Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Asking the Right Questions: A Response to David Hollinger

David Hollinger, holder of an endowed chair in American history at the University of California at Berkeley and President-elect of the Organization of American Historians, just asked the proverbial $64,000 question in the Townsend Center for the Humanities's Point of View Series: if forced into a choice between being really public and being really good, what should Berkeley faculty choose? Here's his own answer:

My experiences at Berkeley as a graduate student in the 1960s were transforming. I owe almost everything to Berkeley. I was able to come here because it was really public. But that is not what changed me. Many places were really public. I was changed because Berkeley was really good.

I now believe the risks to quality are more dangerous than the risks to public access. To be sure, if fees go up, fewer people like me could come, but what these people would get will be of greater value. Perhaps I am wrong to prefer this alternative? I hope those who lean the other way will publicly defend the taking of the risk of diminished quality, rather than ignoring the question.

Those of us wondering about similar questions and choices in New York ought to keep in mind the fiscal and structural differences between our situation and California's. Lisa Krieger provides a useful primer over at the Mercury News. The core problem she identifies is the same one that Hollinger focuses on:

Plummeting state support: Since 1990, state spending per student has dropped by half in inflation-adjusted dollars. While the state paid about 90 percent of a student's education 40 years ago, it now pays 69 percent for California State University students and 62 percent for those in the University of California system.

Here at SUNY Fredonia, our president recently posted a powerpoint slide at a press conference on the SUNY strategic plan that showed a 2/3 decline in inflation-adjusted state spending per student over the same time period, while a few weeks earlier our chancellor's office published statistics that showed that state support for the SUNY equivalents of the CSU and UC systems has dropped to about 35% and 50%, respectively. One way of understanding how much worse SUNY's situation is than CSU's and UC's is to blow up the charts on "Shifting the cost of education to students": at CSU, CA still contributed over $8700 per student in 2008-2009, while at UC, CA contributed over $14500 per student. By contrast, if Governor Paterson's education cuts are not restored by the NYS legislature--and it's looking very unlikely that we'll see any restoration to any sectors but K-12 and community colleges--SUNY Fredonia will be getting around $2500 per student in 2010-2011.

Given our experience in NY, I think it would be fair to question one of the premises of Hollinger's argument. Fee increases at public universities don't enhance quality, as his "if fees go up, fewer people like me could come, but what these people would get will be of greater value" might seem to imply. They don't even maintain it. The key question is "greater value" than what? What fee increases allow for is "greater value" than would exist without them. They slow the bleeding, but they don't stop it.

Hollinger identifies the source of the bleeding with great precision:

even the most optimistic of souls usually will grant that the project of reversing the anti-tax politics of California is a formidable one, and not likely to be achieved prior to the time that the excellence of the UC system in general and of Berkeley in particular will be severely challenged by diminished state support. We need to remember that a recent, credible poll found that 69% of California voters prefer to keep Proposition 13 in place. Other polls reveal that opposition to increased income tax for high earners is sustained by the belief of 19% of the American public that they are in the top 1% of income earners, and by the belief of another 20% that they will join that 1% within their lifetimes. California politicians who win elections do not mention services and taxes in the same sentence.

While he supports the efforts of colleagues like George Lakoff to change the way California voters think and vote about public universities--not as education factories, but as economic engines, quality of place engines, and moral engines critical to American democracy--Hollinger wonders what UC Berkeley should do in the meantime. Should they hold the line for Berkeley's publicness and run the very real risk of no longer "being one of the world's leading centers of learning"? He believes this is "hollow bravado and wishful thinking." He is not willing to run the risk that "Being really public--above all keeping fees low and access high--might require a diminution in the intellectual quality of the services that UC in general and Berkeley in particular offer the state of California."

Now, Berkeley is one of the few public universities in the nation that may be in a position to raise its fees high enough to survive the tuition trap that Christopher Newfield and others have identified. If state funds that had gone into supporting Berkeley were to be fairly distributed across the rest of the UC system, or, more generally, if all the UC campuses were able to offer differential tuition rates and the savings in state support were reinvested in the CSU system, then there would be little problem with Hollinger's argument. If certain UC schools were to shift wholeheartedly into the high-tuition/high-aid model to do as much as they could to preserve their quality during a fiscal crisis, and if the savings in state support were reinvested in other UC and CSU schools to do as much as possible to preserve access to public higher education during the downturn, then what's the problem?

Well, there's no guarantee that Sacramento politicians would instead choose to reinvest such savings in state support for Berkeley and other UC campuses into roads, or prisons, or K-12, or Medicaid. In fact, with CA's budget deficit on the order of $20B last I checked, it's almost certain that reductions in state support would go straight into that particular budgetary black hole. So accelerating the path to privatization means that access is very likely to be diminished across CA's higher education systems (even if administrators in UC and CSU were to do a little redistribution of the ways state funds are allocated across their systems to the lower-tuition schools). It seems there's no evading the horns of Hollinger's dilemma.

Again, New York's experience is instructive. UUP President Phil Smith was at his most convincing during his visit to Fredonia when he pointed out that over the decades, SUNY's health science centers have been sending more and more of the revenue they generate not to the rest of the SUNY system but to the state general fund:

Phil gave a very specific example of why he is convinced that augmenting existing SUNY revenue streams and developing new ones won't result in net gains for SUNY. He pointed out that when he arrived at Upstate in 1978, state support was around 47%--and now it's down around 10%. The state saw an opportunity to take advantage of the income the health science centers were generating: first they forced hospitals to pay for their own debt service, then their own fringe benefits, then the cost of collective bargaining increases, and finally this year they asked for over $20M to make up for retirement fund losses. If that opportunism is extended to the entire system, and the doctorals see state support drop from around 50% to around 10%, the comprehensives see state support drop from around 35% to around 10%, and so on, then eventually the question will arise of whether UUP should be negotiating with the state or with the entering freshman class and their families. Furthermore, if even UB and Stony Brook see state support drop faster than they can raise tuition, it's likely that the imbalances caused by SUNY's own formulae for distributing state funds to campuses--where Stony Brook has 57% state support and UB has near 50%--are going to be exacerbated even further, as more state money is sent to them than to the comprehensives.

Since it's hard to imagine that quality hasn't suffered at Upstate Medical Center in the last 32 years, however, Smith's long-term perspective shows that the picture is even grimmer than Hollinger portrays it. Even if California limits the damage to quality at a pair or a handful of campuses by switching them over to a high-fee/high-aid model, both quality and access would go down sharply at the rest of them. Accelerating the pace of privatization at a few campuses in one state digs the structural hole deeper for public higher education across that state.

This is why I believe that every campus in the UC, CSU, SUNY, and CUNY system should be given the responsibility of managing its own tuition. So long as each system sets a standard tuition rate for all its campuses according to a rational, fair, equitable, and predictable policy, so long as every major constituency and stakeholder has a seat at the table and is looking at the same data in the setting of both system and campus tuition rates, and so long as any special tuition increases by individual campuses are approved by their local student government, faculty governance, and college council or trustees, then I am confident that affordability can be maintained and revenues from increased student fees can be reinvested directly in trying to maintain campus quality.

But this is also why I believe that California and New York need to establish floors beneath which state funding for public higher education will not fall. The current system of cutting state support for public colleges and universities faster than tuition has increased at them--which has been in place for roughly two generations in both states--is unsustainable. UC, CSU, SUNY, and CUNY simply can't keep increasing the numbers of students they serve without their revenues keeping pace with enrollment increases.

The question, then, is not whether partial privatization should happen--it has been happening for a long time now and reversing it will take even longer--but instead how far partial privatization of public universities should go, and to what ends.  Former SUNY chancellor D. Bruce Johnstone suggests that it be harnessed to the goals of providing "genuine equality of opportunity" and "widening higher education access" (SUNY at 60, 296). Here's his argument why some student fees are justified:

Elsewhere (no more so than in Africa, where I have spent much of my recent scholarly attention), accessibility is too often thought of as flowing naturally from free tuition, free room and board, and pocket money--even though no country (least of all in Sub-Saharan Africa) can afford this without greatly limiting both the capacity and quality of their college and university offerings. And the consequence to the severe limitations on capacity is that there is room only for those who pass very rigorous entrance examinations, which in turn is possible mainly for those who have had the advantages of extensive tutoring and private secondary schools. The consequence, of course, is free higher education mainly to the wealthy, who could and would pay at least some tuition if they had to, and very little opportunity to the poor, the isolated, or ethnic and linguistic minorities. In the State University of New York, as in public systems in all states, we expand our resources and our capacity with the combination of state tax revenues and modest public tuitions. (296)

Johnstone goes on to argue that efforts to "expand opportunities"--including "abundant means-tested financial assistance, admissions practices that are sensitive to backgrounds and the nature of our diverse secondary schools, special programs of counseling and academic assistance to the educationally disadvantaged, a range of initial opportunities differing in academic selectivity, and second chances"--help "lessen the essentially unmerited simple transmission of opportunities from privileged families to their children" and make "American higher education...one of the truly good deals to the American taxpayer" (296).

Another former SUNY chancellor, John B. Clark, goes one step further in his summary of CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein's proposed "New York Compact":

In the Compact, there would be a broad partnership among the State, SUNY, CUNY, faculty, staff, students, alumni, industry, and private benefactors in a united effort to raise funds for public higher education....

Under the provisions of the compact, the state would be responsible for the so-called "mandatory costs" of operating the public systems of higher education (e.g., personnel costs, fringe benefits, utilities, etc.) and a set percentage of additional funds to invest in SUNY and CUNY for educational purposes. SUNY and CUNY would be responsible for their portion through fundraising, commercial partnerships, and generating additional monies through savings and efficiencies on their local campuses. Students would pay modest tuition increases on a rational and predictable basis based upon an agreed upon price index, with the important provision that no qualified student would be denied admission or matriculation to SUNY or CUNY because of the lack of financial means. (220)

So once again the questions of the proper ratio of public to private funding and of a base level of public support for public higher education arise, this time with other revenue streams than student fees added to the equation.  It is these questions that faculty should be putting to politicians, citizens, and taxpayers in their states, as well as to each other.  In this sense, Shannon Jackson's contribution to the Townsend Center's Point of View series provides a clearer accounting of the choices we all face than does Hollinger's essay.

Still, although Hollinger is wrong to accept the terms laid out by the forced choice between quality and access--both in terms of how he formulates the problem (CA's and NY's fiscal crises are of such a large magnitude that we're going to see both quality and access go down in the next few years at least, no matter what choices we make) and imagines solutions (we need to build support for new public higher education compacts in CA and NY, not just assent to raising tuition at a few campuses more than the rest)--his mistakes point the way to still larger questions:  just what should the role of the federal government be during and after the great recession? what shape should a national compact for public higher education take?

I would suggest that there are at least three paths by which we may arrive at some good answers to these questions:

  • Updating the Land-Grant Tradition: Newfield showed in Ivy and Industry that there have been times in American history when political and corporate elites understood that basic research is risky, expensive, and invaluable and hence that its risks, costs, and benefits should be spread as widely as possible. This consensus translated into serious federal support of research at public universities. Newfield makes a strong case in Unmaking the Public University that the pendulum needs to swing back from Bayh-Dole and updating the land-grant tradition is one key way in which the federal government can make it happen. State and federal investment in creativity and innovation offers real returns.
  • Generalizing the G.I. Bill: There should be other forms of national service than military service that also provide tuition vouchers to those who choose to perform them (Teach for America comes to mind).
  • Growing Pell Grants: Since inflation alone dictates that tuition will rise indefinitely, the federal government needs to index the Pell Grants to cost-of-living increases; if more states follow NY in creating their own versions of TAP to supplement Pell Grants, then the most financially vulnerable students could stop seeing debt as a barrier to applying for and entering public colleges and universities (and even some private ones).
In a nutshell, state and federal governments should collaborate in making the public option as attractive as possible--not just to students, but to higher education institutions, as well. It's only when well-endowed private universities see it in their interest to join state systems that we'll actually be able to adjust the ratio of public to private support of public higher education downward without hurting quality and access and destroying educational capacity.

[Update 1 (5/15/10, 1:45 pm): Charles Schwartz from the University of California is having trouble leaving a comment, so I'm adding what he emailed me to this post itself:

You quote data from University officials (east and west) that shows sharp declines in per-student funding from the state to public universities. That data can be very misleading, for research universities like UC and SUNY, since it refers to the whole I&R budget. There is an old habit of hiding the cost of faculty research and related graduate programs under the rubric of expenditures for "Instruction". Research is a great public good; but undergraduate education is seen, nowadays, as mostly a private good, to be paid for by the students (and their families). So by pumping up what we call "the per-student cost of education" we give state officials an excuse to cut our public funding; and the resulting increase in student fees has bad effects on access.

By my calculations, undergraduate student fees at UC cover just over 100% of the cost of providing undergraduate education. (See details at http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz/.)

I know many colleagues are afraid to "separate" research from teaching. I don't want that but I do ask for honest accounting; if we can have a decent public understanding about who now pays for what, then we can go on to a decent debate about who should pay for what.

Charles Schwartz

My own inclination is to ask for more baseline federal support of research--and not just at a few "national research universities," as some at Berkeley have called for--and more state support of teaching at all public colleges and universities, so I think separating out the costs makes a lot of sense. As Schwartz's colleague Christopher Newfield has shown in Ivy and Industry, the idea that research deserves public support precisely because it is difficult, risky, and its benefits are so widespread but diffuse was a common-sense consensus at different periods of American political history in the twentieth century. In an age when so many nations are investing in their own research capacity, I would love to see the Obama administration put American research excellence and innovation on the front burner.

The point that's worth making about the costs of teaching is that most colleges and universities in the U.S. (and indeed around the world) are skimping here in order to fund their research by relying on exploited and underpaid graduate student assistants and contingent faculty to do more and more of the actual teaching on campus. I'd like to see a calculation of what the costs of teaching would be with full-time faculty covering about 75%-85% of all sections. All our hard-working colleagues off the tenure track who want to get on it need to be moved onto it by whatever means necessary. All teachers, whatever their employment status, should be given compensation befitting their contribution to the success of their students and institutions.

Finally, most of the institutions in SUNY are not research universities (only 4 of the 64 are), although of course important research takes place at virtually all of them. Given that SUNY has over the years chosen to shift state dollars to the doctoral-granting institutions in the system to fund their research activities, and that our own Faculty-Student Association at my own regional university contributes more to the campus operating budget than does the state of New York, we've become more and more reliant on tuition and fees paid by students to avoid layoffs. If the NYS budget turns out to be as bad as I fear, we may not be able to keep this up.]

[Update 2 (5/19/10, 3:00 pm): In their own way, Peter Brown, Tenured Radical, Christopher Newfield, and Marc Bousquet each helps us begin to account for the costs of neoliberal universities' skimping on the real costs of active teaching.]

Monday, April 26, 2010

Arthur Levine, Meet Nancy Zimpher

Arthur Levine recently responded to the New York State Board of Education's decision to directly grant master's degrees to teachers via such non-university programs as Teach for America, calling on leaders of university-based teacher education programs in New York to improve the current system by following principles laid out in his 2006 study, Educating School Teachers. Given that SUNY's chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, is co-chairing NCATE's Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation, Partnerships, and Improved Student Learning and has made improving teacher education a core part of the new strategic plan, The Power of SUNY, I doubt that Levine's recommendations will go unnoticed--particularly given that he serves on the very same NCATE panel! There's no chance universities will give up on teacher education. Which makes Levine's title all the more interesting (and troubling): why call his piece "Don't Give Up On Universities" unless he was worried that the state of NY might sideline the SUNY Board of Trustees in favor of the Board of Regents when it comes to teacher education?

This is not an idle question. Various scholars in SUNY at 60 help us understand why. Tod Ottman points out in "Forging SUNY in New York's Political Cauldron" that

New York's private colleges, represented by the Association of Colleges and Universities of the State of New York (ACUSNY), were the key players in state higher education decision making [in the first half of the 20th C]. Consequently, the interests of the private colleges and the state became so intertwined as to make them indistinguishable. (16)

He notes that the ACUSNY, the State Education Department, and the Board of Regents unsuccessfully opposed Governor Dewey's bills creating SUNY (27-29). Maryellen Keefe adds:

Prior to 1948, the New York State Board of Regents had controlled all higher educational programs, public and private. Before the Board of Regents surrendered control of these colleges, it attained an agreement with Governor Thomas Dewey--no program in the state university system would compete with existing programs in the state's private colleges and universities. (103)

Ottman's point that New York's Normal Schools, tuition-free teacher training institutions, had been controlled by the Board of Regents until they were added into the new SUNY system (17), and Keefe's noting of the no-competition pledge are amplified on by Harold Wechsler, who explains why the Regents board's attempt to seize control of SUNY from the Board of Trustees failed in 1949:

First, the state's private colleges remained neutral after receiving a promise from SUNY officials that the university would wait ten years before adding liberal arts curricula to the teachers colleges. Second, newspapers republished a damaging statement by Regents Chancellor William Wallin at the 1938 New York State Constitutional Convention. "I rise to speak on behalf of discrimination as a liberty which I think ought to be enjoyed by everyone in this State," stated Wallin, then Regents vice chancellor. "In the matters of education," he continued, "it ought to be open to any institution to bar from it, provided it is not a public institution, to bar from entering into it, those it sees fit to forbid entering." Wallin disavowed his remarks, saying he supported and would enforce FEPA [the Fair Educational Practices Act of 1948]. But, critics asked, with how much enthusiasm? And by extension, how would the Regents govern the fledgling state university if the board assumed control? (36-37)

Obviously a lot has changed in New York since the middle of the 20th century. I don't have the time or the capacity to track the changes in the relationship between the Board of Regents and the Board of Trustees. But at a time when New York's political leaders are trying to come to an agreement on how much to cut state support for all public education in the state, it's worth adding three more likely faultlines--between the Regents and the Trustees, between private and public higher education, and between K-12 and higher education--to the one between SUNY and UUP that I've been focusing on this year. It's about time that leaders on various sides of these faultlines find some common ground--and soon!

So while I find it encouraging that the former leader of Teachers College, Columbia University, is obliquely addressing New York history and indirectly supporting SUNY, I hope that other leaders of private colleges and universities will start speaking up for public higher education, in New York and across the nation, with the eloquence of Pitzer College president Laura Skandera Trombley.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Now We're Talking: An Open Letter to Joel Miller

Joel Miller
Member of the Assembly
102nd Assembly District

Dear Dr. Miller:

Thanks for your letter of April 14th. The SUNY Fredonia University Senate and I share your opposition to the privatization of the State University of New York and your dismay at the tuition roller coaster students and families have been riding for the last generation. My colleagues and I are particularly gratified to hear that you have a plan to bring more state support for SUNY. To tell you the truth, we've been under the impression that everyone outside the Western New York delegation in the Assembly has it in for SUNY.

I'd like to hear more about your plan to stabilize SUNY's funding, as your description is a little fuzzy:

My plan links [tuition] increases to no more than the CPI for the entering freshman which then stays flat for 5 years with the State annually increasing support by the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI). A percentage of these increases must go to increase the number of full-time faculty.

Are you saying that your plan calls for tuition for each entering first-year class to remain the same for 5 years? (Even if they transfer to another SUNY school? Would students transferring in from outside SUNY pay the same tuition rate as entering first-year students?) And that each year the Legislature would have to limit tuition increases for that particular entering class to a cap set by the previous year's Consumer Price Index? (Would they be required to mandate a tuition decrease if deflation occurs?) And that each year the Legislature would commit to increasing support for SUNY by the Higher Education Price Index rate? (Is that a floor or a ceiling?)

Since your letter refers to the "SUNY Fredonia College Council" in its opening paragraph--which is an entity something like a local Board of Trustees, nothing like the campus governance organization that I lead--I'll take the liberty of reminding you of the actual content of our March 29th resolution by comparing your plan to the elements we've identified, in conjunction with the Fredonia Student Assembly, UUP chapter, and administrative leadership, as key campus needs.

We all agree that a rational, equitable, and predictable tuition policy is necessary, although only the students agree with you that the Legislature should continue to control it and that increases should be capped according to a variable inflation rate. By contrast, the faculty, staff, and administrators of SUNY Fredonia believe that the Board of Trustees should be entrusted with the responsibility to manage small, incremental tuition increases under a flat percentage rate cap (on the order of 8% to 10%). Have they mismanaged the residence halls, construction, or the setting of fees? Why shouldn't they have the same authority to set their own tuition rate that community colleges in New York already have? Don't the taxpayers of NY also own the community colleges? Have they been privatized?

Putting aside the additional administrative costs of different tuition rates for different students in attendance at the same time (by date of entry in addition to resident/non-resident status), which probably would not be high enough to deter the faculty, staff, students, and administrators of SUNY from supporting this aspect of your plan, what's the real difference between yours and ours, and how big is it really? How much does it really matter if the Legislature or the Trustees are managing a rational, equitable, and predictable tuition policy? Since we both agree that tuition increases shouldn't be offset by decreases in state support, can't we come to an agreement on this last little difference between our plans?

Like your plan, our resolution also seeks to freeze the state's long-standing disinvestment in SUNY. But whereas your plan focuses only on the state covering inflationary costs, ours goes much further. (1) We seek to end the Governor's power to unilaterally "claw back" funds the Legislature has dedicated to SUNY by moving SUNY from the "state assistance" budget category to the "local assistance" category, just like community colleges and CUNY schools. (2) We seek to end the practice of cutting SUNY's operating budget by a greater amount than any tuition increase with both a formal end to the "tax on tuition" and a commitment by the state to "maintenance of effort" (which normally includes covering both mandatory and inflationary costs). (3) And we seek to protect SUNY's most financially vulnerable students from the effects of tuition increases by getting a commitment from the state and SUNY to develop new financial aid measures or enhance existing ones (like TAP).

Can we have your support on these three elements of our resolution? Without them, your plan is open to Gubernatorial sabotage and the students, faculty, staff, and administrators of SUNY Fredonia are still vulnerable to continuing disinvestment from the state of New York.

Forgive me for asking, but is your letter an individual initiative, or does your plan have support from the majority of your colleagues on the Higher Ed committee? Is yours the official plan your team is putting forward in conference committee with your counterparts in the State Senate, or are you freelancing this? (I ask because I don't understand why it didn't make it into the Assembly's budget resolution.) What do Deborah Glick and Sheldon Silver think of your plan? How about Phil Smith and Nancy Zimpher?

As you know much better than I, time is getting short. I encourage you to discuss your plan with Bill Parment and the rest of the Western NY delegation. If SUNY's supporters in the Assembly don't get organized and figure out how to act effectively, I fear the consequences for my students and colleagues. If I can help in any way, please don't hesitate to let me know.


Bruce Simon
SUNY Fredonia University Senate
[phone number]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Feds to the Rescue?

Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education report on new federal initiatives to stabilize public higher education in cash-strapped states (i.e., just about every one). I'm starting to get a little more hopeful that the contingency-planning working group I'm in the final stages of putting together here at SUNY Fredonia (consisting of 4 appointees by me and 3 by the campus president) won't have to put all the cost-cutting ideas it generates into immediate action, but I'm still going to charge them with preparing for a range of scenarios, from bad to worse to dire to disastrous.

I'm all for emergency stabilization, but we also need to look beyond the immediate crisis, revisit fundamental assumptions about the financing of public higher education, and search for longer-term solutions. It's not enough to stop on the edge of a cliff: we've all seen enough Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons to know that that's the moment when the cliff collapses under you. I've purposely put off focusing on the longer term in the midst of NY's budget battle, but by this time next month I'll be all over it.

Governance Matters: What Should the Core Functions and Goals of the University Be?

Michael Meranze hits the nail on the head once again. He argues:

The UC faculty needs to assert their own vision of the core functions of the University.... If the faculty do not become more involved and assertive in defining the University, its definition will be made by market-share and balance sheets....

The budgetary crisis has meant that unless we do a better job of defining what we think to be the core mission of the university, the financial managers will do it for us. And we have yet to do that in a systematic way.

Similarly, his critique of the University of California's Commission on the Future's "marginalization of faculty" strikes exactly the right note:

the marginalization of faculty has sidelined what we might have thought would be the central question facing the Commission: how best to preserve the educational core of the University. Instead, the Commission has been primarily concerned with how best to produce revenue lines and lower costs. Increasing revenue and effectively spending money are obviously central concerns; but they can only be addressed once we have made clear what the central ends of the University itself are. The danger is that the question of the purposes of the University will be decided without real debate....

Furthermore, he's right that putting the shared back in governance is one key way to get that real debate going.

The Senate, both system-wide and the Campus Divisions, must take the lead in pressing for far greater transparency in the budget than now exists. The faculty throughout the system is being asked, or will be asked, to reexamine priorities, administrators are looking for ways to cut costs, and the burdens will ultimately fall upon departments and programs. But if real budget reform is to occur it has to be through knowing participating and shared responsibility between administration and faculty.

Finally, he's right that

[B]udgetary transparency can only accomplish so much. It can make clear the structures of funding and costs, and clarify the choices that are being made. But in order to reverse the relationship between educational and budgetary decisions faculty will need to do a better job of indicating what we believe the core goals and functions of the University should be.

This is what makes me so curious about what he and other activists in California would say about the process and rhetoric of SUNY's new strategic plan, The Power of SUNY. Chancellor Zimpher's approach has been much more inclusive than Chancellor Yudof's, she's made a big effort to convince the state-wide University Faculty Senate that she's committed to shared governance, and her strategic plan seeks to put SUNY's research and teaching squarely in the service of New York state's people, communities, and economy.

Being so outwardly-directed, SUNY's strategic plan doesn't directly address Meranze's interest in a "renewed vision for undergraduate education" or his attempt to start conversations about the relation between general education ("provid[ing] students with diverse and complex intellectual literacy: conceptual, cultural, experimental, historical, linguistic, and scientific") and departmental majors ("Students would still get the concentration they need in order to continue to further and deepen their learning; but they would also be given the general competencies needed to contribute critically to the world"). But by making SUNY's general education requirements more flexible and putting more responsibility for assessing it in individual campuses' hands, Zimpher clearly wants to see the faculty take more ownership of general education. And I wouldn't be surprised if the strategic planning process generated a whole lot more ideas than made it into the glossy brochure, ones more directly about the educational mission of SUNY.

Here's what I'm hoping comes out of the launch of the SUNY strategic plan and the last push this year to influence New York state budget politics:

What I want to see from SUNY leadership, in short, is a commitment to doing everything in their power to convince all concerned parties that the system and the campuses are prepared to handle the responsibility and take advantage of the opportunities the PHEE&IA would grant it. The key part of that commitment is being open to amendments to the PHEE&IA and revisions to their draft policies that enshrine such principles as collaboration across constituencies and organizations within SUNY, power-sharing from day one and ground zero across SUNY, and robust checks and balances on all involved. If this happens, I'm ok with the fact that many things would still have to be worked out in practice. Because ultimately that experience of working together in a common cause, treating disagreements as a normal condition to be addressed openly and frankly at all levels of decision-making (not as treason or disloyalty), and trying to develop revenue streams that enhance the educational, research, and service missions of SUNY without providing rationales for further cuts in state support is all preparation, to my mind, of the larger state-wide, national, and even international consideration of the following questions that SUNY can take the lead on: namely, why public universities ought to continue to exist in the 21st century and beyond, how their roles, functions, and uses ought to be defined, what their value is (in non-economic as well as economic terms), and where their financing should come from. If all of us concerned about the future of SUNY and of public higher education were to systematically revisit these fundamental questions, consider why traditional answers to them have been losing support from citizens, taxpayers, and politicians (among others), and develop new, more compelling, answers (when needed), then we might find ways of moving out of crisis mode and into growth mode. If we can't even commit to this much, what hope is there of anyone else doing it for us?

Yup, I still haven't changed my mind from mid-March. Glad to see others are raising similar questions and proposing their own answers.

[Update 1 (12:54 am): Check it out! Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg's The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age is available as a download from MIT Press!]

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

SUNY's "Fortunately, Unfortunately" Strategy: Turning Up the Heat on NY's Political Establishment

With the Passover-Easter recess over in Albany, New York's political leaders have been greeted by a renewed pushback from SUNY. Let's call it the "Fortunately, Unfortunately" strategy.

Fortunately, SUNY is launching its new strategic plan over the next two weeks across New York State. [Update (10:44 am): here's The Power of SUNY page and a link to the strategic plan (of the same title) itself.]

Unfortunately, Stony Brook University "leaked" and then announced and explained their plans to virtually shut down their Southampton campus, which they had recently purchased from Long Island University. Key sound bites from President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., include the following:

"I would say that we did fundamentally believe that the financial model didn't work essentially as outlined, and that to try and run a very small campus--essentially a very small liberal arts campus--on a $5,000 a year tuition, is very difficult."

"You can do the math and figure out without significant state allocation and support, this campus loses money."

It remains to be seen whether students, UUP, and local legislators will direct their anger at the Stony Brook administration alone, or whether Sheldon Silver and other State Assembly leaders will become the target of their ire.

Fortunately, SUNY is celebrating its most exceptional students by announcing the recipients of the 2010 Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence last week and holding a poster session today in the Legislative Office Building showcasing top undergraduate research and creative work.

Unfortunately, the University at Albany has announced their plans to prepare for a "substantially lower resource base over the next two years," according to an email that President George Philip sent to the campus last week, which made its way to the Times Union's Capitol Confidential blog. The other key line from it is even more specific:

[W]ithout long-overdue flexibility/autonomy and critically important funding restorations, I remain deeply troubled and concerned about the University's ability to maintain the size of our faculty and staff, the breadth of our academic programs, and student enrollment.

Last week at SUNY Fredonia, President Hefner and I were interviewed on "High Noon Friday" on the Fredonia radio station, right after Student Assembly leader Kevin Wysocki's interview, on the SUNY budget and the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act. Yesterday, the Fredonia University Senate overwhelmingly endorsed the resolution that the Executive Committee of the state-wide University Faculty Senate passed at the end of March, which lays out their qualified support for the PHEE&IA. (While they didn't go as far as I wanted them to in clarifying what SUNY needs from NY, they did a good job of addressing the legitimate objections that have been raised by UUP and others by calling for further revisions of SUNY's tuition and asset management policy drafts.) This Friday, SUNY Fredonia will be holding a press conference to do what we can to continue turning up the heat on NY's political leaders. And I'm hoping that the governance team we're bringing to the state-wide plenary in New Paltz at the end of next week can help the UFS put further pressure on SUNY and UUP to finally present a united front to NY's political establishment.

While we at Fredonia are hoping for the best and fighting for any good to come from New York's budget process, we're preparing for all likely eventualities, from dire to disastrous to catastrophic. I've been consulting with President Hefner and members of the University Senate Executive Committee and Planning and Budget Advisory Committee over the last several weeks on putting together a Budget Priorities Subcommittee of PBAC, a small working group to be made up of faculty and administrative leaders, whom I will charge with deciding on a process and criteria for making recommendations on how Fredonia should deal with a range of budgetary scenarios and presenting their recommendations to the PBAC after they have concluded their data collection, analysis, and deliberations. A loose model for the BPS's work will be the kind of projections that UC's state-wide University Committee on Planning and Budget produced in the middle of the last decade, but with specific suggestions for difficult decision-making at a public regional university in NY rather than a survey of general paths CA's research universities might take.

More on all these matters as they unfold....

[Update 1 (10:59 am): I give the New York Times's first pass at summarizing the plan a B-.]

[Update 2 (1:39 pm): Frank Mauro and Ron Deutsch suggest that alternatives to continuing to cut SUNY--and ways to fund them--both exist and will be better for the state in the near and long term.]

[Update 3 (5:01 pm): The Legislative Gazette included the first comprehensive overview of the plan that I've seen.]

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Stan Katz, Meet Nancy Zimpher

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education's Brainstorm blog, Stan Katz reports on last Friday's forum on state-supported higher education co-sponsored by the Princeton University Policy Research Institute for the Region and the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities. His post, provocatively titled "Can We Afford Our State Colleges?" is worth a read. As is the draft strategic plan for SUNY.

With a week to go before the official launch of the plan, the second of a mere two-week window for comments, the call for further participation rings a little hollow at this late stage of a very inclusive process, but I've already emailed them some editing suggestions and will soon have more substantive feedback (some of it on this blog). What's worth noting right now is that the draft plan precisely reverses the priority of Katz's question: its rhetorical strategy is classic "ask not what New York can do for SUNY; ask what SUNY can do for New York." Rather than analyzing or agonizing over the state of New York's commitment to public higher education, the draft plan lays out a roadmap for doing something about it. I'm curious to see what the state-wide University Faculty Senate makes of it at New Paltz later this month!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Michael Meranze, Meet Jean-Francois Lyotard

Here's hoping the faculty at SUNY's doctoral-granting institutions read Michael Meranze's response to the University of California's Commission on the Future's first public hearing.

As I read it, I kept flashing back to key moments in Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition. Not quite the parts that Michael Berube focused on in What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts? (having to do with legitimation via paralogy and narrative rather than consensus)--well, at least not immediately. No, the parts that go like this:

The decision-makers...attempt to manage these clouds of sociality according to input/output matrices, following a logic which implies that their elements are commensurable and that the whole is determinable. They allocate our lives for the growth of power. In matters of social justice and of scientific truth alike, the legitimation of that power is based on its optimizing the system's performance--efficiency. The application of this criterion to all our games necessarily entails a certain level of terror, whether soft or hard: be operational (that is, commensurable) or disappear. (xxix)

And this:

By terror I mean the efficiency gained by eliminating, or threatening to eliminate, a player from the language game one shares with him. He is silenced or consents, not because he has been refuted, but because his ability to participate has been threatened (there are many ways to prevent one from playing). The decision makers' arrogance, which in principle has no equivalent in the sciences, consists in the exercise of terror. It says, "Adapt your aspirations to our ends--or else." (63)

And this:

the process of delegitimation and the predominance of the performance criterion are sounding the knell of the age of the Professor: a professor is no more competent than memory bank networks in transmitting established knowledge, no more competent than interdisciplinary teams in imagining new moves or new games. (53; see more generally "Education and Its Legitimation through Performativity," 47-53)

Yeah, I know, many a digital diploma mill has sprung up from the last quotation, particularly when combined with Lyotard's bizarre semi-celebration of "the temporary contract" (66). But it's the prior two passages that concern me here today. What Meranze helps make clear is that Lyotard's target in The Postmodern Condition is not simply Habermas's commitment to legitimation by consensus, with its "violence to the heterogeneity of language games" (xxv). Actually, it's more specific than that: the supplantation of appeals to truth and justice by appeals to efficiency and performativity. I wonder if by this criterion Lyotard would find the UCOF to be a terrorist organization?

Be that as it may, it's worth noting that Meranze's critiques pick up where Berube leaves off in his discussion of tuition, circa 2006:

your average state university now receives only a token amount of financial support from the state. Institutions like Penn State and the University of Michigan are nearly off the public books altogether, receiving only a tiny fraction of their budgets from state funds. The state provided 45 percent of Penn State's budget as recently as 1984-1985, when in-state tuition was $2,562; that figure is now down to 10 percent, and in-state tuition is $11,508. The correlation speaks for itself. The costs of college, in state after state, have been passed along to individual families, as higher education has gradually been reconceived as a private investment for individuals rather than a social good for the entire nation. (281-282)

And here:

That's what "partial privatization" is all about: passing the social costs of public goods onto individuals, leaving students and families to fend for themselves as best they can. If this is fine with you, so be it: you're a conservative or a libertarian. If you think this is a suspect or foolhardy enterprise, you may already be a liberal or progressive. (283)

And if you think it's a terrorist attack on truth, justice, and the heterogeneity of language games, then you're probably a French postmodernist.

Neither Berube nor Christopher Newfield are, but they both argue, in What's Liberal about the Liberal Arts? and Unmaking the Public University, that the attack on public universities and the attack on public institutions of all kinds have gone hand-in-hand in the dominant forms of conservative and libertarian politics of the past generation. What remains to be seen, in both California and New York, is whether some other politics might be possible.

[Update 1 (5:40 am): Sarah Amsler takes on managerialism in British higher ed.]