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.