Chris Newfield, like many of the faculty at the University of California, was surprised by the appointment of a UC president with no academic experience. Getting a purely political appointee for the top post at UC seems like a really bad idea to many faculty at a time when we need a president who understands the problems that the University faces (internal and external). Having seen the results of deans and chancellors imported to UCSC, compared with ones promoted from within, I really doubt the wisdom of bringing in an outsider as President of UC.
We need someone who can defend the University against those in government who would starve public universities into nonexistence (a defense that our Regents and prior president showed little interest in mounting, preferring to praise the legislators and governors for reductions in funding that were marginally less bad than they might have been).
Internally, we need someone who can guide the University in both its teaching and its research missions, understanding both the synergy and the competition for resources of the dual mission. For the past decade the University of California has been sacrificing the teaching mission more and more, in order to grow the research enterprise. And I use the word “enterprise” deliberately here, because the goal has clearly been to increase research funding, not to increase research. We need a president who understands the delicate balance of the dual mission, and seeks to right the balance gently when it tips too far in one direction. Given the rather heavy-handed imbalance of the Homeland Security apparatus, I have serious doubt that Ms. Napolitano’s experience there is going to be of much use to her in helping UC steer a clear course.
The UC faculty are rather tired of having political presidents forced on them from the outside. Having one whose experience is more at running a top-down police agency than shared governance structure is particularly concerning. What were the Regents thinking? (Probably that the faculty don’t matter and that they can practice mushroom management on us: keep us in the dark and feed us horseshit.)
Here are some questions that Chris Newfield posted on his blog Remaking the University (Some Unanswered Questions for UC President-Elect Napolitano) that Ms. Napolitano will have to address as UC President:
Can Ms. Napolitano do better with major questions that the public and politicians are asking, day in day out? Just having more clout and connections than Mr. Yudof isn’t going to do the trick.
- Why should public universities have public funding restored? Why can’t they just do more with less–perhaps by using more technology like everybody else?
- Why should public universities and not just wealthy privates like Stanford and Harvard conduct expensive scientific research? What are the public purposes, or huge scale, or something, that requires lots of public support in the public sector?
- What specific types of undergraduate educational improvements would result from restored funding? How would students benefit, exactly, from public reinvestment?
- What are the limits of online education for public university students? Why shouldn’t UC students spend, say, two of twelve quarters studying off site and online to make better use of resources? What exactly is the harm in that?
- What are the limits of competency-based education? Why shouldn’t we disaggregate our public colleges into skill-oriented units with semi-routinized instructors and an emphasis on peer-to-peer instruction? Why isn’t a collection of “badges” as good as a college degree?
- Do we really need as many PhD trained faculty teaching 20 year olds as we have? What do they do that technicians running MOOCs can’t do?
- Do we really need so much academic research? What are we really learning from political science? Or art history? Or environmental biology?
- What is wrong with using post-graduate salary data to grow and shrink majors by statistical evaluation and administrative decree?
- Why should the state pay more money when so much is just going into employee pensions, which most Americans no longer have?
- What are the educational, intellectual, or social benefits of allowing students to protest? Why should taxpayers support institutions that disgruntled young people use to launch attacks on society? On the other hand, why can’t UC keep non-UC police off campus and create a safe space for political speech?
- What is the payoff of academic freedom, beyond giving professors protection that few Americans have in their own workplaces?
I think that these questions are an excellent start at some of the key issues facing a new UC President, and I really hope that some miracle occurs and that Ms. Napolitano turns out to have good thoughts and good advisers on these issues. I suspect, though, that she is going to be confused by accomplished middle managers in the Office of the President into increasing the power and numbers of middle managers and that she’ll be manipulated by the Regents into privatizing the University.
I wish I had more confidence that the Regents had the best interest of the University at heart, but their actions over the past decade give me no reason to believe it.
I wish I had confidence that the managers populating UCOP (the University of California Office of the President) understood and supported the mission of the University, but like middle managers everywhere, they seem to believe that UC exists primarily to provide good-paying jobs to middle managers.
With no understanding of the University from either the Regents or UCOP, we desperately need a president who does understand and who also has the administrative and political skills to guide the University. We ended up with someone who apparently has strong administrative and political skills, but no record of understanding the University. She is likely to push UC strongly in a new direction, but whether this is a positive or a negative direction is left entirely to chance. Given the strong support she is getting from the Regents, I’m betting on it being a really negative direction (near total privatization of UC, gutting of employee and faculty benefits, reduction of resources for teaching, replacing retiring faculty with underpaid “instructors”, outsourcing of teaching, …).