Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Senate Council has Spoken, but will the Administration Listen: A Rejection of the Commission of the Future’s Recommendations

Last week, I discussed how the senate faculty members of the Post-Employment Benefits Task Force wrote an effective criticism of the plan to restructure UC’s retirement benefits. I would now like to examine the senate’s “MEMORANDUM TO THE UC COMMISSION ON THE FUTURE FROM THE UC ACADEMIC COUNCIL: Senate Response to the Second Round of the Working Group Recommendations.” Much of the council’s response relates to the expanded recommendations that were added by senior administrators after the working groups had submitted their recommendations: “Council observed that many recommendations are similar to prior recommendations and felt that the Working Group recommendations address issues in a far more thoughtful, detailed and comprehensive manner than the Expanded Recommendations or the recommendations from the Council of Vice Chancellors. Several Senate agencies expressed discomfort with the lack of information about the provenance of the Expanded Recommendations. UCSD notes that this ‘makes the process look secretive and could imply some hidden agenda by the Commission or by the administration.’” The senate faculty members are politely pointing out here that they did not expect the administration to rewrite the working groups’ recommendation at the last minute.

The way that the expanded recommendations were introduced challenges the concept of shared governance and makes it seem that senior administrators ask faculty members to contribute, but if the administration does not like the outcomes of the faculty’s input, senior management feels free to make changes without consultation. Moreover, many of the new recommendations replace shared governance with central control: “Respondents were concerned that many of the proposals would undermine ordinary processes of University governance (UCB). The proposals often imply establishing systemwide structures and reporting, which can threaten local autonomy and can become inflexible unfunded mandates, straining diminishing administrative resources (UCB, UCSD). Council is wary of excessive centralization, and asks that specific plans for systemwide initiatives be reviewed once they are developed.” Here we see senate faculty pushing back against the desire of some people from the Office of the President to replace campus autonomy with a more centralized decision-making system.

Not only does the council reject this process of centralization, but they also question the entire outlook of the administration: “Finally, UCFW expressed disappointment at the scope of the recommendations. UCFW notes, ‘Rather than focus on the real fiscal problems that need to be fixed, the Commission deals largely with simple problems that can be fixed administratively.’ They argue that UC needs to ‘tackle issues that impact the future existence of the University.’ UCB concurs that the recommendations should focus on ‘transformative (as opposed to incremental) change.’” By translating most fiscal problems into administrative problems, the new recommendations push the solutions into the hands of the central administration.

One clear example of this attempt to extend the reach of the central administration is in Recommendation 6, where we find the call for “Strategic academic planning in a systemwide context” and “easier cross-campus enrollment and curricular collaboration.” In response to Expanded Recommendation 1, the faculty clearly question the need to “Collect information on effectiveness of academic program reviews including (1) the elimination of unnecessary program duplication, (2) intra-and inter-campus program consolidation, and (3) programs discontinued due to low enrollment, low degree production, and/or quality concerns, and those not responsive to state need or student demand.” The senate faculty members also disagree with Expanded Recommendation 2, which calls for the central administration to, “Collect information on policies to ensure effective curricular design and planning, including curricular offerings, and alignment of faculty course assignments with workload policies.” In their criticism of these new recommendations, the council questions the authority of the administration to make these changes: “All three of these recommendations address issues in the purview of the Academic Senate. Moreover, many respondents noted that the Senate has in place very effective, regular, and thorough procedures for academic program and course reviews (UCI, UCM, UCSD, UCEP, AdvGrp).”

Many of the faculty senates question the need or ability for the central administration to involve itself in campus curricular decisions: “ Some members were offended that the recommendations assume that academic units are not meeting core teaching requirements. Others felt that this information already is available and an extra layer of reporting is unnecessary (UCI, UCLA, AdvGrp). However, they would support a mechanism to collect existing information, as long as it does not increase the burden of reporting requirements (UCSB, AdvGrp). Some took issue with the notion that homogenizing the curriculum is desirable, arguing that curricular diversity across the system is a strength (UCB, UCSD). Requiring cross-campus collaboration (especially extending automatically granting course credit beyond the scope of SR477 and SR544) would stymie innovative curricula and ignore different approaches to disciplines and course content. They particularly questioned the meaning of the phrase ‘unnecessary program duplication.’ Who determines this, using what criteria? (UCSB, UCEP, AdvGrp). We note that each campus must maintain a core academic program and be allowed to develop a full range of disciplines (UCM, UCSB) and that programmatic funding priorities should not be made based on a short-term assessment of labor market demand or student interest (UCSD). Finally, low enrollment or degree production are not sufficient criteria for disestablishment, and decisions regarding program elimination should be determined by those qualified to render such judgments, that is, the Academic Senate (UCSD, AdvGrp). Council prefers the approach in Size & Shape 6 and Education & Curriculum 4. The Regents have delegated authority over the curricula to the Senate, and Senate bylaws clearly assign power to the divisions to approve and supervise all courses and curricula (UCLA, UCEP).” The senate faculty groups clearly reject the central administration’s desire to usurp the authority of the faculty in order to eliminate programs and transform curricular content.

The senates also resist the need to move all of the campuses to the semester system: “Senate agencies strongly disagreed with this recommendation. Respondents argued: 1) the financial benefits have not been demonstrated via a cost/benefit analysis (UCI, UCSD, UCEP, AdvGrp); 2) no information was presented showing the ways in which transfer is impeded by the calendar (UCEP, AdvGrp); and 3) this project should not proceed or be allocated funds at a time of constrained resources (UCD, UCI, UCLA, UCSF, UCEP, AdvGrp). Moreover, the increased burden on faculty workload would negatively affect faculty morale. Some noted that since eight campuses are on the quarter system, synergies already exist (UCSD, UCEP, AdvGrp).” Many of the campuses have already voted against this change, so it is strange that it would be recommended by the administration.

Another area of concern for the senate faculty is the recommendation to increase nonresident admissions to meet campus capacity, reaffirm the 60:40 ratio of upper division to lower division, and move towards a 1:2 ratio of community college transfers to freshmen: “Council conditionally agrees to most elements of Size & Shape 8. Council supports the Master Plan, but notes that the University’s commitment to the Master Plan should be contingent on the availability of state funds, as well as on the strength of the transfer pool (UCB, UCI, UCSB, AdvGrp). UCI questions whether a 60:40 upper to lower division ratio allows for a 1:2 ratio of transfers to freshmen. UCM comments that some community colleges are not adequately preparing students, and UCEP notes that more information on the progress of transfers is needed. Finally, the state should provide greater funding for upper division students before UC increases the number of transfers.” The council correctly stresses here that someone has to actually crunch the numbers to see what happens if the university expands the number of upper-division students through transfer as it reduces the number of freshman enrollments.

The council also strongly disagreed with Expanded Recommendation 3: although some faculty members do support the targeted expansion of self-supporting terminal Master’s degrees. Some concerns include: “1) Use of University resources. Council cautions that self-supporting programs usurp campus resources and should not be built on existing courses and infrastructure (UCD, UCSB). An analysis of potential competition between self-supporting and state-supported programs must be part of the approval process of any self-supporting program (UCD).” Many senate faculty committees have questioned the financial and academic soundness of promoting self-supporting programs that often end up drawing funding away from the core mission: “As with online education, the proposal would divert resources to new endeavors that are outside the core of the University based on the sometimes dubious assumptions that they will generate revenue. But the revenue goal is unrealistic, as it is based on high- cost MBA programs. The University is unlikely to generate ten times the annual net revenue by expanding to other areas. Choosing an arbitrary revenue target is not good academic planning (UCI, UCLA, UCEP).” The faculty have rightly concluded that many of the new proposed money-making schemes may actually cost money, while they function to undermine educational quality.

This criticism of the central administration’s push for privatization is also present in the senate faculty’s resistance to online education: “We reiterate that before proceeding beyond the pilot project, the University must evaluate course quality and cost effectiveness (UCLA, UCSD, UCSF). The proposed timetable and scale in this recommendation are unrealistic and incompatible with a rigorous process of evaluation (UCB, UCI, UCEP, AdvGrp). Similarly, while we restate our opposition to undergraduate online degrees pending evaluation of the pilot project and further consideration by the Senate, we will not restate our concerns about the appropriateness of online instruction in the UC context.” The council wants the university to slow down and first test online courses before it decides to increase the number of these classes.

In the coming months, we shall see if the administration is really taking the senate faculty’s views into account. If not, faculty should join with student groups and unions to fight this move to centralize and privative the University of California.


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  2. Yeah, good luck getting apathetic UC faculty to realize what is going on. They are like the proverbial frog in the proverbial pot of boiling water.

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