American Association of University Professors
University of Delaware Chapter

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November 2003 aaUPBEAT

Corporatized Education: Trends & Dilemmas

Higher Education Moneys: the Unfolding Drama

Recent reports concerning the national trend in rising higher education tuition has triggered public curiosity about the source of these increases and how higher education institutions go about the job of determining how they should and shouldn't spend their funds.

Such concerns provide the context for the current public discussion accompanying the release of studies documenting the mounting salaries of university presidents. That these increases are occurring at a time when colleges and universities are raising costs and trying to become more financially efficient by pursuing the corporate model of organization has not gone unnoticed. As an October 8 Philadelphia Inquirer article stated, "Universities mimicked the corporate playbook last fiscal year when paying their academic leaders. Just as corporate executives won double-digit percentage pay raises despite flat profits and slumping stock prices, university presidents saw huge pay hikes in a year when schools faced declining endowments, budget cuts, and inevitable tuition increases."

As with other Delaware residents, UD faculty's awareness of these issues is at least partly tinged by the fact that recently it came to light that UD's President Roselle has the second highest salary - $660,654 - of all public university presidents in the nation.

But the fact of high presidential salaries is only the tip of the iceberg. The real issue here isn't the names of the top salary-earners among college and university presidents but rather the fact that the large salary increases for this strata of higher education officials hints at a deeper and more complex problem: that the corporate model within higher education does to education what it does to private business; it prioritizes the role of administrators and technocrats over the role of the actual creators of products and services. This is why at colleges and universities mounting administrative expenses have played a bigger role in skyrocketing tuition costs than has the (proportionally) lower funding that goes into faculty salaries and other academic investments.

Evidence gathered by the national AAUP establishes the reality of this trend.

  • Since 1930, public and private sector colleges and universities have increased spending on administration and administrators far more than on instruction and faculty.
  • Since 1980 administrative costs have grown by 60% (after adjusting for inflation) while instructional costs increased by only 39%.
  • Spending on instruction has barely kept pace with increased enrollments in public colleges and universities. Since 1976-77, instructional spending per student increased by only 4% (public colleges) and 12% (public universities). Private colleges and universities, on the other hand, increased instructional spending by 22% and 51% per student during that same period.

It is because of these and related facts that the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education was established in 1997 by Public Law 105-18. Although after researching the rising cost problem the Commission was hesitant to single out either administrations or faculties as being solely responsible for increased tuitions, it did acknowledge that colleges' and universities' tendency to be secretive about funding decisions and the relationship of those decisions to academic goals plays a prominent role in driving the current cost crisis. As the Commission's "Straight Talk About College Costs and Prices" states -

"This Commission... finds itself in the discomfiting position of acknowledging that the nation's academic institutions, justly renowned for their ability to analyze practically every other major economic activity in the United States, have not devoted similar analytic attention to their own internal financial structures. Blessed, until recently, with sufficient resources that allowed questions about costs or internal cross-subsidies to be avoided, academic institutions now find themselves confronting hard questions about whether their spending patterns match their priorities and about how to communicate the choices they have made to the public."

This lack of financial forthrightness coupled with the trend of higher education institutions investing more in administrative expansion than in instruction has prompted increased debate - sometimes quite acrimonious - over higher education's purpose.

Supporters of the corporate model of education view administrations as worth the extra cost if they organize higher education institutions into "product" delivery systems (the product is a degree) in which labor costs are kept at a minimum, the customers' wants are prioritized over the deliverers' (i.e., faculty's) values, and the language of efficiency replaces the language of quality.

Faculty, of course, often take - as does the AAUP - a different view. Although recognizing the value of institutional efficiency and cost-savings, many faculty believe such ends can be achieved within a framework engineered from the perspective that investing in faculty, instruction, research, and other academic aspects of higher education institutions is the surest way to guarantee that efficiency and education go hand in hand.

What's key here is the idea of hand in hand. When the need for such mutuality is ignored or destroyed, colleges and universities are misdirected toward substituting corporate efficiency concerns for faculty's educational concerns. This is the danger of the corporate model. Although emphasizing efficiency can be a powerful tool for correcting certain problems within higher education bureaucracies, the notion of efficiency in and of itself carries within it a problematic value: an industrial view that reduces complex systems of production (whether of goods or services) to simplistic equations pertaining to what the Random House Unabridged Dictionary calls "the ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort."

Such a notion, in combination with militant cost-cutting policies that prioritize savings over quality, is not the way to prepare higher education for the challenges that will face the U.S. during the remainder of the 21st century.

Student Evaluations: The Corporate and Consumer Models in Action

Much has been written over the last decade concerning the pros and cons of student evaluations of faculty. At its most insightful, the debate over these evaluations hasn't been about whether or not students should be given the opportunity to critique their professors (they should), but rather over the issue of how these critiques should be used by departments and administrations once they have been written and collected.

One of the most frequently made negative assessments of student evaluations is that they are over-emphasized during the promotion and tenure processes. The basis of this criticism is that student evaluations are by nature untrustworthy guides to faculty competence because too many factors other than classroom performance influence student attitudes. Studies have shown that a professor's clothing choices, theatricality (or its absence) of presentation, assertiveness in insuring student participation by asking questions, etc. affect student evaluations. Often students reward those faculty members whose lectures are the most "entertaining" with the best evaluations. On the other hand, professors who "disrupt" student comfort by using lectures not only to impart information but also to query students about what they know are frequently punished with bad evaluations. In the absence of an evaluation process that employs standardized criteria for determining what constitutes a "good" or a "bad" teacher, the evaluations often tell us more about student attitudes than they do about the faculty members who are supposedly being evaluated. Additionally, the weight given to such evaluations by administrations creates an environment in which faculty feel pressured to "stay the course" in their classrooms and not jeopardize their evaluations by trying out new teaching methods. As the national AAUP has stated in one of its documents ("Post-Tenure Review: An AAUP Response"), "increased emphasis on students' evaluations of teaching may lead to the avoidance of curricular experimentation or discourage the use of more demanding course materials and more rigorous standards." The document further states that such potentially negative shaping of faculty performance can culminate in "a most serious threat to academic freedom" when the pressure to stay the course in the classroom touches upon not only matters related to method of presentation but also the issue of what is presented.

As serious as such an assessment of student evaluations' weaknesses is, it represents only one aspect of the problem.

Another, equally troubling problem with student evaluations is that their use provides evidence of how the corporate model's vision of a culture of learning includes acceptance of the idea that students are not so much learners as they are consumers. By viewing students as customers and faculty as service providers, the advocates of this vision shift the educational dynamic away from active knowledge accumulation, critical thinking and intellectual self-discipline toward something more akin to shopping at a mall where a consumer "in need" of a particular product or service pays a salesperson to provide that product or need so the customer doesn't have to worry about it any longer. In this higher-education-as-a-mall model, faculty members are supposed to supply what the customer has paid for: the course credits needed for a degree. As colleges and universities increasingly move in this direction, the emphasis is no longer on a student's need to learn but rather on higher education's role as a retailer obligated to take care of its customers by tailoring its products to the customers' demands.

In "Why We Should Abolish Teaching Evaluations," an insightful December 2000 opinion piece in The Daily Targum, the Rutgers student newspaper, William C. Dowling, a Professor of English, emphasized how, under the guise of empowering the educational consumer, the corporate and consumer models actually undermine students' capacity to learn. They do this, Dowling argues, by turning students into passive recipients of a particular product, i.e., education, who have no control over that product other than their power, if they possess the financial resources to do so, to buy it. Any deeper relationship to the learning process is traded away for the consumer's "right" to get what he or she pays for just as long as he or she acknowledges the "corporation's" (i.e., the college's or university's) freedom to shrink its mission to that of mere degree-provider.

As Dowling states in his article, "The worst thing about the consumer model is that it makes both genuine teaching and genuine learning impossible. Students who come to class with the idea that learning is something that 'happens' to them in return for paying tuition, in the same way as a patient has a cavity fixed by the dentist, have a mindset that quite literally makes it impossible for them to learn . . . In reality, learning philosophy or physics or Greek is an activity (a process of inward development). It's much more like training for a marathon or learning to play the violin than buying a Chevrolet or going to the dentist. It's something you can only do yourself, with the guidance of the teacher and within the framework of the curriculum. It is, above all, not something you can buy."

At this point in time, it is often difficult to remember that the original motive for student evaluations wasn't to determine promotions or tenure but rather was to equip students, rightfully so, with an opportunity to provide a faculty member with students' perspectives on the quality of her or his classroom performance. The hope was that faculty members' teaching efforts would benefit from student input while the students would benefit by being allowed to comment on the classroom experience. At that early stage of the student evaluation process, the process had not yet morphed into a reinforcement of the corporate model of education with its view that earning a higher education degree is an experience parallel to buying a car or washing machine.

This is the point where we are now and it doesn't bode well for the future.

University of Michigan and Affirmative Action in Higher Education

The Population Reference Bureau, which operates in conjunction with organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, states in a June 2003 report that within the U.S. population "the number of foreign born reached an all-time high of 32.5 million in 2002" and that this is "equal to 11.5 percent of the U.S. population."

The report further states that most foreign-born immigrants are relatively recent arrivals with more than half of them entering the U.S. since 1990. Of these 32.5 million newcomers, more than one-half were born in Latin America - "with 30 percent from Mexico alone." Another twenty-six percent were born in Asia, 14 percent immigrated from Europe, and 8 percent came from Africa and other world regions.

As these numbers show, unlike during previous periods of U.S. history, current immigration patterns are characterized by an influx of persons of color from developing and/or non-western countries. According to the Population Reference Bureau, a corollary to this trend can be found in the birthrates of U.S. Hispanics and African-Americans: "An Hispanic woman averages just under three children in her life, compared with about 2.2 children for a black woman. The Hispanic population is growing at about 1.3 million per year, while the black population is growing at about 500,000 per year."

The purpose of giving these numbers is to establish the context in which the most recent stage of the affirmative action debate is occurring - i.e., an America in which the population is becoming racially more diverse and less likely to espouse a predominantly European-originated set of values. This does not mean that these values are no longer respected. It merely means that they are now part of a pluralism that requires an awareness of multiple perspectives in order to be fully understood.

Such a pluralism of perspectives, particularly as it pertains to issues like fairness and equality, are at the heart of the affirmative action debate.

The Supreme Court's June decision regarding affirmative action was prompted by two University of Michigan cases. In one, Jennifer Gratz, a young white woman who was a top student in her suburban Michigan high school, challenged the university when her application to become a student was rejected in 1995 while (she asserted) blacks who were less qualified than she was gained admission.

The second case also entailed a challenge from a white woman, Barbara Grutter, a 49-year-old mother of two who was denied admission to the University of Michigan law school in 1996. As in the Gratz case, Grutter maintained that the rejection of her application resulted from the fact that she was discriminated against because of her race - i.e., being of Caucasian background.

The Supreme Court's ruling on these two cases was rightly hailed as a win by pro-affirmative action groups who feared that the Court might reject the very premise of affirmative action - i.e., the need for policies designed specifically to rectify the ongoing consequences of past race-related discriminations and imbalances. As the Coalition in Support of Affirmative Action and Integration announced in a post-ruling press release, they saw the Court's decision as a "victory for the new civil rights movement." The release further argued that "the Court's decision to uphold Bakke is a resounding rejection of the Center for Individual Rights' and other right-wing organizations' attempts to turn the Fourteenth Amendment inside-out from an instrument for progress to a device for resegregation."

But although the Court upheld the need for affirmative action programs, its analysis was nuanced, and in some places hard to pin down, as evidenced in its differing analyses of the Gratz and Grutter cases.

Whereas in the case of Grutter's rejected law school application the Court concluded that her rights had not been violated and that it was appropriate to use racial criteria as one of the measurements for acceptability into the program, in the Gratz case the Court found that giving an extra 20 points to blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans as part of an admissions rating system was too rigid or mechanistic a method of correcting the problem of racial imbalances and the need for greater diversity. The Court found in this case that although it was acceptable for the university to pursue an affirmative action policy, the university, in order to do so within the law, had to develop a policy with a more "narrowly tailored" set of criteria than its current point system.

Soon after the Supreme Court's ruling was announced, CNN summed up what it believed had been the essential question before the Court: "At issue was whether racial preference programs unconstitutionally discriminate against white students."

From this perspective, the Court's June ruling was a victory for affirmative action supporters and for those who believe that a diverse educational system is a prerequisite for guaranteeing that society's major political, economic and cultural institutions reflect the racially and ethnically changing nature of the nation's population. But victory or not, the Court's decision was cautious enough so that the stage has been set for the continuation of the affirmative action debate in the coming years.

Attend AAUP Faculty Meeting

On Dec. 8, 2003 from 12 to 1:30 p.m. in Room 347, McDowell Hall there will be an AAUP faculty meeting. All are invited to attend.

Workload Policy Problems

Many faculty members have expressed concern during recent weeks about the Administration's heavy-handed intervention in the formulation of departmental workload policies. These concerns have included possible violations of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We will report more on this in the December issue of the AAUPBeat.