Monday, May 22, 2017

The Regents, UCOP, and Trump

The UC Regents revealed their utter failure of integrity and effectiveness at their last meeting when they were discussing the state audit of the Office of the PresidentInstead of simply trying to get to the truth of the way UCOP has been acting, most of the regents spent a great deal of time praising President Napolitano and each other. What they failed to examine was why and how UCOP interfered with the audit, and if UCOP was hiding money and actions from the regents themselves.   Moreover, no one asked why the campuses changed their reviews of UCOP: were the campus leaders afraid or were they coerced?  We still do not know the direct role of Napolitano in any of this, and it is likely that the state will continue to investigate the situation, and the truth will eventually emerge.

As I have been arguing for years, the main problem with the leaders of the university system is that they are not focused on the central mission of discovering and communicating truth through modern methods of education and science. Their main concern is to keep the system running and to maintain its reputational excellence. Instead of trying to discover the truth of its own operations, the regents and UCOP decided to blame the media for focusing on salacious details of the auditor’s report.  Some regents also tried attacking the state auditor and the legislature, and this strategy should remind us of another president – the one who is currently running the country.

Like Trump, the regents played the victim card by attacking the media. Since they did not want to really ask tough questions, they turned their ire towards the ones who were trying to find the truth.  This insular arrogance and defensiveness is precisely what the governor and the legislature dislike about the university leaders.  As the regents rallied around the president to proclaim that nothing criminal was found, they failed to perform their own role as the overseers of the university.  Meanwhile, Regent Blum defended the system by saying that he once tried to figure out what was going on, and he soon realized that it is too complicated for any of the regents to really understand the details, so it is best to take the word of the people in the know.

The Regents and UCOP thus represent the opposite of what a public university should be about. Instead of pursuing the necessary, but impossible, ideals of neutrality, objectivity, and truth, the leaders of the system see their only role as self-promotion.  Like Trump, the leaders are wealthy, non-experts who do not even know what they do not know and feel they are above the law.  Their only tactic is to attack the messenger and celebrate their own self-proclaimed greatness. However, the truth usually finds a way of showing its ugly head, and at that moment, the university will have its reputation damaged once again by the people who think they are protecting it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

UC Ethics? Responding to the Audit

On the same day that the state auditor released her scathing report on the UC Office of the President, I was complying with my duty to complete the required online ethics training.  How ironic.  As I was being told about my ethical obligation to report anything and everything to staff and upper management, the world was learning that the UCOP office tampered with the official audit.  Although it is still unclear if the unethical actions of the administration will result in criminal charges, what is clear is that the administration has once again failed to live up to its own ethical standards.

Not only did UCOP change answers on the campus surveys to make them look better and hide any real criticism, but it is clear that President Napolitano clearly misrepresented the truth during the state legislative hearing.  Not only was she wrong when she said that her office did not interfere to make UCOP look better, but the recent discovery of new emails shows that she was directly involved in the process of undermining an official state investigation.    

Of course, one of the other main findings of the audit was the continued increase in the number of high-paid administrators at UCOP and the use of non-transparent accounting mechanisms.  What this audit revealed is what many faculty and critics of the university have always argued, which is that administrative bloat not only takes money away from the core mission, but it also creates a super-class of unethical actors.  Virtually no one at UCOP has a background in education or can be said to be committed to scholarly values.  In short, transplants from politics and business have taken over the system, and they do not share our fundamental values or concerns.

Making matters worse is that almost none of the UC Regents have an academic background or deep understanding of what it means to teach a course or perform a research study or produce a departmental budget.  Like their UCOP counter-parts, the Regents combine their lack of knowledge with an imposition of a business-oriented mentality that threatens the public mission of the university.    

UCOP’s main problem is its sustained arrogance and insularity, and while many of the president’s pet projects may have been well intentioned, they appear to have been void of any oversight or accountability. Moreover, the fact that the campuses changed their own responses on the surveys show that they are either afraid of UCOP or believe their main mission is to conform to the chain of command.

We have clearly not heard the end of this investigation, and what would be a horrible outcome is if the legislature or the governor used this scandal as a reason to not fully fund the university.

Faculty need to wake up and take back the university.   

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.