Yesterday, the Sacramento Bee ran a story about Brown’s decision to sign a bill allowing select California Community Colleges to grant Bachelor’s degrees, as part of a push to increase the numbers of Californians with access to higher education given the shortage of skilled labour in the state.
I have my thoughts about CCCs offering BAs, but I was most interested in an aside in the story about Brown's veto of legislation which "would have required CSU to share performance data from online courses with its faculty academic senate". Brown has been no friend of open government, and online courses—which as a rule have abysmal retention rates, sometimes in the single digits—are a pet project of his because of their potential for cost-cutting (he's not so concerned about their potential for short-changing, it seems).
Faculty members are the people offering these courses. They are the people charged with ensuring that students get a good education. And the Faculty Senate is their representative body, which should have the tools to assess the work of its members and the policies of the University, the largest system in the country.
The Bee reported Brown as saying, “I am aware of the deep concerns that the sponsor of the bill expressed regarding online courses. These courses, however, could play an important role in helping to reduce the bottleneck that too often prevents students from graduating on time. This is one of the reasons I believe that we should not unduly limit the introduction of online courses in the Cal State system”.
On its face, that is an extraordinary statement.
It is an admission of the fact that there is something troubling in the data that legislators believe faculty representatives should be allowed to see, but which the Governor wishes to hide from them.
It is an admission that if that data were released, the Governor fears that it would limit the introduction of online courses at CSU.
And it is an admission that, building on the previous two, Governor Brown is not really concerned with the quality of students’ education, but rather with pushing them through the system.
There are other barriers to students’ abilities to get through university in a timely fashion.
Obscenely high tuition—which means the virtual privatization of California’s universities—forces students to take loans or else work long hours, decreasing the time they can devote to their studies.
Jerry Brown has created the conditions that generate these tuition increases, recently equating increased public funding for UC with a “bailout”. It’s probably news to California’s debt-burdened students that they’re in the same camp with Wall Street plutocrats!
By refusing to fund CSU and UC properly, Brown has allowed the campuses to re-cast themselves as corporate entities, providing services to students who can afford them under the guidance of over-paid and under-performing administrators (at least based on the ability of those administrators to do good for their students and the state).
Brown also just vetoed proposed increases of funding for the two systems, citing overly-rosy property tax estimates. Brown was more than happy to cite those estimates—which some warned from the beginning were off-base—when trumpeting his mythical “California Comeback”, and is now happy to use their re-working to justify denying funding to the state’s preeminent public institutions.
On the subject of property tax, not only was Brown’s laziness in the 1970s responsible for Prop 13 (which removed discretion when it comes to the use of property taxes as a stabilizing revenue stream and instituted the undemocratic supermajority rules, of which his current austerity drive is an inevitable consequence); he has refused to use his third term to address the inequities in a property tax structure which treats corporate property owners and homeowners the same way.
The charge-sheet against Governor Jerry Brown is a lengthy one. His approach to higher education is based on unaccountability, on forcing students through the system without heed for the quality of the education they receive, and on the reduction of public funding for public institutions so that he can run on what sounds very much like a right-wing platform.
California’s universities, their students, and their faculty deserve far better. And so does the state, the future of which depends on its ability to re-tool its economy and public sphere to address the inequality which has come to define too many Californians’ lives.