Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Millionaire’s Tax and the Reversal of the Conservative Revolution

The “Millionaire’s Tax” is being seen as a fight that has national and international implications. As austerity policies spread throughout the world, very few states or countries have tried to reverse the course and raise taxes to support needed public programs. In response to the global financial crisis of 2008-9, the general consensus has been that one must bailout the wealthy, while one cuts governmental services for everyone else. For instance, as the US Federal Reserve continues to give trillions of dollars of no-interest loans to banks and investment firms, almost every state has cut its funding for higher education. Also, as state cuts result in larger tuition prices, students are forced to take out huge loans, while universities and colleges increase class sizes and reduce enrollments.

At the heart of this push for austerity is a conservative revolution based on a tax revolt. Starting with Prop 13 in California, rich people realized that if they wanted to increase their income and decrease their taxes, they would need to demonize government and equate it with welfare for minorities. In other words, the major way that conservatives have justified tax cuts for the wealthy is by arguing that we do not need taxes to support Big Government, and how they make this anti-government rhetoric work is by connecting symbolically Big Government to minorities. In turn, to show that minorities do not need our help, and in fact these minorities on welfare are the victimizers and not the victims, conservatives had to convince people that minorities are no longer the victims of racism, sexism, and classism. Thus, according to this logic, if we live in a post-racial and post-gender society, there is no need to help out disadvantaged minorities through welfare, and therefore we do not need Big Government or even taxes.

Of course, it does not matter that welfare makes up a small part of the federal budget, and most people on welfare assistance are white; what matters is that by conjuring the image of the Welfare Queen or the Food Stamp President, conservatives are able to access the part of our brain that is structured by unconscious, symbolic associations. For example, in a study of word associations, it was found that conservatives often associate the words crime and welfare with black people. This type of automatic, intuitive, unconscious association is often in conflict with the conscious ideas that people hold. Therefore, people may think that they are color-blind, but a part of their brain color codes social representations, and this is why the conservative use of coded attacks is so effective. For instance, when New Gingrich uses the phrase “our Food Stamp President,” he is not only saying that Democrats like to give food stamps to poor people, but the President himself is imagined to be a black man on food stamps.

In terms of the Millionaire’s tax, the reversal of this unconscious conservative cultural revolution will entail re-educating people about what the government can do, while we also reverse the reversed racism that sees poor people, immigrants, and public employees as the victimizers and rich people as the victims. Instead of pitying the billionaires, we have to get people to see that we are all part of the 99%, and the 1% should pay their fair share. In fact, the Occupy Wall Street movement has helped to create a new set of unconscious associations that link the wealthy to the exploitation of everyone else. Let us wok together to push for the Millionaire’s tax and a reversal of the conservative revolution. We will have rallies on the UC campuses on March 1st, and then we will occupy Sacramento on March 5th.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Academic Council Rejects Proposed New Compensation Plan

The UC Academic Council (the system-wide faculty senate) has rejected the new proposed compensation system (APM 668) , which would “allow academic departments to use non-state funds to provide additional salary for general campus faculty, similar to the health sciences compensation plan.” The Council declared that, “All ten divisions and five committees (CCGA, UCAP, UCFW, UCORP, UCPB) responded. Academic Council discussed the proposal at its meeting on December 14 and concluded that it cannot support adoption of the proposed APM 668. While many members expressed support for the goal of finding creative ways to better compensate faculty and improve retention, Council agreed that the proposal as written is fundamentally flawed and strongly opposed its implementation.”

This news is very welcomed because the proposed plan would have created incredible inequality within the senate faculty ranks. According to the report, “While a minority of individuals and two divisions (UCSD, UCSF) welcomed the proposal as a way to offer competitive salaries to retain faculty, the majority found it deficient because: 1) it undermines UC’s tradition of setting salaries through peer review based on a common salary scale and cedes too much authority for setting salaries to deans and department chairs; 2) it exacerbates inequities by rewarding only those achievements that receive external funding; 3) it is likely to cause conflicts of interest and faculty effort; and 4) it does not anticipate or provide mechanisms for addressing unanticipated consequences.” This new compensation system would have allowed faculty to increase their base pay through external grants and departmental revenue, and this would undermine the salaries of faculty in the humanities and the social sciences, while it would increase the salaries of the highest earning professors. Moreover, this system would circumvent the peer review system and would increase the collusion between faculty and administrators.

What this report does not say is that a large number of professors are already gaining large salary increases through retention offers and private negotiations with individual administrators, but this rejection of the new system is a step in the right direction. As my research has shown, the major problem that senate faculty face in regards to compensation is the growing disparity between the stars and everyone else. While the report does recognize this issue, it actually dismisses the role played by off-scale salaries in creating huge compensation disparities: “Off-scale salaries are not arbitrarily determined; they reward exceptional merit through the regular academic personnel review process (UCSB). If implemented, the policy should require that deans consult with CAP to validate salary decisions (UCI).” Although the people from UCSB argue that the current retention system does not circumvent shared governance and the peer review system, a past report revealed that a large majority of UC professors have negotiated individual deals with administrators, and while merit reviews do go through peer review, retention offers are handled by administrators.

The Council did point out that the new compensation system could “worsen gender and racial salary equity issues, and that it would “reward only some forms of faculty effort and accomplishment (UCPB).” Moreover, the Council report states that this system “could provide incentives for faculty to shift their effort toward revenue-producing research activities and away from other types of research and teaching and service, producing a “conflict of effort”.” Once again, it is important to stress that we already have a system that does incentivize research over teaching, but it is good to know that the Council is aware of this issue.

Another important point in the report is that the new policy “is an ill-considered step toward increasing privatization of the University, absolving the state of its responsibility to support the institution in the name of entrepreneurship.” While this process of privatization is also already happening, it is vital that the Council is thinking about this ongoing issue. Furthermore, some of the campuses have rightly pointed out that the new plan could also hurt the ability of grants to cover their full costs by decreasing the Indirect Cost Recovery (ICR): “first, since ICR does not fully cover the cost of research, an increased number of grants could worsen the university’s fiscal situation (UCLA, UCSB). Second, ICR could be reduced due to the diversion of research funding to salaries (UCORP).” As I have been arguing for years, one of the central problems still facing the UC system is how to pay for the full cost of research.

Another concern is that by stressing the generation of entrepreneurial revenue, the university would be undermining its public nature: “Some fear that it would negatively impact the public character of the university by encouraging the creation of more high-fee, self-supporting programs that drain faculty resources from core programs (UCLA).” In fact, I have feared that this new compensation plan would push faculty to accept the move to online courses because departments have been told that these high-tech classes will generate extra revenue for professors.

In this new privatized and corporatized university, increases in compensation inequality could create a culture of resentment, and therefore the Council warns that, “the proposal may benefit a small number of faculty but that it will not solve systemic compensation problems.” Unfortunately, the solution proposed by the Berkeley campus would only increase the current problem: “Berkeley suggested that allocating revenues, when available, to provide additional off-scale salary increments, would be a better way of funding increases, without the problems associated with the proposed negotiated salary program.” This emphasis on off-scale salaries will not reduce compensation inequalities and the circumvention of the peer review policy. What the senate faculty need is a new and improved salary scale.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Documenting the Failure of the Master Plan

Three recent reports have recently come out that show how the California Master Plan for Higher Education has failed. While this plan worked for a few decades, it now has been undermined, In fact, the most telling statistic in the report entitled Beyond the Master Plan: The case for restructuring Baccalaureate education in California is that, “California now ranks last among the states in the proportion of its college students that attend a 4-year institution.” In other words, there are simply not enough spots open at universities for California students, and while many students do go to community colleges, very few of these students end up graduating or transferring to universities.

The new Master Reality is one that is dominated by racial disparities: “Relative to their share of the state’s college-age population, Latino, African American, and American Indian students are more poorly represented in California’s 4-year universities than in any other state except Arizona. Inevitably, the state’s low rate of minority enrollment in 4-year institutions translates into low rates of baccalaureate attainment: California ranks 45th in the proportion of its underrepresented minority population that attains a B.A.” While these underrepresented minority groups now represent the majority in California, their level of college degree attainment is one of the lowest in the country.

A conspiracy theorist would say that the state started to defund higher education when it saw that most of the students were going to be non-whites, but we do not need a conspiracy to explain this situation. The major factor for this problem is that the state has simply not spent enough money building new four-year institutions. Due to this lack of enrollment space, community college students have no way to transfer to universities. Moreover, as the press release “Civil Rights Project Reports Call for Fundamental Changes in California’s Community Colleges” argues, “Almost 75% of all Latino and two-thirds of all Black students who go on to higher education in California go to a community college, yet in 2010 only 20% of all transfers to four-year institutions were Latino or African American. Pathways to the baccalaureate are segregated; students attending low-performing high schools usually go directly into community colleges that transfer few students to 4-year colleges. Conversely, a handful of community colleges serving high percentages of white, Asian and middle class students are responsible for the majority of all transfers in the state.” In other words, if you are not white and you do not go to the right community college in California, you have virtually no chance of ever getting a four-year degree. In fact, I recently discovered that a large group of community college students who do end up transferring to the UCs are in reality out-of-state and international students who come to California in order to eventually transfer to the UC system.

The second report, “Unrealized Promises: Unequal Access, Affordability, and Excellence at Community Colleges in Southern California,” reveals how “segregated high schools with weak records feed students into heavily minority community colleges where few students successfully transfer.” The de facto system in the new Master Reality is that a conveyer belt has been produced that moves students from segregated high schools serving low-income Black and Hispanic students to segregated, low-performing community colleges, which produce very few transfer students. The end result is that everyone ends up paying more, while the state has fewer students earning four-year degrees.

We clearly have a system of institutionalized racism in the state, but no single group is responsible for this sad state of affairs. Instead, we have a conspiracy of unintended consequences. Just as the number of under-represented minority high school students in the state was increasing, Prop 13 was passed, which resulted in the reduction of taxes and the decrease of state support for higher education. In order to make up for this loss of state funds, universities decided to increase the number of non-resident students and slow the growth of enrollment for students from California. In turn, due to white flight, public high schools became self-segregated as the local tax support for these schools was decreased. Since many white parents were no longer sending their kids to public high schools, they saw no reason to pay more taxes to support these schools. Furthermore, due to the real estate bubble, non-white families were priced out of the few neighborhoods that still had high-quality public high schools.

One of the main solutions proposed is that in order to create more enrollments spaces for transfer students, we need to create hybrid four-year universities: “Examples include university centers and 2-year university branch campuses. Under the university center model, 4-year universities offer upper-division coursework at community college campuses, enabling “place bound” students to complete their baccalaureate degree program there. Under the 2-year university branch model, some community colleges are converted, in effect, into lower-division satellites of state universities, thereby expanding capacity at the 4-year level and eliminating the need for the traditional transfer process. What these and other hybrid models have in common is that they help bridge the divide between 2-year and 4-year institutions, enabling more students to enter baccalaureate programs directly from high school and progress seamlessly to their degrees.” While these hybrid institutions may be a good temporary solution, the question still remains of how do we confront the institutional racism of our entire education system in California.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Effects of Budget Cuts on Teaching and Learning in the UC and CSU Systems

Scott Martindale’s article “UCI faculty: Quality eroding as class sizes swell,” in The Orange County Register does a good job at showing how recent budget cuts are hurting the instructional quality in the UC and CSU systems. The central claim made is that as students pay more, they end up getting less: “Tuition has soared at the University of California and Cal State systems in recent years, but not by enough to offset deep state cuts. The universities have responded with some creative ideas, but the solutions haven’t staved off fundamental changes in how students are educated and in the quality they can expect from their ever-pricier education.’’

In order to explore how educational quality is being affected by budget cuts, this article focused on specific classes and professors. For example, it points out that, “Instead of two teaching assistants for a class of about 50 students, UC Irvine professor Mark LeVine now gets one.” The article continues by pointing out that not only are there now more students per graduate student assistant, but many small, interactive classes have disappeared: “Instead of being able to lead intimate seminar classes of just a dozen or so, LeVine is under pressure to teach more large, lecture-style classes.” In the push to get professors to teach more students for less money, students are paying more to get a reduced educational experience.

In fact, the move to larger classes staffed with fewer graduate assistants means that, “Instead of assigning multiple, full-length research papers throughout the quarter, the history professor has modified class assignments for his students so they're easier and quicker to grade.” These changes have a profound effect on how and what students are taught, and they also work to diminish important critical thinking and communication skills. According to LeVine, "We're forced to really lower our demands so that we can actually get through all the work in terms of grading.” This statement is a profound indictment of how educational quality is being downgraded as undergraduate students pay more and go into greater debt to fund their education.

For LeVine, this sacrifice of educational quality defines the fundamental crisis at our nation’s universities: "The whole idea in the humanities is to take seminars of 12 or 14 students, where we teach them to think critically, where we really create the scholars and doctors and lawyers. We can't do nearly as many seminars because even 20 students isn't cutting it anymore. ... We're talking about a university that is undergoing a profound crisis." As I have previously pointed out, the only reason why universities are able to charge more as they deliver an inferior educational experience is that no one seems to monitor the quality of undergraduate instruction at American research universities.

While most students and parents rely on U.S. News & World Report to determine the quality of our universities, this ranking system does not even attempt to judge the level of student learning or the quality of teaching at these institutions. The result is that universities, like UCI, can continue to claim that they are excellent institutions, while they essentially rob their undergraduate instructional budgets to subsidize professional schools, administration, and non-departmental research. Moreover, accreditors turn a blind eye to questions of educational quality as many administrators refuse to hold university budgets accountable to the undergraduate instructional mission.

My research has shown that while universities know that small classes are often the key to effective education, they have moved to large classes in order to save money. However, large classes can end up being more expensive than small classes once you factor in the full cost of having graduate students teach the small sections attached to the large lecture classes. Of course universities never realize or admit this point, and instead, the OC Register tells us that professors are agreeing to teach large classes now so that they can fund their graduate students: “And tenured professors are increasingly agreeing to teach the classes. It's the only way to financially justify the continued existence of some of the university's smaller but respected academic programs and departments, professors say, and the only way to get desperately needed TAs.” According to this logic, professors accept the expansion of class sizes and the downgrading of educational quality because they want to provide jobs for their graduate students. In turn, the use of graduate students increases the cost of the large classes, and so we must ask, why do professors accept this crazy situation.

Of course, professors need to attract graduate students and give them jobs as section leaders in order to insure that their graduate programs stay alive and there are students for the small graduate seminars that professors prefer to teach. However, these same programs must realize that half of their doctoral students will never earn their degrees, and half of the graduate students who do get doctorates in the humanities and social sciences will never get tenure-track jobs, and half of the one’s who will get tenurable positions will not end up at a research university. In other words, the vast majority of graduate student instructors are actually low-paid, part-time faculty who help to drive up the cost of undergraduate education as they unknowingly participate in their own future unemployment.

As the OC article documents, many of these graduate instructors are now forced to teach more students, and this increase in class size results in cutting corners and delivering an inferior education: “Tetsuro Namba, an UC Irvine undergraduate writing TA for the past three years, has watched student-to-TA ratios go up in many academic departments. In his writing classes, capped at 21 the first quarter and 23 afterward, he's fearful of the same trend. His classes are already too large for him to be as effective as he could be, he says. "I definitely know I have shortchanged giving my students feedback just because I didn't have time," said Namba, 28, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in comparative literature. "I really wish the classes were smaller. As class sizes get bigger, the quality of education goes down because the instructor can't help them as much."” Once again, students are paying more and getting less, as graduate students have to work more to provide decreased instructional quality.

Meanwhile, services related to helping students succeed in their classes have been reduced: “Students also lament that library hours were temporarily shortened in 2009 because of budget cuts, and that a campus peer tutoring program – the Learning and Academic Resource Center, which provides help to students in small group settings – was pared down dramatically, offering help in fewer courses.” This reduction in library hours and peer support has been going on for years, but recently, the speed of service reduction has increased.

It should be clear from the picture of education drawn here that something is radically wrong with the priorities of our research universities.