Monday, January 23, 2017

How Progressives Should Respond to Trump


The election of Donald Trump has pushed many people to ask how progressives should respond to his presidency.  Should we critique and mock all of his actions and statements or should we try to give him the benefit of the doubt and work with him on common interests?  I believe the proper response is to not only hold him accountable for his words and actions, but more importantly, we need to equate him with the Republic party.  In other words, instead of seeing him as some oddity or anomaly in the political system, we have to show how he embodies the truth of the conservative counter-revolution.

One of the biggest mistakes the Clinton Campaign made and others continue to repeat is to separate Trump from the traditional Republican politicians.  What we need to do is show how Trump exemplifies amoral capitalism, and this combination of selfish greed and a lack of morality has been driving the Republicans since the time of Reagan.  What Trump helps to clarify is that behind all of the talk of religious values and fiscal responsibility, we find a small class of people trying to enhance their power and money at any costs.  The fact that many Christian fundamentalists supported the blatantly amoral Trump shows that the Republicans don’t really care about religion or morality. 

One problem is that even though Trump does not believe in most of the core conservative moral issues, he is still appointing people and supporting policies that will result in destructive restrictions of human rights and government support for those most in need.  The problem is that he controls all of the branches of government, and he believes that his power resides in giving what he thinks his base is demanding. What progressives then have to do is try to convince Republican voters that Trump and his supporters in Congress really do not care about their values and issues.  Progressives also have to make the case that not only their policies will help disgruntled Trump voters, but their values are more in line with the values of these voters.

As George Lakoff insists, Democrats have to focus on values over policies because this is what affects voters in a more direct manner.  For instance, by always using the term “the Affordable Care Act” instead of “Obamacare,” the value of affordability is highlighted over the notion that a liberal president is forcing people to do things they do not want to do.  Likewise, Lakoff insists that we should use the term “protections” instead of “regulations,” when we are discussing rules and laws that serve to fight against bad behavior by corporations and individuals.

Although we most continue to fight against racism, sexism, and homophobia, it is important to show how these modes of prejudice are related to economic issues concerning poverty and inequality.  In terms of values, the stress should be on making things more fair and equal at the same time that individual rights are protected. Moreover, the problem with some versions of identity politics is not that they focus on discrimination and prejudice, but they can make it hard to build coalitions among different identity groups.  What we need to do then is to always keep our eyes on the prize and seek to organize diverse groups to develop sustainable political power.

One problem that tis progressive agenda faces is that it may not be supported by many of the liberal institutions who are often focused on maintaining power and wealth and not creating a more just and equal society.   This is why we have to fight to transform our own political parties, universities, unions, and media to make them more democratic and progressive.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Contingent Faculty in the Age of Trump

Now that most of the faculty teaching in the U.S. do not have tenure, it is important to think about how the current political climate might affect these vulnerable teachers.  One important thing to keep in mind is that many of these faculty members rely on getting high student evaluations in order to keep their jobs or earn a pay increase.  This emphasis on pleasing students not only can result in grade inflation and defensive teaching, but it also places the teacher in an impossible situation when dealing with political issues in a polarized environment.  In fact, during the election, I was teaching a course on Writing and Public Discourse, and by chance, I had student leaders from both political parties in my class. Although I tried to not reveal any of my political views in class, students could go online and research my outside activities.

In talking to some of my conservative students, they told me that they feel like they are the real minorities on campus, and even though Trump won, they still think that they cannot express their true opinions. On the other side, some of my self-identified progressive student activists believe that political correctness makes it hard to have an open discussion: from their perspective, since anything can be perceived as a micro-aggression, people tend to silence themselves.

What I am describing is an educational environment where almost everyone is afraid to speak.  The non-tenure-track faculty are fearful of losing their jobs, the conservative students see themselves as a censored minority, and the progressive students are afraid of being called out for their privilege or lack of political correctness.  Making matters worse is that students are often socialized by their large lecture classes to simply remain passive and silent. 


It appears that we are facing a perfect storm where free speech and real debate is no longer possible. One way of countering this culture is to stop relying on student evaluations to assess contingent faculty.  If we want teachers to promote open dialogue in their classes, they should not have to be afraid that they will lose their jobs for promoting the free exchange of ideas.  We need to rely more on the peer review of instruction, and we have to stop using the easy way out. In short, we have to change how non-tenure-track are evaluated as we push to include all faculty in departmental and institutional governance.  If we do not work together to fight back against the current climate, we will all suffer together.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Progressive Lessons from the 2016 Election

The first thing to highlight about the 2016 Presidential election is that our electorial system is unfair – Trump lost the popular vote by over 2 million votes, but he believes he has a mandate.  In fact, 42% of eligible voters did not vote at all, and 4% voted for a third party candidate, which means that Trump was supported by less than 27% of the eligible voters, and yet Trump will be likely be able to control the national agenda because the Republicans control both houses of Congress and two-thirds of the governorships. It is also important to stress that many people said they were not voting for him but voting against Hillary Clinton, and the majority of voters simply voted for the same party they always vote for. In other words, Trump won the game, only because we have a screwed up winner-takes-all system where many people do not even participate, and most of the people who do vote do not vote based on an analysis of the policies presented by the candidates.

One of the big post-election debates is over the notion that the election proves that identity politics is over.  In other words, Democrats should stop talking about racism, sexism, and Islamophobia, and instead they should learn how to listen to the white working class that voted for Trump.   Many liberals are taking up this cause against identity politics as if we should simply close our eyes and ignore the fact that Trump used racism and sexism to gain votes. Of course, one of the great strategies of the Right for the last forty years is to argue that whites are the real victims of prejudice and that people of color are privileged because they are supported by government programs funded through the taxation of whites.  In this upside-down world, a billionaire like Trump is represented as a working class hero and the real victim of taxes, government regulation, and bad trade deals.  Meanwhile, in place of blaming big businesses or wealthy individuals for hording profits and downsizing jobs, the Republicans focus the attention of the working class on the liberal elites who make whites feel bad for their sexism, homophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. Instead of giving into this reversed racism, we have to fight it at every step and offer an alternative vision.

One of the main reasons why Clinton lost is the same reason why in the last 65 years only one party has held the White House for three consecutive terms: Americans always seem to want a change after a two-term president, and Clinton clearly did not represent any real change.  There is also the pesky fact that half of all Americans spent parts of the last year below or just above the poverty line, and most workers have not seen a real pay raise in 50 years.  Of course Trump only proposes false solutions to these real problems, but they are still real problems, and it does not help us to turn our back on racism.  In fact, in our culture, race and wealth are highly correlated, and you cannot talk about class without dealing with race even though white working class men see themselves as representing a group that stands outside of race.


It is vital to recognize that race helps to rationalize inequality as it also divides people who share a common class interest.  On the other hand, politicians can also use race to scapegoat specific groups in order to build political unity.  The big question is how to bring together a concern for prejudice with a desire to a build a strong democratic coalition that takes on real economic problems.   

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Vote Yes on Prop 55

If you only vote for one proposition this year in California, I want to urge you to support prop 55.  This proposition continues the prop 30 tax increases on top earners in order to support public education.  Although these funds do not go directly to higher education, we have seen that when state revenue goes down, the easiest thing to cut is the public support for community colleges, the CSU system, and the UC system.  Since almost all other funding in the state is already mandated, increased costs and lower taxes force legislators to reduce their funding for higher education. Unfortunately, there are so many competing propositions on the ballot that many voters do not know what to do.  In fact, the voter guide is over 225 pages and will confuse even people with expert knowledge on the issues. 

For more information of Prop 55, please click here.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Top UC Myths

This summer I had the opportunity to speak to several top UC officials, and here are the main myths I heard repeated that relate to previous entries from this blog:

1) We should fund Berkeley and UCLA at a higher rate because these star campuses have put the other campuses on the map. 

Here we find a type of trickle-down prestige: since the star campuses have high ratings, they help the reputation of the system as a whole.  Thus, even if their reputations have been built up over decades of unequal founding, we should all be grateful for what they have been able to accomplish. One of the things wrong with this notion is that it neglects the fact that the campuses with the highest number of unrepresented minority students receive the lowest per student funding.  Furthermore, the students who may need the most instructional help receive the lowest support. 



2)  The process of rebenching has solved the imbalance of funding among the campuses.

As I have shown in several previous posts, the new method of redistributing state funds has occurred during a period when campus funding has become even more unequal due to the rise in the number of high-paying non-resident students on particular campuses. 


3) The high tuition/high aid model works because students coming from low- and moderate-income families pay no tuition after financial aid. 

The problem with this common idea is that it fails to see how two-thirds of the cost ofattending a UC comes from non-tuition expenses (housing, dining, parking, health, books, and fees). 

4) The deal with the governor to freeze tuition and increase the number of students from California makes sense. 

When I asked people at UCOP how they planned for this increase in enrollments, they told me they made sure there were enough beds, counselors, and medical services: they did not mention classrooms or teachers.   

     5) The UC knows how much it costs to educate each student.

After years of trying to get the university to come up with a more precise method for calculating the cost of instruction, we finally received a highly flawed newmethodology.  Although the new rebenching model tried to differentiate among the cost of education for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, it turns out that the numbers were based on a “historical approximation.” As I have argued many times, if we do not know how much it costs to educate students, how can we ask the state for more money?  

6) The UC does not rely on the state anymore for funding, so the state should not tell the university what to do. 

The first problem with this myth is that the state does support about half of the costs for theinstructional budget, and there has been a large increase in state financialaid.  Virtually all of the money cut from the state budget for the UC general fund was replaced by an increase in financial aid (Cal Grants and the Middle-Class Scholarship). UC says it does not get the aid money to run its operations, but the increased aid allowed for the increase in tuition after the Great Recession. When the UC neglects to point to this source of funding, it upsets the legislature, and makes them not trust the UC. 

7) All of the UC’s funding problems stem from the state budget cuts. 

Although it is clear that the state has not supported the UC in an effective manner, it is also true that many of the problems stem from the way the campuses spend funds and the way UCOP distributes funds among the campuses. Furthermore, UCOP still claims that there is no problem with excessive administration because all of the growth has happened in the medical centers. The reality is that administrative bloat continues on the campus level and at UCOP.  

Thursday, September 22, 2016

UC Increases California Enrollments but Inequities Continue

UC-AFT has been on the forefront of pushing for the UC system to enroll more students from California, and recent data shows that 2016-2017 will see an increase of 8,000 students in this category.  The bad news is that the unequal funding of the campuses continues due to the distribution of non-resident students.  The following list shows the percentage of Freshmen enrollments that are non-resident students at each campus:

Berkeley   25.2% (down 3.7% from last year)

Davis         21.1% (down 4.8%)

Irvine        27.2% (down .2%)

UCLA         26.6% (down 2.7%)

Merced         .7%   (down .3%)

Riverside    3.8% (down .2%)

San Diego  28.6% (down 4.8%)

UCSB         16.1% (up 1%)

UCSC         12.7% (down 3.8%)

UC              20% (down 2.7%)

These trends highlight a partial movement in the direction requested by the legislature:  the campuses with the highest number of non-resident students have decreased their over-all percentage.  Yet, only UCSB increased its percentage of non-resident students and only by 1%.  UCOP has said that they wanted a more even distribution, but we still have three campuses with over 25% (Irvine, UCLA, Berkeley) and four campuses under 16.2% (Riverside, UCSC, UCSB, Merced).  These statistics are important because the tuition for non-resident students is $26,682 more than resident students.  So if Berkeley has 1,603 non-resident students, and Riverside has 213, Berkeley brings in $37 million more than Riverside. Since according to UCOP, the main reason for bringing in high-paying non-resident students is that they subsidize the resident students, it is still hard to see how this is working when campuses do not share extra revenue amongst themselves.  In other words, Berkeley does not transfer any of its $42 million in additional revenue from non-resident tuition to the other campuses.

It is important to stress that these statistics only look at one year of non-resident Freshmen enrollments, and if we look at all of the undergrads at a particular campus, we can multiply by four to get a rough estimate of the total inequity among campuses. So if the average student stays four years and the enrollment trends stay the same, Berkeley’s extra funding over Riverside becomes $148 million a year.

It is important to stress that the UC campuses have also increased their number of transfer students, and in this case, for Fall 2016, 15% are non-resident students (this has stayed about the same as last year).  We also see inequities generated here since only 4.8% of transfer students to Santa Cruz pay non-resident tuition, but 23.8% of the UC San Diego students pay the additional $26,682.


This year we will be working on trying to get the campuses to find a more equitable way of sharing non-resident revenue.