Outrage and the Moral Dimension

December
2003
Ian Walton, Chair

Does it ever seem that only the faculty cares about what's right? This depressing thought was prompted by a reflective look at the events of the last six months from the cozy vantage point of a Thanksgiving weekend bed and breakfast inn tucked away in California's gold country. Perhaps a more realistic assessment comes from a Virgin Radio talk show host in London on the morning of the recall election results:

". and now California has gone completely mad."

Could it be the same moral malaise that requires both politics and education to be entertaining rather than substantive? In politics it produces the bizarre result that a movie actor is deemed instantly competent (even desirable) to run the 5th largest economy in the world. And in my own math classes I marvel that students who have never seen mathematics more recent than perhaps four hundred years old complain about a television documentary on twenty year old mathematical discoveries because the actor's clothes are out of date. Both voters and students seem to prize entertainment value above all else.

So who's promoting and defending the fundamental values of higher education? In a more logical world you might expect that the government should play an important role. Instead they seem to be leading the charge to abandon our historical values in the name of efficiency or expediency. In the 1960s the California Master Plan for Higher Education set the stage for the development of a world class educational system where universal access would be provided by the community colleges. Student registration fees did not exist at the community colleges and the California taxpayer believed that this was a worthwhile investment in the social and economic fabric of the state. It would pay handsome dividends in the future. You might well argue that is precisely why California became the 5th largest economy in the world. And with the recent death of University of California President Clark Kerr, now would be an appropriate time to pay tribute to the wisdom of that nineteen-sixties plan.

Instead, the Legislature seems poised to dismantle its fundamental goals. Two dangerous, but unspoken, assumptions form the background to their activities. They seem to be basing their research and proposals on the twin assumptions that

1) the California taxpayer is no longer willing to fund education the way we have known it in the past;
2) and that, as an immediate consequence, the proportion of the costs borne by the state must decrease.

These assumptions should cause vehement moral outrage-but instead they seem to be barely noticed amongst discussions of increased student fees and accountability through performance outcome measures and revised funding formulas.

How can they justify the notion that California taxpayers who personally benefited from the state's provision of higher education for themselves and their children are now unwilling to provide the same educational support to the current generation of students? That's moral bankruptcy at its most odious. That's where we should all be outraged-not just the faculty.

And how can they claim that the educational engine that drove California's economic expansion of the last forty years is no longer a worthwhile investment. That's short-sighted financial lunacy.

The Academic Senate is speaking out in opposition to these two pernicious assumptions.

At a December 9th hearing by the Assembly Higher Education Committee, your representatives made these points-in the presence of system outsiders who had expressed alarm about the "enormous and chronic underfunding of the community colleges" and before a slightly more receptive legislative committee. But this argument needs the louder voice of the faculty and California's voters to say

we believe that the California taxpayer should continue to fund the state provision of quality higher education for all who can benefit;
we believe it's the right thing to do for all the people of California;
and in addition we believe it's the right thing to do for the economy of California.

Without such a fundamental statement we're doomed to the ever-quickening treadmill of budget cuts, fee increases and compromised quality. Students will pay an ever increasing proportion of their own education and participation rates will fall.

At the Fall Plenary Session in Pasadena an Educational Policies Committee breakout session featured President Kate Clark, Chancellor Tom Nussbaum and student Board of Governors member Kristin Jackson Franklin in a panel discussion entitled "Student Fees and Access: Reality vs. Principle" Tom Nussbaum shared historical data from previous recessions that clearly tied fee increases to large losses in student enrollment. And he hinted at the Fall `03 enrollment data, which was released the following week at the Board of Governors meeting in San Luis Obispo. It showed 175,000 lost students, based on an actual decrease from Fall 02 and a failure to meet Department of Finance growth projections. The complete report "California Community Colleges: Fall 2003 Preliminary Enrollment Report" is available online at: http://www.cccco.edu/news/press/press_2003/press_november/fall_enrollmen...

Kristin Jackson Franklin eloquently described the impact of fee increases and budget reductions on student morale. Despite faculty efforts to give extra care to students it is depressing for students to battle closed and overcrowded classes, lost tutors, minimal counseling and reduced services. Such conditions make it even harder to transfer promptly and successfully. In response to a question whether increased fees would produce more serious students she emphatically denied it and commented that cost is not a controlling factor in individual student motivation.

President Clark reminded the audience that as the system struggles to maintain access we have to pay close attention to "access to what?" and "access for whom?" What type and quality of services will remain available and what will be the quality of the academic environment in the classroom? As fees rise at the University of California and California State Universities we can expect more of their students to enroll in community colleges. And we can expect that our "missing students" will prominently feature those most in need of the assistance and opportunities that we have traditionally provided.

In a second Educational Policies breakout a large and vocal audience discussed the role of faculty chairs with panelists Alisa Messer, Paul Setziol and Gary Morgan. It became quite clear that there is no uniform description of terms such as "department" or "division chair"-some of whom are faculty and some administrators-nor of the duties they perform; and there is no statewide agreement on a preferred structure. Existing solutions varied widely with size and campus culture. But a strong sense emerged that there must be considerable local discussion and agreement on the role played by such faculty chairs followed by effective communication with other faculty leaders in the local academic senate and the collective bargaining agent. Many of the audience's specific questions provided excellent opportunities for senate - union cooperation and problem solving. Interactions with part-time faculty were also a concern. The Educational Policies Committee hopes to produce a position paper on the principles involved in this issue and the perspective of the Academic Senate.

We look forward to your continuing feedback-and in the meantime please go out there and express your moral outrage in every way you can.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.