Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Sincerely Yours, The Department Of Miserable Bastards"

"The partly filled lifeboat standing by about 100 yards away never came back. Why on Earth they never came back is a mystery. How could any human being fail to heed those cries?" Jack B. Thayer, a survivor of RMS Titanic, April, 1912.

Thanks to my colleague Margaret Soltan at University Diaries, I have acquired a link to this letter. It is signed by Andrew Scull, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at the University of California, San Diego and twenty-two of his fellow chairs, including John Marino, the chair of history. English, in my experience often the home of gentler folk, is not a signatory. I don't see any of the chairs of interdisciplinary programs like Gender Studies or Ethnic Studies either. So that tells you something right there.

Read the letter for yourself and see what you think. True, higher education in California is imperiled by the state budget crisis, and it is a shame. It is a shame because this has been coming for years, as California has built spectacular prisons at great cost to one of the finest public education systems in the nation, if not the world. It is a shame because all bills finally come due, and the mean people of California would rather give up education than incarceration, testing, hunting down undocumented workers, and badgering gay people. It has been coming because the selfish and unrealistic people of California and the even more unrealistic politicians that they have elected have refused, over and over, to raise taxes to appropriate levels to simultaneously maintain their educational system and police the hell out of their state. I have had great sympathy for my colleagues who work all over the California system in recent weeks because of the cuts that were inevitable, and are now bound to hurt even people with good salaries. Focused almost entirely on retaining star faculty and their research grants, the letter fails to mention that many thousands of non-faculty are simply on the street now: as I understand it, Santa Cruz let go over 1000 administrative staff last month. I am, in fact, deeply concerned about those friends wooed to California schools in recent years with large salaries and named chairs that they expected to be the capstone of distinguished careers. Such people may really be on the ledge financially right now (particularly in places like San Diego) with expensive, heavily mortgaged real estate -- the resale market for which has crashed -- that they still have to pay for with significantly lower salaries.

That said, what are the signatories of this letter concerned about? Why their reputations! And what do they propose as a remedy for a collapsing university in this drastic economic and political crisis? Not taxes. Not decarceration, or an end to the billions spent every year testing students at all levels in California. No. These department chairs suggest, not a reset to the horrendous values that are finally bringing them out of their labs and onto their knees, but an intensification of those values. More elitism! More exclusion! More me, me, me! This includes the following suggestions for remedying the University of California's budget problems.

Enrolling 500 more out-of-state students every year for the next four years to generate 44 million dollars. In other words, privatize further. Abandon the mission to educate the citizens of California, in favor of educating rich (white?) full-payers who want to go to college near the beach. Two problems here: one is that before four years is up, as I understand it, by getting a new drivers license and registering to vote, these students become in-state students and qualify for the lower tuition. Another issue: who is going to teach these students? Certainly not the signatories of the letter or their distinguished colleagues. Oh - I forgot! I'm such a ninny. Graduate students! Adjuncts!

That the University of California make its commitment to excellence more graphic by emphasizing that its research is more or less funded by corporate America and the Department of Defense. As Scull explains, "the campus could also compile a list of 5‐10 pieces of faculty research in the past decade that have transformed our knowledge and improved human welfare, and supplement that with a similar list of spin‐off corporations and technologies (Qualcomm obviously prominent among them) that have transformed the economy of the region and the state. Again, these lists must be hammered home over and over again, like an annoying advertisement that enters everyone’s consciousness."

That does sound annoying. And what are specific examples of research that have "improved human welfare"? Funny that Qualcomm sprang to mind immediately, but a specific example related to the public good did not.

And speaking of the commitment to excellence, why should distinguished scholars at the UCSD campus have to take the same pay cut as their less well-paid colleagues in the state system? It seems so unfair, since everyone knows that that UCSD faculty are better, smarter and deserve more than the lesser human beings who teach elsewhere. "Rather than destroying the distinctiveness and excellence at Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD by hiring temporary lecturers to do most of the teaching (and contribute nothing to original research, nothing to our reputation, nothing to the engine of economic growth a first rate research university represents)," Scull writes, "we propose that you urge the President and Regents to acknowledge that UCSC, UCR, and UC Merced are in substantial measure teaching institutions (with some exceptions – programs that have genuinely achieved national and international excellence and thus deserve separate treatment), whose funding levels and budgets should be reorganized to match that reality."

To put it in plain English for those of you who do not teach at a prestigious flagship, some people (you, for example) suck, other people (they) don't; hence, it can be determined some faculty have value and others do not. From this we can derive that some faculty are endlessly exploitable and/or can be discarded without any real harm coming to anyone important, such as students.

You are so right, Professor Scull, and I think you should just march right up to Angela Davis and her HisCon friends and tell them that to their faces. The one bright spot in this budget crisis, it seems, is that we can take the gloves off and be honest with each other about how we really feel. But I do want to say -- that was one heck of a run-on sentence, and before you row away in your little lifeboat, leaving the rest of the system to paddle around on whatever floats, you might want to get the Chair of the English Department on board.

37 comments:

GayProf said...

Ugh.

Barrie said...

Thank you for this peerceptive and right-on post!!
Barrie Thorne

frankelstache said...

very thought provoking, thank you.

Furthermore but somewhat not related, It'll be interested to see, say, 10 years from now, how past students will pay back their $100,000 loans in this new economic reality. Will this be the next big crisis?


Frankelstache

Roxie Smith Lindemann said...

Great, if profoundly disheartening, post. Not sure that doozy of a sentence is technically a run-on, though. I'll have one of the English profs 'round here try to diagram it and get back to you. Their diagramming skills have gotten a little rusty in the last few years, 'cause they teach at one of them fancy flagship schools, but we'll see what we can do.

grad student and TA UCSC :-) said...

Thank you! good to read this.

Kirsten said...

It's the Literature Department, actually, but thanks for the support. Always disheartening to see people elbowing for room on the life-raft rather than working together to save the ship.

Anonymous said...

wow, this is utterly appalling, and wrong in so many unbelievable ways. something that hasn't been mentioned much is the striking absence of davis, santa barbara, and irvine from the original letter. a fairly horrendous oversight in a letter supposedly interested in the future of the whole uc system. oh, and ny, nj, and ma don't have flagship public institutions that produce cutting edge scholarship?? that is just, t my knowledge, not true.

Loneoak said...

Great rebuttal. At least UC President Yudof told these asshats to bugger off.

Anonymous said...

Insightful post. I am an asst. prof. at a CSU and I've noticed that a lot of people are attempting to reinforce hierarchical boundaries in an attempt to claim their piece of the shrinking pie. "Elite" universities and departments are being pitted against "less important" ones, the UC's are being pitted against the CSU's, tenured and tenure-track faculty are being pitted against part-timers, faculty against staff, etc. etc. We are like hungry pigeons pecking at the crumbs being thrown at us. What a mess.

JackDanielsBlack said...

Isn't this same drama being played out in every university and college that has to cut back? I gather that there are many arguments about whether to cut across the board, or to eliminate "weaker" programs, or to cut everybody's pay X percent rather than laying some people off. Not all folks exhibit grace under pressure, even (especially?) in academe.

david said...

one thing to note as well is that California voters have been rejecting prison construction since the 90s. the legislature used budget loop holes (to be charitable) to continue to build more and more cages at a greater expense to Californians because they used lease revenue bonds rather than general obligation bonds so the legislature could bypass voter approval.(see Ruthie Gilmore's "Golden Gulag" or http://www.curbprisonspending.org/ ). this all highlights the necessity of a vibrant labor movement amongst university workers that also draws from a more broad budget justice social movement against the militaristic state.

Anonymous said...

That letter leaves out a campus. To see what the students, faculty, and unions at UC Santa Barbara are doing together to organize against the budget cuts (and possible shell game of disappearing salaries) look here:

http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/

and

http://option4.ning.com/

Katie King said...

Global academic restructuring was going on before the current world economic crisis, but the crisis is providing the justification for the kinds of changes that have been on the agenda for a while. See Academic capitalism and the new economy by Sheila Slaughter, Gary Rhoades:

http://books.google.com/books?id=Y-mISmAUa38C&dq=academic+capitalism&source=gbs_navlinks_s

UCSC student and TA said...

you wrote
"as I understand it, Santa Cruz let go over 1000 administrative staff last month. "
this is appalling. is this solid information?
I'm at UCSC but had not heard about this yet.

Anonymous said...

Horrifying. Even without these idiotic ideas, UC will never be the same. My old department took away our telephones. Seriously. On the good (?) side, no more calls from ugrads explaining the dog at their homework. On the bad side: hard to negotiate for a new job on the hall phone...

KG said...

I am so relieved that I finished my PhD at UCLA before this mess happened. And I am so very ashamed that I received my MA from UCSD's music department, one of the signatories on this letter.

Anonymous said...

this appears to be a common model on the West Coast. Currently the University of Oregon enrolls more California students than Oregonians and made a plan to do so for precisely the same reason. While that and Nike money have kept the college going, it has meant that lesser equipped schools in the region are now taking on humanities curriculum for which they were never designed and do not pay enough to attract and retain faculty. These other schools have also hiked their tuition to almost 3 times what it was 5 years ago and out-of-state tuition to nearly private school tuition levels. Ultimately everybody loses in such a scheme, not just faculty, but students, programs, and communities whose entire make up is being transformed by the influx of out-of-state students who make their new college state their new home.

And yet there are other schemes on the table across the country that include reliance on visiting positions with 4-4 and 5-5s. Recently I saw one such position on a listserv that expected the hire to teach 5 sections of intro their first semester and then a minimum of 3 the second for less than the cost of living.

There has to be a better way.

uc ta said...

"As I understand it, Santa Cruz let go over 1000 administrative staff last month."

UC Santa Cruz has 15,000 students and 3,000 staff -- one staff member for every five students. Unless each student on campus takes up eight hours a week of clerical support, I'm guessing the campus will do just fine with significant reductions in staffing.

A friend at a university in another state recently told me about her school's new committee on policy regarding policy, formed by a group of associate deans to reformulate campus policies about how campus policies are formulated. Isn't it pretty much the ordinary experience on most campuses that we have six billion associate deans and assistant associate deputy deans and deputy vice provosts who mostly exist to make faculty attend more meetings?

There's waste on all our campuses -- it's not the case that every penny ends up in the classroom or research.

Gray Brechin said...

An iceberg did not suddenly hit this ship: those partying in the Grand Salon seem unaware that the hull has been springing multiple leaks for years and that the crew and passengers in steerage were drowning in the frigid Atlantic waters while the party went on.

Now that the carpets are getting damp, they are expressing some alarm. But at the regents' meeting yesterday, almost no professors showed up to support the union picket which was heavy on staff and custodians. Nor was there any mention of the equally grievous plight of the lowly CSU, the community colleges, or the gutted K-12 system on which the UC so unsteadily rests. Instead, tenured faculty and chancellors went in the other door, a few gave the briefest of statements in the few minutes allowed them, and the regents (as always) ignored them and gave President Yudof the power to gut the university.

It is said that the passengers on the "Titanic" sang "Nearer my God to thee." We cannot even sing in unison as we go down together.

Susan said...

TR, as someone who teaches at UCMerced, thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

OK, I understand that the corporatization and privatization of higher education--and just about everything else in the USA--is well underway. And I understand that many tenured and tenure-track faculty have bought into a type of social Darwinism, and been complicit in sticking it to themselves and everyone else. How can we organize, and support the efforts of other people to organize, to fight this?

I know the AFT has been working to organize adjunct and part-time faculty. I know the unions that represent support staff at many campuses are rallying. Yet the people I know who are most critical of the situation, and most political, are the most vulnerable and have the least resources and discretionary time to strategize and fight. Maybe a huge wave of unemployment will provide more folks with free time to revive solidarity and pressure government.

bob stein said...

Spot-on analysis. thank you.

Kate said...

Scull is an embarrassment to sociology. I can think of a number of fellow sociologists who are deeply concerned with the state of public higher ed in this country, and the increasing corporatization of higher ed across all systems (public and private), who think much more rationally/radically about the budget crises than he. California spends more on incarceration than education, California has a dysfunctional government (a bizarre statement coming from a New Yorker, but our legislature did more for our budget crisis in the past two months, the majority of which spent arguing over who controlled the State Senate, than did the legislature of California), California has larger structural issues than just the budget cuts at the UCs.
It is particularly striking to me that Scull called for the closing of Santa Cruz and/or Riverside. In the past few years, the ranking of those sociology departments have risen. UCSD now ranks 31st, behind Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine, and UC Santa Barbara, and at the same level as UC Davis (and, to note, behind the program at CUNY's flagship Graduate Center, and at the same level as programs at NJ's flagship Rutgers and MA's flagship UMass Amherst). Riverside is now ranked 41, Santa Cruz now 54, up significantly from previous rankings. UCSF, the fourth but iffy flagship, is a lowly 64. Merced doesn't offer a PhD in sociology. Rankings from the 2009 US News and World Reports graduate school rankings, a rather overrated measure, but useful in that it measures social perception of prestige. Not to attack Scull on the basis of USNWR rankings, as if to say there is something bad about him for chairing a lower-ranked program, but it demonstrates that his work on megalomania and lunacy might be a bit of me-search - close rising programs as your own is falling? Sounds sketchy to me.

Anonymous said...

I feel compelled to point out that Scull was also the author, in 2007, of a very earnest attempt to stop people from taking Foucault seriously:

http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25347-2626687,00.html

Because of Scull's genius and meticulous scholarship, masterfully concentrated in a single review essay, everyone stopped reading and citing History of Madness and now use Scull's own excellent and provocative work instead. Oh wait, that's not true.

(See also http://foucaultblog.wordpress.com/2007/05/20/extreme-prejudice/ )

And look, I know it's cheap to take this sort of ad hominem shot in an anonymous comment on the internet. But as these two very public statements show, he seems to do a poor job of picking battles.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 6:10 PM - the issue of other state schools outside of CA raises an important question. Many UC flagship schools have been spending money like they have it for decades, so the crisis there seems sudden and catastrophic. The university of Oregon, which you mentioned specifically, has been starved to death gradually by its state's lack of affluence and idiotic tax system. In fact, is there any state school in this country that receives adequate funding from its state? It's easy to blame the unis for their tuition hikes and taking on more out of staters, but what does a university do when the state obstinately refuses to give them more money (while simultaneously forcing the "state" school to comply with various idiotic state regulations)? The citizens of those states DO NOT CARE about higher education and do not want to fund it. It's that simple. Even pre-recession this was the attitude in many of these states. (Though they do like to complain endlessly when tuition is raised, laughably.) UO was just beginning to recover from over a decade of deprivation - full and associate professors there have shockingly low salaries compared to profs at other "flagship" state schools in its "peer" group because of a series of raise freezes in the '90s. While I agree that the privatization model is deeply problematic (and the UCSD letter disgusting), I feel sympathy for starving state schools, desperate to serve students and retain faculty. If states (and its citizens) don't make education a priority through their voting choices, then unis have the right to do whatever they have to to survive.

But I also agree with you that the moves by "flagship" schools has a profound and detrimental effect on the functioning of the "lower-tier" schools.

Anonymous said...

"politicians that they have elected have refused, over and over, to raise taxes to appropriate levels "

What the heck is this about, California has the highest taxes in America and percapita state spending right at the top as well, just how high do you think the taxes should go TR? Perhaps California should look to Texas for an example, taxes are low, the economy is (relatively) booming and the state budget is in surplus.

km said...

Just to correct Anonymous @ 3:28, CA doesn't have the highest taxes in any major category. They're high in some sectors, not so high in others. See the chart linked below.

http://www.retirementliving.com/tax_burden_2008.pdf

Anonymous said...

Total state and local tax burden in California is 6th highest in the nation, see chart 29 at

http://www.taxfoundation.org/files/f&f_booklet-20090224.pdf

Anonymous said...

I think it's really useless to separate the current economic crisis (where the pay cuts and lay offs you're describing are mild compared to a lot of corporate America) from the long-term issues of academia. The system has been on the verge of imploding for years. When I entered a top-5 R1 grad program in 1990, I was struck by how the system was much like a Ponzi scheme, with the numbers of graduate students that are admitted and churned out. The top-10 R1's produced enough PhDs to populate the entire R1 tenure faculty, meaning that everyone at a lower-than-top-10 university would be landing full-time teaching jobs. And yet no one was being trained to teach, they were being trained to do research.

The point is that this worked, the same way Ponzi schemes worked, in the beginning. Post WW2 expansion of the university system created a need for all of those researchers. But at some point, the expansion was over and yet the Ponzi scheme rattled on. Small market corrections happened, but often the gap between PhD and tenure (or lack thereof) was long enough for people to lose sight of where the blame lies: with the universities with overly large admission policies.

The research boat is sinking, and Scull thinks he can prevent it by taking pot shots at the people who do the actual work of teaching. It's hard to imagine this is a sociologist.

Anonymous said...

PS - I didn't mean to imply that people at lower than top 10 would necessarily not get an R1 job, some shifting would happen over time, but just talking in terms of numbers. I had an argument with a friend at about a rank-30 school in her field, and she kept arguing for the value of a balanced life and "I still have something to contribute", and she just couldn't hear my point that wanting to do research and getting the grant money to do it were not the same thing.

Anonymous said...

The citizens of those states DO NOT CARE about higher education and do not want to fund it. It's that simple.

Nothing is ever that simple. My point in mentioning oregon in a thread about California was to say that this is a trend across the West Coast that raises concerns about how we ALL are handling economic crisis not to single them out. And also to raise alarm about how not only admin and faculty are being sacrificed but also in-state students who state funded unis are supposed to serve.

I admit that I think it is awfully Machiavellian to state:


If states (and its citizens) don't make education a priority through their voting choices, then unis have the right to do whatever they have to to survive.

For me, and those with whom I have the privilege to work, state university's are funded to serve state students first and foremost. When we lose site of that mandate, we encourage tax payers to lose site of us. The issue is complex and all of the solutions have costs, but ones that put undue burden on the ppl at the bottom (admin in the picket line, adjuncts in the welfare line, or students) in order to privilege the top that seems like a fairly obvious problem. And I'd like to look toward solutions rather than justify questionable policy in any state.

Anonymous said...

The people who signed the letter are so screwed. Their names are mud now. I love it. --Chris C (UC Santa Cruz B.A.; UC San Diego Ph.D.)

Karl Bryant said...

KG,

Unfortunately, there's plenty of shame to go around, including (before Scull's letter) at UCLA, where many similar "solutions" (e.g., save the "best," screw the rest) were proposed in a letter from the Sociology Dept. See:

http://toodumbtolivearchive.blogspot.com/2009/07/ucla-sociology-department-statement-on.html

Anonymous said...

I found your blog accidentally but am in agreement re: the UO. My husband and I chose to move to Eugene a few years ago, for lifestyle reasons, and in doing so we knew we would make career and salary sacrifices. In addition to my husband taking a big pay cut from a private school to come here, it has taken us two years to find a home we can even afford, and we are struggling to make it on one salary with limited employment opportunities for me. It sickens me that paycuts and raise freezes for faculty are even on the table...

Laura E said...

I'm a little late coming to your blog, but thanks for this (and all of your posts). I'm a PhD student in Literature at Santa Cruz (one of Scull's points of non-productivity), and the grads here are gearing up for a lot of "activities" in response to sentiments like Scull's and the actions of Yudof, et. al. Just to clarify (or correct) uc ta's comments on staff bloat, the bloat and wastage in the UC system is overwhelmingly at the administrative and managerial levels, which have grown at five times the rate of staff positions. According to a study by Charles Schwartz (Professor Emeritus at Berkeley), this administrative bloat accounts for $600 million in misused, unneeded expenditures. Check out his study here: http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz/Part_14.html
And more on the budget here:
http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz

Len said...

Much as I like this post, it's perhaps a bit too easy to speak of "the selfish and unrealistic people of California" as though they were any different than the other state voters around the country. In no state do we still have a citizenry who have much of any idea of how to mobilize for change unless it is taking away LGBT rights or rolling back taxes. It seems to me that there is at least one useful point in Scull's otherwise stupid and appalling letter, which (to put a generous spin on his thoughts) is that the former high reputation of certain UCs might at least be a rallying point for a renewed popular commitment to public education. I teach in the Univ of Massachusetts system, where there has never been any pride in the institution to begin with, and in which public support for the university has never existed. Sadly, this is the case in almost every Eastern state, much as some commenters would like to paint this as a peculiarly "Western" approach. The commitment to public education in this state is far weaker than anything in California, where at least the voters might be mobilized around the thought that they once had a glorious system. The commenter who pointed out that the California public no longer supports prison construction is right: the political will is there, but some real thinking has to be done about how to channel it appropriately, rather than just whining about how "the West" fails to understand this or that.

Anonymous said...

google $3,000,000 UCB Birgeneau, Breslauer to find sincerely your self-serving expenditures for Cal senior management