Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hollinger Response to Newfield

Since Colleen Lye invited Christopher Newfield to comment specifically on my post of August 8, I suppose I should offer a perspective on his comments as they are now posted on this list. I find three things of significance, but before I state them I want to observe, for colleagues who may not have heard of Newfield, that he (a Professor of English at the Santa Barbara campus) is the author of two books on the political economy of higher education. He has earned our attention because he has actually studied the recent history of universities, nationally as well as within California. First and most important, Newfield’s comments are best seen as another item for the file, “items to be considered by any task force studying a possible increase in out-of-state enrollment and/or a possible reconfiguration of Berkeley’s relation to the UC system as a whole.” Many of his points are pertinent, and they sharpen some of the questions that several contributors to this list have already raised. His message contains no surprises. Second, Newfield’s sense of what the public needs to know about UC and its direction should be supplemented with an abundance of information beyond the simple fact that increased out-of-state enrollment will mean fewer places in UC for California residents. If that’s all that were said to the public, there is no doubt that support for such a move would be close to zero. Newfield is on more productive ground when he calls for UCOP to make a more vigorous and sophisticated effort to vindicate the role of the University of California in the life of the state. Third, Newfield’s comments are significant for their silences. While he comes out of the tradition of holding to the “one university” way of thinking, and sometimes hints that Berkeley is complacent about its situation and its prospects, Newfield stops well short of the conventional blasts at Berkeley (Ron Hendel’s posting about his experience on a systemwide committee is a convenient bit of testimony; I was on two such systemwide committees and experienced similar dynamics) for being aloof from the other campuses and from the public. And while Newfield provides the standard list of things we need to be afraid of if we take the slightest additional steps toward “privatization,” he does not allege that it is silly of us to perform the analysis that many of us have said needs to be performed, and he is sufficiently cognizant of the difficulties within UC and within the politics of California to refrain from castigating us for trying to think outside the prescribed box. As a major author of an Academic Council document that I had characterized as next to useless, moreover, Newfield takes the criticism collegially rather than responding defensively. Overall, then, I welcome Newfield’s comments, and I don’t see that we at Berkeley have any reason to be dismayed by them.

By way of postscript, I want to voice a caution about one possible course of action that Newfield mentions: going to Sacramento by the busload to talk face-to-face with legislators. I am not sure UC faculties as a whole, or even the Berkeley faculty in particular, are sufficiently of one mind to carry this off effectively. And if it were done at cross-purposes with UCOP and/or at cross-purposes with Bob Birgeneau and George Breslauer it might even make things worse. Any of us as individual citizens are of course free to do whatever we think is right and to join any lobby group we wish, but insofar as we present ourselves to the state legislature as representatives of the faculty we would need to be clear about the capacity in which we were speaking, and in what relation to our Divisional Senate, and about just what the core message is supposed to be. Wildcatting can be dangerous to the cause, however much satisfaction it brings to the wildcatter. I doubt if Newfield would disagree with this caution.

--David Hollinger

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