Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Udacity of Hope: Leadership in the Age of Austerity

As many are now judging President Yudof’s time as the head of the UC system, what we have to consider is that the biggest effect of austerity is the austerity of our own imagination and policies. In the Age of Austerity, we do not have leaders with a broad vision; what we have are managers who manage a crisis but cannot imagine any real significant changes.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to present my plan to make all public higher education free in America by simply using our current resources in a more effective manner. Although it would cost around $128 billion to fund the total cost of tuition and related expenses for every student currently in public higher ed (80% of all college students), I have shown that if you add up all of the financial aid, institutional aid, tax breaks, tax credits, and tax shelters, we are currently spending over $200 billion. In other words, the only thing stopping us from making all public higher education free is leadership.

When I have made this demonstration, the first response of many people is that while you might be right, this can never happen in America. The reason why people do not think it is doable is because they cannot imagine that any major change is possible. Fortunately, a new group, The Campaign for Higher Education (CHE), is about to start a national movement, and one of their main policy pieces is my plan for making all public higher education free.

In terms of the UC system, Governor Brown is looking at how to make higher education more accessible and affordable, but he is also pushing for online education to be one of the main ways to make the university more efficient. Like President Obama, Brown does appear to be interested in pursuing a more progressive agenda, but he has to be pushed in the right direction.

For the University of California, the academic council and the faculty senates need to take back their leadership roles. At recent regent meetings, the faculty have simply sat back while outside corporations, governmental officials, and educationally clueless regents have bashed and downgraded everything we do. Even though the managers of the online programs argue that any change has to be faculty-driven, it is clear that the distance education agenda is being pushed by outside forces. For instance, in order for the online course providers to show how their new form of education is “better, faster, and cheaper,” they have to constantly attack what they call the out-dated nature of current instruction. They also indirectly argue that we do not need tenure, research, shared governance, or academic freedom in their high-tech version of higher education. Only the faculty can push back against this neoliberal privatizing agenda.


  1. Any issue other than threats to faculty perquisites gets a tepid response in the various faculty legislatures and academic senate.

    Any diminution of the research mission is one such threat.

    Pretty much all of your insight, Bob, is that research is expensive and that we could do the teaching mission alone quite well with the funding we have. It's true but the ladder faculty aren't ever going to sign on to diminution of research implicit in your analyses.

    And in UC's vast enterprise, the teaching mission is a minor portion. Probably smaller than research at LLNL + UCSF combined.

    The `efficiencies' of the marketplace are threatening to steal away the teaching mission of UC... the marketplace will do a worse job at it, but the ladder faculty and senate actually don't care much.

    1. Just to clarify, my position is not that the UC should reduce or change its research mission, but rather, it needs a transparent way to fund research. In fact, in the blog post above, I explicitly state that one of the problems with the online model is that it does not support research.

  2. Bob: I completely agree that we need a more bold and sweeping vision, and I really like the Free Public Higher Education idea.

  3. In reply to Anonymous: true, ladder faculty will defend their research. But another aspect of austerity (at least in humanities and social sciences) is declining funds for research.

    One way forward is to create more opportunities for real undergraduate engagement with faculty research projects (i.e., not one-off student projects, but participation in on-going faculty research). The benefits would be authentic research experiences for students and help with research projects for faculty. This would require a kind of "lab" model that we don't have yet in our fields. This actually dovetails with the drive for online education in the sense that--if we get away from the lecture model--digital platforms are very good for supporting distributed research projects.

  4. Of course online doesn't support research... but equally well, a lot of UC's expense for education results from the use of tuition/state support for research. And privatized `online' can be thus cheaper.

    Research on the science/engineering side of campuses is hard to make available to all students... the working model for many years has been to only take the students who are so motivated and talented that they learn whether the teaching is good or bad. Thus the big courses on the science side of campuses... the cream rises through those awful courses even though they are terrible and then the research endeavors ignores the unsuccessful. And the researchers don't really care about improving the teaching to the 90% (or even 99%) who struggle...

  5. The reason it is not possible because some folks wouldn't bringing in more money, truly the root of ignorance!...oops is that equal to evil????

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  7. While many of our faculty members already use digital technologies in different ways, we have not found that the use of high-quality online courses reduces costs; in fact, due to the need for staffing, new equipment, and software, they may drive up costs.

  8. Research on the science/engineering side of campuses is hard to make available to all students...

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