Thursday, April 14, 2011

Online Education and the End of UC Education

As the UC moves to put high-enrollment courses online, professors need to wake up and see what is about to transpire. Even though the administration said it would only go ahead with the project if it raised funds from private sources, it has now been leaked by the Chronicle of Higher Education that the university will borrow seven million dollars from itself. First of all, it is important to note that this new funding model goes against the requirement of the academic council, and it appears that the faculty only found out about this plan when it was discussed in the national media. Thus, we should read this secret plan for self-borrowing as a sign that the administration intends to go ahead with its online project regardless of what the faculty senate says.

More troubling is that the target classes for the first round of the pilot program will be courses taught at all of the undergraduate campuses. This move is the first step in getting rid of “departmental duplication.” If senate faculty think that the only people who will be hurt here are the lecturers and graduate students who are currently teaching most of the required undergraduate courses, they should think again. Once the UC establishes that it can teach the same Spanish class on all of its campuses, there is no longer a need for a Spanish department on each campus. Moreover, since language courses taught by lecturers and graduate students cost a fraction of the cost of courses taught by senate faculty, language departments will lose their cash cows and their source for cross subsidization. In short, language departments will be bankrupt and a prime target for departmental closure.

It is vital to stress that when classes are taught on a system-wide basis, it becomes unclear who controls the courses and the funding. At a recent conference on higher education, I heard how at a research university, the central administration has simply stepped in to staff and manage system-wide courses. While this may not be the intention of the Office of the President, we must remember that this entire initiative has sidestepped shared governance.

Another possibility is that once departments put their classes online, they will be taxed at a high rate by the system and their own campuses. For instance, at the University of Nebraska, departments once kept 92% of their profits from distance education, but now, they keep less that 40%, and this money fails to cover the cost of staffing the courses. Moreover, once departments start running a deficit, they are prime targets for restructuring and the laying off tenured professors.

If you think this is a delusional conspiracy, you should look at the way language programs throughout the UC and the country are being reduced or eliminated by simply not filling vacant tenure-track lines. By using a rhetoric of crisis, administrators are getting faculty to participate in their own downsizing. The first step was to use money from the Gates foundation to bribe faculty to come up with online courses. Since many faculty have obliged, the university can now say that it has faculty buy-in, and so the project should be extended to all impacted lower-division courses. This is simply a plan for financial suicide and the covert effacement of shared governances.

In fact, I have spoken with several people who are participating in the development of the pilot courses, and they are all good people thinking that they can make a positive contribution, but they all fail to see how their good intentions can be misused by the administration. For some reason the faculty believe they can control the process, while every step of the way, this project has been dictated by the central administration.

We should start a letter writing campaign to President Yudof explaining why we do not think this online project will save the university. By the way, total revenue in the UC has gone up by $3 billion during the last three years of our fiscal crisis.


  1. Perhaps time would be better spent trying to reach out to those who listen to the legislative analyst recommendations for online-and in educating all of them about what is lost in online instruction, giving real evidence of it- rather than writing a letter to Yudof. Because it looks like perhaps Yudof might be part of the group attempting to get faculty members to buy in, participate and then use them as pawns to sell the online scheme.
    There also needs to be a real discussion about Greenstein's comments (Daniel Greenstein Vice Provost at UCOP -in the salary database it looks like he is paid $245,000 per year):"Mr. Greenstein outlined a new plan to offer the online courses to people not enrolled at the University of California, as well as to undergraduates." -- online courses would be offered to NON-UC students-- who would those folks be? and why should UC/undergrads/Californians pay for creating courses for them?

    Let us also remember that these faculty members are reading the same articles we are- where hundreds of millions of dollars are paid out to INDIVIDUALS running online universities etc. Sometimes greed takes over when we would hope for altruism. There also needs to be a real discussion about what is lost in giving up "in person" instruction- not just the human interaction stuff but the real underbelly of what sometimes happens when you go to online instruction. also, how it might not be possible to "get it back" ("it" being the physical campus)if we give it up for online.

    You write "By the way, total revenue in the UC has gone up by $3 billion during the last three years of our fiscal crisis."

    and yet:
    "In a letter sent to campus deans and department leaders under the direction of the office of Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer March 29, division heads have been instructed to make a total of $17 million in budget cuts to their departments as the campus attempts to tackle a potential $30 million deficit for the upcoming 2011-12 fiscal year. " see:

  2. Bob, I think you are absolutely right--not to mention brave--to sound this alarm. But then, after having created all that momentum, you end with a call for letter-writing to Yudof. Read your own piece! It's time for faculty to take direct action. A general strike by faculty is one of the few actions that can be effective now. The hour is late.

  3. The only reason why I suggest that faculty write letters to President Yudof is that I know that he supports the online initiative , and he believes the faculty are split on this issue. I also want to keep faculty involved in this issue. I know that some professors have been very involved in defending against online education, but many, if not most, are not taking this threat seriously.

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