Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is the Academic Apocalypse Really A-Comin'?

Don Heller wrote a provocative piece today at his location, indicating that we may be on the verge of an Academic Apocalypse:
I'm sorry to report that, after sitting through part of the hearing this week, it is unlikely that this Joint Committee is going to be able to resolve the problems facing higher education in California.  It is clear that the fiscal constraints facing the state are unlikely to be removed without large-scale changes to the political structures there.  This would include changing laws and initiative petitions that have restricted the ability of the legislature and governors to raise the tax revenues necessary to support a world-class higher education system.  It would likely also require changing the earmarking of parts of the state budget to purposes such as K-12 education and corrections, both of which leave little flexibility for funding higher education when federal mandates such as Medicaid spending are taken into account.
For some reason, I was not able to comment on the blog, but I do have a response. I'm posting it here for posterity:

Next time you are this close, do ring me up. I would love to connect over coffee, lunch or a beer - or something stronger as the situation warrants.

The grim reality of the situation in California reflects the abandonment of public education as a public good - across the board - by the good people of California. Really, for example, the public schools below the collegiate levels are being forced to talk about suing the state to gain back some funding to adequately support our schools - It's truly sad that, essentially, we have to sue ourselves, and the only people who will win will be the lawyers (no doubt salivating over billable rates and monster fees). As to if the children will win eventually would be pure speculation at this time.

Perhaps we have a redundancy problem - the bureaucratic infrastructure across just the CSU is enormous. The choice between a 10% pay cut spreading the malaise across all campuses last year is symptomatic of people not willing to make hard decisions. We could have closed 1.5 campuses instead of cutting salaries, and saved the money to pay people to do 100% of the job at 100% the salary. Instead, we are doing 100% of the job with 10% less time and money to do it. It's unfair and harmful to the students.

Unfortunately, the legal structure of the state prevents us from actually fixing this situation. Might we actually think of a solution that takes advantage of the situation? What would that be?

I have been suggesting a five tired (not all steps are related) approach:
  1. Reduce bureaucratic infrastructure and close the CSU Chancellor's office except necessary functions like IT and CSU Mentor application process. Push out the resources to the campuses and have them serve students directly. If you don't have a skill that can serve students directly, you are put on furlough for the duration.
  2. Close the lowest serving campuses and allow those facilities to be rented out or sold off to the highest bidder to generate positive cash flow (for example, CSU Monterey Bay, and moving the Cal Maritime Academy to SDSU).
  3. Invert the tenure process where new hires have tenure for the first seven years (essentially protected to build their academic repertoire), and then you stand on your own record. Presently, those who need tenure don't have it, and those who have tenure don't need it. In that way we can carve away the slack in those who are fullly tenured, but are not pulling their weight - essentially doning the least amount of work for the most amount of pay.
  4. Allow administrators with the credentials to teach courses that have been typically taught by adjunct guns for hire - in that way, it improves the ability of administrators to serve students beyond their administrative functions.
  5. Admit only the number of state subsidized students to the max capacity (whatever the state budget allocation allows), and then charge full market rates (what it really costs to deliver high quality education) for students who are a) out of state students, and b) people who still want to come to the college, but didn't submit their applications early enough, or are not the cream of the application pool. In this way, we could accept the max capacity number of students, and get the proper amount of dollars to fund the courses they take. It seemed odd to me that we would restrict admissions at a time when people really wanted to come back to school to upgrade their skills or change up their careers. There are a large number of people that could have afforded the full rate and would willingly return to school at the full cost. Instead, we cut them out as if there was no room in the classrooms.
Of course, these are radical solutions, which really didn't see the light of day. No one from the CSU Chancellor's office, the University or the State has been asking for my advice. But, radical times require frame breaking change. More of the same only gets you more of the same. And, that's the very definition of lunacy - doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Blog on Friends. Blog on all.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tenure Causes Anger & Murder

If you have been distracted by the lousy Olympic "coverage" by NBC and not noticed the latest news of people being killed at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, you would not have discovered that supposedly the murder was perpetrated by a professor who was denied tenure, twice.
The Associated Press reported that a biology professor, identified as Amy Bishop, was charged with murder.

According to a faculty member, the professor had applied for tenure, been turned down, and appealed the decision. She learned on Friday that she had been denied once again.
Here's my comment to that article:

To blame a de facto personnel policy for causing consternation and illicit behavior is misdirected. The woman, while innocent until proven guilty, should be held accountable for her actions. The why is less relevant.

We do have a problem in higher education, which is intractable and hard to solve. As I often say to my children, and I learned from my old High School science teacher Mr. Barns, "where is it written that life is fair?"

Really, the process of earning tenure is inverted. Those who need it, don't have it. Those who have it, don't need it. If Universities were truly places for discovery and inventiveness, those who are stretching the boundaries of what is known deserve more protection.

Instead, junior faculty members who are fresh out of their Ph.D. programs, or a smidge into an academic career are forced to bend to a "jury of their peers," to conduct research & submit articles and that will be "approved," for publication. This invariably gets us more of the same, or incremental advancement. Those who bust new ground are pushed out by the gate keepers, even if their discoveries are valuable and contribute - no matter that they don't produce a PRJ article.

I suggest we give tenure to new hires at Colleges and Universities, and give only for 7 years. Once you reach the 7 year mark, you should stand on your record. If it sucks, you get terminated. If it's good, you don't need the protections tenure offers. In that respect, it's all fair, and then you stand on your merits. How good an instructor are you? What value do you add to the field? Have you contributed to the advancement of new knowledge? If you don't excel in any of those areas and a number of others, you should be put out to do something else that you may be better at.