Dear Commission Members:
I did not have the opportunity to speak at the recent Commission on the Future “listening tour,” but appreciate the opportunity to comment here. I would first like to second the comments of Professor Jenny Sharpe. Her presentation on issues surrounding undergraduate education was coherent, pointed, and profoundly responsible.
More particularly though, I must respond to a remark Chancellor Block addressed to the staff panel. The Chancellor used UCLA Extension as an “inspirational” model for our main campus. He noted, quite rightly, that Extension work is wide-ranging, creative, and self supporting. Extension does, as the Chancellor also noted, serve many thousands of people. By all accounts, it serves them very well. And finally, the Chancellor noted that Extension administers many on-line courses. He then addressed a question to the staff representatives about the feasibility of on-line courses at the regular campus.
I have high regard for UCLA Extension (in which I have taught) and agree with Chancellor Block that we may learn some lessons from their success, but I must note that it can hardly be a model for what we already do extremely well at UCLA.
• Extension’s mission differs profoundly from ours. It offers a number of certificate programs, but no degree programs. It provides busy southern Californians varied professional and/or personal enrichment courses, but doesn’t offer a full college experience or advanced research opportunities.
• Extension’s population is very different from ours. For example, extension attracts professionals seeking specialized training; it draws on retired people who see education as a life time process; it serves students who were forced to quit an undergraduate program and want to re-enter the university. These varied purposes are almost always achieved through part time and intermittent attendance. A degree program will generally be full time and will necessarily require steady and sustained engagement from faculty and students alike.
• Extension’s course offerings, along with what is taught in specific extension courses, are largely driven by the demands of the market place. While the interests of students are always to be respected, course offerings and materials adopted by a degree program cannot be narrowly defined to play to those interests. An intellectually and socially responsible curriculum must ultimately be shaped by scholar-teachers.
It is still more important to note that UCLA Extension succeeds as a self supporting unit as a result of conditions that cannot apply to the regular university.
• Extension teachers work for extremely low pay and receive no benefits. Extension depends on instructors who can afford to work for very little (have full time jobs), or who cannot afford to turn anything down (are greatly underemployed).
• Extension need not build nor sustain a campus. Extension rents available space mostly from the main campus and mostly during off hours on a per term basis.
I must add one final comment: We will surely turn to some new ways to teach in the coming years. And as we consider specific possibilities like on-line courses, we’ll need the expert help of our marvelous staff here at UCLA. That said, it is essential that discussion of specific forms of instruction starts with faculty—not staff. We need teachers in their own fields to explore, adopt, revise, or dismiss whatever new modes technology presents. Chancellor Block is wise to seek staff input about implementation, but if that input precedes a faculty initiative it will be of little value.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to comment. I appreciate your hard work in these difficult times.
Director, UCLA Writing Programs