A couple of weeks ago, I did a pretty lengthy post beginning to lay out PASSHE’s (otherwise unannounced) participation in a higher education “initiative” (ahem) with an organization called the US Education Delivery Institute. As I wrote and started to pay careful attention to the language in their mission and elsewhere on the website, I started to get, well, irritable (something of an understatement!) at the coded nature of the language EDI uses to obscure its agenda, which seems to be squarely along the lines of the Bill Gates/Michelle Rhee/Arne Duncan “educational reform” movement (further evidenced by the fact that the Gates Foundation is listed as their primary funder).
Anyway, the kind of close reading of their site that I’d planned on doing has struck me as essentially fruitless. If you’re an APSCUF member or an academic at pretty much any advanced level, you can decode their site on your own; it’s not very oblique.
If you don’t feel like digging through it, all you really need to understand about their rhetorical approach is this: like the Gates Foundation, and like Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, and like Michelle Rhee’s Students First organization, US EDI frames its mission in terms that are difficult to disagree with. I teach a course in Propaganda; we use the term “glittering generalities” to describe what I’m talking about. Who could be opposed to “student success?” Who could be opposed to “efficiency?” Who could be opposed to “excellence?”
So when US EDI emphasizes its mission of improving access to and retention in higher education for marginalized students, who (if you already teach at a public university, or community college, especially) would contest or dispute that as a goal? It’s the very essence of our reason for being, isn’t it? [Yes, this is melo-dramatic overstatement.]
So what’s the problem? I fully support the mission of providing access and high quality education to the Commonwealth. I’d love nothing more than to have a sustainable system that could do right by any student who wants a college education. But we don’t have that, especially while our Governor proposed in March to slash our state allocation in half (the budget bill about to pass the PA Legislature sets the reduction at 18%), and it’s, er, unclear how our system is supposed to educate more students and do it well while our funding is getting crushed under the collective foot of a state government that isn’t very interested in paying for much of anything. Or put another way, the “do-more-with-less” trope has been pushed beyond its logical extreme currently in PA.
The promise of deliverology is that it can help systems solve that problem. It can, that is, help us continue to do more with less by, well, as I try to explain it, I realize that based on the website materials, uh, er, I can’t really answer that question.
Neither can anybody else, it seems from any of the other systems that have joined up with US EDI. In our next episode, I’ll report on the results of some discussions I have had with colleagues in the California State and Connecticut state university systems. Let’s just say they’re impressions aren’t, er, positive.