Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Jerry Brown's Hostility Toward Transparency at the California State University

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.


  1. I know you are busy with the new job, but still glad you find time to give old Jerry a good "what's for." Two in the last three days though....
    So a helpful suggestion:
    if you are busy, you could certainly get away with shorter posts in the future, such as "Breaking News: Jerry Brown-still history's greatest monster"
    Think it still gets the essence across.

    I am kind of curious what you think about the actual meat of the bill. Are these specific BA degrees from community colleges a good thing?

    1. My goodness! I don't know why I didn't think of that earlier! Think of the ink I could have saved!
      I haven't read that bill yet (it was a different one from the CSU bill). I wanted to take the time to do so before writing anything about it.
      To be honest my biggest fear is that in these days of ever-shrinking budgets it would introduce destructive competition into the higher ed sphere. People forget it, but the Master Plan passed by Jerry's dad wasn't in its conception about an affirmative plan for higher ed (although it arguably became that) but about putting a stop to the fighting between then-undefined tiers of higher ed in the state over their respective turfs.
      Have you had a chance to read it?

  2. I haven't had a chance to read the new law. I just heard about it the popular press. The impression that I got was that it was limited, only a dozen or so community colleges could pilot this program now, and the degrees were limited: automotive repair, dental hygiene, electronics, etc.

    I generally think it's a positive step. These degrees can lead to good job which are in demand, and allowing people more access to them is probably a net benefit. It's very easy to imagine someone who is taking care of a family and working a low wage job being able to attend classes at the local community college, but maybe not being able to manage the commute to the nearest Cal State campus. Stuff like that, I my mind, outweighs a potential increase in competition between school, which could be addressed otherwise. Such as defining which actual majors like this law does.

    Also the fact that noted humanitarian and recent redresser of judicial racial imbalance Jerry Brown supports it means it has to be good right?

    1. I definitely agree that the more people with qualifications that will allow them to find work is a good thing.
      As an aside, my preference would always be, given that the resources in society exist to do so, to enable everyone to afford access to CCC, CSU, or UC. And I just worry about what giving up on that means.
      My fear about competition isn't so much about competition to confer the same degrees, because you're right that as conceived there isn't going to be significant overlap. It's more that blurring the functions of the institutions allows those institutions to make claims on scarce resources in a way that could replicate the toxic environment of the late '50s. And in a resource-scarce environment, competition wouldn't necessarily be a good thing for students (in that it wouldn't have the effect of driving down the cost to students b/c the institutions are now dependent on charging students rather than public funding), but rather could become a "race to the bottom" of sorts.
      Hopefully I'm just wringing my hands too much as usual and the qualified people know what they're doing.

  3. Wait....did you just call Jerry Brown qualified?

    1. Oh no, no, no...that was referring to whomever actually wrote or developed the law!