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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014
By Jennifer Ruth (Department of English, Portland State University)

At Portland State University, we voted to authorize a strike this spring if our collective bargaining team could not reach an agreement with the administration. Nine days before the strike would have begun, on April 6th, a tentative agreement was achieved. PSU-AAUP members voted April 15th and 16th on whether or not to ratify the agreement. The expectation is that the agreement will be ratified.

PSU has had a collective bargaining chapter since 1978 but never voted to authorize a strike before.

Why now?

The rot here is no different from that seen across the nation at countless state universities: spiking student tuition for a student body least capable of shouldering  debt; drastic decline in state funding over thirty years; gradual and now unsustainable increases in non-tenure-track and adjunct faculty over the same thirty years; more top administrators than ever before, more of whom are “outsiders” bereft of institutional history and relationships.

Surely the story here is a familiar one elsewhere as well? Surely, elsewhere, too, the once vital shared governance between an almost wholly tenure-track faculty and a set of administrators who rose from their ranks has deteriorated into what faculty term a “shit show” of open hostility and contempt from both sides. On one side is an increasingly disaffected and resentful mix of tenure-line and non-tenure-line faculty; and on the other, an administration distracted by its search for quick fixes (MOOCs!)

It doesn’t surprise me that our union decided to stake everything to force some of these issues onto the bargaining table. What surprises me is that the administration looked so baffled and so bewildered when they played and we didn’t dance. What did they think happens when a university’s budget is leveraged on a disposable workforce? Did they expect new levels of trust in, and loyalty towards, the institution?

Why here? That’s a tough question to answer since I imagine that many universities are on the cusp of the same set of events we’ve just experienced. Does it ultimately come down to the confluence of individuals involved? A union President and bargaining team with the courage to force a crisis, a set of administrators singularly unaware of, and so unprepared for, the depth of the dysfunction under their noses? An analysis that lights on individuals in their uniqueness and freedom is not one that a structuralist like me offers with great confidence but what else?

What now is the more important question. I had moments of deep frustration with the union leadership over these last months. In particular, I felt that the narrative they relied upon was one that scapegoated the two people at the very top – the President and Provost – for a rotten infrastructure that was many years in the rotting. We – the faculty, those in union leadership, many members of senate, department chairs and senior faculty—had been here much longer than had either the president or provost and my experience as chair of my department had taught me very clearly that we – tenured faculty and chairs—had done as much to create the mess as anybody else. Were we going to be able to fix things if we weren’t honest about how they’d gotten so messed up in the first place? Driving two people out of their jobs would not break down the system and rebuild it along more sustainable and ethical lines.

The reality that we were all going to have to account for ourselves—not just the President and Provost—sunk in when I attended a forum held by the union leadership in the final days of bargaining. The most dramatic testimony that night was given by someone who had been an adjunct at PSU for thirteen years. He talked about the letters of recommendation he’d written over the years. Letters of recommendation—like so much else at the university—presume a stable faculty paid the kind of salary and given the kind of professional status that allows him or her to do many numbers of things without negotiating for a “wage” in return.

So PSU hired this person term after term, paid him peanuts, and relied upon him to write letters of recommendations for a generation of students. Our president had been here six years and the provost one and a half. They didn’t even know this adjunct existed. Who did? The chair of the department he taught in. And if the tenure-track faculty in that department did not know he existed, they should have. When they asked for a course release to finish their book projects, did they ask about the adjunct who would be hired to fill their place? The fact that this person was invisible was not one person’s fault but nor do I want to invoke the phrase “broken system” here. Real people signed these contracts; real departments relied upon this labor. It is the fault of  both administrators and tenured faculty.

Calling out our own quiet complicity in the deterioration of the university and the exploitation of adjuncts is not for the faint of heart. Rebecca Schuman, whom few people would consider faint of heart, was herself deeply shocked by the vitriol that spewed forth when she suggested in a blog post that we stop hiring adjuncts. Well-meaning tenure-track faculty ask her all the time, she wrote, “but what can we do?” Here’s a thought, she said: Don’t hire someone on wages you wouldn’t accept. People were not prepared for that answer. We have become far more comfortable blaming administrators as if they alone run universities. Those of us with tenure are also responsible for what happens at our universities.

Unions like PSU-AAUP have taken the first step: they woke up our administration. “I have heard you, and I'm listening,” President Wiewel told Faculty Senate in remarks that were then forwarded to the rest of the campus community. “We should explore strengthening tenure by looking at developing a system that works for what are now fixed-term faculty,” he said. He did not mention adjuncts. But we must. It’s up to the tenured faculty to see him on “strengthening tenure” and raise him one by bringing adjuncts into the picture. If we fail to do this over the next two years, I hope the same confluence of unique and free individuals rise to the occasion again when a new contract is bargained. 


Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 0
Ten days after the Deltopia: Party Riot trailers and pirated clips hit the Internet, my effort to watch 100% of the clips and read 100% of the accounts has led me to this conclusion: this was not the student-run production that I was told to expect. My expectations were fueled by media coverage that depicted students and other student-age partiers turning sour and attacking the police. "Deltopia Leads to 100 Arrests, 44 Hospitalizations," screamed the early Huffpo headline about the Saturday April 5th event. The local ABC affiliate announced, "Mob Turns on Cops. A second clip from this station, KEYT, featured both a stabbing of one visitor by another (suspect apprehended) and the arrest of a UCSB student for dancing on his friend's car. The weekly alternative student newspaper,The Bottom Line, furnished full-tilt riot coverage. When I saw that this student eyewitness account lined up with that of our local retiree-oriented TV station, I thought there must have been a serious student / partier offensive against beleagured law enforcement.

I went looking for images of and eyewitness testimony about this specific claim -- "mob turns on cops."  I devoted part of a  lecture on The Grapes of Wrath to a discussion of Deltopia with the 180 students in my "Noir California" course, discussed the event with a 17-student honors section,  contacted various Isla Vista residents about their experiences, talked at some length to about fifteen individual students, walked I.V. to speak with people there, and repeatedly asked various groups for eyewitness accounts and video evidence.

I wanted precise detail in order to distinguish between two distinct narratives of the event, summarized by these sample headlines:

1. Police Shut-Down of UCSB Deltopia Party Sparks Some Resistance: Officer Was Injured During Arrest

2. UCSB Deltopia Party Becomes Riot: Student Attacks on Police Continue for Hours

Obviously the riot story attracts eyeballs, while an isolated case of resisting arrest and later dumpster-dragging does not.  The riot story is also far more damaging to the reputation of UCSB and its students.  If the media is going to drag UCSB through the "drunken party school" mud again, there had better be some decent evidence that the student body was not only drunk that night, but picking fights with police.

I was not pleased when I tuned into KPCC's Airtalk on April 8th and heard its host, Larry Mantle, describe UCSB as "better known for its hard drinkers than for its academics or community service." The station nailed down this stereotype by conducting a poll on the question, "UCSB Spring Break Riot: Will Deltopia violence spur a change in party school mentality?" My immediate thought was, "screw you Larry (though I know you care about public universities): UCSB is great, and so are our students."  My second thought was, OK, he has the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's public information officer Kelly Hoover on the show; let me listen to her evidence.

Deputy Hoover said that they were prepared for a large crowd, and then described the incident (starting at 1:45).
What happened was, around 9:30 at night, there was a UCSB police officer that was breaking up a fight. He was hit in the head with a backpack that contained large bottles of alcohol. This was a significant injury that required twenty stitches to his head.  We had an officer down. We had law enforcement that were running to assist him. And with all of that commotion it drew a large crowd. And then it just turned.   It just turned into an us-versus-them kind of a mob mentality of people starting to throw rocks, and bricks, and bottles, and full beer cans at law enforcement. It spread over a couple-of-blocks radius, and you know it just kept snowballing on from there, and just getting worse and worse. It took us several hours to be able to get true order over the situation. we called in mutual aid. We had more than a hundred resources come in from both Santa Barbara Count and Ventura County to help us. (my transcription here and below)
Deputy Hoover put the Airtalk audience squarely into the Story 2 riot zone.  The first section of her statement, about the injury to the officer and call for assistance, is similar to the official account that Sheriff Bill Brown delivered to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors the Monday following the incident.   Sheriff Brown didn't continue with claims about widespread student attacks. The backpack slinger was identified as a 17-year-old boy from Los Angeles. He was later arrested and charged as an adult.

Mr. Mantle then invited Deputy Hoover to dogwhistle the popular theme of taxpayer resentment about subsidizing spoiled brats during their college years (the high cost of policing party riots and of funding the University of California itself, with one listener demanding that all state funding be cut so the university would depend on tuition 100%). When an Isla Vista caller suggested to Mr. Mantle that the prior police clampdown had made things worse, Deputy Hoover called the listeners comments "hurtful" (8:08).
It would be ridiculous to have law enforcement back off any more than they are.   Any time we step in it's to . . . . [pause] Of all the hospital transports that we had, the majority of them were for alcohol poisoning. People that were so drunk that they had overdosed on alcohol. People were jumping on top of cars. People were vandalizing.  Is he [the caller] OK with that? Is he OK with women being sexually assaulted?
Larry Mantle interrupted Deputy Hoover to clarify: "it sounds like Ed is saying for the police to say out and let that students handle it. That's what I understood him saying."  ("Ed" was actually saying that police conduct was a more destructive form of governance than student self-policing--more on this theme in the next installment.)  Deputy Hoover continued:
There's just no way. There's just too much criminal activity. It's too dangerous. You have people that have been drinking alcohol from morning till night, that are not able to make good decisions, that can get hurt. Like last year, we had a woman fall of the cliffs and die. We had a balcony collapse; that injured several people. We've had recently women sexually assaulted by multiple suspects. We have had a stabbing earlier in the night. We had a robbery, an armed robbery.  If anything we need to have more crackdown on law enforcement [sic], not less.
Deputy Hoover was folding all these separate incidents into Deltopia, which became their master source.   When Mr. Mantle asked how the injuried deputies were doing, she replied,
I do want to clarify, we had four that were transported to the hospital; they all had significant injuries.  I am not talking about just getting hit in the head. I'm talking about twenty stitches for one, eight stitches for the other, a hand injury for one that's going to require surgery. These are significant injuries. And also, probably every sheriff's deputy I talked to that was out there was hit with something. They may have not been transported to the hospital, but they have bruises, one was hit in the eye with a bottle, with shrapnel from a bottle. And it's just not OK. It's just absolutely ridiculous. It's uncalled for. Out-of-towners yes, they're coming in and they are causing problems. But we really don't agree with students encouraging Deltopia and opening their doors to people from out of the area who may cause trouble. We do have people arrested who are UCSB students and who are City College students as well. . . 
By the time she had finished, the Sheriff Department's information officer had firmly established Story 2, Party Riot, complete with widespread criminality, arrested students, and a mob turning on cops on a scale large enough to have injured virtually all of 160 (or 200?) officers who were there from multiple agencies that evening. 

The Airtalk webpage had a number of comments, many of which disputed the riot story or at least the drunken UCSB student stereotype.  The arrest statistics show that 0.65% of the crowd was arrested (130 of 20,000), and that of these 16 were from UCSB and 10 from SBCC. 17 of the 130 arrests involved the nighttime disturbance, with an unknown subset--perhaps just the original one--arrested for a violent felony. Although these numbers don't suggest a massive blowout, the riot stereotype had now been confirmed by an official law enforcement source, and was strengthened by the UCSB administration's hangdog statement on the same webpage.

Deputy Hoover's description of Deltopia is inflammatory--unless it is literally correct (160 injured deputies, a "mob" acting in concert to attack police).  The Sheriff Department has doubled down on it, having launched an ongoing effort to identify people "involved in criminal behavior activity during Deltopia."   The investigation includes interviews with I.V. residents and calls to landlords of property that may have been involved in the launching of objects at officers.  The Sheriff's Department is reviewing audio and video from the surveillance cameras that the UCSB administration paid to have installed at key intersections in Isla Vista (they were removed April 14th).  

The Bottom Line's Giuseppe Ricapito reported that the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department has extended the dragnet to LEEDIR, the Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository. LEEDIR is an "eyewitness platform," designed to accept and process digital information about emergency events from civilian witnesses.  It is operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department with technical support provided by Citizen Global and Amazon Web Services.  Its information page says it was set up in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, where attendee photos proved helpful in identifying the two main suspects.  LEEDIR's splash page now has an "immediate request for eyewitness photos and videos" for only one event -- "civil unrest at Deltopia in Isla Vista, CA." 

This means that Story 2 has not only established Deltopia as a violent riot, UCSB students as drunk, and I.V. residents as incapable of running their own affairs, but has now fed the sheriff's investigation into an electronic repository in which images of partygoers may remain in law enforcement databases indefinitely. LEEDIR defines Deltopia as an "large emergency event," and will store images of people who jumped on cars or threw trash or simply milled around in Isla Vista on the night of April 5th alongside those of the Boston Marathon bombers. 

So Story 2 had better be true.  But in my next post, I'll argue that there is no evidence for it, and then move on to discuss the term "police occupation" in my title.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 4

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014
by Judith Paltin, UC Santa Barbara

On this blog last October, Berkeley Anonymous pointed out that the UC’s employee compensation/benefits website, At Your Service, was promising:,"If you do nothing, you will be enrolled in the new UC Care plan, with the same dependent coverage you have now. UC Care has the same in-network and out-of-network coverage you have now, with much more.”

However, the stories brought to the UCSB Faculty Association meeting on April 9 demonstrate that faculty coverage and, consequently, their medical decision-making, are in fact very different under UC Care. One faculty member, unable to find any labs contracted to provide Tier 1 benefits, was advised to travel 80 miles to Santa Monica to receive covered lab services, a trip she would have had to make repeatedly. Upon her objections, she was told (incorrectly, according to the insurance company) to “use whatever lab [local Tier 1 medical clinic] Sansum uses” – she is now attempting to appeal the insurance company’s subsequent denial of her lab charges. A UCSB Health Care Facilitator told her that the UCOP “forgot to negotiate” with any nearby labs. 

One pregnant faculty member said she signed up for UC Care under the understanding that she would be covered for a Sansum obstetrician and a Santa Barbara delivery. Now her UC Care choices are to bear the Cottage Hospital Tier 2 charges for herself and the baby (up to $6,000), or to risk having her baby on the open road on the way to UCLA. Another reported: “My wife needs surgery…  so the Sansum doc will do it outpatient rather than have us go to UCLA, or face the Cottage costs.”

Finding UC select providers (i.e., those who count as “in-network”) has proven to be a challenging exercise in Deep Web research. Members reported yesterday that after due diligence, they have not been able to compile a complete list of UC providers, and that insurance specialist personnel at UC medical centers have been unable to tell them which doctors, labs, anesthesiologists and other specializations with privileges at their facilities count as UC providers. (According to a licensed health benefits specialist at BalanceCare, a national health advocacy service provider, most private insurance companies do not provide lists of anesthesiologists, since patients have no control over that selection, but the companies nevertheless routinely rule these to be out-of-network charges, leaving a majority of patients in multi-payer systems with the additional post-surgery task of appealing anesthesiology charges.)

An assistant professor reported: 
I live in Ventura and there is no physician coverage here. The only coverage here are clinics structured to cater to farm workers and the uninsured. Kaiser is not an option for my family, since it too is in another city [Woodland Hills, about 40 miles away]. Seaview Medical Group, a physician group that used to participate with UC, dropped participation with Healthnet Blue & Gold where it formerly participated. To get my family to primary care providers and specialists we have to drive 30 or more miles to Santa Barbara. The doctors in the medical groups in Santa Barbara are oversubscribed and it takes months to get appointments. Given the increased cost, the university effectively dictates which medical practices get UC workers as patients. Mostly this seems to be Sansum Clinic.
This faculty member  has tracked a massive flight of Ventura-area doctors from UC health networks since she first signed on. She reported being told, improbably, that the Ventura conditions are “only a problem for five people.”

Many attendees agreed that doctors in Santa Barbara are heavily over-subscribed and one may wait months for an appointment. Sansum Clinic offered one attendee who requested an ophthalmological consult an appointment in February 2015.

Another faculty member said, 
I signed up for UC Care originally and recently switched to HealthNet. The reason I switched is that I didn't realize that lab work wouldn't be covered as Tier 1 in UC Care, even though the work was done right inside Sansum Clinic.  This can end up costing a lot, as the deductible is quite high. It is frustrating that UC Care costs a lot per month for a family and yet out-of-pocket is also high.
Another was surprised to discover that a leg cast counts as an (out-of-network) lab charge. A third person observed: “In my 14 years as a UC faculty member, I have witnessed higher costs and lower benefits… Did you know our co-pay for mental health has increased about 40% since January?”

Another faculty member’s doctor recommended immediate surgery for a suspicious mass. In order to have that work done at UCLA, the nearest UC Care provider, the faculty member would have had to locate a new doctor, schedule a consultation, a pre-operative appointment and surgery. Fearing the length of time that would take, the UC Care subscriber decided to accept Cottage hospital’s offer to schedule the surgery within five days. This faculty member is still waiting to see what all the bills will add up to.

In a dramatic set of meetings held in front of overflowing crowds last fall, outgoing UCOP CFO Peter Taylor, whose resignation was announced abruptly at the end of March, alleged that Cottage Hospital wants “too much money” from UC. At Wednesday’s meeting, Faculty Association President and labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein called that “egregious,” even if true: “Just leaving us out of the pool defeats the whole point of insurance.” Since it is the nature of insurance that some places and providers are more expensive and some less, the insurance pool is created precisely to even out those differences.

The promise of UC Care was that it would effectively provide the best of both worlds by combining the negotiating power of a single, large-scale payer with the range of choice offered by a menu of multiple plans. In fact it seems to have picked up the worst qualities of each type of system:  It has refused the advantages of single-payer or large-scale systems by denying parity to its campuses and faculty, treating each campus as a separate negotiating entity, and has also refused to allow individual campuses to negotiate for themselves with the local folks they know. So far, this UCOP strategy has not been conspicuously successful. Although Santa Barbara does not have the same quantity of medical facilities some other campuses have nearby, it is not a medical desert; the city does have lab services and a well-regarded hospital and emergency room, which just happen to be unavailable because UCOP failed to reach an agreement with Cottage, and only achieved a one-year agreement with Sansum. Moreover, the changes in faculty benefits also affect the collectives which have a “me too” clause, such as UCSB’s pool of lecturers.

Concerned faculty are calling for an open forum online where they can share information, broken promises, provider experiences and interactions with university administration, and want the Faculty Association to seek legal advice. (The blog has started a page called "Share Your Healthcare Story.")  

The Faculty Association has scheduled a general meeting open to all on May 7, featuring representatives from United Academics, the new collective bargaining group representing tenured, tenure-track and non-tenure track and adjunct faculty, in addition to librarians, research assistants, post-docs, and other academic employees at the University of Oregon. They will talk about similar experiences at the University of Oregon, and how collective bargaining is working out for them. 
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Thursday, April 3, 2014
By Jenna Joo (UCSB)

This was my second visit to the Berkeley Online Learning Summit. The first visit took place a year ago in March, 2013, around the time when the excitement over MOOCs was at its peak. I remember sitting through the panel discussions last year, genuinely worried about the future of higher education as a graduate student who was just entering the field. Will MOOCs be the future? Will MOOCs replace faculty and instructors? Will teaching and learning happen mostly in online in the near future? Fortunately, MOOCs have been greatly challenged since then.

The 2014 Berkeley conference definitely held a very different atmosphere compared to the one held last year. The focus of the conference was on residential institutions (with the majority of the panelists coming from elite institutions)—how they think about their own classroom pedagogies and finances while using technology. The general consensus now is that MOOCs (and technology in general) are not the answer to all the problems we have in higher education. They alone will not ensure cheaper, faster, and better education. Flipped classrooms, small-group discussions and blended learning are increasingly being recognized as the key features of quality learning.

In the session titled, Opportunities for Consideration in K-12 Education, one of the concerns raised was the great divide between K-12 and higher education systems. David Malone, a Teacher on Special Assignment with San Francisco Unified School District, pointed out that different educational systems stress knowledge in different ways. In high school, for example, students are encouraged to take as many AP classes as they can and score high on standardized tests just to get into college. Once they are in college, they are expected to perform higher-order thinking skills such as problem finding, interpreting, and analyzing—all of which do not precisely reflect the kinds of preparation they received prior to entering college. The lack of coordination and communication between the two systems could impede successful transitions and consequently diminish educational opportunity for many students. While “the choices that we (higher education) make will have profound impact on K-12 education” (Justin Reich, HarvardX Research Fellow), there is also a lot we need to learn from K-12 classroom research (Robert Lue, Faculty Director of HarvardX). The two systems are interconnected therefore must be studied together, not apart from each other.

In the Learning Analytics session, the promise of big data to solve problems in education was discussed. Big data from online learning environments can be used in at least two following ways:
  • To improve learning spaces: By employing in-vivo experiments that would allow better understanding of the design spaces, we can redesign and improve learning spaces for future use (Ken Koedinger, Professor in School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon).

  • To implement interventions: By logging meaningful user interactions in online environments, we can inform teachers about “at-risk” students so to implement appropriate interventions (Ryan Baker, Associate Professor in Human Development, Teachers College at Columbia University).

  • What I have noticed from the discussion is that there is a rather obvious divide between research and teaching. I agree that big data can be wisely used, but I would like to know more about exactly how results from such data could actually be used. For example, in what ways, forms, and shapes will they be communicated to teachers? Also, who will have a say in which type of intervention may be appropriate for students? In order for such data to be properly used, there must be an ongoing communication between learning analysts and teachers. While we embrace the promise of big data, we cannot undermine the “invisible” classroom data that teachers “collect” in their day-to-day interactions with students which could inform them about students’ strengths and weaknesses. I think that a lot more is expected of teachers and researchers especially after the post-MOOC era. Teachers must be highly competent and knowledgeable in their subject matters while having the skills to communicate with outside specialists. Researchers likewise need to have the skills to effectively present their findings to teachers, other researchers, and also to the general public.

    There was a lot of discussion on different ways to re-conceptualize and re-imagine student learning. Dr. Eric Grimson (Professor of Medical Engineering and Chancellor of MIT), in his keynote speech, asserted that higher education should change because “our consumers (students/parents of MIT) are changing.” Students in today’s world want more than simply earning a degree in something; they are “eager to learn in a global way.” In an effort to expand access to qualified learners and to re-invent campus education, several ideas have been proposed—one of which is creating “modules,” or a set of independent units with a set of outcomes, to increase flexibility in degree and pedagogy. Moreover, by sharing these modules across departments and individualizing them for field-specific interests, modules can “permit re-bundling of an education in new ways.”

    This is definitely a noble idea, but it needs to be approached with caution. It is true that the demands of students are different in today’s world. According to a blog post in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Jeff Selingo in 2012, the number of college students taking on double majors has sharply increased over the years. Students seek these opportunities in order to meet the demands of the rapidly changing economy and the job market. For students in prestigious universities, doing a double or even a triple major may not be a huge challenge; but this may not be the case for the majority of college students. By re-bundling of education, new highly specialized jobs might emerge that only a very selective group of college graduates may enter into, which may further worsen the already stratified workforce.

    In addition, in an effort to re-think the role of students’ residential experience in terms of their learning spaces, Dr. Grimson noted that MIT is thinking about dropping all of their big lecture halls and replacing them with small, interactive spaces to promote development of collective intelligence. I can positively relate with this idea because I truly believe that active, small-group interactions are the key to learning. However, such interactions must occur via extended and supportive relationships built under trust and respect. I wonder whether our higher education system as a whole has (or will have) the necessary resources to achieve this dream in the near future.

    When Dr. Robert Lue (Faculty Director of HarvardX and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard) questioned the audience at the end of the conference, “To sustain a healthy and evolving instructional ecosystem, what issue is/was the first priority for your institutions,” “integrated pedagogy” arose as the first priority (35%) and “revenue experiments” as the least priority (6%). Many people are genuinely concerned about student learning and are interested in how best it can be enhanced. Dr. Lue asserted that we really need to think about this within the interconnected “ecosystem” that involves not just faculty and other professionals but also students as “profound collaborators.” Reshaping the future of higher education will definitely require collaborative efforts.

    Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 0

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014
    UC departing Executive Vice-President Peter Taylor gave an interview today to the Daily Bruin.  In it, VP Taylor explained his reasons for leaving UC and also sought to defend his own record as the University's CFO.  Throughout the interview he described his concern for educational access and achievement and expressed worry that UC was losing its chief focus on education and research.  But then there was this:
    DB: In the past, the UC has relied on student-based sources of revenue like tuition increases and non-resident enrollment to resolve issues of lower state funding. What kind of revenue solutions in the next few years would best help the University achieve fiscal sustainability? Any thoughts on what the new tuition model should look like?
    PT: That varies campus to campus, but I can see frankly an increase in professional master’s degree programs, I can see an increase in technology commercialization versus what we do now, in addition to things like a slight increase in nonresident enrollment. We’ll keep pounding away with advocacy at the state level and hope (they) bump up their contributions to where we’d like it to be.

    It is hard to see how this squares with Vice-President Taylor's concern about either the cost of education or core function.  The growing emphasis on technology commercialization causes important distortions in the processes of research.  And the growth of professional master's programs is a sure way to increase student debt.

    Indeed, the recent New America Foundation Report on the growth of graduate student debt was less a report about graduate student debt than a report about the growth of debt for students in master's and professional programs.  By their calculations roughly 40% of $1 trillion student debt is a result of MA programs of one sort or another.  Given how many fewer MA students there are than BA or Associate students, this percentage is remarkable.  In suggesting that UC increase its use of terminal MA programs, Peter Taylor--whether he is aware of this or not--is suggesting a policy through which the University would simply expand its encouragement of student debt and its reliance on a new group of enrollees as a source of cash.

    This is not to say that there may not be good educational reasons for particular programs.  But those should be approached because of educational not financial reasons--and not because there is a plausible market to exploit.  As VP Taylor notes in the interview, "the core competency of the University, the reason we exist, is to teach students and to do academic research."  His actual proposals ignore his own concern.

    It is commendable that Vice-President Taylor wants to step down to help underprivileged students gain access to higher education.  But as his Daily Bruin interview reminds us, the Wall Street perspective that is increasingly dominant in UC finances and throughout higher education is inextricably linked to the imposition of debt onto students.  Let's hope that UC resists the siren song of exploitation.
    Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 1

    Sunday, March 30, 2014

    Sunday, March 30, 2014
    It's been a big week--and month--for the afterlife of online higher ed.  After sponsoring or forcing the adoption of online programs over the course of 2012 and 2013, college presidents now admit that at least the MOOC version won't fix budgetary or educational issues. At the Berkeley Online Summit I attended earlier this month, the chancellor of UC Berkeley and the president of Stanford described online as a supplement to hands-on instructor involvement and as good for specific student populations. Elsewhere, UC President Janet Napolitano chimed in with the same message--if online is done well, "it doesn't save all that much money."  Quelle surprise!  There are no savings! The LAT's Michael Hiltzik asked, "Are you listening, Gov. Brown?"

    This year the conventional wisdom is that online is here to stay as a non revolutionary complement to teaching rather than as a disruptive replacement--much like course management software, additional videos, study groups, and required texts.  As John Scott reported here last Sunday, the most interesting online practitioners now see its value as controlled by the social practices in which it is embedded. Leading online designers like Anne Balsamo and her FemTechNet alliance, or Robert Lue of HarvardX, reject the MOOC broadcast model of passive education that seemed to solve the public university's "cost disease" only one year ago.

    Online continues to function well as a means for private firms to access public funding. This was the mechanism behind the Udacity-San José State-style partnerships we've covered here, and that produced major pushback from the UC Academic Senate and the SJSU Philosophy department, among others. At the online summit, I asked Ellen Junn, then SJSU's provost, whether they had identified the budgetary savings expected from online conversions like the Udacity-SJSU partnership of the kind she continues to advocate. In that case, she replied, we didn't know.  All of the costs were paid by Udacity.  

    Nobody batted an eye at this stunning admission.  To me it meant that for at least some of these major deals university officials didn't actually run the numbers on the cost savings to verify net savings of the kind assumed by policy heavyweights like Gov. Jerry Brown--the online providers ran the pilot service like a K-Mart blue light special, selling it for nearly free. The apparent absence of financial due diligence on the part of administrative or Regental / Trustee advocates is not only irresponsible--I would certainly not give my own money to these folks to invest--but is an epistemological crisis with which we still haven't come to terms.

    Last June I analyzed the Udacity-Georgia Tech contracts that Inside Higher Ed reporter Ry Rivard got through a public records act request.  I found no MOOC cost savings.  I assumed that more financial data would appear and more reports would analyze them. Perhaps they would be written by certified accountants or by the business consultants that have their noses in every other aspect of university affairs.  No such luck: I haven't been able to find another such analysis, or to get better data myself.

    The news this week reminded me why. In Florida, Jeff Schweers at the Gainsville Sun tried to find out how much University of Florida Online paid to a division of Pearson LLC, the giant publishing and education corporation headquartered in the UK. He was rebuffed.  

    Something seemed fishy at U Florida by mid-March, when the press got wind of the sudden departure of UF Online's director, former ASU provost Elizabeth Capaldi Phillips, after only two months on the job. UF Online was much like what Gov. Brown wanted to set up in California. It got a $15 million start-up fund from the legislature, the promise of $20 million more over four years, and a requirement that it be a fully online program that could "offer the same academic level of coursework as the bricks-and-mortar institution at 75 percent of the cost to in-state students." Nearly half the students were to be non-residents, and were to pay four times the in-state rate for a fully online degree. Pearson was hired to, among other things, use its marketing prowess to recruit students who would be willing to pay high tuition to get a UF degree at home. How much was UF going to pay Pearson to turn a program with many obvious problems into a major success?  On March 21, Mr. Schweers reported, 
    In response to a public records request from The Sun, the university this week released heavily redacted documents that blot out the amount of money UF will pay Pearson over the life of the 10-year contract — saying that information is a trade secret exempt from the public records law.
    UF did admit that it had to pay Pearson cash up front: it just wouldn't say how much.  A week later, Mr. Schweers reported that through various documents he'd been able to show that UF would pay Pearson Embanet $186 million over the 11 year life of the contract.  The business plan sounds much like the Udacity-Georgia Tech deal. It involved very large growth projections to 13,000 students paying full in-state or non-resident tuition for an all-online program by 2018, with Pearson getting, in addition to its fee, $19 million of $43 million in projected revenues.  13,000 is the size of UF's first year class.

    [NOTE 3/31: the next 3 paragraphs have been corrected in the UPDATE below.]

    The revenue estimates are worth pondering. Even if Pearson fails, it will effectively pocket all of the state funding that was given to UF for online, and some internal UF money besides. Pearson is owed $186 million over time for getting involved, and the state provided $35 million.  Pearson will contractually absorb all of the state money and then be entitled to another $151 million of UF's internal funds.  (UF Associate Provost Andy McDonough says that Pearson will get $9.5 million in the first five years, but it is not clear whether or how this reflects the still partially redacted contract.)

    If somehow the Pearson dragnet finds thousands of students to pay full tuition for an all-online program with the University of Florida name, UF is slated to gross $24 million in 2019, which is projected to rise to $48 million five years later.  In this best possible scenario, UF will get back its initial $151 million around ten years from now.  The University will thus be ready to earn its first net dollar in 2025.

    This is a bad business deal, but that's not it's point.  The point is for the University of Florida to function not as a university with a need for new revenues but as a pipeline for sending existing revenues somewhere else.  Taxpayer funds--the $35 million-- are funneled to the private corporation Pearson Embanet. Additional operating funds (tuition and state monies)--the $151 million--are also supposed to go to Pearson.  Pearson assumed that UF will conceal these terms from the public, since it had requested and been granted trade secret projection.  In exchange, Pearson seems to provide marketing, "proprietary digital content" and a range of other services that simply duplicate what any university already does ("admission and enrollment support," "providing on-demand student suppert," and so on).  Pearson's global brand is supposed to muscle this albatross into the air, but its exchange of non-essential services for guaranteed income qualifies as extraction rather than exchange.

    Pearson has extensive operations in the UK, and has been involved in the UK's experiment in wholesale higher ed privatization.  This past week its failure was in the news again.  The universities minister David Willetts, architect of the tripled fee cap that was to replace the elimination of most public  teaching funding, admitted that the government is likely to be spending more on grants and loans to cover tripled tuition than it had been spending on direct outlays. The government will continue to need to make additional cuts in its higher ed budget--to maintenance grants for example-- in order to make up the shortfalls in the loan program.  Needless to say, students, academic staff, and a growing number of administrators are furious, and feeling tricked, and as usual uncertain of what to do.

    The Guardian also reported that a former Willetts aide who is the new head of the Higher Education Policy Institute now agrees that the "government got its maths wrong." His solution is that student debtors start paying back sooner and from a lower income threshold.   Andrew McGettigan's analysis in The Great University Gamble has been tragically vindicated (Stefan Collini's review is here, and mine is here).   His government testimony is also borne out. Writing in The Guardian and on his blog, Critical Education, Dr. McGettigan has explained yet again that the higher ed budget is being hollowed out not just by the overall loan scheme but by the share going to new for-profit providers, whose claim on public money has risen 2100% since the government encouraged private companies to provide university services.

    How do governments "get their maths wrong"? How do universities cut deals that due diligence would tell them will cost them money rather than net them new returns?  The most helpful explanation I found this week came from David Runciman's analysis of the habitual deal strategies of Richard Branson, Virgin CEO. Prof. Runciman notes,
    Branson’s modus operandi is to identify and target industries that he claims are being run as monopolies. He presents himself as the man who introduces competition by shaking the industry up with his innovations. 
    Reality, however, is rather different. For Mr. Branson doesn't want to end monopolies, but to exploit them.
    He has made his fortune out of the regulated parts of the economy, which he has milked to extract government subsidies, tax breaks, licensing agreements and protected income streams. Transport works for Branson – trains as well as planes – because it rewards the person who gets the routes. How do you get the routes? By persuading government officials and industry regulators to give them to you. 
    Pearson, Udacity, Coursera, and other private providers came to public universities touting a similar paradigm: universities are little more than holders of a government-sanction monopoly power--to grant degrees.  Say you want to innovate to improve and/or end the monopoly, and then keep the monopoly in place to capture as much of its revenues as you can.  The analogy to Virgin's bad train service (and many other failed enterprises) is strapped university instruction, which at public universities badly needs the scalable upgrade they have no money to build.

    In all this, university managers get to play the role of earnest regulators who are in over their heads. They don't want to hurt their industry, but they lack historical leverage; just as important, they lack confidence in their own institutions and its social mission.  Prof. Runciman again:
    In the absence of robust trade-union representation, Branson is much freer to strike deals at the top table of government and finance. He is able to spin his magic without having to worry too much what the people at the bottom think. One of the consequences of the demise of labour power has been that personal contact among the rich and powerful carries more clout. This is connected to the second trend that has worked in Branson’s favour: the progressive deregulation of finance and business since the late 1970s. There are still plenty of regulators, of course, often with increasingly complex and demanding responsibilities. But without the heavy artillery of robust social democratic states behind them, they have been put on the back foot. The new generation of regulators has turned out to be surprisingly easy to flatter and perhaps not so surprisingly easy to bully. Branson is skilled at both.
    Sebastian Thrun at Udacity and Daphne Koller at Coursera functioned, in their own ways, as charismatic Branson monopoly-busting monopolists, criticizing the massification of higher learning so they could massify it even more.  They played university managers like Mr. Branson plays transportation regulators.   In this context, it's hardly surprising that private partnerships haven't fixed public university financial problems, since that is exactly what these partnerships are not meant to do.  Instead, private partnerships are meant to make the private provider money.  In general, university executives are eager to help. 

    Universities may have a cost disease, but they now have a privatization disease that is even worse.  It confronts us with one or more of the following scenarios:
    1. University, corporate, and political officials will reinvest in public universities--capping tuition and paying down student debt--once the economy really gets going again.
    2. Corporate and political officials will block public reinvestment--as too expensive for them.  Their university counterparts will keep muddling through. They'll call for more public money (maybe 5-6% a year), "moderate" tuition increases (3-6% a year), while tout ingfundraising and efficiencies as they have for decades.
    3. Corporate and political officials will block public reinvestment, and their university counterparts will try to "scale up" the New Sources of Revenue. These will provide net returns to universities and also net educational benefits.
    4. Corporate and political officials will block public reinvestment, and their university counterparts will try to "scale up" the New Sources of Revenue.  Most or all of their value will go to the private providers, and university officials, desperate for deals and distant from education, will rely on wishful thinking rather than due diligence. 
    I'm hoping for (1), most hearing (2), and expecting (4)--while finding counter-forces on a recent speaking trip that I'll talk about next time.

    UPDATE 3/31. Over at e-Literate, Phil Hill has been writing about the UF Online contracts. In his post today, he rejects my reading of the Sun reports of the UF Online-Pearson contract when I say that "Pearson will contractually absorb all of the state money and then be entitled to another $151 million of UF's internal funds." Mr. Hill states that in fact "Pearson will only make 27%" of the state of Florida's $35 million in support for setting up UF Online, and that the rest of Pearson's $186 million will come from its share of online student tuition and feels.  He has also found the UF Online business plan, which he kindly sent to me, and he has updated his post with images of some of the spreadsheets and further discussion.  Here's what my first rapid pass through the business plan makes me think:

    A. Phil Hill is right and I am wrong about the extent of Pearson's direct access to state funds. 27% of that $35 million, or $9.5 million, goes to Pearson up front, but the "Additional Fixed Fee" going to the coded entity "P3" ends in 2018 (p 84).  So strike from the record the calculations of the three paragraphs I identify above.

    B. Do not strike from the record the framing commentary and conclusions. I was being too literal-minded about the transfer of publicly-funded value to the private sector.  A better way of thinking about it is that this value comes in at least two forms: direct transfers from public to private via a university intermediary, as with the $9.5 million; and foregone value of a public investment in a public entity, as with the remaining $176.5 million.  Were UF to build the same mandated online program in-house and achieve the same success, it would have that $176.5 million instead of Pearson, and it would be available to support UF's academic programs.  In the business plan, that revenue goes to Pearson for services that are not well articulated in the text. For UF, the "cumulative fund balance" over 11 years comes to $43.6 million (p 82), which I interpret to mean that UF's returns are about a quarter the size of those projected for Pearson.  UF is making less than $4 million a year on average for this large effort, even if it works: what would be its returns if it did "fully online" services itself? How does this compare to returns for something it already knows how to do--face-to-face teaching of the same number of additional students? Although I still need to go through these spreadsheets line by line, it still looks like UF got Bransonized.

    C. "Where are the Savings?"   UF's costs increase by a factor of 10 over the contract period, while "total revenue" increases by a factor of 5. As I argued in the Georgia Tech-Udacity case, the private provider is supposed to offer economies of scale through technical expertise. Where are the economies for UF in exchange for foregone $176.5 million?  I don't see it in the spreadsheets, and missing economies helps explain why UF can gross less than Pearson even with a higher cut of tuition revenues.

    There are other familar issues--implausible enrollment growth, excessively cheap course production costs--and so on. I will have to defer these to next week when I return from a trip.  




    Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 5

    Tuesday, March 25, 2014

    Tuesday, March 25, 2014
    By Earl Perez-Foust, Comparative Literature, UCSB

    Dear UC Faculty,

    I am a graduate student at UCSB and a rank-and-file member of the UC Student-Workers Union (UAW 2865).  As you may have heard, my union has declared a strike for April 3rd with some campuses striking April 2 as well.  This is the first Thursday of the Spring quarter and it will likely add further disruption to what is already a chaotic time of the year.  The strike is over an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge that the UC has intimidated members of the union with respect to their participation in the November 20th sympathy strike with AFSCME 3299.  In a recent statement, the Berkeley Faculty Association called on the UC to “respect the protected rights of union workers to take collective actions free of undue managerial interference.”  I would like to echo this and call upon all UC faculty to take stock of their stakes in this conflict, which at the very heart of it deals with the misuse of power dynamics within the University, and show solidarity with their graduate students.

    This letter, however, is not meant to be an announcement of the strike nor a detailed breakdown on the charges within the ULPs – I have attached a link to these materials if you're interested in finding out more.  Instead, this letter is concerned with what it means – and what it feels like – to be a graduate student who is invested in the quality of their, and their colleagues', working conditions but who may feel intimidated by the prospect of approaching faculty with these investments.  Some of this may come as a surprise to you, a lot of student-faculty relationships are bracketed by an implied camaraderie and friendship.  However, perhaps especially when it's an issue of work stoppage, students may feel as if any disruption might be registered as a personal affront to this relationship.

    To be sure, a strike is a legally protected concerted activity and any managerial intimidation with respect to one's participation in a strike is a violation of the law.  However, there are hidden mechanisms of intimidation and we all know what these may be: the infamous things which “just happen” (ie, TA appointments which “just happen” to go to someone else, a fellowship competition you “just happen” to lose, letters of recommendation which “just happen” to be poor ones).  These things, the “just happens,” are terrifying and can make the prospect of approaching our faculty daunting.  

    No doubt some of you are thinking that you would never do this to your students and I'm not calling this into question.  You need to understand, however, that this isn't completely apparent to us – there is just so little room to talk explicitly about the workplace in these relationships.  We simply don't know what the response is going to be.  This strike gives us an opportunity to redefine the terms of our relationships within the University.  It gives us an opportunity to rethink what labor within the University means and what an ethical relationship within it could look like.  Navigating this is dizzying and can be confusing or difficult to situate.

    For these reasons, starting the conversation may be the hardest step – we are unequipped with a language with which to speak about these issues.  If you are approached by one of your students or hear about the strike through another means, your unequivocal support is necessary.  The details and the context of the strike are important, but there is at least one other question in this conflict: what sort of working conditions are faculty endorsing?  We need to change the lexicon of our student-faculty relationships, which is to say that we need to be able to talk about the conditions in which we live and work.  Your expressed support of our collective action is an incontrovertible part of this.

    I hope to see you on the picket line and that you will offer your support to myself and my fellow academic workers.

     
    Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 11

    Sunday, March 23, 2014

    Sunday, March 23, 2014
    by John Scott, School of Education, UC Berkeley

    Located on opposite sides of the country, San Jose State and MIT are not usually linked together in the popular imagination.  Without any of the obvious ties, one might be inclined to ask: What could these two universities possibly have in common?  The answer can be found on a MOOC platform, where they both cohabit MITx, MIT’s instance of the MOOC provider EDx.  Both universities were also represented at the recent Online Learning Summit held at UC Berkeley by Provost Ellen Junn (SJSU) and Chancellor for Academic Achievement Eric Grimson (MIT).

    Junn and Grimson spoke about the enhanced learning potentials of a ‘flipped classroom,’ where video-lecture content, and online learning activities and assessments opened up new spaces for classroom interactions and student engagement.  Junn lauded results from an SJSU pilot study that revealed significant gains in performance for students participating in the MITx course “Intro to Circuits and Electronics” (virtually taught by MIT’s Anant Agarwal) compared to their own equivalent brick and mortar version.  Grimson pointed to similarly positive reports on the MIT side, where rapid interventions for struggling students and the ability to revisit lecture videos and course content at a student’s leisure improved performance across a number of key intro-level courses.  Grimson insisted, that not only did online content improve student performance, but also that online course delivery models were necessary for addressing the shifting needs and interests of a 21st Century learner entering a university life at what he named the third major historical disruption to education- printing press to the blackboard to the digital.

    Despite their shared optimism and inspiring statistical reports, their presentations revealed one crucial characteristic of MOOCS.  In the typical MOOC model, a single professor or institutional entity controls the production of course content and standards of learning for thousands of students across multiple institutions.  This kind of centralization creates the potential for asymmetrical relations between participating universities based on whether or not they play the role of producer or consumer of course content.

    Junn’s presentation focused on SJSU students gaining flexible and free access to highly coveted MIT content, and while she explored other dimensions of their online education initiatives, she did not move far beyond this point of access and student convenience as the major benefits of their partnership with MITx.  Positioning SJSU students and faculty as consumers of MIT-generated content, her measure of a successful student experience seemed to narrowly focus on content mastery and skills development.  The idea of faculty being relegated to facilitators of content produced exclusively by another university became a point of critique in the highly publicized letter authored by SJSU faculty members in April of 2013.  In “An Open Letter to Professor Michael Sandel [Harvard professor of the JusticeX course] from the Philosophy Department at San Jose State U,” the authors describe a single, universal MOOC course on social justice as “downright scary- something out of a dystopian novel.”

    Grimson pointed to similar gains for MIT students participating in online courses, but he imagined these skills put to use in radically new institutional contexts where MIT students would be able to pursue projects of potential impact, play with cutting-edge technologies like 3D-printers, and discover fresh opportunities for socialization and collaboration.  Provost Junn may also share a similar vision, although it did not come through in her talk, instead choosing to focus on access and skills development.  But not all access is created equal. In a world of free and open content, there are crucial advantages gained by both the institutions involved directly in its production as well as their students.

    For the MIT students, there is an advantage gained not just in their physical proximity to the professors generating course content, where they enjoy an increased opportunity to either interact directly with the professor responsible for the course or with closely affiliated faculty.  But these students also benefit from a kind of cultural proximity to the content in the sense that institutions both select (through admissions’ processes) and cultivate (through their discursive contexts) student identities and learners who more closely resemble the ideological character of their institution.  For the institution, while the gains might not be realized immediately by MOOC providers such as MIT in the form of financial capital, it undoubtedly benefits from an increase in the value of its brand, while potentially devaluing that of its consumers.  What does it mean for an institution no longer to produce the content of its own courses, while being relegated to a consumer and mediator of MIT content, or a mere authentications portal to an MITx MOOC?

    While I listened to Junn and Grimson, it was too hard to imagine a leveling of the playing field across higher education, and too easy to envision two disparate classes of students, where SJSU students scramble to master a discrete set of skills and MIT content as MIT students put the same set of skills to use in creative contexts and with greater social and cultural capital.  Further, although Junn pointed to the positive results from SJSU’s pilot study on MITx, the results from a pilot with MOOC provider Udacity that targeted struggling or at-risk students appeared less promising.  If MOOCs already pose a threat to a widening of the digital divide, they also increase the potential for a digital divided, where a class of students with a non-transferrable, decontextualized skillset cannot compete with a more privileged class of students with access to these empowered institutional spaces, in effect massively reproducing class disparities and socioeconomic immobility.

    So what kinds of delivery models can we imagine for online education, models that could leverage digital tools for content sharing and multimedia experiences while at the same time avoiding the content production monopolies of MOOCs? On another panel at the OLS14 conference, FemTechNet’s Distributed Online Collaborative Community (DOCC) offered an appealing alternative.  FemTechNet’s DOCC model emphasized the creation of an infrastructure for distributed dialogues across multiple online platforms while preserving institutional autonomy in designing courses around the teaching of feminist principles.  Although MOOC advocates often assume that good learning data requires content standardization, the distributed model can still operate at scale without a centralized institutional force imposing its will on a network of participants who are thus relegated to the role of content consumers.  FemTechNet enables increased opportunities for institutions to produce their own course content while also allowing them to curate these courses with content from a network of institutions. This makes it easier for course designers to craft experiences sculpted to address the particular needs of their students.

    Creating horizontal structures for institutional collaboration could not only help ensure heterogeneity of course content, but also generate opportunities to connect students across courses and create even richer peer-to-peer interactions and engagement.  Furthermore, projects like FemNetTech’s “Wikistorming” help motivate critical inquiry and skills application in real-world contexts while supporting student engagement and activism as digital citizens.  With the collapse of Net Neutrality and the consolidation of many web services, institutions of higher learning share a responsibility to protect access to a diversity of web content, to promote pluralistic models of knowledge production, and to cultivate a generation of digital citizens who can maintain the web’s equity and openness.
    Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 2

    Monday, March 17, 2014

    Monday, March 17, 2014
    The national media has spoken on a confrontation between a professor and an anti-abortion group at UCSB on March 4th.  It is not pleased with the professor. 

    On March 4th, one of my colleagues at UC Santa Barbara, Feminist Studies professor Mireille Miller-Young, was walking to her office when she was approached by members of an anti-abortion group called Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust (SAH).  One thing led to another:  the police report picks up the story:
    She said an argument ensued about the graphic nature of these images. Miller-Young said that she [sic] situation became "passionate" and that the other students were "triggered" in a negative way by the imagery.  Miller-Young said that she and others began demanding that the images be taken down.  Miller-Young said that the demonstrators refused. At which point, Miller-Young said that she 'Just grabbed it [the sign] from the girl's hands." Asked if there had been a struggle, Miller-Young stated, "I'm stronger so I was able to take the poster."
    Miller-Young said that the poster had been taken back to her office. Once in her office, a "safe space" described by Miller-Young, Miller-Young said that they were still upset by the images on the poster and had destroyed it. Miller-Young said that she was "mainly" responsible for the posters destruction becaues she was the only one with scissors.
    The SAH protestors seem to have consisted mainly of two sisters, Joan Short, 21, and Thrin Short, 16.  Thrin Short began to film Prof. Miller-Young and a few students departing with her sign.  In the video, you can hear ongoing exchanges between the two groups, see the UCSB group enter South Hall and try to take the sign up the elevator, hear what must be Joan Short calling the police and narrating events to them, see the UCSB group refusing the Short sisters entry to the building elevator amidst some scuffling-- at which point the video ends.

    The event got immediate campus coverage in a student paper, The Bottom Line, which ran a story and a picture of one of the anti-abortion posters. The Santa Barbara Independent covered it a week later, identifying the group as SAH and  narrating its account of the events, for by that time Prof. Miller-Young had an attorney and was being advised not to speak about the case. The conservative blog The College Fix posted an account on March 12th, showing the scratches on Thrin Short's wrists and Joan Short with her signs.  So we can be clear what we're talking about, here are the signs on UCSB's campus on March 4th:

    Rush Limbaugh got into the act on the same day, spinning the story in his usual way on his Quick Hits Page under the title "Leftist Professor Goes Berserk, Attacks Pro-Lifers" (scroll down). Fox News picked it up on March 13th (the SAH account has more media links at the bottom.) On March 14th, the Short sisters appeared on Megyn Kelly's Fox news show with an augmented version of the original video.  When Ms. Kelly asked how they felt about the professor's claim that she was "triggered" by the images and that she had the "moral right" to take the signs away, Thrin Short said she was sorry that the professor was "offended in any way. But after all, she does teach or show porn to her students, so she's not really the one to talk about offending images." (Joan Short is on the left, her sister Thrin on the right.)
     

     On March 15th, just to make the media circus complete, Salon got involved: Mary Elizabeth Williams turned the incident into an object lesson called "Why You Should Never Engage with an Abortion Protester."    She summed up her position by saying sarcastically, "Well, thanks, Dr. Mireille Miller-Young, because now these two sisters, who might otherwise have been just a campus nuisance, have overnight become national right-wing heroines."

    OK, so much for the media fun.  Let me see if there's a way of threading a path through all this.

    First of all, Prof. Miller-Young was wrong to take the Short sisters' sign, as she acknowledges in the police report (page 5 of 5).  She and the students were wrong to leave the scene while taunting the Short sisters, wrong to scuffle with them, and wrong to destroy the sign upstairs of out the Short sisters' reach.  I see no reason to disagree with the reporting officer when s/he says, "I explained to Miller-Young that vandalism, battery and robbery had occurred." 

    Second, the Short sisters are not isolated citizens expressing a passionately-held moral belief (though they are obviously sincere, and their type of activism takes guts).  They are part of a right-wing institutional world that makes many people feel unwelcome and unsafe, including the women of color who confronted them at UCSB on March 4th. This is an important context for what happened that day.

    The Shorts were trained as activists by SAH, a group founded by Jeff White.  Mr. White, according to his website, was National Tactical Director for the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, a group known for its aggressive tactics, and which is very much still in the game (Kansas example).  Mr. White continues to specialize in attention-getting public confrontation, as in this bizarre conflict with a Hollywood lighting crew in 2010.  He is apparently well-connected within conservative activist and funding networks.  Mr. White seems to have had great recruitment success within the Short family:  there is at least one more SAH Short sister, Mary Rose, who can be seen protesting in Albuquerque in November 2013, and who was protesting outside a high school in Jackson, MS in March 2012 when two SAH colleagues were arrested. 

    Given their front-line position in a well-developed national anti-abortion activist network, there is no reason for the Shorts to play dumb about their intentions.  The sole point of their gruesome signs is to shock and offend people into opposing abortion.  They signs aren't "conversation starters": they freak people out, as they are meant to do. Even if you are sixteen years old, you should take responsibility for the likely impacts on actual people of what you are deliberately doing.  If you try to provoke people, you will eventually succeed, and if you work for someone like Jeff White, you have a full understanding both of what these provoked people might do and of how you can use this with the media.

    The deeper issue here is that the Shorts arrived at UCSB as the institutional representatives of what for convenience I'll call Limbaugh's America--the forever angry wing of the American Right that disparages its opponents rather than debates with them.  The Shorts also represented that Right in the rhetorical strategy of their signs, which said quite plainly that pro-choice people, like some of the college students walking by, favor murdering "preborn" babies.   In this sense, the signs aren't just graphic: they are calculated insults of the moral viewpoint of the presumptively pro-choice onlooker.

    UCSB student Delyla Mayers made this point clearly in her editorial in UCSB's Daily Nexus:
    These groups have taken no consideration to the individuals who are directly or indirectly affected by abortion. UCSB prides itself on inclusivity and diversity, yet these groups have actively chosen to ignore the myriad people these images negatively impact. These groups have chosen to overlook these experiences, placing harmful and potentially damaging materials in front of students without so much as a warning. Student announcements are sent out every day, giving students warnings about numerous things; why aren’t such events required to do the same? I don’t think any group should be above that. It’s not the position I have a problem with, but rather the approach that is very insensitive, non-inclusive, violent and dangerous. These groups have failed to give students the right to choose to partake in such events, stripping individuals from their choice to practice self-care in topics as deep as abortion.
    Prof. Miller-Young was aware that her students had the sense that the signs represented categorical hostility both to their views about abortion (if they were pro-choice, they favored killing unborn babies) and in some sense to who they are, that is, "campus liberals," and women of color.

    Isn't this overreacting? No.  The Right's anti-intellectual dismissal machine has a long reach, and used anti-feminist and racial dogwhistling in this case as in so many others.

    For example, in her appearance on Fox News, Thrin Short made a direct connection between Prof. Miller-Young taking offense at her signs and Prof. MIller-Young teaching pornography as an academic subject.  That same day, Rush Limbaugh had established the same equivalence.
    We have hyphenated name? Check. Teaches multicultural nonsense? Check.

    Attracted to perverted and worthless areas of academic emphasis? Check. Instinct to lash out violently at those who disagree with her? Check. Resorts to violence when she doesn't get her way? Check. Logical conclusion: She is a madcap leftist and she has tenure. She is teaching young skulls full of mush, inculcating them with this worthless drivel that their parents are paying through the nose for.

    Now, you might say, "Rush this has always gone on."

    Not to this degree, folks.

    The higher education curriculum has been in the process of being corrupted by militant feminazis for I don't know how long, but it is continuing to normalize what 10 years ago were extremes.   The extremes 10 years ago are the normal today. The extremes 15 ago are the normal. A professor teaching a course in black cultural studies, pornography, and sex work on her faculty Web page?
    Well Rush, actually yes: Black culture has obviously been a fountainhead of American life from its  beginning, and consuming pornography is America's national pastime not to mention an important form of popular culture, as UCSB's Constance Penley has been arguing for two decades. But in Limbaugh's America, studying Black culture or representations of African American women in pornography is all feminazism.  Mr. Limbaugh says these things regularly, they become right-wing common sense over years and decades, they get echoed by front-line people like Thrin Short--and then folks wonder why feminists or students of color get upset.

    My third point is that in this context the theft of the SAH poster, though illegal, can be seen as an act of (non-violent) self-defense.  Many people, including many women and many people of color, do not feel safe in or respected by Rush Limbaugh's America. Many of the targets of the routine practice of disrespect see universities as refuges of enlightenment or at least basic rationality in a country whose media is saturated with personal attacks and hate speech.  The appearance of the SAH signs ended that fragile protection (as Ms. Mayers noted above).

    On Fox, Megyn Kelly displayed disbelief at Prof. Miller-Young's line, apparently directed at a Short sister, "I may be a thief, but you're a terrorist." The most relevant definition of terrorist in this case is Jean-François Lyotard's in chapter 2 of The Postmodern Condition, where he defines terror as "eliminating, or threatening to eliminate, a player from the language game one shares with him."  This is the effect of SAH signs, and it is the core Limbaugh / Fox News strategy--not to debate an opponent, but to discredit her in advance as a dangerous buffoon. Non-Limbaugh America, now associated by the Right with Barack Obama's electoral majority built of various communities of color, feels quite unsafe in a mediascape and political world in which their positions are held up as ridiculous.  The university has come to function as one of the few escapes, and it was something that Prof. Miller-Young, in her way, was trying to defend.  This is why the police report records her saying that her actions "were in defense of her students and her own safety." The fact that they took an illegal form, as noted above, doesn't change their meaning as self-defense. I believe, she said to the reporting officer, that I have a "personal right to go to work and not be in harm."

    Fourth, where are university administrations in all this? My basic feeling is that individual professors and students wouldn't have to be inventing ad hoc forms of self-defense against the presence of groups that disrespect them if the university had a reputation for defending itself.  By defending itself I don't mean universities should ban groups like SAH or eliminating free speech zones that welcome non-students. On the contrary, universities must continue to support the kind of debate that would be ejected from everywhere else in commercial America, like its bank lobbies, office cafeterias, and shopping malls. I mean, instead, that universities must build a counter-common sense through which the general public immediately understands why a university must have things like feminist studies departments and pornography scholars--that the university studies everything important, and studies everything according to professional rules of the knowledge-seekers own making, in uncoercive dialogue with the general public.

    As it is now, the university has no answer to the Right's carefully constructed anti-intellectual culture, which allows its members to interpret new knowledge as an affront, a heresy, and an assault on all that is good.  All academic knowledge is vulnerable here, from stem-cell medical research and climate-related oceanography to studies of farmworker health, white suburban poverty, and new sexualities.  The result is that after three decades of culture wars, activists trained by right-wing groups like SAH know that if anything bad happens to them on campus, they can discredit their academic opposition in the media by appealing to ad hominem  stereotypes of liberal professors.   My sense is that the general public decreasingly thinks of universities as serious places that will protect themselves, their functions, and their people, and that anyone can do political hit-and-runs with impunity.  Obviously the Right's brilliant long-term institution-building is the main source of the weak cultural position of universities, which undermines individual academics when they most need help. But high-level university silence paved the way for the Right's control of the framing of university teaching and research.

    As an institution, the university needs to build a discursive and cultural framework in which its own heterodox activities can be understood.  Tactically, university officials should not get down in the weeds and debate the value of porn studies with each anti-abortion protest group. But strategically, organizations like the American Association of Universities, presidents of major colleges, and other prominent educators need to help scattered associate professors confront and overturn the Limbaughian worldview.  The AAU is happy to speak officially in what it sees as a necessary defense of Israel, as when it formally denounced the American Studies Association's alleged infringement on academic freedom via its support for boycotting Israeli academic institutions.  The AAU should do the same, on an ongoing basis, around the the academic freedom of faculty of color to teach and conduct research, in dialogue with the public, on Black culture, Black actors in porn, possible racial bias in private medical research funding, the shortage of people of color in children's stories, or anything else that society puts in front of them.

    Such high-level statements should also involve something we might call campus cultural, intellectual, and personal safety for students, an issue that recent protests by Black students at the University of Michigan, UCLA Law School, and elsewhere have put back on the agenda--again.  The long-term project is to build a cultural common sense in which the university's unavoidable violation of orthodoxy is the heart of its public mission--and where its community can be safe from the harassment that Limbaugh-culture reserves for that public mission in all its forms.

    More locally, my hope is that the Short sisters will drop charges against Prof. Miller-Young in exchange for some kind of  statement or restitution from her.  It might be interesting to invite Joan and Thrin Short to a Feminist Studies classroom to talk, rather than to affront with signs, the professor and the students they tangled with before.  Who knows--Thrin Short might even stop ditching high school to protest abortion.

    UPDATE 3/23
    On Friday, Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced that she was filing misdemenor charges against Prof. Miller-Young for theft from a person, vandalism, and battery.  The Santa Barbara Independent has coverage here. So does Fox News, which adds a quote from the Short sisters' father to a repeat of its earlier framing.
    Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 47