Friday, October 23, 2009

Profs Sharon Farmer and Jack Sutton to UCOF at UCSB

Graduate Council Responses to Questions Posed to the UC Commission on the Future
Sharon Farmer, Professor of History, UCSB; Jack Sutton, Professor of Sociology, UCSB

As chair and vice-chair of the UCSB Graduate Council Jack Sutton and I have given careful consideration to the full text of the charge documents that have been sent to the commission on the future. Our comments fall into two categories – the need to take a proactive stance in defending the university, and the urgent necessity of remaining faithful to our teaching and research mission. I will speak to the first issue, and Jack Sutton, the chair of the council, will speak to the second.

1) It is an underlying assumption of the questions that have been posed to the commission that "declining state revenues" are a given. This is a false assumption. Declining state revenues for the University of California have resulted from the political decisions of a governor who believes that private education should replace public education. The last president of the university acquiesced to that vision and the current president embraces that vision. The commission on the future needs to say NO to the vision of privatization, and it needs to pressure the regents and the president to do the same. As recently as April, 2009 a poll of California voters indicated that they opposed cuts in public funding to higher education by a ratio of 2 to 1.

2) A second underlying assumption of the charge to the commission is that we need to prepare for declining demand for the educational services that the UC provides, especially to undergraduates. This too is a false assumption. While the proportion of young adults to older adults will decline over the next 20 years, the raw numbers of high school graduates will continue to grow – by 26%. As an aging population leaves the workforce it will continue to depend on the services and leadership of these young adults, who must be trained to provide the services and leadership.

3) The subcommittee on funding strategies has been asked, : "What are the ways to improve
the University's chances of obtaining state funds." We need a president and regents who understand that public education serves the public good IN WAYS THAT PRIVATE EDUCATION CANNOT. We need a president and regents who are willing to pressure the legislators and the governor to provide the public funding that we need. We need to join the majority of voters in their state in advocating for a severance tax on oil extraction: In the US today we are the only state that does not charge such a tax: the state of CA is thus giving away resources to the oil corporations while it asks middle class families and their children to mortgage their futures in order to pay for their educations. We are thus GIVING AWAY money to both the oil corporations and Wall Street (the beneficiary of student loans) while we ask the middle class to sink deeper and deeper into debt.
4) The subcommittee on funding strategies has been asked if private funding is the way to go -- especially with reference to our research mission. Obviously, we have already started down that road. But private funding for research is a VERY POOR substitute for public funding, because donors seek results that serve their purposes. Consider the number of universities that now refuse to accept funding from the Tobacco Industry because the research that that industry funds is thought to be tainted; or the fact that at Harvard Medical School the students have had to organize in order to protest the way that private funding from pharmaceutical companies is distorting what they are taught in the classroom. Private funding, moreover, will never be adequate to fund research in the humanities and social sciences, despite the fact that the analytical thinking and communications skills that are taught in the humanities and social sciences help to shape the future leaders of this state

5) The commission has been asked to think about funding for graduate students. Indeed it should, because graduate students follow the funding and the UC has fallen woefully behind on that score. Graduate students need multi-year packages that cover all tuition and fees as well as living expenses. The fact that UCOP has benefited from rising graduate student fees while campuses have been given inadequate funding to attract new graduate students shows that there is a mismanagement of priorities in the system. Because of this year’s cut-back in funding for graduate student teaching assistantships, departments throughout the system are being forced to seriously compromise the quality of education that we offer to undergraduates – by eliminating discussion sections and assignments that teach analytical skills rather than rote learning.

6) The subcommittee on Size and Shape has been asked if the UC campuses should focus on graduate and professional education and undergraduate education that cannot be delivered by other public segments. This question seems to be asking the committee to consider a University of Chicago or Johns Hopkins model. Such a model does not fit our public mandate. The thrill of studying, as undergraduates, with the researchers who create the knowledge that shapes the world we live in is one of the fundamental attractions of THE BEST PUBLIC RESEARCH INSTITUTION IN THE US. Providing that opportunity to undergraduates and exposing them to top research libraries and laboratories is thus one of our best forms of public relations to the citizens of California, which we can't afford to lose. Moreover, teaching undergraduates is not only a major way in which graduate students fund their educations -- it is a form of apprenticeship that prepares them for their careers. Severing the research mission from the undergraduate teaching mission would have dire political consequences, because the UC would garner even less support from the citizens of the state, who would feel totally out of touch with the services that the university provides.

7) The commission has been asked if the UC should cut educational costs by accepting more transfer students, employing more adjuncts and lecturers, and offering on-line courses. Such cost cutting measures would constitute a serious violation of our mission to provide the future leaders of this state with the highest quality education. Transfer students are less prepared for higher forms of critical thinking and writing than are students who spend all four years at the UC. Already about 30% of our students are transfer students. Going further down that road will contribute to the decline of the quality of the work force of California. On-line learning is an extremely poor substitute for face-to-face discussion and debate – it fosters rote learning, and is not what we want to deliver to the state's best and brightest. Again, if we go that route we are contributing to the decline of the quality of the state's work force and we risk harming our reputation among research universities and with the citizens of California.

1 comment:

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