unfit to rule? mark yudof and his interesting lifestyle

I bet you’re thinking I’m going to say something about Yudof’s sexual proclivities, aren’t you?  Sorry.  But I am going to discuss one of his nasty little secrets.  Mark Yudof isn’t held to the standards the rest of us are.  Apparently, being the president of the UC system gives him a pass.  I’m here to say it shouldn’t.

As The Bay Citizen reported last week, when Yudof moved out of his home of two years (all 10,000 square feet of it) in the middle of the night — the landlord refused to renew the lease — he left behind tens of thousands of dollars of damage.  Torn blinds, damage to walls and floors, and a brand new water feature courtesy of a water line break that took, according to the article’s sources, all of 10 minutes to fix.

And now the UC is paying for someone to take care of Yudof’s housing for him.  You know, when my great grandmother began sliding into ever more severe Alheimer’s, my family hired someone to keep track of her bills because she kept forgetting to pay them.  She’d lived in the same penthouse apartment for years, and the managers were very understanding, but when the first notice for eviction for non-payment happened, we knew we had to step in.  Mind you, at the time, she was over 80, and didn’t know who most of us were.  She was no longer capable of managing her own affairs, and something had to be done.

If Yudof needs the same sort of help as my great grandmother, the question has to be: is he fit to be the leader of what is arguably the best university system in the world?  I would argue that he is not.  And I’m not alone…there are state senators who think that Yudof’s antics are problematic as well.  They believe, as do I, that hiring someone to manage Yudof’s housing indiscretions, as well as forfeiting a $30,000+ deposit to cover the damages at the previous home, marks an inability to manage his personal affairs.   Just another spoiled rich boy who can’t manage his finances…oh well, right?

But Yudof is the UC president.  He is the man who is supposed to take this magnificent 10-campus institution to the next level.  I suppose the reasoning behind hiring someone to handle his housing is that if he’s dealing with such ‘petty’ details (an unnecessary bill for $20,000 isn’t petty to me, but okay), he can’t effectively lead the UC system. But Yudof’s inability to deal with this points to a larger issue:  can he deal with anything?  Or is he, like my great grandmother, incapable of managing himself, and by extension, the UC?  How can we give him a pass on such behavior while trying to prove to the rest of the world (and more importantly, the California legislature, who hold some mighty pursestrings) that the UC system is worth investing in?

If you or I were to cause the level of damage to our rented homes that Yudof caused to his, we’d find ourselves in court.  Instead, Yudof is given a university official to manage his housing for him.  Is this person charged with simply paying his bills, or does she get to tell him that no, the university will not pay for that, and that it has to come out of his pocket?  And more to the point, if Yudof requires such help, is he fit to lead the UC?

Mark Yudof, the man who practically privatized the University of Texas system, seems intent on privatizing the UC system as well.  Perhaps the damage he caused to his first rental house here is part of a nefarious plot.  Certainly, the legislature isn’t happy funding such antics.  Perhaps, if he keeps up such behavior, the legislature will, like an exasperated parent, simply cut him, and the rest of the UC, off.  And then, of course, there will be no choice but to privatize.

Hmmm.  If I was a conspiracy theorist, I might buy that for a dollar.

Published in: on August 29, 2010 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  

a trend that needs to stop

A friend of mine noted on Facebook that the ability to think and write seem to have become rare birds, if the ‘comments’ section of most news websites is any indication.  At the same time, another friend posted a link to Michael O’Hare’s fabulous letter to my students, in which he discusses the ways in which the failure to fund education, at all levels, leads to a fundamental decline in our society.  If we would just have been willing to give up that extra thousand square feet of McMansion, and if everyone in California with a certain income level paid $1000 more in taxes a year, we wouldn’t be in this boat.

Being in Arizona, I see it a little bit differently.  Here, it is less a matter of misguided propositions and an ‘I got mine’ attitude and more of what made the West the West long ago….it is a mindset that says that education is not important, and that hard work, and the work ethic to go with it, are all you need.  But when a position that lists supervising other people has a starting wage of $7.75 an hour, there’s something wrong with this picture.  Even here, with it’s relatively low cost of living, that wage doesn’t pay the rent for a family.  But Jan Brewer doesn’t seem to care.  She’s too busy pandering to the far right, creating posters that evoke Rosie the Riveter for her re-election campaign.

Brewer's ad Whatever you think of SB 1070 — personally, I understand the impetus behind it, if not the vitriol associated with it — Brewer makes it very clear whom she blames for what she calls the ‘flood of illegals’ with that ‘Obama O’.  But really, isn’t this is an issue she should have taken up with Bush, since he slashed the INS budget?

But perhaps this is just part and parcel of what the problem is.  Of course, Brewer and her ilk would blame those in this country illegally (and their attendant ‘anchor babies’) for sucking resources from ‘real’ Americans.  But that’s not the case.  No, this is about focusing on the wrong things.  In the 90’s and the early part of this century, we focused on getting ‘more’…bigger houses, better cars, fancy dinners and designer clothes.  But is that ‘more’ really more?

I would argue it is not.  Our ‘more’ has stolen vital resources from our children.  I will leave the issue of natural resources to others, as I am not an environmentalist.  But the ability to think is also a resource.  It is a resource that businesses lament the loss of…their employees cannot think for themselves.  It is a resource those of us in education lament on a daily basis.  When I ask a student what she thinks, I despair when she tells me that no one has ever asked her that before.  Thinking, for her, is secondary to filling in bubbles on a standardized test.  The latter is what constitutes ‘knowledge’ for her — and it is the least kind of knowledge, because it doesn’t allow her to think.

Critical thinking is what allows us to move forward.  To solve the problems of immigration and global warming, of crumbling budgets, of how to fund universities, community colleges, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools.  It is what allows us to think not only outside the box, but to reconfigure the box into a ladder.  It is a lack of critical thinking that allows an unthinkable number of Americans to think our president is a Muslim, and that education and the support of the poor are somehow less important than combating moral issues.

Of course, it is easier not to think.  It is easier to let Glenn Beck or Jan Brewer or even the Democratic National Committee to do our thinking for us.  I always disliked it when the union UCI TAs belonged to sent out a ‘voting’ guide…didn’t they trust us graduate students can read and decide for themselves whom and what to vote for?  And as history proves time and again, in times of financial crisis, people turn to others to make decisions for them, because they are too busy keeping roofs over their heads to worry about the larger world.

But education is something we should worry about, regardless of our personal finances, religious beliefs, or any other attendant issues.  When education — the ability to think — is in danger, nothing else matters.  Without education, does anyone really think the economy will get better?  When did we stop believing that education mattered?  How did we go from a nation that valued people who think to a nation of people who don’t question the Orly Tavitz/Glenn Beck/Fox News view of the world (and yes, the other side is just as much to blame…do I really have to agree with everything Dennis Kucinich or Rachel Maddow says to keep my liberal cred?)  This is why I worry, and this is why I believe that without an investment in education, we are doomed.

Published in: on August 28, 2010 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

disappointment, with a twist

Today, the Goldwater Institute issued a report that found that much of the reason for the huge leaps in college tuition can be traced back to ‘administrative bloat’.  Between 1993 and 2007, the number of administrators at American universities grew by 39%, while the people who actually ‘do’ the work of the university — teach — only grew 18%.

More disturbing is that while institutional spending on teaching and teaching support grew by 39% (adjusted for inflation), the spending related to administrations rose a whopping 61%.  61%…are you kidding?

On the same day, one of my favorite bloggers, a man who tells it like it is, bought the tenured faculty line — he’s flopping on the beach.  In response to the New Faculty Majority proposal to move adjunct and contingent faculty to something resembling tenure over the next 20 years, he simply declares that their proposal is “so far removed from the reality of running a college that it’s genuinely difficult to take seriously.”

But before he says this, he goes into why it’s so ‘unreal.’  And what it boils down to is money.  In fact, he says that ‘administrative bloat’ is a canard.  Really?  So explain why, on the very same day, the Goldwater report makes it very clear that ‘adminstrative bloat’ is a very real thing.  (Although I must admit, their solution — to put the cost of attending university back on the students — isn’t one I’d agree with).  Look, I get faculty are expensive.  But when every UC campus has a chancellor earning over $200,000 a year, and a president who considers himself the caretaker of the cemetery where higher education goes to die who earns, with benefits, over three-quarters of a million, then really, can we say that faculty salaries are the problem?  I don’t think we can.  It’s that person hired to make sure that little Susie and Timmy aren’t *ahem* bored.  It used to be that a faculty advisor advised a student group as part of his or her job.  But with publish or perish for tenure, and more than 50% of your faculty being contingent or adjuncts, you have to hire someone to do that job…at a cost.

So what I say is that instead of saying it can’t be done because it costs too much, perhaps the time really has come to trim the administrative fat, roll back the assumptions of what faculty are ‘supposed’ to do to get tenure, and then, lo and behold, the issue of paying for adjuncts to become faculty with some sense of security becomes exactly what it already is … a non-issue.

Published in: on August 17, 2010 at 11:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

the new norm

In 2007, the AAUP finished a study on adjuncts and contingent faculty.  In it, they determined that some 70% of all faculty in US institutions were not only not tenured, but were not even on the tenure track!  If 70% of all faculty are in this position, tenure is no longer the norm, but the exception.

And then the thought hit me…wait, if we’re 70% of the faculty, why is it that we are treated as second-class citizens?  With few exceptions, we have no job security, no benefits, and, sadly, most of us have little respect from our places of employment (I am lucky to have an exceptionally fabulous dean who really does endeavour to make her adjuncts feel like a part of the school.  Probably because there are so many of us).  If we are the majority, then why do we allow this?

In classrooms, we deplore the third world conditions of sweatshops, explain the dangers of outsourcing, and talk a fine game of social justice and equitable pay for all.  Yet we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of in ways that would strike us as beyond the pale if they were happening to someone else.  Two recent developments have jumped into the debate.  The AAUP’s new statement on tenure suggests that the over reliance on contingent faculty can damage campus engagement, and offers up several alternatives for the conversion of contingent faculty to something approaching tenure.  They cite such schools as Vancouver, Western Michigan, and the Cal States, and discuss the advantages and pitfalls of these various schemes.

While their solution — that contingent faculty be moved to tenure — is a laudable one, as the blogger Dean Dad notes, salaries are a huge chunk of campus budgets.  He’s right…it’s a bit of a conundrum.  While the goal of tenuring everyone is a lovely thought, there’s just not enough money to do it.  But in my last post, I talked about how Wisconsin is paying their tenure faculty overload pay to reach their goal of 75% full-time faculty teaching.  How is that any more economical than giving adjuncts tenure?

Well, gosh, the people behind New Faculty Majority have thought about that, and about a lot of other things surrounding the issue of how to get adjuncts off what they call the “perpetual probationary period” and into stable positions.  Their ‘Program for Change‘ is up on their website, just waiting for your comments and suggestions.  So how about it?  If we are going to own our own power, we need to do something beyond just bitching.  We are the majority of faculty…let’s start acting like it!

Published in: on August 16, 2010 at 8:25 am  Comments (4)  

sort of like a Schoolhouse Rocks video…

Remember this? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.  Or in the case of an adjunct, work and paychecks and classes.

Recently, the community college system in Madison, Wisconsin decided that in order to increase their ‘faculty facetime’ with students, and to reach a goal of having 75% of classes taught by full-time faculty, they’d offer overload pay to their FT faculty at the expense of adjuncts, who, understandably, did not take it well.  This is something we hear every day.  But what got me was not the article (which can be found here), but the comment down the page which quoted a university president as saying “full timers were practicing was a profession and a vocation while what the adjuncts were practicing was an avocation”.

Excuse me?  Just because I don’t have a tenure-track position doesn’t mean I’m any less invested…in fact, I’m more invested.  Unlike a tenured colleague, I can be fired — okay, not asked back — if my evaluations suck.  I have no job security, no benefits, and no real way of participating in campus life other than what my department and dean are willing to give me (although I will tell you that at my current school, my dean is a dream).  This is my vocation.  If I was doing this on a whim, trust me, I could find a job somewhere else, doing something different, that paid me far more, and gave me pride of ownership in ways that adjuncting cannot.

Perhaps in the past (the 1980s, for instance), when money was plentiful and full-time positions were fast and furious, adjuncts were people who had come to teaching at a later date, having had a fulfilling career somewhere outside of academia.  Or perhaps they were industry specialists teaching specialized courses (for instance, I once had a class about the American West taught by a former Congressman from Montana…oh wait, he was faculty).  But my reality, and the reality of many of my peers, is that there aren’t TT jobs open, and if we are to continue to teach, adjuncting is the only option we have.  We aren’t doing this because we’re dabbling in teaching.  We are teachers.  And researchers.  And just as smart and educated and committed to the mission of the university, college, or community college as the full-timers are.

The truth of the matter is, we are second-class citizens.  I’m not asking that every adjunct faculty member be hired right this minute…that’s not possible.  But perhaps, rather than doing full-on job searches, why not re-write the rules so that adjuncts who already know the campus can be hired from within?  Vancouver has a program to do this…why can’t other community colleges, colleges, and universities do the same?    In fact, why isn’t this the norm?  It seems self-evident.  People who have already invested time and effort into a school’s students should get preference in hiring.  They don’t need to learn the culture, and they’re already on the payroll.  They also have already proven they can do the work, and do it well (or a campus wouldn’t have them back, right?).  So why not give us adjuncts a chance?

Published in: on August 13, 2010 at 7:47 pm  Leave a Comment