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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saturday, May 31, 2014
Each segment of the UCSB-Isla Vista community grieved the dead and wounded in its own way. My experience is that everyone was grieving.  Essentially every single person with whom I spoke was traumatized.  Some knew the victims better than everyone else, and experienced an especially horrible personal loss. But I don't know anyone who didn't feel that they had been threatened by, and in some way barely survived, an assault on the entire community to which they variously belong.

The students organized memorials on their own.  They built shrines at the shooting sites that got continuous traffic, held a candlelight vigil in Storke Plaza for several thousand on Saturday, May 24th. All week, candlelight vigils for the victims appeared everywhere: at other UC campuses  (UCB, UCD, UCIUCLAUCR, UCSC UCSD), and at universities from Corvallis Oregon to Granada Spain. UCSB students also organized a paddle-out  from the beach below Isla Vista on Wednesday the 28th (fb event page; photo above: Christin Florenzie).  For the occasion, the Santa Barbara Channel withheld both cloud and wind, allowing the glassy sea to suggest the reality of human benevolence and peace, in which passing on could seem, at least for a while, not like loss but like a special power.

The student events had two main features: they were self-organized, and they were beautiful.  I heard many stories from students about the wrangling within the organizing: some Associated Students leaders did not want an open mike at the vigil, for example, while most other students did.   It took a while for the latter to prevail, but it finally didn't matter, and in fact was part of the process that created huge, inclusive events for remembering and grieving.

These events were also striking for their aesthetics.  Here's a Santa Barbara Independent image of the Storke Plaza vigil (borrowed from their good, comprehensive coverage):


Or another of a procession:


Even the daylit version showed the beauty of the assembly (photo: Lorenzo Basilio)


At the time of the murders, I had been teaching the concept of cultural agency via Doris Sommer and a great LA novel by Paul Beatty called White Boy Shuffle.  The vigils and the paddle-out used self-organization to generate uncanny beauty.  They were expressions of common grief and of our collective creative powers.  Beauty is our experience rendered for us, in which we recover the power of our emotions.  Beauty is a reminder, when created collectively in recovering from an annihilation, of the greatness of which we are always capable. The affected students gave the world an aesthetic education.  Both individual and group improvisation change the ground rules and produce transformation, starting with reconstituting the community through these events.

When my Noir California lecture resumed on Thursday, and following our own short memorial for our lost student Chris Martinez, I said that what struck me most this past week was the outpouring of their intelligence. The work they let themselves do for regular classes is one thing, and the thought and feeling they bring to bear in an emergency transcends this.  The crisis unveiled deeper powers, and with our students this came, for me, from the ripping away of their anonymity.  Under this pressure of emotion that directly tied them (and us) to a common event, they deinstitutionalized themselves, and helped the same happen to many of the rest of us.

You lost your anonymity, I said to my class.  You lost your anonymity towards yourself, meaning that your routine goals and functions no longer acted as a veil that hid other powers.  I played a clip of the great True Detective sequence in which Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, says, "and you are reborn, but into the same life that you've always been born into."  Senseless death tells us that this is true, that there is only one unchanging life we always wake up in, and yet your responses this week, I said, your remembrances and your organizing in all their brilliance, told us that this is false.



"We are reborn," by acting on what has happened, into a different life.  This has been happening this week even as the grief goes on.

Several of us on the faculty asked the administration to include people who knew the dead in the formal university memorial in Harder Stadium.  My own belief is that, in a memorial, the names of the dead must be spoken by those who knew them when they were alive. This did not happen at the official memorial service on Tuesday the 27th, which was in effect a kind of state funeral. Nonetheless, it succeeded through its own force majeure, as it gathered over 20,000 people who took every seat and then filled half the field.


The names of the victims, as known on campus, are George Chen, Katie Cooper, James Hong, Chris Martinez, David Wang, and Veronika Weiss.  They were given to UC President Janet Napolitano to read, with the addition of thumbnail sketches of people who were of course all strangers to her.  The official formality was interrupted by Chris Martinez's father, Richard Martinez, who read beautiful statements from the parents of David Wang and James Hong--there was again that power of connection that was so evident in the student-organized events.  He also led a mini-rally for #NotOneMore, which seemed both appropriate and transgressive (this was debated even among the large majority of students who strongly support his gun control program), and also a relief in its transgressiveness, in that the spontaneous chant from the stands that followed Mr. Martinez's recitations embodied the energy of carrying on.

Like other bereaved departments, the English Department had its own memorial, in which faculty, staff, grad student instructors and undergrads were able to talk to each other and share memories.  A number of Chris Martinez's close friends came to ours and one read a list of his favorite songs and books, his preference for good food over good clothes, his amazing ability to read every single one of the texts for every class, and quite a bit more.  (We are collecting statements on the Noir California course site and I hope this will be among them.)

On top of the value of gathering, where we rediscover our ability really to be together, I also heard superb statements about the value of literature and of the humanities.  One came from Natalie Holstead, on the right in the photo below, who quite remarkably described how literature links public thought to the experience of one's own emotions.  She was crying as she spoke, or speaking through the feeling, which is a heroic power on which we were all getting a course from Richard Martinez.


Then it was over, at least for a few minutes.

Everyone in Santa Barbara and Isla Vista was following and and engaging in their own versions of the national arguments about the offensive media invasion of I.V., gun violence, the media's glorification of gun violence, the mental health system, all the varieties of misogyny, and the failure of men to take responsibility for other men's bad behavior.  But no one wanted to discuss the killer, see his face, hear his name, or talk about his life and motives. Many people read the manifesto in private, and the discussions will come. But it's still too soon for that.  Right now we're still focused on the incalculable loss, on the assault on the social fabric, and on our own abilities to overcome these things--eventually.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014
I spent the weekend following the unfolding detail about the rampage in Isla Vista, while also trying to find out if one of the victims was a student in my current lecture course.  We are all heartbroken here at UCSB about the whole thing.  This was compounded in my case by the miserable discovery, which took a day-long effort to match somewhat different media and registrar names, that a victim was indeed a student in my lecture course and honors section--Chris Martinez, whose father, Richard Martinez, has become the most visible of the parents. I've posted a first notice to my Noir California students on the course webpage, and will have more to say here about causes, responses, and preventions in the next few days.


Monday May 26th: Selected Links 1 (h/t Bishnu); 2 (May 27th); 3 (May 28th)

Memorial at 4 pm, Harder Stadium

The Crimes

Isla Vista Incident Map (Google)

Disturbing Details Released in Isla Vista Massacre (Tyler Hayden, SB Independent)

Isla Vista Shooting: Echoes of David Attias (Nick Welsh, SB Independent)

The Problem with Changes in Media Coverage of Mass Shootings (Jess McKillop, UCSB)

The Victims:

Rodger's Housemates (Daily Nexus)

All Six Victims Named (UK Daily Mail)

Chris Martinez Remembered (KSBY)

Veronika Weiss Remembered by her Father (Los Angeles Times)

Katie Cooper and Others  (New York Times)

Sketches of the Six (Huffington Post)

Faculty, Staff, Student, Isla Vista Responses

#YesAllWomen 

#NotOneMore

For Us All: A Love Letter to Our Students (English Prof. Aranye Fradenburg, Daily Nexus 5/27)

Campus Killings Set Off Anguished Conversation about Treatment of Women (NY Times 5/26

Mental Health System

In Isla Vista, red flags came too late (Los Angeles Times)

Why mass killers need to explain their plan (USA Today)

California Killer's Parents Frantically Searched for Son During Shooting (CNN; NY Times version)

Guns

Richard Martinez Statement on Death of Son (CNN-YouTube)

Richard Martinez Further Statement on Gun Violence (ABC May 27th)

Distraught Father Blames Politicians and NRA (guns mixed with memorial coverage) (UK Daily Mail)

Christopher Michael-Martinez’s Father Gets It Right (Adam Gopnik)

Elliot Rodger's Guns Were Purchased Legally (Truth About Guns)

Misogyny

I.V. Killings and Misogynist Extremism (Laurie Penny, New Statesman)

Elliot Rodger and Men Who Hate Women (The Belle Jar)

The Most Powerful #YesAllWomen Links (Time)

The Media Scapegoating of Rodger's High School Crush (Slate May 27th)

Elliot Rodger

YouTube Channel

Why Do Girls Hate Me So Much? 

Rodger Apparently Beat Up in I.V. in July 2013 & Other Coverage (KSBY)

Friend: Santa Barbara killer Elliot Rodger wanted to ‘dominate the world'  [Actually about being bullied] (NY Daily News)




Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014
Memorials


The Crimes



The Victims



Faculty, Staff, Student, Isla Vista Responses



Mental Health System



Guns



Misogyny



Elliot Rodger



Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014
Two recent stories show that public research universities can revive high-end educational quality.  I've been arguing (here and here) that this is the core of their public mission and the only way to end the decades-old funding melt.  

One story is about Berkeley Connect, a program that started in the English Department through a gift from Berkeley alumus Peter Chernin.  Mr. Chernin was prompted by the fact that his son started college at UC Berkeley and then transferred to USC because he was fed up with a factory-school lack of personal academic attention.  I will try to drum up insider coverage of this interesting upgrade at a campus well-known for its stadium-sized lecture courses--hopefully by someone who will harp less than I would on the irony of a public ed upgrade having to come from a private donor.


The second story was "Who Gets to Graduate," Paul Tough's epic treatment of a program at the University of Texas at Austin that reduced the higher drop-out rate of lower-income students.  The article nailed the twin problem for American higher ed today: American colleges have the highest dropout rates of any (OECD) country other than Hungary, but this dropout rate is tied to student income, not to individual achievement.


The problem is nicely illustrated by the above chart I've borrowed from the article. 


 The majority of high-SAT students drop out if they are low income.  Not only does the SAT score build in class position, as studies have shown for years, but universities tend to override a low-income student's high SAT score and redirect her to the dropout line.  


When this happens, public universities betray two aspects of their public mission: to reduce social inequality rather than reproduce it; and to develop every student's capability regardless of background.  Unless public universities can override their growing tendency to lock in existing race-class inequality, they become yet another stratification mechanism for a neo-social-Darwinist age, which a Pell Grant program chart nicely pictures:


Educationally, the U.S. is two countries segregated by income. US-1 is the best of the OECD group, and US-2 is the worst.  Private and privatized institutions already do a great job of stratifying outcomes according to preexisting resources. Why would citizens want to spend tax money on public universities that do the same thing?


UT Austin identified its own version of the problem: "only 39 percent of first-generation students . . . graduated in four years, compared with 60 percent whose parents both graduated from college."   It then set about to achieve equal outcomes, ones that wouldn't be affected by the students' parents' educational status.


We should ponder this idea for a second, because it defies the orthodox meritocratic assumption that your ability is your testing performance--just as a product has no intrinsic value other than its market price.   I have called this axiom "meritocracy I," which justifies the view of education as finally about sorting people by performance into a natural hierarchy of ability (chapter 6).  In Mr. Tough's piece, UT-Austin rejects meritocracy I and deploys "meritocracy II," which assumes that high intelligence is widely distributed in the population, and is universal in the population of the students UT-Austin admits. The University then sets out to produce general achievement--high learning and graduation for all--rather than a rank-order running from greatness to large-scale failure.


So there is a philosophy of the public mission that is embedded in the academic program the article describes. It is the general provision of higher education, with no one left behind, particularly not those from the lower half of the income ladder that have sunk to the bottom of the international rankings.   This is not the MOOC dream of universal access, but of universal achievement.  This kind of achievement is made, not born.  It requires lots of work and non-spontaneous learning, meaning that it has nothing to do with concepts like aptitude or ability.  Here's UT-Austin's core insight, referring to the lead character in the piece, a low-income first year student from Dallas called Vanessa Brewer:

Vanessa was caught in something of a paradox. According to her [high school] academic record, she had all the ability she needed to succeed at an elite college; according to the demographic statistics, she was at serious risk of failing.
The deep thought here is that ability and failure are entirely compatible.  Failure is the shadow that hides capability. 

Enter a remarkable chemistry professor named David Laude, who started breaking out a group of low-achieving chemistry students and taught them as though they were just as smart as the successful ones.   In other words, he assumed that they were being held back by some combination of their socio-economic status and its attendant psychological formations.   He put into practice a further assumption, which is that educational intensity (not his term) will reverse low achievement, neutralize inequality, and create essentially equal outcomes.


Prof. Laude identified students likely to fail via his "adversity indicators," and then did several things.  First, he created a program for these potential low-achievers that was not remedial but special -- the "Texas Interdisciplinary Plan, or TIP."  Second, he taught the same chemistry material to these students in smaller groups--not dumbed down, but differently. Third, he set up an advising and support structure of a kind that public universities decreasingly can afford: 

He offered TIP students two hours each week of extra instruction; he assigned them advisers who kept in close contact with them and intervened if the students ran into trouble or fell behind; he found upperclassmen to work with the TIP students one on one, as peer mentors. And he did everything he could, both in his lectures and outside the classroom, to convey to the TIP students a new sense of identity: They weren’t subpar students who needed help; they were part of a community of high-achieving scholars.
The results will surprise only those still in the clutches of Meritocracy I: "When the course was over, this group of students who were 200 points lower on the SAT had exactly the same grades as the students in the larger section" (emphasis added).  They also returned for sophomore year at higher than average rates for the university, and had higher than normal graduation rates.  In other words, deep instruction, which addresses the whole person, made "dumb" people smart.  Educational intensity revealed the intelligence veiled by a purely situational mediocrity.

The second half of the piece focused on a UT psychologist named David Yeager, and featured an online orientation program that helps keep students from "overintepreting discouraging events" and ruining their performance by feeling like outcasts and losers. 


This had been Vanessa Brewer's experience when she failed her first test in statistics: "I just started questioning everything: Am I supposed to be here? Am I good enough?"  Good performance hinges on not wondering these things all the time--on having a sense of  belonging and a sense of capability.  Prof. Yeager's online orientation helps neutralize negative self-stereotyping so that the susceptible student can take advantage of Prof. Laude's deeper teaching.


This is how I'd summarize the formula that emerges from this article for a politically profound and widely popular public mission:



  1. Intelligence is widely distributed in the population, but unjustly unrealized and concealed (Meritocracy II)
  2. The social purpose of the public university is success for all who enter (high order capabilities for non-elites)
  3. Success for all is achieved through educational intensity or deep instruction, in which the  institution teaches everyone as a whole person.  (Identity is always part of learning; bildung is always intertwined with content.
The point of public universities is to do inclusive high quality at scale, and its great to see a public juggernaut like UT putting this into practice. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday, May 17, 2014
I'm convinced that the salvation of public universities depends on offering greater educational intensity than has been possible before.  This will mean fusing research and teaching to allow students to link knowing and doing--thus giving them liberal arts and sciences and also practical skills.  Leaving the details aside here (but see an outline in this post), how would we make something like this happen?

Last year, my public speaking addressed the main obstacle to our imaginations:  the financial booby-trap that public universities have created for themselves.  My theme was that an assortment of privatization strategies has weakened public universities rather strengthened them. In these lectures, I showed slides of the privatization doom loop that public university managers have installed. 

I like to show doom loops because I assume, in my chronic optimism, that they will alarm people out of their acceptance of the death spiral I describe.  As a result, I always hope, at least a few members of the audience will endorse and even create countermeasures, including getting their senior managers to focus more seriously on rebuilding public funding.  I hope this in the teeth of the coast-to-coast demobilization of tenure-track faculty. 

My audiences have been faculty, staff, students, and administrators, and they often raise a major issue:  whatever university people think, politicians don't care about the educational "price of privatization," as I've been calling it.  I can and do show that privatization loses money overall for public universities, but is this an unacceptable point in the non-academic world?    

After all, in California, our politicians allowed hundreds of thousands of students to be turned away from community colleges during the years of cutting.  If political and business elites don't get too upset about mind-numbing quantity problems that shatter the Master Plan and damage the "human capital" inputs to the state's future economy, why would they care about educational quality?  They look at metrics like time to degree and 4-year or 6-year graduation rates, and have fractionally restored some public funding to keep those metrics from getting too much worse.  Business and political leaders, on the whole, have no meaningful educational ambitions for this state, which they have also allowed to become 50th out of 50 in keeping its population out of poverty (page 3).   So why would they fund the higher levels of cognitive development required by 21st century societies?

On Wednesday, an audience member asked this question at a UCLA dean's forum where I spoke, along with English professor Rob Watson and undergraduate dean Patricia Turner, about undergraduate education in the humanities.  My answer about persuading politicians is always the same.  They are persuaded by polls, votes, donations, and defeat.  As far as I know, a state level politician has never lost re-election because s/he cut a public college or university's funding.   Until that happens, legislatures will cut public universities whenever they need the extra money, and only partially restore it since the balance is always claimed by an equally necessary something else (prisons, Medi-Cal, etc.).  

Therefore, I said, the way to reach politicians is through the voting behavior of college parents and sympathizers, and the angry social movements of students. This means tuition protests of course, and the protests in the fall of 2009 and of 2011 played a major role in the multi-year tuition freeze we still have in California.  It also means long-term and sustained assaults by the entire younger generation, in college or excluded from it, on politicians who vote repeatedly for public cuts that force tuition hikes.  It's only through consistent political punishment of privatizers, Democrats and Republicans alike, that the culture of educational defunding will be changed.  

This means that the core audience for both critique and rebuilding is the university community--staff as much as senior managers, students as much as faculty, tenured scientists as much as non-tenure-track writing instructors. We have not been talking enough within and to the whole community.  

When the UCSB Faculty Association invited a University of Oregon professor to speak about that university's successful faculty unionization campaign, I learned that the key activity had been months and years of campus-wide discussion.  The union vote was preceded by a kind of debate of all against all, which turned the university into a discursive community of a kind we rarely see on campuses today. Other factors were important, but debate both taught the details of the current situation and created a general sense of possibility.  It reminded me that there is no thought without hope--and vice versa. That is why we don't have much thought at UC right now.

*  *  *

Undergraduates are the strongest political force in public universities, but what do they think about public funding?  Lots of different things, obviously, but one paradigm emerged last fall when the Associated Students at UCSB started a Campaign for a New Master Plan. They passed a resolution last November, and since then, the AS chapters at Berkeley, Davis, and Irvine have passed similar resolutions calling for the creation of a new Survey Committee to collect data about how to fix the  Master Plan.  The original petition resolved that the most likely fix was to reverse recent tuition hikes and rebuilding public funding: 


 the Associated Students of the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Office of the External Vice President of Statewide Affairs conjointly petition the Regents of the University of California at its next meeting to direct its Committee on Finance to investigate and report on the cost and fiscal impact of rolling tuition back to 2005-2006, 2000-2001, and pre-tuition levels to be completed and presented at the Board of Regents meeting in March of 2014.

The final petition going around the system is more neutral as to outcomes.

Last Monday, I spoke at an AS-UCSB event about the future of the Master Plan, called Revitalize Your Education.  The audience received a split message from the faculty speakers.

My colleague from Economics cheerfully described the university system as a "cartel," and traced tuition increases not only to funding cuts but to a cartel's power to charge high prices through restraint of trade.  His solution was to break up the UC system, convert all state funding to a voucher system, and allow individual campuses to compete in their areas of strength.  

I'm intrigued by the break-up idea, since UCOP's maldistribution of both tuition and state funds has made the system a means for poorer campuses to subsidize the wealthy ones.  On the other hand, competition among American universities has produced the highest-priced higher education system on earth (Colorado's voucher system has had a similar effect), so a state-wide free-for-all is the opposite of what the public needs. 

In my talk, I took the opposite approach: public funding cuts were not forced by money shortages but by political choices freely made.  I had a slide from the Futures Report showing decline as a share of state personal income (page 8).  A chart from the budget report Michael discussed last week tells the more recent sorry story.



The state was already only giving a half a percent of output to UC and CSU in 2001-02.  A decade later, it had cut that share in half. 

I had two comments to make about the state's defunding of its own Master Plan.  First, it is a kind of generational war by the old on the young: specifically, older, wealthier whiter voters warring on younger, poorer, browner K-12 students and their families. Whatever the individual intentions, the generations that benefited the most from Prop 13 tax cuts and housing wealth inflation have not been made more generous by their relative affluence--quite the contrary.  This strikes me, I said, as the opposite of how civilized societies behave, where established generations take care of the rising ones.  A contemporary kind of white racial resistance is preventing us from doing this now. This problem needs to be addressed and solved, and I'm afraid it's going to be the millennial generation that does this rather than mine or Jerry Brown's.

My second comment was that "Restoring Quality and Access to Public Higher Education in California: 2013-14" is entirely affordable.  A report by that title has shown that the rebuilt Master Plan envisioned by the AS-UCSB resolution--the much higher public funding and much lower tuition of 2000-2001--would cost the median taxpayer $50 per year.   The Survey Team that AS proposed could logically recommend that the state "Keep California's Promise."  The slogan is: "They Broke our Universities: Will you pay $50 to fix them?"; AS could campaign to make the answer yes.  

My economist colleague's counterargument was equally straightforward: there are so many poor people in California and other states, and it's not fair to ask them to subsidize students who will go on to earn a college wage premium--and make enough to pay back loans.  

And yet even were the college wage premium holding up--it seems to be flattening out now-- progressive taxation can eliminate the problem of the poor subsidizing the middle and upper classes.  At the federal poverty line for a family of four ($23,550), the annual surcharge for "Keep Califormia's Promise" would be $13.28. Policymakers could create a threshold--say 200% of the poverty line--beneath which the charge would be zero.   At the $150,000-199,999 income level, the annual surcharge would be $656, or somewhat higher if lower-income families were exempted.

The real political problem is not that advocates for public funding want the poor to help the rich, but that they want the rich to help the poor and the middle class--help them for the good of the whole society.  The top 4% of incomes would pay $3859 per year and up.  Though this is the same share of their income tax that $13.28 is at the poverty line, people at these income levels largely control public policy, and their policy is not to pay for general services.  This "Restoring Quality" report will have to get through a wall of wealthy opposition to paying their share of a society of general provision, which in general the wealthy no longer value.

In other words, if students don't push for high public funding and low tuition, these are never going to happen.  Faculty are divided and senior managers are basically against real restoration, which would complicate various lobbying efforts and donor cultivation. Donors don't want the master plan -- they are exactly the people who would see the biggest tax increase, and who've benefitted the most from austerity's low-tax regime.   

But donors don't represent the university community.  To get campuses thinking about what fixing the Master Plan concretely means, faculty groups could sponsor campus-wide discussions about public funding that have students at their center.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday, May 11, 2014
Since loud media doubts about the university's value have been the backdrop of my entire academic career, I wasn't shocked to look at the back page of my New York Times Sunday Review and see two headlines: "Professors are Prejudiced, Too," and "Rape and the College Brand." 

The findings of the first piece should have been obvious--but weren't-- through all the years of right-wing claims that universities and their affirmative action programs were biased against white people. The study found the opposite.
Professors were more responsive to white male students than to female, black, Hispanic, Indian or Chinese students in almost every discipline and across all types of universities.
And there's this:
We found the most severe bias in disciplines paying higher faculty salaries and at private universities.  In a perverse twist of academic fate, our own discipline of business showed the most bias, with 87 percent of white males receiving response compared with just 62 percent of all females and minorities combined.
Nothing perverse here:  members of wealthier and pro-corporate disciplines would logically show systematic bias in favor of their core constituency, which is also society's dominant group.  This has been endlessly pointed out by people who've followed the findings of the past seventy years of race and gender studies in the humanities and social sciences--and in recent official reports, like that on "Acts of Bias and Discrimination Involving Faculty" at UCLA.  But it's always nice to have confirmation from within a community of traditional prejudice-deniers.

The finding is worth repeating: Academics, the most educated people in society, turn out not to be gender- or color-blind after all. They discriminate in their everyday professional life, and don't need to be dog-whistled to do it.

The authors say they don't think faculty "intentionally discriminate," which actually makes the problem worse. It suggests that academia, particularly at its most influential end, is riddled with unconscious bias over which faculty members therefore have little control.

Why does this bias persist, sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education?  A major reason is that few of us white folk make a conscious effort to root it out.  I don't mean we fail to become color blind, because we can't be. We instantly notice color and gender as quickly as we notice, height, weight, approximate age, or accent. We also instantly impose our interpretative paradigms to generate familiar meanings from those phenotypes--class or community of origin, likely friend or possible foe, etc  But though we can't be color blind, we can change our interpretative frames. Why don't faculty work harder on making these frames visible and criticizable and changeable? Why don't we at least work harder than the wider society does, especially around a residual, biased expectation that white males will show higher academic quality?

Of course many of us do, but there are also entrenched reasons why most of us on university faculties do not.  One is that at least some faculty gravitate as much towards high social status as towards high academic achievement, so their their bias towards white males is statistically coherent.  A deeper reason is that many if not most of us on university faculties are talent aristocrats.  We aren't that interested applying race or gender egalitarianism in an inevitably color-conscious world because we aren't egalitarian about ability, reward, or opportunity in the first place.   We could reduce unconscious bias against women and students of color were we to believe broadly in a "democracy of intelligence." But we can't because we don't--we are as status conscious as any other segment of American society, and perhaps increasingly insecure about status rather than militantly opposed to ending status inequality's shredding of aggregate educational opportunity and achievement.  If we aren't opposed to those kinds of inequality of outcome, we can't uproot class, race, and gender status as their inputs.

The second article is about the national coverage of many universities' mishandling of sexual assault.  Ross Douthat, one of the Times's conservative columnists, describes the university as corrupt, by which he interestingly means replacing the educational mission with a corporate one.
Corruption is a strong word, but not, I think, unmerited. Over the last few generations, America’s most prominent universities — both public and private — have pursued a strategy of corporate expansion, furious status competition, and moral and pedagogical retreat. But the moral retreat has in certain ways been disguised: elite schools have abandoned any explicit role in policing the choices and shaping the character of their students, but they have masked that abdication in the nostrums of contemporary P.C. piety— promising diversity, tolerance, safe spaces, etc., with what can feel like a preacher’s sincerity and self-righteousness. 
This has allowed them, notionally, to be many things to many people: students are promised adult liberty and a community that will protect them if anything goes wrong; parents get a fuzzy rather than a corporate vibe from deans, R.A.’s and other authority figures; admissions departments get to pitch a fun, even bacchanalian lifestyle while faculty-lounge liberals get to feel as if they’re part of a worthy ideological project. 
This was going well until Mr. Douthat distracted himself by trotting in political correctness.  In fact, there is no contradiction between liberty and community. Universities synthesize these, which is one reason that conservatives have a hard time understanding what they do.  The synthesis does not mean "policing the choices," since the development process requires that students learn how to make their own choices--in part by freely making them.  It does mean "shaping the character," but dialogically not unilaterally, and again through practice, both in and out of class.  Universities are engaged in  human development, which is not an "ideological project" as such, though it does involve studying and bringing ideologies to consciousness, which we never manage to do completely, including human development through higher education as we now practice it. Neither faculty nor administrators can directly control the educational process, since it is also always student self-education.

Then Mr. Douthat gets back on track.
But the modern university’s primary loyalty is not really to liberalism or political correctness or any kind of ideological design: It’s to the school’s brand, status and bottom line. And when something goes badly wrong, or predators run loose — as tends to happen in a world where teens and early-twentysomethings are barely supervised and held to no standard higher than consent — the mask of kindness and community slips, and the face revealed beneath is often bloodless, corporate and intent on self-protection.
This is true--the pursuit of multiple revenue streams has cost the university its unique educational profile, and neither the public nor its students assume it will chose principle--or care of its own people and mission--over its image with outside funders and politicians, which it translates as potential revenues to come.

Mr. Douthat is right that the university has a problem with its social mission.  But then so does the faculty.  I went to a couple of meetings this week about stepping up faculty governance, one about the reform of the academic senate and another about faculty unionization.  Given recent UC experience, it's pretty clear that faculty unions would give faculty members more say over issues like health benefit cuts, pension changes, educational funding, and policy questions where, as Bob Samuels pointed out, "faculty don't even have a seat at the table."

That is a major problem.  But I'm making a different point here.  More faculty governance won't be better faculty governance unless we faculty decide we really want low-cost, high quality higher ed for an ever-growing percentage of the country's population.  Do we really want mass quality?  Do we really want research and teaching to be publicly funded because they are so deliberately democratic?  If we don't really want that public mission, and if we would rather focus on improving our own status in a hierarchical educational order, then we might as well stick with our current administrations.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
As you have probably seen, over the last couple of months there has been a series of reports, position papers and dubious arguments about the past and future of the Master Plan and higher education in California.  We will be trying to work through at least some of them to highlight crucial issues and criticize misplaced assumptions and arguments.  I want to start today with a brand new report from the California Budget Project entitled From State to Student.

From State to Student is an important restatement of Sacramento's lowered investment in higher education at both UC and CSU.  The report makes clear several crucial points:

  1. Although it is clear that there has been declining support for higher ed for decades, the conventional (and passivity inducing narrative) underestimates the importance of the last decade:  Indeed, since 2001-2002 general fund spending for higher ed--as a share of general income--has been roughly cut in half despite the growing numbers of enrolled students (3). In other words, these cuts were political choices, not economic necessities.  As we have pointed out on numerous occasions, they were driven by the politics of the Schwarzenegger administration, took shape in the Compact that UC signed onto willingly (see the Futures Report and Cuts Report), and were deepened before being partially reversed by Jerry Brown.  The state's economy has grown but spending by Sacramento on higher education has been cut.  This is a point that needs to be made more forcefully than simply noting the cuts.   
  2. Despite the drastic disinvestment, both UC and CSU remain importantly dependent on the state for its core instructional funding.  The CPB estimates that under the proposed 2014-2015 the general fund will provide 54.3% of CSU core funding (down from 80% in 1998-1999) and 48.7% of core funding at UC (down from 75% in 1998-1999) (5-7). These numbers, like similar LAO numbers, are calculated based on General Funding divided by student FTE, and so we might quibble with them and with some of the definitions of what constitutes "core educational functions."  But they should give people pause in accepting the common claims by some that the state is now a marginal partner to CSU and (especially) UC because of the size of their total budgets.  
  3. The CPB also usefully charts the changing funding fortunes of higher education and corrections.  As they remind us (4), there has been an effective reversal in the priorities placed on higher education and corrections since the early 1980s.  In 1980-81 2.9% of the General Fund was spent on corrections; in 2014-2015 the Governor proposes 9%.  In 1980-81, 9.6% of the General Fund was spent on higher education; in 2014-2015 the Governor proposes 5.1%. Actually the reversal is worse than the CPB indicates since Brown's General Fund budget does not include the spending being sent to counties for realignment.  This has allowed him to appear as if he is cutting back on correctional spending when he is not. 

The CPB also demonstrates that this is a penny-wise/pound-foolish approach.  As several earlier reports indicated, effective access to CSU and UC has shrunk; the percentage of eligible California high school graduates who attend one of the systems has declined (7). The state has shifted costs onto the backs of students and families.  And in shifting funding from higher education to corrections it has shifted from investing in a sector that contributes to economic growth and social and personal development to building up a sector that drains both.

But the report also makes clear that none of the positions on the table will enable California's higher education system to fulfill its public purposes.  Although Governor Brown may pat himself on the back for his proposed funding increases it remains the case that the CPB estimates that the state is contributing 2,671 fewer dollars per FTE at CSU than in 2006-07 and 5,495 fewer dollars per FTE at UC. But the fashionable claims that we (especially at UC) don't need the state and should start focusing elsewhere miss the enduring and crucial support given by state funds.  And the disparity between the state's economic needs, the continued demand for higher education, and the avowed public support for higher education on the one hand, and the choices made by Sacramento on the other, should give people pause before accepting the alleged "realist" position that state funding is simply gone for good.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Monday, May 5, 2014
For me, the tragic irony of the phony Deltopia "student riot" narrative (Part 2), and of ye olde collective slander of UCSB students as partying too hard to keep up with UCLA, UCSD, UCI, etc. (Part 1), was that I had been spending winter and spring quarters immersed in brilliant UCSB student ideas about how to upgrade their faltering Public U undergrad educations. 

That is my winter senior seminar on the left.  This particular course was called "English Majoring After College."  The idea was for these students to link their current content knowledge and skills to the job sector that most interested them.  They had to inventory their specific capabilities as upper-division college students, describe their possible future sector (non-fiction writing, editing, education, law, screenwriting, documentary filmmaking, historical research, etc.), identify the knowledge and skills that were missing, and then use the course to fill in as many of the gaps as they could, using smaller "research and writing groups" to share their work and its findings.


The UCSB students had to do this in conjunction with our two partner courses. One was called "Histories and Futures of Humanistic Education," taught by Comp Lit professor David Palumbo-Liu at Stanford. The other was Cathy Davidson's "Histories and Futures of (Mostly) Higher Education" at Duke. The collaboration was Prof. Davidson's idea, and she orchestrated our co-located course with her Coursera MOOC with the same title; her class members also blogged the course at the Chronicle of Higher Education. The three courses used Google Hangout to meet four times during our ten-week quarter to discuss the central reading for the day, which in those cases was a book authored by one of the main course professors.  


There are all sorts of things to say about this collaboration, but I'll only note here that the premise, borrowed from Prof. Davidson's courses, was "reinventing higher education from the bottom up. " This was of course an invitation for UCSB undergrads to reflect on and then redesign the current University of California B.A. delivery system.


Pretty much all of us agreed that current instruction leaves much to be desired.  Stanford and Duke have much higher per-student resources than do UCSB.  (See that grey chair in the foreground? That, plus a piece of red duct tape and a detachable laptop camera, was our only group link to the other two classes.)  But we shared concerns that learning at all of our institutions still occurs in rigid forms that induce the passive learning that no longer delivers either workplace skills or, more fundamentally,  student bildung-- individual development--as the more lasting goal of higher education. Here are a few premises in bullet-point form.


  • Davidson: the digital economy wants "creative thinking, at all levels," but our universities were designed to offer passive learning for the bygone factory age.
  • Newfield: we need mass creativity to solve the world's enormous problems.  This requires public universities as good as private universities, which is the opposite of what politicians are doing.
  • Palumbo-Liu: world solutions are haunted by our failed approaches to alterity and otherness.  Literary reading helps us imagine new narratives of alterity, and new human relations.
There were also lessons from other works:
  • Egan (A Visit from the Goon Squad): the creative industries our students want to enter are set up to reject and exploit talent, not curate it.  So curate yourself before or outside of them.
  • Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs: Jobs put art and design on equal footing with engineering--and leveraged massive public investment in electronic and information technology.
And so on.  We shared a sense that higher education needs to shift from passive to active learning and needs to do this on a large scale.   (This was 2013's idealistic interpretation of the potential of MOOCs, before pedagogical reality sank in.)  We also wanted the upgrades to be designed by students rather than by the politicians, executives, and consultants who in recent years have made a hobby of telling everyone in education what's good for them. 

Fast forward to the last day of class. OK I said, we've read, discussed, collaborated, and researched all quarter.  Now we have three hours to reinvent higher education from the ground up.  I'll take notes.

The reinvention took more like one hour.  Here's the outline.

0.  Don't teach to the dollar.  The best way to block learning is to let slip a teaching activity's commercial goals.  When students decide that they are being used in a marketing activity, they cease, that instant, to be students.

1. Offer individualized majors.  Current majors reflect administrative structure and to a lesser extent historical research areas.  Undergrads handle this by adding minors and/or double or even triple-majoring. This adds additional material and obligations to a foundation that may not be serving their personal intellectual interests.  Public universities are now obsessed with enforcing caps on total units and charging non-resident tuition for "excess" units--which are often run up in the pursuit of ambitious academic programs. What about the excess units for major requirements that aren't serving individual student goals?  Although majors would be customized--through a supervised process described below--they would not become narrowly vocational. Individualized majors would reflect the bildung process that is different for each individual, and would mitigate the factory production model neither students nor faculty want.

2. Turn General Education Requirements into customized distributed learning.  G.E.s were born at post-Civil War Harvard as part of president Charles William Eliot's revolutionary "electives system" that dislodged an antiquated standardized curriculum.  It was a great leap forward, but got us only halfway to what we now need: integrated course structures in which the learning in each course consciously complements that of others.  G.E.s would become the foundation for cross-training, in which, for example, one of the many many English majors who wants to be part of web-based publishing would have systematic training in data visualization.

3. Establish individual student advising.  Currently, most public university undergrads have no faculty advisor.  They weave their way through four years of courses with the help of non-faculty staff. Since the latter are usually expected to handle 300, 500, or 1000 majors on their own, they can do little more than assess formal compliance with a checklist of required courses.  Faculty are generally unaware of this issue. I certainly was until I became a Study Center Director of UC's Education Abroad programs in France, where student advising was a central duty.  I had expected the job to be plugging courses from French universities into the structure of the student's major at their UC campus.  But there was no UC structure to plug the overseas courses into--just more or less incomplete checklists of possible courses. I began to ask students to define the "intellectual interest" that could give shape to the courses they'd taken and help chose the most relevant courses in the future (for more on this see my essay, "Humanities Creativity in the Age of Online").  Public universities will truly help all their students develop "creative capabilities" only when we help them identify personal intellectual goals around which they can orchestrate their masses of college material.

4. Finance these things as public goods (1-3 without 0). This topic was over the horizon of the course, but has been a primary issue on this blog.  Public universities uncover and develop the individual brilliance of what I think of as ordinary smart people, those millions whose large but generally underdeveloped talents created, for example, the "golden age" post-war economy once they were at least partially cultivated through the public university boom after World War II.  Now is not the time to scale back mass bildung and return it to the ivory towers of our elite private universities that do excellent work in miniature.   We need the thousand-foot mural art of public universities.  This is going to require getting people to pay taxes for higher education again--next year or in ten years or in fifty years; you can stall as long as you want, but  the solution isn't going to change.

These points have taken me longer to write out than it took the seminar students to come up with them. I've omitted their many passionate and detailed descriptions of experiences in which the system couldn't given them the educational goods they needed.  And I haven't even mentioned a similar exercise that I was part of in Avery Gordon's sociology course that met a few days after Deltopia, where about forty UCSB students, divided into seven working groups, also took an hour to invent a better university than the ones any of us teach or study in now. 

Once the critique was in place at the end of my seminar, we decided to do something about it.  Seven of us started an independent study course this quarter with the specific task of designing one of the college-to- bridge courses that is missing from the UCSB curriculum.  We're calling the course "Comparative Writing Professions."  Each week, one member researches courses at other universities about a particular writing sector, compiles them for the group, leads a discussion of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and identifies material we want to keep for the collective course-writing exercise that will come at the end of spring term.   

For me, the obvious lesson is that UCSB students have a collective brilliance that has been underserved during years of budget cuts, mission creep, and management confusion about what 21st century higher education needs to do.  Most UCSB students have areas where they are clearly underskilled: fixing this is a main purpose of going to college, and it would be easier and far more fun to address these skills deficiencies as part of a program in which mass bildung and general intellectual pleasure were the overall, conscious aims.

Which brings me back to Deltopia.  The bogus riot narrative has diverted everyone from the big educational upgrade that we need to implement now.  It makes UCSB students too humble to demand more educational resources.  It justifies landlords running I.V. as a real estate colony, with no obligation to invest in the preconditions of intellectual life, like a desk of one's own.  It gives state and local residents another excuse not to care about student welfare.  It allows UCOP not to take their Santa Barbara campus seriously, and to continue to shortchange UCSB on per-student tuition and state general fund allocations (no, "rebenching" has not and will not fix this.)  It supports the county's political disenfranchisement of students.  The riot narrative also keeps faculty away from undergraduates, and casts them as competitors for faculty research time and money, rather than as partners in a research-learning enterprise that would break UCSB out of the pack.

Interestingly enough, some post mortems described Isla Vista as educational partner for UCSB.  Alumna Roozbeth Kaboli wrote  that "the sense of work-life balance and soft skills we alumni have attained are key differentiators of the UCSB/Isla Vista experience." Alumnus Matt Kettman expanded on this theme.  Graduate student Patrick Mooney made a strong statement about UCSB's need "to involve students in making educational decisions that affect them."  And I'd add to this the dozens of student ideas for greater educational quality that I've hinted at through the description of the students our three-university seminar.  

The fact is that students have a pretty good idea of where higher education needs to go. When are the managers of their universities going to catch up?