Wednesday, July 15, 2009

UCSB Sociology Prof Responds to UCLA Sociology "Tiering" Letter"

Dear Bill,

Thanks for this recent letter. Yes I was annoyed by the previous document. I'll speak only for myself here. Others can add their two cents as I am doing. I appreciate your efforts to make amends. And I'll copy the rest of our dept. because I know they'd like to see your letter and this response....

In fact various accounts are coming out of the UCLA Sociology Department about your deliberations on the current fiscal crisis. Less than half the department faculty signed the earlier letter, and others who did sign have subsequently communicated that they only agreed with it in part. Some have said, as you do now, that there were unfortunate formulations that they now regret.

While I'm grateful for your effort to clarify matters and appreciate your statements of respect, in my view there are some continuing disagreements between us. These are disagreements among friends, debates among colleagues. It seems we still diagnose the crisis differently.

Of those disagreements the most significant is whether some shrinkage, downsizing, or "rationalization" is inevitable and necessary, either in the size of the UC system or in the sphere of sociology within it. Before we ponder what the best response might be to the present crisis, we should establish some clarity on this point.

In my view the budgetary assault now underway, presented as an "emergency," as something requiring the cession of "emergency powers" (ie arbitrary and unchecked powers) to the UC President, is more accurately characterized as a political outcome of the current fiscal
crisis of the state. It is better seen as a temporary symptom of the current political showdown that as a long-term structural shift in higher education policy, or in overall state social policy for that matter.

Yes, we will be forced to take cuts. We are in the public sector; we are engaged in social provision, along with the entire educational system, the public health system, the public transportation system, and so on. Not only do we provide valuable services to the citizens of the state, but we REPRODUCE the state, i.e., the people of California. In all but the short run, we are entirely indispensable: to the economy, to the environment, to the quality of life, to both the working people and the corporations of the state and indeed the nation.

It's basically class conflict: opposing us are proponents of an already largely outmoded ideology -- call it Norquistism or Milton Friedmanism-- according to which government, and particularly the social provisionary functions of the state, are largely unnecessary. That viewpoint is clinging to power -- essentially a veto power -- by its fingernails. Not only has the majority of the voting population deserted it, but even the more "enlightened" sectors of capital (say, Silicon Valley) have largely abandoned it. Only by virtue of a series of political maneuvers, which you could list as well as I -- is the present "Structural Adjustment" policy being enforced. There's no there
there: no vision, no plan, no leadership worth the name. Hence "emergency powers." The real "emergency" is the absence of legitimate authority, both in the state as a whole and in the UC system in particular.

OK. So under those conditions, is it obligatory for us to figure out ways to "rationalize" ourselves? Have we somehow become superfluous, either as a university system or as a social science field within it? I know you don't think that, but some assumption of that sort seems to be the underlying framework of both your first letter and your second, more tempered, message.

In my view to accept such a position would be a serious miscalculation. Public education is more needed than ever, especially if the US is going to transform itself -- as President Obama has argued it should -- into a "knowledge society," something that would require perforce a "knowledge economy." Politically California is already way more progressive than its political system can accommodate. The fearmongering, law-and-order, read my lips, immigrant-bashing politics are already over. Demographically California became a "majority-minority" state in the year 2000. New and unprecedented democratic (small d) potentialities, as well as new necessities confront the state.

We are already long overdue in making major commitments to social investment, service provision, and collective (as opposed to private) consumption. Politically these requirements are about to overwhelm all opposition, although of course that will take mobilization, more than
the presently feckless Democratic majority is apparently able to muster. But the people also have a capacity to mobilize and lead. I venture to say that in ten years' time very little in California will look like it does now: the prisons will have been downsized dramatically, the initiative process will have been reformed, and present business-as-usual style of government will have been substantially altered. The educational system will also have been transformed, K-16
and beyond.

Our job as sociologists, as educators, and as citizens is to facilitate those transformations. It is certainly not to fight our way to the few remaining lifeboats conceded to us under the university president's -- or the corrupt regents', or the paralyzed legislature's -- "emergency powers." In the short term we're going to suffer -- though not as muchas, say, UC's janitors and gardeners or the home-care workers across the state. It will be our duty to support them (and ourselves as well), to join in their mobilizations and protests, to give voice to their demands, which will also be ours. Let's not be afraid of political action.

As will be clear, I don't think we should be about accepting anything like the formula you suggest is coming:
  • tough decisions that affect campuses and programs....
  • differential fees between campuses, greater campus autonomy, and fully vetted and negotiated division of labor among campuses.
Nor do I think that
Unless serious structural changes are made, many of which will be painful on all campuses there is the danger that the state of California will do to its system of higher education what it did to its public schools.
Of course the state (who is that, exactly?) can try to do this, but I don't believe they will have the remotest chance of accomplishing it. I count, not on compromise, but on opposition. As I've already said, I look forward to a California that truly educates its kids, radically reduces its prison population, taxes far more progressively..., again, you know the list as well as I.

A lot depends on what we do. In the process of supporting public education, social provision, and indeed democracy there will be a good deal of work for us as sociologists. Our research and
knowledge-production will probably be different, but it will matter more than ever. Certainly we will not want to facilitate some sort of "triage" in our institution or in our discipline: the very desire to do that is symptomatic of socal scientific shortsightedness. It is contradictory: to seek to do it is to be unable to do it.

We will want to maintain our solidarity. Let me reciprocate for your profession of respect for the UCSB Department of Sociology; let me extend my equal respect back to you people in Sociology at UCLA. I have many friends and colleagues in your department, some who signed your original letter as well as others who did not. And I venture to say that both you and we could learn a great deal from our colleagues who are working elsewhere in the UC system, as well as in the CSU and CA Community College systems. Only in an outmoded and increasingly self-deceptive world do we "outrank" them in any meaningful way.

In friendship and collegiality,

Howie Winant

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