Sunday, November 16, 2014

UNLV and the Multiversity

The term “Multiversity” first gained widespread recognition when Berkeley Chancellor and University of California President Clark Kerr used it to describe the institution he saw evolving before his eyes up and down the Pacific Coast, across a growing number of campuses responsible for a growing number of students and home to a growing number of faculty researchers and teachers.
Kerr described the Multiversity as 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” (2001: 103).
Although Kerr always positioned himself as the Multiversity’s describer rather than its defender, it is hard to argue that the transformative higher education leader did not, ultimately, embrace the beast that emerged—organically in his argument—under his stewardship.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is attempting to undergo a similar transition today.  To a certain extent, any existing public research university in the United States already has a great deal of the “Multiversity” in its DNA.  But through its Tier 1 initiative, and its search for a new campus President, UNLV is making a conscious effort to position itself as something new in relation to its students, faculty, and community.
A key component of this ambition comes from the University’s relationship to the wider regional and state community and from the aspiration to use UNLV as a means to “stimulate entrepreneurship, job creation, and economic vitality throughout the surrounding region” (UNLV: The Path to Tier 1, Sept. 2014).  This component focuses on increasing research productivity and creating a more utilitarian version of the University, and is connected to the widely-recognised need of the state and regional economy to diversify.
The second major component required for Tier 1 status is to retain students and improve graduation times and rates, while improving the general “student experience” on campus.
Elements of these ambitions are reminiscent of the transformation that the University of California was undergoing fifty years ago as the state and university were buoyed by new connections to the military-industrial complex, and by the efforts of a visionary state government comprehensively committed to expanding and enriching the public sphere, something that helped to keep UC focused—although not as much as some would have liked—on its public mission to students as well as the state’s economy.
UC’s transformation and UNLV’s efforts to remake itself are expensive processes, requiring sustained effort and investment.  Even in 1950s and ‘60s California, under public works promoter Pat Brown, there were losers in such a process.
Many students, even before the Free Speech Movement gripped the Berkeley campus, were restive in the face of the changes sweeping their institution.  Many felt that they were the victims of the transition from a “university” to a “Multiversity”, and criticized the ways in which the teaching mission became divorced from and subordinated to the imperatives to produce research.  Campus units were seen as under-resourced, and there were divisions about the priorities given certain disciplines relative to others.
In contrast to public universities of the 1960s, UNLV is not the recipient of generous public funding, being located in a state defined by highly-individualistic politics anathema to more than cursory consideration of the common good, a politics which might change as the state’s population stabilizes and there are increasing numbers of multi-generation “Nevadan” families.  Nor is tuition free in 2010s Nevada as it was in California until the 1970s when Ronald Reagan introduced it at UC to punish the students against whom he crusaded with such physical and structural violence as Governor.  It strikes me as being a perilous political-economic environment in which to pursue ambitions which are in other respects often commendable.
As they develop their plans and search for a President, UNLV’s leadership will be aware of these challenges associated of making a costly transition to Tier 1 in a lean environment informed by public austerity in spite of the region’s great private wealth.  And it does so as an institution which, because of reduced public funding, rising tuition, and the need to depend on philanthropy, is already in some ways moving down the road to privatization.
Here too, developments at the University of California offer some points of comparison.  Rising tuition has terribly over-burdened that system’s comparatively affluent student body.  The increases in tuition which seem likely to accompany Tier 1 (and I’ve heard voices say that current tuition levels at UNLV somehow “undervalue” the institution, and should be raised to enhance its profile) will place a greater burden on UNLV’s more diverse student body in a way that might very well compromise efforts at improving retention and completion.
The separation between teaching and research that is slowly occurring at UC—particularly in STEM fields—together with the increased burden placed on faculty in institutions which are expanding their capacities and ambitions in spite of inadequate resources means that students struggle to gain access to research faculty and the opportunities that come with such access, and are increasingly taught by adjunct faculty.  Those faculty are often superb teachers, but are victims of academic casualization and in many instances have to survive on woefully inadequate wages.
Many top departments at UC see retaining large numbers of graduate students as central to their prestige and to supporting faculty research (again, particularly in STEM fields).  Many have persisted in doing so in spite of dire job markets.  This practice, common across research universities, leads to a glut of graduate students on the academic market in particular, doing a disservice to students who are often lured into academia without anyone having an honest conversation with them about the state of the market and field.  One part of the Tier 1 push at UNLV involves increasing the number of graduate students.  The reasoning is that southern Nevada suffers from a shortage of highly-skilled labour.  I assume that Tier 1 proponents have taken into account the fact that local graduates will be competing with a national market that is not in every instance experiencing such a shortage (particularly in the absence of public investment in venues for skilled labour).  Nevada, Clark County, and Las Vegas should not be assumed to be captive markets for UNLV graduates.
In listening to presidential candidates last week I was struck by the range of tones and views of the process, and of the anxieties associated with the search and the transition to Tier 1.
Students asked about tuition increases and their role in what might effectively become a Multiversity.  Faculty wondered about the fate of their disciplines in the increasingly utilitarian, short-termist environment that increasingly defines academia, once an environment that encouraged people to think about the long term.  These concerns speak to the capacity—well developed at UC—for the institutional interests and goals of the Multiversity as an institution to diverge wildly from those of core members of its community.
Candidates sought to reassure faculty that when they discussed Tier 1, they meant it as a process for everyone.  One individual cited the need for a transparent process with metrics that allowed all campus units to shine.  But transparency has little to do with equity, and metrics for measuring performance are not neutral.  Their provenance matters and many of the metrics that increasingly define the higher education sphere in the U.S. and worldwide don’t allow all academic fields to be equally legible.  Their politics ensure that some fields and research endeavors will register at a different rate than others.
Candidates discussed “advancing” the state of Nevada.  But I wonder about the capacity for this if the University proposes to remain dependent on public support.  I’m a newcomer to the state with an admittedly superficial understanding of its demographics and society, but nothing that I’ve seen so far of its libertarian, individual-centred politics indicates much interest in the kind of “advancement” with which a public university could traditionally assist.
But some candidates made it clear that in their view public-affiliation is a liability.  “Self-sufficiency” was one oft-repeated euphemism for privatization.  And some candidates, evincing little understanding of the human element of a public university, or of the intellectual lessons of the humanities and social sciences, discussed the “inevitability” of the privatization and monetization processes, declaring that “there is no going back!”
But of course as historians can tell you, nothing is inevitable.  Changes and processes are driven by political decisions, some conscious, others less so, but all of them to some degree contingent on politics.  The ability of an institution like a university to affect that politics may be limited, but it is dishonest to suggest that history rolls inexorably towards a harsher less equitable world.
Clark Kerr invoked this same logic in describing the Multiversity, describing it as “an imperative rather than a reasoned choice among elegant alternatives.  Kerr was more honest when he described the Multiversity as “based more on conflict and on interaction” than its predecessor institutions (2001: 5, 106), because such is the logic of the market which then as now was seen as a juggernaut to be ridden rather than resisted.
But Kerr was not content to defang his critics with the Whiggish reading of history that obscured the agency of politics and political actors.  He simultaneously aimed to extirpate what he saw as the inappropriate “nostalgia” and “romantic dreams” of “a campus community of close-knit friends engaged in collegiate activities”.  No longer was it acceptable to be engaged in “surveying the world and its evils and wishing to set them aright” in his new Multiversity, an institution that now resembled a “city of great variety”.  “Nostalgia”, he wrote, “is for the very old and dreams are for the very young, not for those navigating the swiftly-flowing currents of life” (2003: 22).
The insistence that the age of dreams is dead and that we must choose between being victims of or proselytizers for events beyond our control is dispiriting, and designed to incapacitate critics of particular politics and particular trends.  It is an age-old tactic, but one which, whatever you think of Tier 1 (and there is much good in the aspirations behind the push), seems appalling to deploy in universities, which many of us think of institutions where people can and must remain free to dream…not because universities are removed from the world, but because they offer glimpses of its future, whether in the students they are charged with nurturing, or in the work they do to make that world a more bearable, just place.
In many ways, the discussions on campus of the past week are a reminder that in Nevada as in California, a fait accompli of sorts is occurring in higher education when it comes to privatization and the long-term trajectory of these institutions.  Lots of big decisions are occurring, quietly and in some cases by default.  In some instances this has to do with the character of administrators and the nature of decision-making.  In others it has to do with a political environment that administrators, faculty, staff, students, and parents are unwilling to challenge. 
And it nearly always has something to do with a discussion of institutional change that focuses on what their proponents describe as objective process rather than on the small-p “politics” that produces those processes and makes them weighted with significance for the future of our institutions and society. 
If changes are going to occur, particularly in some of our society’s most treasured public institutions, it seems as though those should be as a result of frank, honest, and very public conversations, not by default or as a result of public quiescence. 
Clark Kerr, The Uses of the University (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

Clark Kerr, The Gold and the Blue (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

Friday, November 14, 2014

UC Faculty Call on Governor Brown to Back Public Higher Education

Earlier this month, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced that she would be seeking sustained, multi-year tuition increases from the Regents of the UC.  These amounted to increases of 5% each year over a five-year period.

Such increases in tuition at an already expensive institution represent a disservice to California’s youth and a discredit to an institution that is supposed to embody a public mission and public support for young Californians.  They represent a fateful step in the long-term process of de facto privatization, long underway at UC, but seldom mentioned and undebated within the statewide community that the University is meant to serve.

The Council of UC Faculty Associations released a statement regarding the tuition increases.  Unlike earlier efforts to resist tuition hikes, which focused on campus administrators who have no control and little input into decisions about tuition rates, the UC faculty statement targeted one individual who has a great deal of influence over the economics of the University.

California Governor Jerry Brown, elected this month to an historic fourth term, is a politician with an historic aversion for accepting responsibility for problems that fall under his remit.  A pioneer of the empty “gesture politics” that now define our impoverished political landscape, and a proponent of his pet method of governance that he calls “Creative Inaction”, the Governor has defined himself as a fiscal hawk.  Casting himself as a conservative, Brown is more interested in closing budget gaps without addressing either the state’s democratic deficit (brought on by undemocratic supermajority rules and an over-burdened constitution) or the social and economic chasms which define the lives of many Californians.

To this end, he has spent four years pushing public austerity in a state possessed of extraordinary private wealth.  He has resorted to ballot-box budgeting instead of exhibiting firm leadership.  The University of California, and its sister systems of higher education, and through them California’s hundreds of thousands of students, have been victims of Governor Brown’s serial irresponsibility.

UC Faculty pointed out that UC’s budget has been cut by over one-third since the 2001-2 year, and that funding under Brown is less than it was when Arnold Schwarzenegger left office, in spite of Brown’s risible claims to have presided over a “California Comeback”.

And all of this while “the university’s student body has brown by nearly one-third…as UC continued to meet its Master Plan obligations”, obligations on which the state and public of California have steadily chosen to renege.  The consequences on campuses have included “reducing budgets for teaching and research, boosting class sizes, shifting administrative tasks to faculty (leaving less time for students and research), admitting more out-of-state students, and massive tuition hikes that tripled tuition in 15 years”.

Defenders of Governor Brown point to California’s budget woes, the virtual veto power granted the Republican Party by Prop 13’s undemocratic supermajority requirements, and the passage of Prop 30 (only 4.5% of funds from which went to UC).

But there have been many points at which the Governor could have taken strong action to secure greater funding for the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges.

-In 2010 Brown, who sold himself as an “expert hand” with deep understanding of the state, might have run on a platform of political reform in order to redress the democratic deficit that prevents progressive majorities of up to 65% in the Senate and Assembly (their current strengths) from raising revenue for a public sector that benefits all Californians.

-In 2010 Brown might have sponsored initiatives to restore funding to UC in conjunction with his gubernatorial bid.

-In 2012, instead of a temporary tax that continues to subject California’s mangled tax base to economic fluctuations, Brown might have promoted rational reform of the state’s capacity to raise revenue.

-Two-thirds to three-quarters of Californians support significant reform to Prop 13 according to recent polls.  Brown could have pursued such reform, which might have unleashed a flow of funding from the commercial real estate sector (dramatically under-taxed), much of which could have been directed to UC.

-After the 2012 election, Brown could have used Democratic supermajorities to pursue a progressive program of reinvigorating the public sphere that has historically fueled the state’s economic engine, helped to address economic inequality, and provided a bulwark for poorer Californians in hard times.  Instead, Brown has equated students requesting restored funding for public education to Wall Street bankers asking for “bailouts”.

-During the 2014 election campaign, during which he relentlessly avoided questions about a fourth-term agenda, Brown could have used his considerable political capital to help other Democrats secure office (and perhaps legislative supermajorities) instead of avoiding public scrutiny and indulging in out-of-state getaways to college reunions on the East Coast.

-Instead of vacuuming up resources from progressives—some of which he used to push regressive ballot initiatives, and others of which he has hoarded away—during the 2014 campaign, Brown could have laid out a progressive policy agenda centred on the revitalization of public higher education.

Some of these moments represented more opportune or more responsible options than others, but there have been no shortage of opportunities for action to preserve the public character of our universities.

Over the past four years, the inaction of the Governor—whose inaction 36 years ago helped precipitate the passage of Prop 13 which has done untold damage to California’s public education sector—has created conditions in which even sympathetic UC administrators feel pressured to increase tuition.  There are certainly issues with the compensation for upper level administrators, and with the enthusiasm of many administrators for de facto privatization.

But the real conditions that are impoverishing UC occur at the state level, and no one is more responsible for maintaining those conditions over the past four years than Governor Jerry Brown.

This week, the Presidents of Caltech and Stanford entered the debate, calling for a restoration of funding for public higher education in California.  In a joint op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, the education leaders reminded Californians and their government that “much of the world class research conducted” on their own private campuses “is inextricably linked with research emanating from UC.  If California is to remain an economic dynamo, then it needs the full capability of its research universities to be well supported”.

More poignantly, the leadership of the state’s preeminent private institutions paid tribute to the public mission of the UC:

“The educational mission of our institutions is equally important, fostering an engaged citizenry and educating the next generation of talent for our state and our world.  Although private research universities such as ours make significant contributions to education, we cannot match the sheer scale of public universities like the University of California.  Caltech and Stanford together enroll roughly 18,000 students; UC enrolls nearly 240,000.  California benefits when many of its young people have access to the quality higher-education opportunities that UC offers”.

California is plagued by a cynical and disinterested citizenry which, although a major party in governing the state through the initiative process, has historically declined to acknowledge its part in unmaking our state’s tremendous social democratic experiment, fuelled more than anything else by public higher education. 

But the state is also plagued by an absence of leadership, embodied by our current Governor’s refusal to engage the state’s public in an honest conversation about the relationship between their prosperity, security, and health, and the well-being of institutions like UC.  Governor Brown should use the coming four years to heed the words of UC faculty and the leadership of the state’s other great universities, and work to reduce tuition to levels that make UC a viable option for every qualified young Californian.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Democrats Win Huge Majorities in California, Republicans Continue to Run the State

In Tuesday’s election, the California Democratic Party won fifty-three out of eighty seats in the state Assembly, and twenty-six out of forty votes in the state Senate, securing between 65 and 66% of seats in the California legislature.
These results marked a smashing victory for the California Republican Party, which will, on the basis of their electoral rout, continue to govern California from the minority thanks to undemocratic supermajority rules.
In most political environments, winning barely a third of the votes would make for a landslide defeat.  But not in California.  Governing the most populous and diverse state in the union requires the ability to manage revenues and direct them towards critical social spheres in the state, which is facing a serious social crisis thanks to growing economic inequality and the impoverishment of its public sphere.
However, a mere majority is insufficient to govern, because control over the state’s revenue requires a supermajority in both houses of the legislature.  The Republican Party is dedicated to tearing down the public sphere at the behest of its corporate and fundamentalist sponsors, and so given the state’s demographic trajectory, all it needs to implement its agenda is one third plus one of the legislators in a single house of government.
It was a move a long in the making, but the University of California’s decision to call for additional tuition increases over the next five years is in some ways a reaction to the continued austerity that will define the state’s public sphere.  Even with supermajorities, Democrats would have been hard-pressed to launch any reinvigoration of the public institutions that provide both the human safety net and economic spark for the state because of the opposition of conservative Governor Jerry Brown.
But the continued ability of the Republican Party—thanks to supermajority rules laid down by Proposition 13—to dominate and control discussions and policies around revenue and spending allow the UC Regents to continue their de facto privatization under the guise of fiscal necessity, imposed by the state.

Californians who care about the health of their public sphere, and the ability of all members of the state community to access the institutions associated with that sphere, should press for democratic reform.  The state needs elections in which winning large majorities actually translates into the ability to govern.  The state needs a fairer form of political representation.  And California needs an overhaul of our overburdened Constitution and mangled governing system.  The past decades of divestment and gridlock have not provoked a response from a quiescent—and culpable—citizenry.  But perhaps the prospect of continued failures and the loss of control over public universities might spark some outrage.

European History, Day 21

In European History Since 1648 at UNLV, our focus on Tuesday was the Russian Revolution.  We had spent comparatively little time during the course on case studies related to Russia, so I began with a brief overview of Russian history, designed to help students think about how to explain the revolution.  Having read Marx, they were also able to consider to what extent the Revolution squared with the framework he and Engels laid out in The Communist Manifesto.

We rushed through the chronology of the Revolution, and spent a bit of time thinking about the means by which the Soviet state sought to rally people around a futuristic, technocratic vision of the country’s capacities.

We spent the last half hour or so of the class talking our way through what was only the second academic article of the semester, in this case about explaining violence in the Russian Revolution.  It was an opportunity to discuss how historians ask good historical questions, relate their scholarship to the work of others, and frame arguments.

Both students writing research papers and students writing shorter, synthetic papers are using skills related to framing and backing up arguments.  We’ll continue briefly today with a discussion of the Soviet Union before discussing some of the other ideologies which came to be in competition with its version of Communism during the years between the World Wars.

European History, Day 20

In European History Since 1648 at UNLV last Thursday, we had a discussion of the First World War.  Our previous class discussion about The Good Soldier Svejk had provided the bridge to this conversation, and I asked students to think about the causes of the war with references to a number of the big themes we have been discussing both throughout the course, and particularly during the past weeks during which we covered the 19th century.

We surveyed some of the propaganda that European governments used to persuade their citizens of the necessity of war, thought about the new technologies that appeared during the war, and discussed the manner in which communication passed between the battlefield and the home front.

We concluded with an examination of the consequences of the war, not just for the re-drawn map of Europe, but for European societies, European empires, and Europe’s place within the world.  Students were able—on the basis of the themes and discussions from recent weeks—to identify the seeds of future conflicts in the settlements following the First World War.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Official California Mwananchi Jerry Brown Post-Election Mad-Lib

In lieu of instant commentary on an election defined by amnesia, voter suppression, and the triumph of a fundamentalist right-wing party dominated by corporate interests, I bring you the Official California Mwananchi Jerry Brown Post-Election Mad-Lib.

This comes courtesy of regular reader and good friend J S Crosby, who kindly included an example below.  He clearly knows my views of Jerry Brown all too well!

Jerry Brown, _______ (noun), has ______ (verb) to victory over his _______ (mildly disapproving adjective) rival, republican Neel Kashkari. In a ______(adjective) _______(verb) of the democratically process that deprived the people of California the chance to _____ (verb) their ballot on the _______  (fantastical creature/political party that would never get elected).

 We can only hope that yet another four years of his _________ (noun) will not lead the state into ______________________ (level-headed synonym for the apocalypses). To forestall this doom, the _____________________ (noun for the electorate that just voted for Brown) must band together and ______________ (liberal pipe-dream) so that even Brown, ______________ (history’s greatest monster) cannot enact __________ (noun).

Jerry Brown, the spawn of Cthulhu (noun), has cruised (verb) to victory over his milquetoast (mildly disapproving adjective) rival, republican Neel Kashkari. In a farcical (adjective) mockery (verb) of the democratic process that deprived the people of California the chance to waste (verb) their ballot on the Rainbow Ice-cream Unicorn Party  (fantastical creature/political party that would never get elected).

We can only hope that yet another four years of his moderate center-left policies (noun) will not lead the state into a spiral of death, destruction and despair so great that not even the combined powers of FDR, Lincoln, and Bruce Willis could save us (level-headed synonym for the apocalypses). To forestall this doom, the people of California (noun for the electorate that just voted for Brown) must band together and sing vaguely relevant 60’s era protest songs (liberal pipe-dream) so that even Brown, history’s greatest monster (history’s greatest monster) cannot enact histerrible plans (noun).

Monday, November 3, 2014

The GOP is Gunning for our Democracy

Mitch McConnell and his party are gunning for our democracy. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore
It’s a carefully calculated appeal to voters who might just be suckers enough to believe that putting both houses of Congress in the hands of a single party would mean an end to gridlock.  Such a supposition makes several assumptions, the core one being that the electorate is comprised of people who have been asleep for the past six years.
It also assumes that voters have not listened to a word McConnell has said during his inglorious, and frankly downright treacherous tenure. 
It is no coincidence that from that gridlock arises a winner-take-all economic climate in which big banks, polluters, the super-wealthy, and the would-be masters of our political system all benefit.
It took Jon Stewart, the comedian, to remind us that McConnell is “the man who personally stood up at a Republican retreat at the Library of Congress, right before Obama’s 2009 inauguration and said ‘there are enough of us to block the Democratic agenda—as long as we all walk in lockstep.  As long as Republicans refused to follow his lead, Americans would see partisan food fights and conclude that Obama had failed to produce change”.
That’s as open a statement as you could want of the GOP’s strategy.  And yet they are campaigning on the idea that if we give them control of both houses of Congress, that gridlock will magically vanish. 
Republicans aren’t stopping with sabotage.  They are attempting to rig elections through introducing unconscionable barriers to a process that is supposed to be a civic right and duty, something that defines a person’s membership in our nation and our society.
Chris Christie has openly called for Republicans to seize control of “voting mechanisms” and attacked voter registration as an “obstacle” to Republicans.  Other Republicans have attacked early voting, and expressed concern that large numbers of black voters might be able to turn out at the polls.  Others have called for voting to be based on property ownership.  And Tom Perkins, a capitalist who has done well under the GOP’s trickle-down economics, claimed that critics of him and of the super-rich are like Nazis in 1930s Germany, also opining that wealthier Americans should get more votes. 
Republican party leaders are no longer even attempting to hide what their party is about: the evisceration of our democracy through the enshrinement of a plutocracy and the disenfranchisement of the actual citizens of our country.  But if the pundits are right, tomorrow they might take a significant step towards the erosion of our democracy, with the assistance of the public they are working against. 

It’s a chilling thought.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

European History, Day 19

On Tuesday in European History Since 1648 at UNLV, we tackled our biggest book of the semester, Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk. The theme for the day was nationalism in late-19th and early-20th century Europe, so in addition to providing the bridge to the 20th century, and an opening to Thursday’s discussion of the First World War, the novel provided an opportunity to discuss the idea of nationalism in greater depth than before.

We began by thinking about different versions of nationalism (“civic” vs “ethnic”, for example), and different variants in the European nations and empires we had been examining in the past several weeks.

But for most of our class the focus was on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where the book’s eponymous protagonist and his hapless encounters with the authority figures in the Empire provide many examples—some explicit, others more subtle—of the role that nationalities played in creating the structure for and contributing to the demise of the Empire.  

Students were successful in picking up on a variety of these instances, and we had a good conversation about the novel.  Not everyone had finished reading it—it was really a long novel, but one that I remembered fondly from my first encounter with it—but hopefully some of them will continue to plough through.  

The novel also provided an opportunity to think about literature as a source, and consider the motivations of the author as an historical actor who produced this source for a particular reason, things that will come in handy when, in discussing decolonisation, we read Ngugi wa Thiong'o's memoir.

Brown's Open Contempt for California Voters, Media

The Sacramento Bee reported an exchange on Wednesday between Brown and reporters in Modesto.  A journalist asked, “Governor, you’ve been kind of reluctant or maybe cagey about your platform for a fourth term”.
The Governor interrupted with a violent “Noooo!”, and added, “Quite the opposite, I have communicated more completely to the people of California than any other governor in history”.
“How so?” replied the journalist.
“This is my 12th year”, smirked the Governor, “no one has ever had 12 years”. 
And what a 12 years it has been.  Twelve years of obfuscation, “creative inaction”, inattention to California’s social ills, its economic inequality, and its democratic deficit.  Twelve years of indecipherable babble, and 12 years of the media lapping it all up and begging for more.
“So what don’t you know?” the Governor went on.  “What don’t you know that you think I should tell you now in front of all these people?  I’d really like to get a new opening here to propound one of my many deep thoughts”.
The assembled media chuckled and laughed, demonstrating Brown’s ability to hijack a serious question and keep the people who are supposed to ask such questions quiescent in the palm of his hand.
Undeterred, the first journalist followed up and asked about the fourth term agenda.
Transparently exhasperated, Brown whined, “I mean look, you won’t print half of what I say.  I dare you to!  So this whole canard about ‘What are you going to do Brown?’, think about it!”
It’s a good job that journalists don’t print half of what Brown says, because he is notoriously content-free in speaking, his speeches larded with references that lead down rabbit-holes and off-topic tangents.  The media interpret the substanceless nature of the Governor’s press conferences as evidence of his brilliance and “quirkiness” instead of seeing in them his strategy of managing the fourth estate and evading questioning. 
When he launched into a soliloquy during the course of the press conference it contained not an iota of illuminating information about a fourth term agenda.  He waxed at great length about the need to manage the state’s resource and budgetary problems, and referred to “that train to move from north to south, I mean, getting that thing built”.
On the fourth term agenda: “A fourth term will be very different than a first term or a second term, and it will be even different than a third term.  Now what that will all be, you just, you know, fasten your seat belt, it’ll be a very exciting ride”.
A nice way of saying, “Shut up and quit asking questions.  You’ll find out in good time”.
This sounds very familiar.  In 2012, in one of his faux-reflective moments, the Governor used a theatrical allusion: “We’re just beginning Act 2…the third act is when it gets good.  The second is when the tension, the protagonist is under tension, the protagonist is under pressure, can he get out of the box he’s in.  That’s always in Act 2.  All right, you wait, we’re going to get to Act 3 very soon”. 
It’s certainly possible to think of Jerry Brown’s political career as a journey or theatrical production.  He’s been taking Californians for a ride for forty years.  He pioneered the “gesture politics” that are today a matter of routine for people from all parties, few of whom are as practiced or adept in the cynical art as Brown.  But if California has been the setting for a grand performance, it has been either tragedy or epic farce. 
The Governor’s refusal to plan, to take the long view, or to govern according to moral principles has been disastrous.  His “philosophy” of “creative inaction” created the opening for the passage of Prop 13.  That initiative drastically re-arranged government in the state, implemented undemocratic supermajority rules, forced the state to rely on an undiversified revenue stream, and has made it all but impossible to fund the institutions necessary for a state growing in population and demographic complexity, short-changing subsequent generations rather than the socially-irresponsible generation who voted for its passage.
Jerry Brown’s small government mantra of the 1970s, cloaked in faux-philosophical rhetoric, meant that he anticipated the Tea Party by over 30 years.  And that he swept back into the Governorship in the same year that the Tea Party made its appearance on the national stage is no coincidence.  Commentators described how California resisted the “red wave” of 2010, but such interpretations fundamentally misread what Brown is about.
His social liberalism aside, Jerry Brown’s Governorship has been about violent, destructive austerity.  He punished the poor, the weak, the elderly, and the young with two years of draconian cuts.  Now he is attempting to force a “Rainy Day Fund” on the state, when Californians have yet to repair the damage done to their society by the last storm. 
Like the economic fundamentalists in the Tea Party, Brown sees budgets as an end rather than a means.  He arranges social policy, to the detriment of most Californians, around his budget goals rather than using the budget as a tool to advance moral social policies.  He is violently anti-tax, and promised in 2010 and is intimating again this year that the only revenue increases Californians will see have to be passed by voters.  He is presiding over the privatization and monetization of the state’s University system.
In essence, his is a refusal to govern.  And that refusal to govern is crippling the California inhabited by the working and middle class, while permitting the wealthy to go on with their lives, unencumbered by any responsibility to give some of the wealth they have extracted from the state back to the public sector that enabled their rise. 
If we have a pretty good idea what a fourth term of Jerry Brown might look like it’s no thanks to anything the Governor has said.  Rather, it’s because his political life has followed a pattern of cynicism, inaction, periodic attacks on the public sphere, and a refusal to engage with our state’s structural ills, some of which are of his own making.  I don’t envy Californians the coming four years.