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.