Category Archives: Shock Doctrine

As we fight for public education, let’s not forget the “public” part

It’s not just about keeping costs down and providing access. It’s about our contract to live in civilized society.

I didn’t write this letter, and there’s a point or two I’d never say personally, but for the very most part it’s a brilliant statement to students of what we’ve done to their generation and what they need to do in response.

A letter to my students

Michael O’Hare, professor of public policy | 8/24/10 | 273 comments | Leave a comment

Michael O'HareWelcome to Berkeley, probably still the best public university in the world. Meet your classmates, the best group of partners you can find anywhere. The percentages for grades on exams, papers, etc. in my courses always add up to 110% because that’s what I’ve learned to expect from you, over twenty years in the best job in the world.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle, denied an inheritance you deserve by contract and by your merits. And you aren’t the only ones; victims of this ripoff include the students who were on your left and on your right in high school but didn’t get into Cal, a whole generation stiffed by mine. This letter is an apology, and more usefully, perhaps a signal to start demanding what’s been taken from you so you can pass it on with interest.

Swindle – what happened? Well, before you were born, Californians now dead or in nursing homes made a remarkable deal with the future. (Not from California? Keep reading, lots of this applies to you, with variations.) They agreed to invest money they could have spent on bigger houses, vacations, clothes, and cars into the world’s greatest educational system, and into building and operating water systems, roads, parks, and other public facilities, an infrastructure that was the envy of the world. They didn’t get everything right: too much highway and not enough public transportation. But they did a pretty good job.

Young people who enjoyed these ‘loans’ grew up smarter, healthier, and richer than they otherwise would have, and understood that they were supposed to “pay it forward” to future generations, for example by keeping the educational system staffed with lots of dedicated, well-trained teachers, in good buildings and in small classes, with college counselors and up-to-date books. California schools had physical education, art for everyone, music and theater, buildings that looked as though people cared about them, modern languages and ancient languages, advanced science courses with labs where the equipment worked, and more. They were the envy of the world, and they paid off better than Microsoft stock. Same with our parks, coastal zone protection, and social services.

This deal held until about thirty years ago, when for a variety of reasons, California voters realized that while they had done very well from the existing contract, they could do even better by walking away from their obligations and spending what they had inherited on themselves. “My kids are finished with school; why should I pay taxes for someone else’s? Posterity never did anything for me!” An army of fake ‘leaders’ sprang up to pull the moral and fiscal wool over their eyes, and again and again, your parents and their parents lashed out at government (as though there were something else that could replace it) with tax limits, term limits, safe districts, throw-away-the-key imprisonment no matter the cost, smoke-and-mirrors budgeting, and a rule never to use the words taxes and services in the same paragraph.

Now, your infrastructure is falling to pieces under your feet, and as citizens you are responsible for crudities like closing parks, and inhumanities like closing battered women’s shelters. It’s outrageous, inexcusable, that you can’t get into the courses you need, but much worse that Oakland police have stopped taking 911 calls for burglaries and runaway children. If you read what your elected officials say about the state today, you’ll see things like “California can’t afford” this or that basic government function, and that “we need to make hard choices” to shut down one or another public service, or starve it even more (like your university). Can’t afford? The budget deficit that’s paralyzing Sacramento is about $500 per person; add another $500 to get back to a public sector we don’t have to be ashamed of, and our average income is almost forty times that. Of course we can afford a government that actually works: the fact is that your parents have simply chosen not to have it.

I’m writing this to you because you are the victims of this enormous cheat (though your children will be even worse off if you don’t take charge of this ship and steer it). Your education was trashed as California fell to the bottom of US states in school spending, and the art classes, AP courses, physical education, working toilets, and teaching generally went by the board. Every year I come upon more and more of you who have obviously never had the chance to learn to write plain, clear, English. Every year, fewer and fewer of you read newspapers, speak a foreign language, understand the basics of how government and business actually work, or have the energy to push back intellectually against me or against each other. Or know enough about history, literature, and science to do it effectively! You spent your school years with teachers paid less and less, trained worse and worse, loaded up with more and more mindless administrative duties, and given less and less real support from administrators and staff.

Many of your parents took a hike as well, somehow getting the idea that the schools had taken over their duties to keep you learning, or so beat-up working two jobs each and commuting two hours a day to put food on the table that they couldn’t be there for you. A quarter of your classmates didn’t finish high school, discouraged and defeated; but they didn’t leave the planet, even if you don’t run into them in the gated community you will be tempted to hide out in. They have to eat just like you, and they aren’t equipped to do their share of the work, so you will have to support them.

You need to have a very tough talk with your parents, who are still voting; you can’t save your children by yourselves. Equally important, you need to start talking to each other. It’s not fair, and you have every reason (except a good one) to keep what you can for yourselves with another couple of decades of mean-spirited tax-cutting and public sector decline. You’re my heroes just for surviving what we put you through and making it into my classroom, but I’m asking for more: you can be better than my generation. Take back your state for your kids and start the contract again. There are lots of places you can start, for example, building a transportation system that won’t enslave you for two decades as their chauffeur, instead of raising fares and cutting routes in a deadly helix of mediocrity. Lots. Get to work. See you in class!

UPDATE: Like your political science in musical form? Here’s the way people thought about this stuff back in the day, and maybe should again. Bet there’s a good rap along these lines waiting to be born…

Cross-posted from the blog The Reality Based Community.

 

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Filed under Advocacy, Budget, Budget Deficit, Communities, K-12 Education, Public education, Shock Doctrine, Student activism

More on the debate about reframing the value of higher ed

Thanks to Mark Rimple (again!) for sending this piece to me for the blog.

From Friday’s Inside Higher Ed: Linda Grasso, an English Prof in the CUNY system, writes eloquently, or perhaps just prettily, about the need to reframe our arguments about the value of higher education, particularly the liberal arts. Her most elaborated evidence for her claim about the value of liberal arts education is an anecdote about a conversation she had on the subway who seemed to have been deeply effected by reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried in a college English course.

Commenters on Grasso’s essay make several points about the limited value of the anecdote, on both epistemological and rhetorical grounds; I won’t duplicate them here, except to say that you should look at them. They’re very revealing, not only of the complex task we face as we fight to reclaim what public higher education is about in this country, but also of the internal dynamic that makes the fight that much more complicated. Not everybody that works at a public university supports the vision(s) that liberal arts faculty have.

If we can’t even agree among ourselves about what we’re doing here, it’s no wonder we struggle to convince external constituencies to pay for us to do it.

Let’s remember who our friends are.

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Filed under Access, Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, Corporate University, Inside Higher Ed, liberal arts, PASSHE, Shock Doctrine

Sociologist Michael Burawoy on a future for public higher ed

Thanks to friend and colleague Christine Monnier, a sociology prof at the College of Dupage, for bringing this piece to my attention by posting it on Google+.

Michael Burawoy is past president of the American Sociological Association and current president of the International Sociological Association. He’s a Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley.

This essay, titled Redefining the Public University: Developing an Analytical Framework posted in a series called Transformations of the Public Sphere by the Institute for Public Knowledge, quickly describes the current state of American public higher education. If you’re familiar with current thinking on the issue, you’ll recognize most of the claims he makes about commodification and corporatization, but it’s worth reading carefully. The meat (or tofu, or beans and cheese, for us vegetarians) of the essay in my opinion is his ‘alternative framework’ for understanding what public universities do, that is, a matrix of ‘Professional,’ ‘Policy,’ ‘Critical,’ and ‘Public’ knowledges we both help to create and are responsive to. You can read the explanations, but this table maps out the key terms and relations:

It’s an interesting read, and one that has some generative potential for us as we work to defend our system from the kind of evisceration it faces at the hands of organizations like the US Education Delivery Institute and similar voices of neoliberalism.

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Filed under Advocacy, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, Corporate University, deliverology, Higher Ed history, Intellectual Property, PASSHE, Performance Funding, Private higher education, Public education, research, Retention, Retrenchment, Shock Doctrine, US Education Delivery Institute

PASSHE and the US Education Delivery Institute (Part 2 of ???)

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.

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Filed under Academic Freedom, Access, Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget, Collective Bargaining, deliverology, PASSHE, Program elimination, Public education, Retention, Retrenchment, Shock Doctrine, US Education Delivery Institute

More news on the budget

This press release just out from State APSCUF:

The budget that’s likely to pass (by the way, without ANY significant Democratic input whatsoever) imposes an 18% cut on the PASSHE allocation, which would require a tuition increase in the neighborhood of 10% to level off. We can rest pretty sure that the Board of Governors will approve nothing of the sort.

It’s well worth taking one more shot at calling/writing your legislators to make one more appeal on our behalf. There’s nothing to lose. And now that we have a specific number, we can make a lot more concrete arguments about how these cuts will harm our campuses; we can sound simultaneously less shrill and more certain. May as well give it a try.

And then get ready. The cuts management has been threatening for months are about to start getting announced. APSCUF will fight like hell to minimize the damage to our institutions inflicted by this absurd political theater playing out on the backs of PA’s families–students, staff, and faculty.

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Filed under APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, PASSHE, Public education, Shock Doctrine, Tom Corbett

Tentative Budget Deal Reached

The Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting on Friday morning that the PA Legislature and Governor Fracker have reached a tentative deal on the state budget.

The preliminary reports are not good for us, although the numbers aren’t yet very precise. The article indicates that the “state-supported” universities will take a 19% hit, but doesn’t distinguish between PASSHE and the state-relateds. So we don’t yet know exactly what will happen to us.

If that 19% is even close to what we see when the numbers are released, we’re going to have lots of work to do protecting our system from the kinds of Draconian cuts we all know PASSHE already wants to make. Yet again, our state government has provided the cover under which our Chancellor and Board of Governors can radically overhaul our whole system, while pretending that it has anything whatsoever to do with economics.

As a pacifist, I usually am very stridently resistant to military metaphors, but in this case, … Oh hell, I still can’t do it.

But now at least the circular logic of management is laid bare: “We can’t afford to pay for anything [except more managers and management salaries]. Why not? Because we just gave all the money away. See?”

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Filed under Access, APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, Collective Bargaining, Contract Negotiations, Office of the Chancellor, PASSHE, Penn State University, Public education, Retrenchment, Shock Doctrine, Tom Corbett, Tuition increase, West Chester University

IUP management proposes radical (and not in a good way) overhaul of the university

My department chair (via our Dean, via the Provost) just e-mailed around this article from the Indiana Gazette (originally published Fri 6/11, updated Sat 6/12).

The short version is that IUP management proposes, by Fall 2012, eliminating 62 (yes, that’s right–SIXTY-TWO!!!!!!) programs from the university’s curriculum, ranging from Associates to Masters degree programs. Management offers a variety of rationales for elimination: low enrollments, high expenses, changing needs in the Commonwealth, the current budget crisis, and so on, all of which every PASSHE campus has heard before, and some of which aren’t especially consistent with each other. Management also lobs the retrenchment-grenade, albeit in a vague way. Furthermore, as IUP-APSCUF Vice-President Francisco Alarcon notes:

“I think it’s posturing for the most part,” said Vice President Francisco Alarcon. He said he believes the plan is an attempt by administrators to scare faculty into retirement, which would save the university money.

Alarcon said it is unclear to him the basis on which the decision to discontinue any given program was made. He said the decisions seemed arbitrary and had no real analysis behind them.

He also said the proposal fails to outline which programs are to benefit, and to what extent, from the elimination of others.

Buried among a great many slippery claims in the article, I was simultaneously relieved and disturbed to find this one, in a statement from IUP Interim President Werner:

“While commonwealth budget issues have been at the center of many of our discussions and decisions, even if future budgets are more favorable than currently projected, the university must still preserve and invest in its strongest and highest-quality programs through strategic reallocation,” he wrote.

Do you see what I see? I see a not-very-subtle admission that the agenda here has little, if anything, to do with the economic viability of IUP, and most certainly little, if anything, to do with the quality of the institution as it currently fulfills its mission. I see, as Kevin Mahoney has written about several times on the KUXchange, an effort to transform PASSHE schools, heart and soul, into degree-manufacturing facilities that turn out widgets, um, I mean degree-bearing workers, er, um, I mean students, er um (What about PEOPLE?!?), quality of their education be damned.

[I’ll have a post ready later this week about PASSHE’s participation in a program run by a think (ahem) tank called the US Educational Delivery Institute, one implication of which is that it provides another layer of cover for this attack.]

So, for those of us who work in or attend PASSHE schools, two points to leave you with–

1. We ALL have to be on the lookout for these moves on our campuses. If your management hasn’t yet unveiled (admitted to) these plans, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You’re not.

2. I know the IUP-APSCUF chapter is one of the best organized chapters in our union. They’re very capable of fighting this fight, but they shouldn’t have to do it without knowing we support them and stand ready to help in any way we can.

 

 

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Filed under APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, Collective Bargaining, Indiana University of PA, PASSHE, Program elimination, Public education, Retirement, Retrenchment, Shock Doctrine, West Chester University