clark Kerr is generally regarded as one of the ‘good guys’.  He might not have liked the student protesters of the ‘60s, but he tried to stick up for them more often than not.  He fought against the introduction of tuition at the University, and was fired by Ronald Reagan for these sins. 

But in the 1960s, he was heavily criticised by students, and much of that criticism had to do with the “Multiversity” into which UC was morphing.  Kerr was often less an advocate for the transformations associated with UC’s altered state than someone who described them and sought to use them to what he regarded as the system’s best advantage.  He was in many respects, a realist, something which did not endear him to a generation of idealistic students.

The changes that irked students in the sixties are ones which have come to something nearer full fruition today.  At that time, students began to realise that they were less and less central to the functioning of the University.  Their classes expanded—although this was an inevitable part of the state simultaneously asking UC to educate more of its students and cutting its funding—they had less contact with their professors, and they saw funding directed in other directions.

The corporate world, the military-industrial complex, the federal government, and the more complex and diverse society to which California aspired all made their demands on the University, and as the institutions and the system grew, and although students increased in number, their centrality to the UC became diminished.

As an aside, the paucity of investment in teaching is not helped by the fact that most of the metrics designed to measure faculty and graduate student teaching—whether when seeking work, getting tenure, securing funding, or winning accolades—pay no attention to teaching.  There are no incentives for teachers in the university to focus many of their efforts on teaching, or even to think of themselves as teachers.  And there are many temptations to spend a little more time in the lab, on a publication, or on professional development which leaves undergraduates feeling neglected.

I don’t know whether this grab-bag of thoughts helps to answer some of the questions that readers posed.  But I hope that when we all think about the University, we think about how much the built-in suspicion many harbour of its activities are grounded in any material facts, or are simply the outgrowth of deliberate attempts by some on the political right to undermine the institution as a part of their larger project of calling into question the idea of the public good and the ideals of public institutions. 

And I hope that as the state makes up its mind about how to treat its University in a new century—a new millennium in fact—it considers the extent to which overstretch (whether good or bad) is not so much the product of bureaucratic indulgence as it is of our citizenry having placed our trust—no inconsiderable burden—in an institution without providing it with the moral or material support to carry out a range of diverse and perhaps irreconcilable functions. 

Today, the University is increasingly resembling a private institution, sustained not by the faith and commitment of a community to the common welfare, but rather by its ability to keep its head above water by exploiting its students and monetising knowledge.  There are people in the administration who would like to move the UC down that dangerous road at a quicker pace.

But I hope we can remember that, sometimes by design and sometimes by happenstance, we fashioned this outsized idea, gave it institutional form, and embedded it in our Republic of California to serve our citizenry through the education of our youth, the investigation of our world, and the service of the common good.  That seems like something worth protecting, if we have the will to do so.

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* Clark Kerr.  The Uses of the University (fifth edition).  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001, 103. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Elizabeth Warren: Worth Watching


I don’t normally do short posts.  But I feel that in this video, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks for herself, and demonstrates why she is such a good alternative not only to the fundamentalists in the Republican Party, but also to corporate-minded Democrats like Hillary Clinton:  it’s worth watching, so here it is.