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How The University Works » university-corporate partnerships http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress Mon, 21 Nov 2011 00:40:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.19 Hershey: Bad, But Typical http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/291 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/291#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2011 12:07:48 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/291 The real scandal of Hershey’s exploitation of hundreds of international student workers is that it isn’t actually news.

Kudos to the students, who revolted en masse after paying a labor contractor $3,000 to $6,000 apiece to get $8.25/hour summer warehouse jobs in sweltering central Pennsylvania, and also to the U.S. labor associations to whom they appealed, Jobs With Justice and the National Guestworkers Alliance. Clearly, positive consumer associations with the Hershey brand helped students and their allies to package the sleazy arrangement as newsworthy (“It’s no Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory,” etc etc), but the only real news in the story is that this particular group of hyper-exploited students organized themselves. Which is great. However, since they’re guest workers and the slow-news, this chocolate-ain’t-sweet angle will grow stale in days, they’ll be out of the headlines long before the State Department deports them and slaps the wrist of the contractor who provided them.

Then we can all go back to pretending that this isn’t the norm for millions of “guest workers” and college students in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong: the Hershey’s arrangement stinks to high heaven, but it’s not the glaring exception to the way the U.S. treats its 50 million working poor of any description, guest workers and college students alike; it’s pretty much the rule.

Nor for that matter is it the biggest scandal in chocolate production. Far from it: Hershey’s and other major manufacturers are routinely complicit in sourcing cocoa from plantations that employ very young children, including victims of human trafficking. In fact, Hershey is currently the particular target of the International Labor Rights Forum campaign for fair trade in cocoa.

How “normal” is the Hershey deal? It seems to fall within the pretty shabby standard range for international students on J-1 visas (just one of the many visas through which the U.S. provides cheap guest workers to American employers). There are many global labor contractors vying to supply guest workers to U.S. employers on the various visas. In almost all cases, the often enormous fees paid to the contractor are borne entirely by the worker, not the employer—meaning they “pay to work” in violation of U.S. labor law (but that’s like pointing out that fighting is explicitly forbidden by the National Hockey League).

The J-1 covers several kinds of permission to work, including nanny labor, but the global “summer work and travel program,” run by the U.S. State Department under the cloying rhetoric of education and international friendship, is limited to persons who are enrolled in college in their home country. As with other forms of student labor, exploitative educational work experience, training/internship programs and the like, the J-1 has expanded explosively in the last decade, rising from around 20,000 in the mid-nineties to over 150,000 in recent years.

Even the “summer” part is misleading, since that means “summer” in the home country; the program actually supplies a year-round revolving pool of self-financing cheap workers to American employers. Employers actually receive tax breaks, though usually the real advantage is the highly compliant workforce—the Hershey revolt is, essentially, unheard of in a worker population that can be deported for complaining.

Most dishonest, however, is the rhetoric of “cultural exchange” and “education” associated with the program, which provide innocuous-sounding cover for the profiteering of skeevy labor contractors. Traditionally, the program appeals to American employers with dirty or unpleasant work with already-high employee turnover (Alaskan fish processing, housekeeping, dishwashing, laundry, table bussing, fast-food service, groundskeeping, warehouse and other general labor). Placing international students in these positions with a fixed employment term helps keep wages low; most of the students who have this “cultural exchange” end up feeling disillusioned. The reality of the experience is that there is no culture or education at all; the contractors acquire cheap workers and dump them in shabby housing near their employers (often collecting a second profit on extortionate rent), and that’s it. The “nonprofit” contractor in this case is tied to an international education and travel management group that has a web of revenue-producing education, exchange, and travel schemes, some specializing in English education for the hospitality industry.

Guest workers are vulnerable to bullying, extortion, human trafficking and wage theft. A 2010 Associated Press investigation made headlines with stories of international college students on J-1 visas forced to work in strip clubs and live 30 students to a 3-bedroom house. Interviewing 70 students from 16 countries, the report found most were disappointed and many were angry. A handful were angry at gangsterism, like the mobsters who pushed some women into stripping, or at Dickensian vileness, like the gift-shop owner who charged his employees room and board, but made them eat on the floor in his home.

Most of the students interviewed by AP, however, were not angry at these exceptional instances of maltreatment, but at the low wages, unpaid overtime, and the lack of leisure, educational and cultural opportunities for the working poor in the United States. Just like the single parents that they toiled alongside (such as those chronicled by Barbara Ehrenreich), they were enraged that they were forced into eating at soup kitchens or accepting charity while they were employed in the richest nation in the world.

In other words: the students who come on J-1 visas do get a cultural exchange, and an education, just not what they expected. They learned what it is like to be an American in the bottom quartile, or among the majority of American college students who can’t persist to a degree through the maze of debt, overwork, and underpayment that we bizarrely consider the “normal” lot of a student.

As I’ve written before, U.S. high schools and colleges are often deeply complicit in these sorts of arrangements, profiting directly from low-wage student labor and serving as a labor contractor, both directly and indirectly, to local employers. Usually with nary a detractor. Indeed, coverage of any labor arrangement with the word “education” attached to it, by any old excuse whatever, typically amounts to craven cheerleading.

Think I’m exaggerating? Read my 2008 account of the dropout-factory partnership between UPS, the University of Louisville, and the Teamsters that has put tens of thousands of Kentucky students in circumstances similar to the Hershey deal. Then use a search engine and see if you can find a single press report that is less than glowing about that sleazy deal. There are similar scams operated by shipping companies and campuses in every cargo hub in the country—has there been any improvement in even one?

Hey, Hershey’s workers: I’m sorry you got an education in the real America of working poverty. I hope you get a refund.

But beyond the propaganda and your individual struggle, what’s the lesson in this story?

It’s simple, really. First, we should stop treating students, international or domestic, like the working poor. Rather than exploit college students as cheap labor, an intelligent plan for the economy would, a la the G.I. Bill, pay students to stay out of the labor market.

Second, while we’re at it, why don’t we stop treating the working poor this way?

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Straight to the Moon, Alice? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/275 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/275#comments Wed, 08 Dec 2010 16:38:18 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/275 Unaccompanied by any actual proposals, much less commitments to funding, Obama’s latest rhetorical sally-forth has him touring the Hooverville of the south Atlantic states and promising the moon. Okay, not the moon–the race to the moon, which was our way of changing the rules on the space race (double or nothing, since with Sputnik we’d already lost round one).

Funny thing, though: the actual race to the moon was accompanied by massive mobilization and funding. You remember: trillions poured into education and research, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), the formation of NASA.

Not so the President’s made-for-tv version, which on the level of personal presidential narrative is just a way to distract the press from a growing interest in the U.S. presidents of the 1930s. As you read here among the first, Obama’s far more of a slick, charming, moderate, pro-business Hoover than a second FDR. With campaign season nigh, Obama’s unfunded, ad-hoc referencing of Sputnik is clearly in part a bid to head off the growing Hoover comparisons and get himself compared to any post-FDR prez whatsoever.

How empty is the Prez’s rhetoric? Not quite as empty as the hard vacuum of interstellar space, but not exactly full of promise either.

The “time for Sputnik” gambit’s been played over and over again: roughly every five years since we pulled out of Vietnam. Most recently, in January 2006 the Association of American Universities (AAU) and a bipartisan bunch of legislators proposed a National Defense Education and Innovation Initiative, or NDE II (cleverly referencing the 195os NDEA) and the Protect America’ Competive Edge (PACE) Act. Taking advantage of the fiftieth anniversary of Sputnik, these efforts resulted in the 2007 passage of the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act of 2007, or America COMPETES Act, which most people found woefully inadequate, and an inappropriate comparison to space-race urgency. Up for reauthorization, even this modest initiative, a bipartisan project under Bush, is now being held up by Republicans.

Therefore the likeliest meaning of Obama’s Sputnik rhetoric is not visionary, launching a new initiative, or anything of the kind. Instead it appears defensive, tactical and political, signalling continued support for the long-delayed re-authorization.

Far from a promise for a brand new space race, Obama’s Sputnik reference is just a rhetorical ploy in a running battle to conserve the status quo.

Education: Running on Empty Rhetoric

That’s too bad because, as I’ve pointed out before, education is a splendid point for stimulus intervention. There are nearly five million educators in the country and roughly twenty million persons working while they study, from high-school seniors straight to graduate school.

Many of the educators are under-employed and overworked, teaching too many students with insufficient support. Lots of room for job creation there–call it a million jobs, minimum. And there are whole areas of educator employment that are underprofessionalized and unexplored, such as public-sector day care and early learning–there’s another million jobs right there.

Likewise, most of the twenty-million-plus persons working while they study are working too much–one of the major reasons for the nation’s execrable performance in graduation rates. Keeping students out of the workforce, or even regulating their hours down to a reasonable level/raising the wage in the workplaces they super-populate, would create millions of jobs.

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Parents and Teachers, the Alienated Democratic Base http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/274 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/274#comments Tue, 30 Nov 2010 19:21:38 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/274 What’s worse than a fat lip? How about a one-term presidency? The post-Thanksgiving White House news was all about Reynaldo Deceraga, whose elbow connected with the Presidential face during a basketball game. But those twelve stitches are nothing compared to the potentially career-ending injuries caused by another of Obama’s hoopsters, Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

There were plenty of reasons for Obama to get knocked sprawling in the midterm elections, most of them having to do with taking his base for granted. In a matter of months, the 2012 election cycle will begin in earnest, and the one certain thing about the Democratic presidential campaign is that Obama will have to repair his relationship with the party’s base.

One of the quickest fixes? Send Arne Duncan to the bench. There are three million schoolteachers in the United States, teaching sixty million young people–most of whose parents don’t agree with Duncan’s education policy, despite ceaselessly uncritical, biased coverage on network television and in the national newspapers.

The Lesson of Michelle Rhee

There are over 13,000 school districts in the US. The resignation of one district leader doesn’t usually rate much interest, but most schools chancellors don’t bring down a mayor or symbolize the education agenda of a sitting U.S. president. At the heart of interest in last month’s departure of District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is a far more serious set of questions about President Barack Obama and his all-too-similar prescriptions for improving public education. Can Obama learn the lesson of Rhee’s failure?

As the take-no-prisoners sheriff of urban education, Rhee demanded results, irrespective of circumstances and differences. Huge classes? Wretched facilities? Poor preparation? Substance abuse? Poverty, crime and domestic misery? Salary too low to recruit consistent competence? Rhee always had the same blunt answer: No excuses. She challenged teachers, students, parents and principals to overcome any and all obstacles. “Go hard or go home,” she liked to say, and she meant it.

Qualified education analysts usually questioned whether Rhee’s cowboy-slash-coach “challenge education” approach made for good teaching and learning. But it sure made great television. In the noonday glare projected by film crews, Chancellor Rhee painted black hats on the teachers, knocked back a sasparilla, and strode out to the O.K. corral. She fired, demoted and penalized a thousand faculty and administrators who, she said, failed to “get results.” No excuses, bang! Stop whining, bang! bang!

Cue tympani: the shy, grateful townsfolk slowly, wonderingly creep from doorways and haylofts to embrace Six-Gun Micky Rhee.

Funny thing, though. Rhee _didn’t_ win the gratitude and admiration of parents and students in her district. Instead, they fired their mayor just to get rid of her. Adrian Fenty, the D.C. mayor who bet his career on voters’ acceptance of Rhee, lost lopsidedly, and only won among voters that don’t have students in the district schools.

It turns out that good television and good politics (much less good policy) aren’t always the same thing.

One reason voters rejected Rhee is that she didn’t come within a country mile of living up to her own “no excuses” standard. Despite being given an unprecedented free hand, lavished with over $50 million in foundation support and featured in hour after hour of ceaselessly uncritical network coverage, Rhee accomplished little–even by the incredibly narrow standards she set herself, raising test scores. Even friendly observers called Rhee and Fenty’s claims for progress “overstated” and at least one member of the D.C. Board of education said it “came close to selling the public a bill of goods.”

No Excuses, Mister President

The lesson for the President is pretty clear: Listen to parents who actually have kids in public schools. The D.C. parents aren’t unusual in siding with their teachers against the billionaire foundations and education profiteers. Last spring in Los Angeles, given a choice between schools run by charter corporations or by district teachers, 87 percent of parents voted for schools run by unionized teachers.

That’s a number that surprises college faculty, but it shouldn’t. Schoolteachers and parents with kids in the public schools have been fighting junk education as job training for decades,

Obama and Duncan’s plans for higher education are evident in their attraction to community colleges. All of the features that most educators deplore about community colleges are what the current administration _likes_about them: top-down control of curriculum, disposable teachers, automated courseware, a training model of education, and management highly responsive to local employers. Their ambitions for publicly-funded higher education are closely parallel to their commitments in the schools: more automation, a standardized national curriculum, and centralization of control with an intensified assessment regime.

Higher education has been slow to pick up on these threats, but national polls show that most Americans already clearly understand the difference between raising test scores and actually improving education.

Most parents and taxpayers consistently share the beliefs of most teachers about what needs to be done to improve our schools. An August Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa survey showed respondents agreeing with teachers that the largest problem with schools is a shortfall in funding, that the major issue with teacher competence is support for retraining and keeping up to date, that the biggest problem with recruitment and retention is abysmal teacher pay.

A McKinsey & Co. report released last month noted that many nations with excellent schools attract 100 percent of their teaching force from the top third of their college graduates with salaries of up to $150,000. The United States, with some of the lowest salaries for teachers, attracts only 23 percent of its faculty from the top third.

The Gallup survey gave voters a chance to grade Obama’s Rhee-style education initiatives. The response was resoundingly negative, with just 34 percent giving the president a “B” or better, and 59% giving him a C, D, or F. These numbers are significantly lower than his overall approval rating (currently near his lowest, at 42% favorable, 51% unfavorable).

The American public that disagrees with Obama and Rhee isn’t stupid or misguided. Parents in L.A and D.C. aren’t the pawns of the American Federation of Teachers. On the contrary, their views–our views–are supported by the expertise of teachers, education researchers, and decades of evidence from other nations with effective schools.

We want better schools and colleges, Mr. President, and we know how to make them: smaller classes, support for faculty, salaries that will pull talent out of overcrowded law schools. We can build palaces of learning–education and social policy for the whole person, not just a mindless ratchet on test scores. But you have to have the courage to change course.

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Gallup: Citizens Smarter than NYT and Washington Post on Ed Policy, Again http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/264 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/264#comments Wed, 25 Aug 2010 20:56:13 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/264 When the president named Arne Duncan as his first Secretary of Education, he was doing a lot more, and a lot worse, than just naming a Chicago crony and basketball buddy to a critical Cabinet position. He was adopting one of the most aggressive, least tested, top-down, pro-corporate philosophies toward education administration ever promoted in this country.

Despite clear evidence that Duncan’s methods had failed to improve Chicago Public Schools by the only measure he overwhelmingly targeted (test scores), reporters from the corporate media tripped all over themselves to lavish friendly coverage on Duncan’s efforts to bring the same tactics to bear on a national scale. Taking advantage of state revenue shortages, Duncan took command of a massive fiscal war chest and turned it into a reality legislation show called Race to the Top.

“Want a piece of my billions?” Duncan asked the states, shaking his money bag. “Fight for it, winners take all! Whichever five or ten state legislatures enact law coming closest to my cruel, unproven vision of test-driven education, well, you folks can ride out the money storm in relative comfort. The rest of you, with your pie-in-the-sky ideas from John Dewey, you can rot in fiscal hell–no cash for the disobedient!”

Poll: Parents Won’t Be Fooled Again

Despite 18 months of press love, yesterday’s Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll shows Americans completing a resoundingly negative report card on Obama’s education initiatives, with a mere 34 percent giving the president a “B” or better, and 59% giving him a C, D, or F.

These numbers are significantly lower than his overall approval rating (currently near his lowest, at 42% favorable, 51% unfavorable). They represent consistent, bipartisan drops from the previous year, and come after sweeping legislative “victories” by the administration in dozens of states.

With similar clarity, the public overwhelming rejected point by point the aggressive, market-ideological thuggery comprising Duncan’s arsenal of “school reform” tactics: paying students for grades, mass firings, using punitive funding schemes, etc.

So far the main result of Obama and Duncan’s adventures in school reform is that now a startling 80% of respondents believe the federal government should play no role in school accountability.

In stark contradiction of the administration’s views, respondents shared the beliefs of most teachers and their unions, that the largest problem with schools is a shortfall in funding, that the major issue with teacher competence is support for retraining and keeping up to date, and that the primary purpose of evaluating teachers is helping them to improve teaching (rather than assessing eligibility for merit pay or providing evidence for dismissal). Only a small number of Americans (19%, down from 25% in 2000) agree with the administration that teaching pay should be “very closely tied” to students’ academic achievement (though a clear and growing majority feel that it should be “somewhat” closely tied, whatever that means).

It turns out that most Americans like the public schools they know most about, the ones their children attend–and they like those schools a lot.

Seventy-seven percent of public school parents give an A or B to the school their oldest child attends, the highest such figure since Gallup first posed the question, in 1985.

However, respondents rate other schools in their area–the ones they only read press reports about–lower, or just over half favorably.

Most interestingly: respondents rated public schools in the nation as a whole–schools they only know about from national corporate media–very poorly, with just 18% giving an A or a B.

Even in this context–with widespread concern about the schools for other people’s children–respondents actively rejected the draconian close-the-school, fire-them-all approach. Gallup’s discussion of the poll concludes: Overwhelmingly, Americans favor keeping a poorly performing school in their community open with existing teachers and principals, while providing comprehensive outside support. This finding is consistent across political affiliation, age, level of education, region of the country, and other demographics.

What’s next?

From the point of view of actual electoral politics: well, I’d watch out if I was Arne Duncan. The teachers’ unions may not be able to hold out on Obama in the next national elections, but they can sure choose to let a few Democrats dangle in the cool breeze of public disapproval. Especially in those forty or so states dubbed “losers” by Duncan’s Race to the Top chicanery.

And how better to signal a change of direction than to ask Duncan to fall on his basketball? In fact, displeased Dems have already trimmed a few hundred million from Duncan’s war chest, a legislative shot across the executive bow.

I’d say Duncan’s days of spanking the states are soon over–either that, or he’ll spend a lot of time eating love-the-teacher crow through the next national election campaign.

All the news fit for education corporations?

Closer to home, I guess I’d like to see a few more of us start to question the objectivity of The New York Times and Washington Post, both corporations with increasingly large hopes that profits from their education ventures will prop up sagging journalism revenues. The Post, which owns Kaplan and shocked readers by blatantly pushing Kaplan’s legislative agenda in print and in person is already an education corporation that owns a newspaper as a sideline.

The Times is only aspiring to that level, but as they say of the number-two organization in any field, that just means they’re trying harder.

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The United States of Alabama http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/260 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/260#comments Wed, 14 Jul 2010 16:38:09 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/260 Only way to please me
turn around and leave
and walk away
–Alabama Getaway, lyrics by Robert Hunter

Many who learn that the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) amputated a $650,000 state appropriation, not to mention a flow of grant money, just to rid itself of a labor center (and Glenn Feldman, the accomplished historian who directed it) will focus on regional differences. One early commenter to Peter Schmidt’s report for the Chronicle blamed “Dixie” culture, saying that this is what happens to someone who “bucks the system in that part of the country. The more the South changes, the more it remain the same.”

As a veteran of the Southern-gothic, All-The-Kings-Men style politics of one right-to-work state university with close administrator connections to UAB, I guess my first impulse was at least similar: I can still remember the liberation I felt when I left my tenured position at the scandal-ridden University of Louisville (UL), where concerned faculty were run out of town for questioning the wall-to-wall administrative solidarity that protected a dean embezzling his federal grants, a scheme of extreme work-study that has turned thousands of students into the serfs of UPS, and claims of “research-1″ status for a campus with a six-year graduation rate hovering around 30 percent.

As just one small instance of my own experience: the aforementioned embezzling dean tried to shut down the academic labor journal I founded (then being edited by one of my graduate students and my friend and colleague Wayne Ross, one of the many who left UL– in his case moving on to Canada’s answer to Cal-Berkeley, the University of British Columbia). That little act of nastiness wasn’t even one of the 30+ official faculty complaints about that one individual that the UL administrative Borg was covering up. But what drove us away was in most cases not one act; there were dozens of acts that each dissenter experienced, some raising to the level of grievable offenses, others just making life hard.

‘Sweet Home USA’ for Business

But despite that temptation, my second impulse is more analytical. The point isn’t any minor differences (even differences of degree) displayed by scandal-plagued politicos and jet-setting higher ed “leadership” in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee over the past decade. The real point, as commenter Ellen Schrecker points out, is the similarities–that labor and labor scholarship continue to be under assault across the country.

I’d go further than Ellen with the similarities–it’s a question of the turn toward steadily more anti-democratic practices of education administration more broadly. Not to mention the related notion that politicians are, effectively, the “managers” of the public sphere that we can trace to Democrats Clinton and Gore, right on down to their intellectual heir and Wal-mart admirer currently occupying the White House.

It’s a pretty big picture, and one that clearly doesn’t yield to partisan analysis: the scary stuff is what Democrats and Republicans agree on. Obama’s ed secretary Arne Duncan made Tennessee sole winner of the reviled Race to the Top competition because of the state’s willingness to do to both K-12 and higher ed what he’d already done in Chicago: turn schools over to private and for-profit managers; silence teachers, students, and parents; strip down the curriculum; increase the direct voice of commercial interests in administration at every level.

Likewise, the UAB business school dean (Klock) responsible for pushing  first practiced his hatcheting ways here in California. It’s not a regional issue at all or even restricted to higher education workplaces.

The many things that should concern us about Feldman’s experience in Alabama are all things happening in schools at every level across the country:

+ Administrator pro-business bias

+ Consolidation of administrator power

+ Declining faculty power and declining faculty solidarity

+ Abuse of credentialing (UAB has demanded that full-professor Feldman go back to school and earn a year’s worth of credits to retain his tenure)

+ Ever-closer ties between corporations, politics and the campus

+ Business influence on curriculum

+ The culture-struggle practice of administration, designed to produce compliant subjectivities and expel dissenters

+ A growing legal web that muzzles faculty governance speech at public institutions

+ The abuse of standards of civility and collegiality to paint an understandably upset victim as unreasonable, a tendency in which I have to say that Peter Schmidt’s reporting unfortunately participates (though to be fair to Schmidt I haven’t seen the documents he characterizes).

In general, though, on this subject I agree with the complaints of commenter “thomasjefferson”:

“Let’s see. He was a tenured, full professor at UAB for 14 years. They shut down the labor center of which he was director and then they tried to set him up for termination by trying to get him to take 18 grad hours in a subject in which they’re planning to shut down the department. And he’s not happy about that. I wonder why?”

And with commenter “mchag12″:

“The relationship with the faculty at public universities is just becoming untenable as faculty are treated as line items to be dispensed with at will by high paid administrators. What would you do, azprof, if your department was slated for demolition and your university actually asked the state legislature to defund it? Back out of the room shuffling and bowing and repeating thank you, thank you? If you think you are safe, you’re not.”

That last line by mchag says it all.

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Hooked on Measurement http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/259 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/259#comments Thu, 24 Jun 2010 17:38:09 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/259 Just last year, Stanley Fish was playing Clint Eastwood with his manifesto: Do Your Job, Punk! (or, My Tinfoil Hat Keeps Politics Out of My Teaching–Get Yours Today!) In that widely panned book, he argued that the role of the faculty was to produce and distribute knowledge magically apart from the mundane and political.

Earlier this week he more convincingly took on the student evaluation of teaching and specifically, a Texas proposal to hold tenured faculty “more accountable” by giving faculty bonuses of up to $10,000 for earning high customer assessments of specified learning outcomes.

Fish makes two arguments against the proposal. He squanders pixels bolstering his weaker point, that students aren’t necessarily in a position to judge whether Fish-as-teacher-phallus has, ugh, “planted seeds that later grew into mighty trees of understanding.”

Far better is his second point:

Students tend to like everything neatly laid out; they want to know exactly where they are; they don’t welcome the introduction of multiple perspectives, especially when no master perspective reconciles them; they want the answers. But sometimes (although not always) effective teaching involves the deliberate inducing of confusion, the withholding of clarity, the refusal to provide answers; sometimes a class or an entire semester is spent being taken down various garden paths leading to dead ends that require inquiry to begin all over again, with the same discombobulating result; sometimes your expectations have been systematically disappointed….

Needless to say, that kind of teaching is unlikely to receive high marks on a questionnaire that rewards the linear delivery of information and penalizes a pedagogy that probes, discomforts and fails to provide closure. Student evaluations, by their very nature, can only recognize, and by recognizing encourage, assembly-line teaching that delivers a nicely packaged product that can be assessed as easily and immediately as one assesses the quality of a hamburger.

This part rings mostly true for me. No question, Fish is clearly wrong to generalize so broadly about students and evaluation instruments. As students enter majors and graduate programs, they are of course far more likely to welcome the sort of intellectual adventure that he describes.

And it’s just plain out of touch with the subject he is purporting to address to claim that all kinds of student evaluation are “by their very nature” (huh? philosopher much?) of the sort that can “only recognize” teaching-as-information-delivery. Nonetheless, that’s the kind administrators mostly impose so his point is valid despite the unwarranted generalization.

That said, I personally like getting student evaluations of my teaching, even the lame sort that predominate and which Fish is critiquing here. I learn things even from bad instruments poorly used by persons with little knowledge of the field or who display imperfect judgement, and so on.

My concern is with the way these instruments are misused–by activist administrators and politicians, aided and abetted by paid policy flacks. The managerial literature cheerfully describes all this as the “assessment movement” to consolidate their control of “institutional mission.”

Faculty themselves, even with tenure, learn all too quickly to teach to the instrument.

Example: long after receiving tenure (twice!) I once got mid-range scores in response to a question asking students to assess whether their capacity for critical thought improved. The next term I included a twenty-minute exercise studying different definitions of critical thought the week before they took the survey: my scores jumped to the top of the range, with no other change in the syllabus.

I use that example because it’s double-sided. On the one hand, it shows how a modest change can essentially manipulate the results or, more to the point, manipulate the students providing the results.

On the other hand this modest change, motivated by a base consideration, was also a real one: it marked a moment where I took seriously the importance of reflection in the learning process.

By asking students to reflect on what had happened to their thinking in the class, they were not only more likely to appreciate the teaching, they were more likely to appreciate, value–and retain–the change itself.

So the stupid instrument, my vanity, and a modest change resulted in better learning.

While that instance of teaching to the instrument worked out more or less fine, most responsible studies are pretty clear that teaching to the instrument is generally harmful.

For instance, one Fish commenter quoted a reliably-constructed study that concluded “professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement teach in ways that improve their student evaluations but harm the follow-on achievement of their students in more advanced classes.”

In other words: teaching to get high customer assessments produces intellectual junk food: the focus group says “yum!” but it’s all bad news after that. This is consistent with study after study on “teaching to the test” in K-12: the more tightly that management and politicians grip the handful of sand that is teaching and learning, the less they grasp.

Most of the commenters don’t address the motivation for the Texas proposal, which is to standardize and marketize the curriculum along the lines supported by the current administration. An easily assessable form of learning-as-information-download is an easily commodified form of learning: “Log in to Pixel University, where you get the exact same education as Yalies!” It’s also more easily controlled by a political bureaucracy, along the lines of K-12. Both Republicans and Democrats are actively supporting for-profit “education providers,” and the leading edge of their contribution is redefining knowledge as information delivery.

So what’s best about Fish’s effort here is the emphasis upon the nature of learning itself, which is easily distinguishable from information download.

The most difficult lesson for my first-year students to learn–the most frustrating, the one with the longest-term impact–is the construction of a review of scholarly literature, toward posing a research question unanswered by that literature. I ask them to zero in on a “bright spot” in the literature, where conflicting views are unresolved, or a “blank spot,” a question that hasn’t been posed. I try to help them to think of a modest but original way that they might advance the conversation.

The lesson takes them on a journey of the sort that Fish describes, full of frustrations and ventures into the failings of academic prose, dead ends and discombobulations. What they learn is that any act of knowledge origination emerges from a vast multivocal conversation and is framed by the professional modesty of the actual researcher. They are often amazed by the narrow frame of actual research questions, the extent of qualifications and hesitations, and the ways that knowledge is produced by error. They are often confused by the extent of collaboration, the fact that questions aren’t constructed in binary terms, the fact that questions are constructed, and by the amount of time spent acknowledging the diverse views and paths explored by one’s professional colleagues.

As Fish points out, students come to us trained to see “the master perspective” (of history-as-objective-fact, eg, rather than history-as-historiography, the writing of Helen Keller, Jack London and Einstein’s socialism into, or out of, the conversation). Or at most they see two perspectives, the binary the either/or of right and wrong, or for and against, good and evil, etc. I tell them that easy clarifications–such as “are you for or against” such and such a proposition– are usually trick questions, that making knowledge and the act of learning entail entering into a hive of confusion, ambiguity, and error.

They don’t always like this lesson, which is deeply experiential: they have to try to read difficult things, ask for help, wait in line to get journals delivered to them. But they are always glad to have had it, and it clearly yields real results in subsequent classes.

Can this sort of lesson and journey be assessed? Yes, but not so easily by the sort of instruments we use for the purpose. We do need better instruments. For instance, measurement per se is not intrinsically useful: you might say losing 20 lbs at Pixel U is the same as losing 20 lbs at Swankfield–until you learn that at one school you lost the weight by exercising, and at the other they amputated a limb.

More than better instruments, though, we need better attitudes toward these instruments. We could start with a critical understanding of why administrations and politicians support the kind of assessments they do, and not the many better alternatives.

Above all: we need to be able to offer a clear, cogent justification of education as learning and distinguish between learning and download.

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Talx Corp and Admin Doublethink http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/253 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/253#comments Tue, 27 Apr 2010 18:58:55 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/253 As usual, your friends at the New York Times let higher education employers off the hook. After finally picking up on the nationwide scandal of unemployment claims denial, a story that Joe Berry broke years ago specifically in connection with higher ed employers, the Times mentions the complicity of just about every kind of employer except higher ed.

Here’s how it works. Because employers fund unemployment insurance (UI) in this country, generally in some relation to how many of their employees receive UI, they are highly motivated to contest claims. The system was designed, of course, to penalize employers who try to dump the costs of their workforce on the public by making those who aggressively churned their staff pay more.

As Jason De Parle’s piece makes clear, this incentive to fight the claims of the unemployed has created a boom industry for niche sleazebags like the Talx Corporation, to which million-dollar-a-year pimps in management outsource the dirty business of denying a few hundred a month to the serfs they’ve laid off.

They operate on the same “quality” principle as arduous phone trees–Talx employees simply gum up the works for state agencies and applicants, understanding exactly how much delay is required to make a sufficient percentage of claimants to just give up and go away. In many states, including California, state law specifically entitles contingent faculty to unemployment pay over the summer and other periods of unemployment, but state universities will fight the claims vigorously.

Over on adj-l (join), a discussion of Talx revealed prominent universities on their client list, including the unionized Cal State system. According to Jonathan Karpf:

TALX has handled all UI claims for the California State University system (CSU) for a number of years.

I and the other CFA EDD expert, Dan Bratten at CSU-Stanislaus, have noticed an upsurge of denials in the past 4 months or so. At first I attributed this to the number of new hires that EDD had to make to handle the highest unemployment rate since the great depression. Now I suspect it’s a self-conscious strategy on the part of TALX to deny legitimate claims on the hope that a certain percentage of Lecturers will not avail themselves of the appeal process.

I have guided several dozen Lecturers denied UI benefits in the past few months through the appeal process and 100% have won on appeal before an administrative law judge. All of these folks had been to one of my Lecturer Unemployment Rights workshops that I give throughout the 23 campus CSU, so with a bit of guidance they were all able to successfully handle their own appeals. That said, I agree with Jack that in the absence of knowledgeable contingent faculty, it would be ideal to have someone well-versed in that state’s EDD statutes and case law available to accompany the contingent faculty to their appeal.

For those planning on attending COCAL IX in Quebec City August 13-15, I will be part of a workshop panel on unemployment rights for contingent faculty. (used with Jonathan Karpf’s permission)

So, hey, why not make the sleazeballs pay you an extra couple thousand bucks this summer–download Joe Berry’s indispensable free pamphlet on how to succeed in filing for UI.

In the Chicago area? Join one of Joe’s filing parties being held at various campuses May 10-15!

On a related note, please join me in THANKING Joe Berry for his brilliant work (buy his wonderful book, Reclaiming the Ivory Tower) and his generous service to the movement over the decades. He is losing his job at UIUC.  Predictably his employers found that the financial crisis is an “opportunity” to cut back on labor centers employing scholars criticizing the labor practice of higher ed. He’s moving back to the Bay area with his retiring spouse, Helena Worthen, so hurray for the Bay area. Joe will remain active and join the AAUP committee on contingent employment that I co-chair.

Finally, I don’t usually mention my appearances here, but I’m trying to cut back on them for the next couple of years, and want to note that I won’t be at COCAL this summer as advertised. But you can still catch me at UCLA on Monday, May 3, and at Simon Fraser on June 10.

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Obama’s About-Face on Education http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/249 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/249#comments Thu, 01 Apr 2010 19:37:59 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/249 In a surprise move today, President Obama fired all 5,000 Department of Education staff members, including Secretary Arne Duncan. “Education is a failed Cabinet office,” he said. “We needed a clean sweep.”

Spokespersons for the administration said the president was forced to act by a little-known federal law mandating the radical progressive de-funding of any office or department that fails to meet performance goals, whether or not they had sufficient funding to begin with.

“With less and less funding every year,” sources observed, “it was just a matter of time” before a more draconian provision was triggered, requiring every staffer in the office to be fired, regardless of personal performance.

President Obama acknowledged the injustice of the law, observing that the law’s provision permitting him to rehire only half of the mass-terminated staffers was “five times more severe” than the “most notorious example of arbitrary punishment, the Roman practice of decimation,” under which one of every ten soldiers in a “failing” unit was punished.

He also noted that it was probably unconstitutional to make a law firing individuals who had performed well but that the configuration of the Supreme Court meant that “only a fool would let those jokers have a crack at” any issue one cared about.

“We’ll have to hire a bunch of kids from Administrators for America,” the President complained. “They don’t know squat about administering, and just want something to boost their law-school application. Plus they bolster the ridiculous idea that just anyone can administer without training or support.”

School-reform observers were pleased, however, that the law allowed Obama a graceful exit from his ill-conceived association with Duncan, the product of a highly ideological partnership between Harvard’s business and education schools.

Duncan term is over

As the self-styled chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan turned curriculum and management over to corporate interests, turned schools into military recruitment centers, and set easier standards to inflate claims of “learning outcomes improvement” under his draconian reign. Most observers agreed that he was an eager mouthpiece for corporate interests in the city.

Nearly all nonpartisan evidence-based analysis suggests that Duncan’s ideological eagerness to “close failing schools” and shuttle students into charter or for-profit institutions yielded no actual academic benefit–changes of up or down about 1% that were statistically indistinguishable from no change at all.

Nonetheless Duncan unapologetically continued to promote this failed policy at the national level, with Obama’s full support.

“I knew all that,” admitted Mr. Obama, “but I wanted Arne on the team.”

Spokespeople later confirmed that by “team” the President meant the White House basketball squad. They later released a statement apologizing for the President’s desire to spice up his daily two hours of exercise with “the kind of hoops you can only get with a six-foot-five-inch player with a good corner shot on the court” over the needs of millions of students.

Confronted by the twitter feeds of several departing senior staffers who compared the president’s turning education policy over to a ballplayer-slash-corporate-stooge to Caligula galloping his horse on the Senate floor, the President’s spokesperson said, “They got all that on 144 characters?”

There’s no word yet on who the President might tap to replace Duncan, but one source highly placed in the administration was eager to comment on the irony of the administration’s support for draconian punishment of faculty in public schools, like the recent mass firings in Rhode Island.

“The President wants you to know,” said the source, “that he was just funning with you on that, sort of an April-fool’s joke. He just didn’t think anyone would believe he was enough of a jerk to actually support the firing of teachers who were demonstrably excellent at their jobs but believed in working with students who struggled.

“That policy doesn’t even make sense–it tells every good teacher in a school with struggling students that they should promptly quit and get hired on at a school where the students are already doing well.

“It would be likely telling the best teachers in rural and urban schools to cut and run for the suburbs.

“Believe me,” the source concluded,”The Prez was just April-funning you on that Rhode Island deal. Now that Duncan is gone, we hope that’s crystal clear. By next year we’ll have a real education plan, don’t worry.”

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Learning to Remember: After March 4 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/245 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/245#comments Wed, 03 Mar 2010 00:24:03 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/245

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
makes me work and give up what I have. And I

It began with a handful of direct actions and refusals–bold occupations, sit-ins, a one-day strike and walkout, and a manifesto that fired the imaginations of students planetwide.

Today it is a mass movement, with marches and pickets across the country scheduled for Thursday’s National Day of Action. The hope and the stories will keep coming all weekend. If you jump a bus for Sacramento, you might get a seat next to Etienne Balibar. If you try to enter the UC Santa Cruz campus–the epicenter of the movement–thousands of students and workers will be picketing every gate. Over a hundred major actions are scheduled.

But Tuesday morning, March 8 will begin the next news cycle. Where will the movement be then?

It might look a little bit like this video. Give it ten seconds. I’m pretty sure you’ll watch it to the end.

While there seems to be endless conversation about the violence of smashing windows and the damage to the movement done by spontaneous action, there is a notable absence of discussion about the violence of class division in American society and its relationship with higher education.

Is the movement so fragile that a smashed window destroys it–yet broken bodies don’t bring it to boiling point? We are told that the streets must be policed in order to be safe–that no one will join us–that people who would have supported the cause are now frightened to participate. Yet what we see is laughter, dancing and a freedom that is not possible to describe in the language of everyday capitalism. How, we must ask, is a movement that collapses under the weight of overturned trash cans going to withstand the presence of millions of people challenging their relationship to the economy?

As I listened to this young voice, I could not help but think: “This is Carl Sandburg with a video camera.”


I AM the people–the mob–the crowd–the mass.

Do you know that all the great work of the world is
done through me?

I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the
world’s food and clothes.

I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons
come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And
then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
makes me work and give up what I have. And I

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
drops for history to remember. Then–I forget.

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
a fool–then there will be no speaker in all the world
say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a
sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob–the crowd–the mass–will arrive then.

Flyers and posters
Pamphlets and powerpoints
Planning on getting arrested? (ACLU pdf)
California occupation movement blog
New York occupation movement blog
United States Student Association

Notes on the European occupations (pdf)
Most important conference of the decade
on the occupation movement: Minneapolis, April 8-11

related posts
California is Burning
Occupation Movement Sweeps California
Berkeley Standoff via Microblog
Students Occupy UC President’s Office
UC Davis Occupiers Force Negotiations
Occupy the AHA!
Occupy and Escalate (AAUP)
Inside the Barricades (AAUP)

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Will Occupation Become A Movement? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/220 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/220#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2009 17:18:55 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/220

With a 150-person sit-in at Berkeley and members of the two UCSC occupations beginning a southern tour of talks at several campuses near Los Angeles this week, the movement appears to be gathering steam. In the next 24 hours, occupiers will explain their strategy for movement building–“demand nothing, occupy everything” at UCLA, Irvine, and Cal State Fullerton.

The administration appears to be helping to set the stage for escalation by, according to witnesses and victim testimony on the movement blog, macing students without warning and heavy-handed efforts at police infiltration and espionage.

I interviewed a graduate student with knowledge of the events surrounding the second occupation at UC Santa Cruz last Thursday and Friday:

Q. I understand the group occupied a particular administrator’s office. Can you tell me how that decision came about?

The administrator in question is the Dean of Social Sciences, Sheldon Kamieniecki. The social sciences have been particularly threatened by the “necessary” budget cuts and restructurings, with proposed lay-offs that would destroy both the Community Studies and Latin American and Latino Studies programs. Among those who planned this action, the sense was that Dean Kamieniecki did not pursue alternatives, particularly in terms of keeping the jobs of lecturers vital to these programs, and accepted the cuts passed down in spite of massive student discontent. The decisions of the group are both political and tactical, if the two can be separated. As such, the space was chosen both because of Kamieniecki’s office and because its central location and physical layout made it possible to take the building and to bring a large number of students there to participate following an earlier potluck and discussion.

Q. Shortly after the occupation began, there was an incident with the campus police. What happened?

Three students, not involved in the occupation itself, were moving a picnic table in front of the building and were pepper-sprayed at very close range by the police. They were not told to cease and desist, they were not warned that they were about to be sprayed (for doing something that was not in any way physically threatening to an officer or any students in the area), and the one who was arrested was not read his Miranda rights. (He was later told that, “any pain you feel, you deserve.”) This violent response to the action is clearly unacceptable.

Q. Have any charges been filed?

Yes, the student who was arrested was charged with misdemeanor obstruction of justice. We expect that the university will try to pursue “disciplinary measures” of their own. We urge them strongly not to do so and to consider once more the gulf between how they valorize a radical past of protest and dissent and how they respond to students pursuing radical actions in the present. It is all too evident that the elevation of past protests as part of a storied history serves equally to denigrate the real attempts now to fight back as misguided anger and to claim and hold spaces as petty vandalism.

Q. Overall, the police response was different this time–is that correct? They were photographing persons gathered outside in support of the occupiers? Do you think this is a change of tactics by the administration?

Yes, that is correct. They were photographing and taking the information of persons gathered in support, not to mention the earlier brutality of outside supporters. The tactics are not necessarily different, but the severity of the response certainly is. It shows that the administration is worried about such events and about the possibility of a far wider radical movement emerging, one that incorporates greater numbers and a broader range of students, workers, and faculty. For this reason, they appear intent on making an example out of those who participate in these actions and on attempting to divide students by falsely portraying the actions.

Q. What motivated the end to the occupation?

The mistreatment and threat, physical and legal, to supporters outside motivated the end of the occupation. Those involved felt that it was not safe to those there in solidarity in this situation. To be clear, this is not how we wanted this action to go. But we remain committed to not putting students and supporters in harm’s way, a commitment the administration entirely to lack. We know that the situation has escalated, and we can only expect that their future responses will be escalated as well. We are not interested in human barricades and refuse to put bystanders and supporters at risk of violence. We are interested in seeing these spaces not simply as calculations of property that has to be protected at all costs, and we will claim them accordingly. Not small numbers of us who ask for the solidarity of others or who assume that we “represent” other students. Massive numbers of us who wish to express discontent in any way that we find productive and necessary. Occupation is one such way, but far from the only one.

Q. What should we look for next–at UCSC and across the state?

Look for the real and rapid expansion of protest across the state, as networks of committed activists merge with those who have not felt actively involved previously. Look for the broadening and innovation of tactics as we respond to the changing conditions and political climate. We should all look forward to, and prepare ourselves for, a far longer struggle, a struggle for which these actions, regardless of what one thinks of them, do not serve as inspirations but rather as concrete expressions of what is felt by countless others across the system and world.

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