The culture that is California

by on October 11, 2011 at 1:51 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink


The University of California last week tentatively agreed to a deal with UC-AFT that included a new provision barring the system and its campuses from creating online courses or programs that would result in “a change to a term or condition of employment” of any lecturer without first dealing with the union.

Bob Samuels, the president of the union, says this effectively gives the union veto power over any online initiative that might endangers the jobs or work lives of its members. “We feel that we could stop almost any online program through this contract,” Samuels told Inside Higher Ed.

1 Gabriel E October 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm


Stay classy unions.

2 EdWegman October 12, 2011 at 3:21 pm

I am now a strong supporter of faculty unions.

3 TG October 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I guess I’ll have to stick with those courses from Stanford and MIT instead.

4 Andrew' October 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm


5 Crenellations October 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I don’t blame the Unions, but why are the regents inhibiting revenue streams?

6 JWatts October 11, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I do blame the unions. This effectively will kill any free on-line courses similar to those offered by MIT and other schools. The only apparent motive being greed.

7 Nicoli October 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I’m not saying I agree with them, but just based on the negative reactions I have read by some teachers targeted at the Khan Academy, I think some are predicting that teaching jobs could be replaced by large standardized lectures developed by only a handful of teachers. I suspect this is the first pushback against that perceived threat.

8 NAME REDACTED October 11, 2011 at 11:21 pm

The pushback will only accelerate the change.

9 Nathanael October 15, 2011 at 12:38 am

That would certainly accelerate the decline in educational quality in the US, if it happened.

I think people are misreading this contract clause. It’s basically saying “You are not going to make us do online courses unless you pay us for it.” There have been, believe it or not, multiple attempts to force lecturers to develop online courses for large numbers of students for *no extra pay*. These are people who work for low salaries, often effectively below minimum wage because they are only seasonally employed.

The union is making only the demand any worker would make. Except that non-unionized workers are afraid to demand fair treatment.

10 Eastfernstreet October 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm

A new definition of greed: wanting to keep one’s job. Wow, we’ve really jumped the rails, haven’t we?

11 Holly Martins October 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Yea, the definition of greed would be trying to save your job at the cost of innovation and at the expense of everyone else.

12 Michael October 12, 2011 at 10:27 am

It’s in one’s own rational self-interest to protect their own job.

Or maybe you’re right. Maybe the government should pass some laws so that we can force people to lose their jobs if it’s in society’s collective best interest to do so.

13 John Personna October 12, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Isn’t the old definition of greed about whether you want to raise yourself, or kick the chair from under the other guy? Online courses are the other guy.

14 Todd Fletcher October 11, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Actually it’s more like “wanting to keep ones job at the expense of the people you are supposed to serve.”

15 pjt October 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm

It’s just quite silly to try to keep your job with that kind of an approach. We’re talking about a market where there is competition. Barring your own employer from that market won’t help you keep your job. It will help you to refuse to change in a competitive marketplace, and end up in a position where no one wants you.

16 Andrew' October 11, 2011 at 4:15 pm

They can’t change equilibrium, but they might be able to slow down the rate of getting there. I imagine the university isn’t interested in competing in such a market because they will never really be able to.

17 Carmichael October 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Think ‘Harry Bridges’ and ‘Port of San Francisco’ and ‘containerized cargo.’ How long did those longshoreman jobs last?

18 Finch October 12, 2011 at 9:58 am

I think Andrew-prime hits it.

In the future world of quality online education, there will be no UC. Second-rate schools will disappear, or persist only as research institutes. There will be a handful of national competitors.

19 JWatts October 11, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Free on-line courses aren’t going to replace teaching as a profession anymore than free textbooks at the local library have replaced teaching. In most cases, almost everything I learned in school I could have learned myself from reading the textbook on my own. Instead, I paid for a classroom and a teacher and it was a good trade off. The overwhelming amount of people learn much better in a classroom environment. Online courses aren’t going to replace that environment. The free online courses are a very useful added value feature, that allow people to supplement their knowledge.

Trying to squelch them is a silly over reaction on the part of the Teachers’ Union.

20 Anthony October 12, 2011 at 1:51 am

The real innovation is to have Khan-academy-like lectures, with the teachers spending more time with individual assistance, instead of spending lots of time lecturing. Los Gatos (wealthy town in Silicon Valley) schools are trying this.

Even though that particular innovation requires no change in the number of teachers, I’ll bet that teachers’ unions will resist the change, especially if it shows significant improvements in outcomes.

21 Thoma Hawk October 12, 2011 at 12:49 am

It really sucked when we put all those candle makers out of work!

22 whowhawhen October 12, 2011 at 11:20 am

Liberal view: the goal of business if to create max employment at a max wage
Free Market view: the goal of business is to produce the best product at the lowest marginal cost

23 KeithOK October 13, 2011 at 12:20 pm

And who appointed you to define the liberal view ?

I guess it’s much easier to debate when you start out defining the other sides’s view. Not honest, but easier.

24 spencer October 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Supposedly, Greed is G.ood

25 Steve C. October 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm

A good example of the capitalists and the workers conspiring against their own customers.

26 Sigivald October 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm


I don’t think that word means what you think it means, if you’re applying it to the UC system.

27 Thoma Hawk October 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm

The university does own all the capital in this case. They are “capitalists” in the sense of ownership but this is not “capitalism” in the sense of free enterprise. I agree with your visceral revulsion at the use of the term in this manner, but I’m not sure there is a better to term to describe the owners of capital.

28 Cromulent October 11, 2011 at 8:36 pm

They aren’t really owners if they can’t sell the property, are they?

29 NAME REDACTED October 11, 2011 at 11:23 pm

The state of california is quite literally the owners.

30 Thoma Hawk October 12, 2011 at 12:48 am

Who needs to own capital when you can borrow it for free and control it indefinitely? Ownership is often as much a burden as a privilege.

Control and ownership are virtually interchangeable in the definitions of capitalism and socialism. Not all privately-held capital has a liquid market.

Besides, their capital consists of a lot of things they can sell or lease. They also get state subsidies for capital investment.

31 David Zetland October 11, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Doesn’t keep lecturers (me!) or professors from putting up their stuff voluntarily. I WANTED my lectures posted b/c that’s how you go from 85 viewers to 49,000 views!

32 David Zetland October 11, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Edit — I misread it. Now I see that the union gets to make the decision. Fcuk the Union.

33 Andrew' October 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm

As one professor told me in the midst of a dispute over where a $100 device (that I eventually simulated for ~$5, but it is important to waste money in ways that look good) should reside “Neither of us owns it, and you don’t own anything, even your data, the university does.” Of course, he took that to mean that he got to decide. Interesting, I thought. I took it into consideration going forward.

34 dr October 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm

How is this supposed to be an example of the unions failing to be classy? It is an unsurprising ask in a contract campaign, or it should be unsurprising since AFT has been working on this issue for years. Moreover, there is no evidence that the union won the clause through anything other than normal bargaining.

That said, it sounds as if the union is overselling what they won. My read of the clause is that it allows the Employer to introduce online offerings mid-contract without prior approval of the union, contingent only on the fact that the union has a right to negotiate the impact of the change. Importantly, the union would have that right even if no clause had been negotiated, and absent the clause the employer would have had reason to wait until renegotiating the agreement before contemplating a major change in work rules.

To me it looks like a compromise. The school wants to introduce online courses but the union doesn’t want to make room for them in the contract. This clause allows the school to establish the program first and then negotiate the impact later. Both sides have reason to agree, the school because it gives them a clear right to do what they please, and the union because it lets them fight online education on a front where raises and benefits aren’t also at stake.

35 dr October 11, 2011 at 3:20 pm

adding – the language of the clause itself is “meet and confer.” Possibly the UC-system has a binding “meet and confer” process articulated elsewhere in the agreement, but normally one would expect an employer to assert that an obligation to ‘confer’ is not an obligation to reach an agreement. fwiw, I could find no reference to ‘meet and confer’ in any of the obvious places in the prior contract.

36 PrometheeFeu October 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm

What some of us are reacting to is that this is not normal bargaining because the UC regents are not bargaining with their own money. If the UC system was a private company who paid the lecturers by attracting customers, that would be one thing. But the UC system does not spend its own money and the people whose money it spends have effectively no say in the matter. As a result, those of us who pay taxes in California can get a little pissed off when we feel the regents gave in to union demands too easily or when the union exploited the fact that ultimately, the regents’ interests are far from perfectly aligned with those of the tax payers.

37 dr October 11, 2011 at 4:55 pm

That is just the position that public employees should be denied bargaining rights. Since I take it as a bedrock principle that all employees have a fundamental right to form unions, I think I’ll just have to assume that you are evil.

38 PrometheeFeu October 11, 2011 at 5:22 pm

“That is just the position that public employees should be denied bargaining rights.”

Huh? Where did I say that? I just said some of us get a little upset.

“Since I take it as a bedrock principle that all employees have a fundamental right to form unions”

That seems covered under the idea of freedom of association right? I don’t see the problem…

“I think I’ll just have to assume that you are evil.”

If it makes your model better at predicting reality, why not?

39 Cromulent October 11, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Public employees should *not* have the right to bargain collectively. Even FDR knew that.

40 figleaf October 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm

This is a problem?

At least among outside training consultants it’s pretty much boilerplate in contracts that you won’t use materials or recordings of their sessions to develop your own in-house training without a) their prior approval and b) paying a (often healthy) licensing fee.

Oh wait, I get it. When a private contractor says “you can’t use my own work to undercut or outright replace me” it’s it’s called “free enterprise.” Also “standard business practice.” But when a union does it it’s suddenly, what, “socialism?” “Union featherbedding?” “The culture that is California?”

Don’t get me wrong here. As someone who’s more than a bit sour over the stagnation-amplifying explosion of intellectual property “rights.” But if it’s perfectly fine for the MPAA, or Disney, or Nathan Myrvold doing it (a position I don’t share) then it seems a bit, um, partisan-agenda to balk only when unionized professors do it.


41 D October 11, 2011 at 3:26 pm

When a private contractor says “you can’t use my own work to undercut or outright replace me” it’s it’s called “free enterprise.”

Huh? Does that private contractor gig come with health care and tenure? I bet lots of universities would trade tenure for the opportunity to negotiate licensing of coursework. Top engineering and law professors would probably prefer such an arrangement.

42 figleaf October 11, 2011 at 4:03 pm

“Does that private contractor gig come with health care and tenure?”

No. But except at the very lowest levels (comparable to TAs in academia) corporate trainer’s fees are more than adequate to fund their healthcare and retirement plans.

Their fees, incidentally, often don’t include the travel expenses such as hotels, food, air and local transportation, one or more staff assistants, printing and/or shipping of collateral materials, etc., that get tacked on. As arranged by contract. Sometimes the individual trainers are represented by (private) agents, agency bureaus, or trade associations they join and/or hire to negotiate terms, set standards, do booking, make arrangements, review business agreements, etc. Just private entities choose to be represented by, oh, say, the MPAA, in order to set standards, optimize workflows, and maximize their revenue streams.

So what’s your complaint?


43 PrometheeFeu October 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm

“So what’s your complaint?”

They are not negotiating with the people who foot the bill.

44 Jonathan October 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm

This is the instructor union. They’re sub-minimum wage contractors with no job security beyond the semester.

45 John Thacker October 11, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Although, they do boast that “our lecturers have one of the strongest non-Senate faculty contracts in the nation” on their website. Yet they strangely complain that they don’t have “market rate salaries,” which seems an odd complaint in a contractor.

It also appears that they have job security beyond the semester. At the least, it seems that they can only be fired if the department is shrinking, and former employees have the first right of refusal to claim re-employment if the department re-expands. There are a lot of acronyms and references on that page, though, so it’s hard to tell.

46 Dennis Tuchler October 11, 2011 at 3:30 pm

The Union did its job well. Its job, after all, is to represent the workers; not to seek the best outcome for the employer and its customers. The fault lies with the University, which gave up an important service to students and kept faculty from experimenting in a way that might help students and further that faculty member’s research goals.

47 Andrew' October 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I’m confused, can a professor create an on-line presence? I’m not convinced unions represent workers and I don’t understand why a board represents customers. I heard this a lot with GM, that the management could have taken a strike rather than agreeing to unsustainable terms. I don’t really buy it.

48 dr October 11, 2011 at 4:41 pm

The normal way that things work is that individual instructors (we aren’t talking about professors here) are free to set up their own online presence, including archiving lectures and such. In general, the Contract will regulate what programs the institution may put in place, not what individual employees may choose to do.

It is possible that a union contract could limit this freedom, but there is no obvious place in the Unit 18 contract where that happens — certainly the clause under discussion does nothing of the kind. Moreover, it seems to me (as someone who has negotiated contracts in this field) that at least as likely a source for constraints would be the institution itself, which may assert a property right in the work product of its employees.

And, again, the university didn’t give anything up. The union is WRONG about what the clause does. This is probably because, as an AFT higher ed local, the union is strongly committed to having workers run their own union. That’s good for democracy, but it does sometimes mean that the people running the union misunderstand the legalese embedded in their contract.

49 John Thacker October 11, 2011 at 4:25 pm

The Union did its job well. Its job, after all, is to represent the workers; not to seek the best outcome for the employer and its customers. The fault lies with the University, which gave up an important service to students and kept faculty from experimenting in a way that might help students and further that faculty member’s research goals.

Perhaps the fault lies with the system that gives the union extra negotiating power? Are there any circumstances where you, and others who defend the union on moral grounds for doing its job under the rules but claim that the result is unfortunate, would favor altering the rules to produce more equitable results?

50 PrometheeFeu October 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

“Perhaps the fault lies with the system that gives the union extra negotiating power? Are there any circumstances where you, and others who defend the union on moral grounds for doing its job under the rules but claim that the result is unfortunate, would favor altering the rules to produce more equitable results?”

I think the fault also lies in the union taking advantage of the system which gives them undue influence. If in the middle of negotiating I pull a gun and hand it to you, that was stupid. When you pick up the gun and point it at my head, your actions are unethical. That is a highly schematized version of the argument.

51 Nathanael October 15, 2011 at 12:33 am

The only entity with “undue influence” here is the university administration.

All this clause says is “If you start doing online courses, you fuckers had better renegotiate our contracts, rather than just expecting us to do it for nothing.”

52 dr October 11, 2011 at 4:56 pm


53 Floccina October 12, 2011 at 10:14 am


54 RZ0 October 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I’m always disturbed by comments that question the freely held negotiations between arms-length parties.

Yes, this particular contract point looks like it favors the union, but there are many other points in a contract. If they are all so one-sided, it shows that either the union negotiated well or the regents negotiated poorly. I can think a few contracts that ended up the other way around.

Meanwhile, would anyone be upset if arm’s-length negotiations between, say Jeff Immelt and Bill Gates, ended up one-sided? Would we be decrying how the public’s interest was ignored? I don’t get why contract negotiations that involve unions must account for the public interest in ways that other negotiations do not and that it is always the union that must consider the public interest and not the other parties at the table.

55 Andrew' October 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm

What if I think they are both to blame?

56 Cliff October 11, 2011 at 4:18 pm

They are not arm’s-length negotiations, they are negotiations between co-conspirators. The state and the teacher’s union vs. the students and citizens.

57 NAME REDACTED October 11, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Exactly. State employee unions are sketchy.

58 GiT October 12, 2011 at 4:14 am

This comment expresses utter ignorance of the UCOP and the UC Regents.

The UC office of the president is strongly anti-union and engaged in a plan to move the university towards a private model. The Regents are chiefly composed of bankers and CEOs. David Crane, who is vocally against collective bargaining, was narrowly prevented from assuming a full position on the board by the state legislature in a rather atypical event.

They are most certainly not ‘conspiring’ with anyone. They are heavily funding and pushing for online initiatives.

59 John Thacker October 11, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Meanwhile, would anyone be upset if arm’s-length negotiations between, say Jeff Immelt and Bill Gates, ended up one-sided? Would we be decrying how the public’s interest was ignored? I don’t get why contract negotiations that involve unions must account for the public interest in ways that other negotiations do not and that it is always the union that must consider the public interest and not the other parties at the table.

This a public university system. The taxpayers and students of California are not present at the bargaining table, but, yes, I do criticize negotiations that don’t take their interest into account. Public employee unions with collective bargaining and power to compel new hires to join create unbalanced negotiating power.

Sure, the unions aren’t morally to blame, it’s the system that causes the unions and management to have poor incentives. So while not blaming the unions morally at all, I’m sure you’ll join me in eliminating the union shop and in privatizing universities.

That’s for the same reason that I would want to change government to reduce rent-seeking, grants to specific companies, and earmarking, but don’t blame specific companies or Congressmen for seeking the money when the programs are there. And similarly why claims that libertarians use public goods or liberals don’t voluntary pay more taxes hold little weight with me.

I tend to find that people who defend unions, management, crony capitalists, Congressmen, or anyone else who is merely taking advantage of the system at the same time strongly oppose attempts to change the system. Hopefully you’re not the same way.

60 dr October 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm

In other news, institutional actors sometimes overpay for paper.

61 Thoma Hawk October 11, 2011 at 5:18 pm

These are not freely held negotiations between arms length parties. The union is a cartel of labor and the university is a monopoly franchise for public higher education. The battle between monopolies would eradicate consumer surplus if it were not for the government transfers in the form of grants, loans, and subsidies. It’s a conspiracy against both the students and the taxpayers negotiated by the union and the university.

The loss of potential gains in efficiency and the ability to deliver education to nontraditional students should be obvious.

There are lots of professional certification programs where the courses are entirely self taught and supplemental materials from education providers are available for a fee. These “courses” are delivered by book, video, and internet resources.

The relative effectiveness of alternative education delivery to brick and mortar education is not well studied. My sense is that B&M is superior, but there is good evidence that knowledge retention from B&M education is pretty poor.

62 RZ0 October 12, 2011 at 7:20 am

Have seen lots of conjecture that the negotiations were not arm’s-length, but no evidence. The evidence that happened to be presented said that the regents are strongly pro-business and populated by CEOs and others with a presumed anti-union bias.
Thoma Hawk’s suggestion that there is a monopoly franchise for public higher education is interesting, but I think there is a reasonable competitor, the private higher education system. Which one costs more, after accounting for the state subsidy? (not a snarky question – I don’t know the answer and lack the time to research)
The presumed lack of backbone among the regents has its counterpart in negotiations between the board of public companies and their CEOs (and their unions, though there aren’t many of those anymore). Both the regents and the corporate board have an agency problem – the CEO largely selects his board, and the public employees play a large role in selecting the politicians who elect the regents.
All that said, I think most Americans are quite happy with the quality delivered in higher education.
As far as online learning, I think most undergrads struggle to keep up with the material when it is spoon-fed via the classroom. Online coursework requires a lot more motivation. There is a market for it – as I type my wife is completing a rigorous certification course through Boston University that has a professor and two TAs for 45 students – but the learner has to be highly motivated. (That course cost $3K – comparable to an brick-and-mortar model.)
Up to 75% of the material earned at the undergrad level (the stuff outside your major) is not the subject you are most interested in. If it’s important to deliver that as part of a well-rounded education, it will be difficult to do online.

63 sourcreamus October 11, 2011 at 3:55 pm

The difference between this negotiation is that if Mr Immelt or Mr Gates do not feel they are receiving value in their negotiations they are free to negotiate with someone else. Labor unions have a government enforced monoploy which is being used to hurt the citizens of California.

64 figleaf October 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm

“if Mr Immelt or Mr Gates do not feel they are receiving value in their negotiations they are free to negotiate with someone else.”


It kind of depends on the terms of their existing contracts, doesn’t it? I know Gates has willingly broken in-compliance contracts before, but they’ve… tended to be only when the costs of the contractually agreed-upon termination clauses are less than the combined a) opportunity costs of maintaining them plus b) good will and credibility with customers and vendors who are also under contract.

A lot of people seem to talk about contracts and free enterprise the way priests and nuns talk about sex and childbirth.

The regents may have been mistaken but they evidently believed that the benefits of concluding this peculiar contract clause outweighed the benefits of not doing so. And who knows? Given the current state of the art in “distance learning,” televised lecturing, and other forms of on-line education it might even have been a wise choice. At some point in the future, when the technology advances to a point that graduations for on-line learning breaks the 25% mark, it might be advisable for them to have that fight with their unions. Or else (I’m not holding my breath) folks like Kaplan and Channel One will figure out how to do it and public universities, with or without unions, will go the way of Encyclopedia Britannica and the Yellow Pages. Till then? I dunno, it just doesn’t seem like a slam dunk decision to give the profs this little (possibly eventually Pyrrhic) victory.


65 PrometheeFeu October 11, 2011 at 5:28 pm

“The regents may have been mistaken but they evidently believed that the benefits of concluding this peculiar contract clause outweighed the benefits of not doing so.”

Of course. But one must remember the fact that their decisions mostly produce externalities. I cannot as a tax-payer decide that the UC system is not something I wish to invest in because I believe an alternative is better. I must keep paying for the UC system no matter what my preference is in the matter. As such, the incentives for the regents are only vaguely aligned with those of the people who pay the bill and attend the university. So yes, they made a cost-benefit analysis, but the majority of the costs and benefits may have been ignored.

66 Nathanael October 15, 2011 at 12:32 am

You don’t understand the situation, try reading the commenters below who know something about the working conditions of contingent faculty.

67 Jim October 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm

>The culture that is California

This has nothing in particular to do with California.

It is the culture of the Democrat party, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of labor unions nationwide.

68 Thoma Hawk October 12, 2011 at 12:55 am

Under US GAAP the DNC and labor unions should have to do consolidated financial statements. Campaign contributions should fall under transfer pricing rules or transactions with affiliates.

69 SDFII October 11, 2011 at 4:14 pm

hastening their own demise..

70 Historicus October 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Isn’t the real perpetrator the ‘star-system’ that the University of California (and other elite institutions) have pursued for so long? The notion that ‘uniquely good’ scholars can offer ‘uniquely good’ education through the lecture is, I think, somewhat erroneous, unless by ‘education’ we mean only the transfer of a set of facts or scholarly – in which case a taped lecturer with great stage-presence might suffice.

The problem with ‘learning to think’ in a lecture is twofold. First, the format of a lecture, because it privileges the voice of a single person presenting information, produces in the audience (i.e. students) an expectation that they are present to hear about facts and truths and to internalize those facts and truths. Second, because students may show up expecting to engage the information passively – to learn a set of memorizable facts – they often leave a lecture that ‘teaches the puzzle/problem’ with confusion

Take, for instance, a lecture on economic factors in the fall of the Roman Republic. History A says that ‘possessive individualism’ among the elites led to oligarchy, which paved the way for a demagogic tyrant, while History B says that the plebs became too greedy for redistribution of wealth and one man (Caesar) succeeded in achieving power through demagoguery. A good teacher would put the pieces of the puzzle (and given the fragmented state of ancient historical data, they are very much puzzle pieces) and ‘coach’ (to steal TC’s words) students as they try to make sense of the puzzle, helping them avoid epistemological traps, bad methodological moves, etc. This requires active engagement on the part of the student, and I would venture that most audiences of a lecture do not arrive with the presupposition that they ought to be actively engaged – further, the format isn’t particularly well-designed for this sort of engagement.

A good university teacher will transmit not only a set of facts, but also a set of skills. Most humanists call them ‘critical thinking,’ but that phrase is insultingly vague. Rather than asking if a lecture can transmit critical-thinking skills, I’d wonder if a lecture – live or online – can train students to:

1. Track down information, i.e. research, which requires not only the basic technical skills of database and library searching, but also the creativity to ask the sorts of questions (or find the sorts of keywords, these days) that help one find the meaningful books/data.
2. Evaluate the rigor of arguments and methodologies
3. Ask questions that no one has recognized yet, and develop answers to them.

Can one person do that in a broad lecture? This would seem to require a set of skills that a typical doctoral program will not develop in its students (the ability to train others to do the things that one is training to do), particularly because they are ‘soft’ skills that most academics and most doctoral programs seem to de-privilege (i.e., the ‘coaching’ that TC has written about, is not a technical skill but a soft, managerial-motivational skill).

71 PrometheeFeu October 11, 2011 at 5:30 pm

I think that a lecture in and of itself makes for a very poor education. However, lectures can be combined with many other things to great effect. So if we could drastically reduce the cost of lectures, that would free-up resources for other things.

72 Borealis October 12, 2011 at 12:20 am

Most college courses in the UC system are taught by graduate students working part-time. Might as well take a course online as take it from someone who sat in your seat two or three years ago.

73 Historicus October 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I was formerly a grad student in the UC system. It isn’t strictly the case that most courses are taught by grad students – rather, that the most meaningful aspects of courses (the interactive, non-lecture, problem-solving aspects, such as labs and sections) are run by graduate students, and this is a major problem, as most grad students have very little training and experience in teaching. I like the idea of online courses, provided that they are accompanied by the kinds of learning experiences wherein students train to think. The lecture-section system frees up money to allow the hiring of ‘star professors’ rather than a cadre of lecturer-rank professors who would not bring prestige to the research-mission of the university. Judging from my department, one could hire 2-3 lecturers for every star, but again, that would require the system to sacrifice some prestige, and since enough people buy into the ‘credentialing’ perspective on higher ed, the system acts accordingly and hires a star, regardless of whether the star scholar is also a star instructor.

74 ElamBend October 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm

and King Midas said “Stop!”

75 Bill October 11, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I don’t understand the logic of both sides.

Faculty have life time tenure and thus cannot be displaced.

76 Thoma Hawk October 12, 2011 at 1:01 am

Not exactly. You don’t think universities have loopholes?

If they eliminate or reorganize an entire department or college, they can cut tenured professors loose.

There is also increased use of non-tenured lecturers like our Lecturer-in-Chief.

Hell, maybe on online president would be an improvement.

77 GiT October 12, 2011 at 4:20 am

AFT represents contingent lecturers, not faculty.

78 Nathanael October 15, 2011 at 12:30 am

Exactly. It’s representing the most-abused segment of university teachers — fireable at will, poorly paid, etc.

79 dearieme October 11, 2011 at 5:59 pm

In some subjects lectures are pretty unimportant. It’s in the labs that you learn stuff. At least in my day.

80 John Personna October 11, 2011 at 6:42 pm

If I remember my Christensen, and “Innovator’s Dilemma,” then someone needs to endow a “new University” unbeholden to the old model. The old value networks, and there are several in play at traditional Unis, are too strong.

81 Frank Revelo October 11, 2011 at 6:59 pm

The purpose of universities is not be educated (exception: lab courses in hard science and engineering), but to obtain a credential. Credentials issued by a new university unbeholden to the old model would probably not be accepted by various gatekeepers, such as government licensing boards or civil service hiring standards system.

82 Kevin C. October 11, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Exactly; I don’t believe any such “new university” would be able to get accredited by the recognized accreditation agencies. Instead, it would be simply dismissed as another “diploma mill” by the deeply entrenched and established interests of the current system (and attempts to go around those as “accreditation mills”). Those “old value networks” are even bigger and stronger than John Personna thinks.

83 John Personna October 12, 2011 at 8:06 am

Credentials are obviously the challenge, but given the resistance to change in traditional Unis, it may actually be the less difficult path.

84 David October 11, 2011 at 7:57 pm

If California is anything like New York, students will find a way to take online courses elsewhere. In NY, the SUNY system is really encouraging its faculty to offer online courses. Any student who wants to take an online course anywhere in the state fills out a standard web form, an automated check is made with their home institution about whether they’re a student in good standing, and within 24 hours they’re issued a campus ID number and passwords for registration. It’s incredibly simple, and will probably soon get simpler still. When the course is finished, transferring the credit towards a degree in their home institution is already pretty much automatic.

If a university like Cornell were to refuse to offer online courses and a student wanted to take them, they could do so very easily, and much more cheaply than at Cornell prices. So if anyone (unions, departments, whoever) were to dig in their heels against online education, students would very easily route around the blockage and find a way to take the classes elsewhere. Because the marginal cost of hosting an extra student is much lower than the registration costs they pay, online courses are big money makers. There is also a growing demand.

I doubt the situation is very different in California. Maybe innovative institutions like Stanford and others stand to really cash in if the UC system to decides to not compete in this market.

85 Nathanael October 15, 2011 at 12:30 am

The U of C lecturers have no problem with doing online courses. But they expect to be paid for them. There have been serious attempts by administrations to force already-poorly-paid lecturers to do more work with no more pay.

Incidentally, the marginal cost of hosting an extra student, in a course of the same quality, is just as much online as offline (extramural offline, anyway) — arguably more.

86 Frank October 11, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Charlie Darwin will take care of this, too, but this time handily.

87 Borealis October 12, 2011 at 12:15 am

Pssst. Invest in the University of Phoenix.

88 Thoma Hawk October 12, 2011 at 1:11 am

The current administration is trying to kill UofP and all schools like them.

Relying heavily on federal financial aid, the Dept of Ed is putting back defaulted student loans on the schools, as if they can guarantee employment and responsibility for their former students.

As far as I know, traditional schools don’t have to pay back for their defaults. And the proprietary schools are generally cleaning up the mess for a failed public education system. Proprietary schools have a weak track record, but they get the worst students, most of whom could not get into any public college.

89 GiT October 12, 2011 at 4:41 am

Oh please, the predatory lending practices of for profit colleges are well documented, as are their incredibly high default rates. (All the public 4 year institutions are under 5% for two year defaults. No UC is higher than 2%. Private for profits? The highest rates stand at 28%.)

The only reason the California public education system is failing is continuous disinvestment by the state.

90 Thoma Hawk October 12, 2011 at 11:35 am

I’m quite familiar with the marketing and admissions processes of proprietary schools. I don’t object to criticisms of their student recruiting practices involving unrealistic expectations for future employment and low debt coverage ratios. Traditional schools are guilty of precisely the same misrepresentation, but they fall back on the quality and ambition of their students.

But i suppose you missed the part where I pointed out that they are often the educators of last resort for high school drop outs, single moms, and other nontraditional students.

Cringing over their high default rate is like comparing the default rate on payday loans with prime fixed rate mortgages. No kidding there is a difference!

The problem, as I see it, is not the high default rates from these schools but that student loans are distributed more or less equally without regard to prospects for future income and employment. My suggested reform would conform more to the four Cs of lending rather than blaming schools for factors they don’t control. A student oriented loan system would still kill the business model of many proprietary schools. But bear in mind we will be passing judgment on individuals based on past performance, not the prospects or even hope for success.

Well documented? By whom? Advocates for traditional education who see dollars going elsewhere that they think they might otherwise get. The upper tiers of the proprietary school students could get into a college, but they choose not to. The middle tier could get into community college, but those classes are full because of underpricing. The lowest ability tier could not get into any public school anywhere. What alternative do you suggest for these students? Are you relegating them to work as a waitress instead of medical billing or massage therapy or dental assisting or auto repair?

Of course, let’s blame the school instead of the students who took out the debt.

91 bunker brown October 12, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Yes, some people are born to be waitresses or whatever. I am under no obligation to raise someone up from their lowly position in life. If the waitress is attractive she can use her vag-power to advance in the world if she is so inclined.

92 GiT October 13, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Private for profits service such students purely because of disinvestment in public programs.

Community colleges in California had to turn away 675k students this year, precisely because of trickle down effects from cuts at the UC and CSU levels. That’s why private for profits have a niche to exploit.

And yes, I will blame the schools who take part in issuing the debt before I blame students for taking on debt. The informational and power asymmetries between the two parties are as clear as day.

93 The Anonymouse October 12, 2011 at 10:45 am

Have you ever tried to have a serious conversation with a University of Phoenix “graduate”?

94 bunker brown October 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I immediately throw out any resume from anyone who went to University of Phoenix, DeVry or any equivalent schools. Some of these morons have a Bachelor’s and Master’s from these schools.

95 Tangurena October 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm

>traditional schools don’t have to pay back for their defaults.

Yes they do. If and when their default rates get too high, they get clobbered. Generally, the “schools” with the highest rates of defaults are the ones with the highest dropout rates and the ones who could not live without their “students” (or “marks” if you prefer) getting financial aid.

96 nice strategy October 12, 2011 at 12:33 am

First of all, the State of CA subsidizes the UC system less with each passing year and tuition increase. The students who choose to enroll pay for much of the cost, and they have many alternatives (the CSU system, community colleges, private colleges, out of state public institutions, or some hybrid thereof).

If students start clamoring to spend more time isolated from one another so they can save a dime, let them do it outside the UC system. The state is not well served by the compartmentalization of knowledge or people. Corporate forces are.

There are a great many subjects ill-suited for online courses, and a set of online courses is a poor substitute for a comprehensive education interacting with human teachers and peers. It is not in UC’s interest to lose its brand as full-service 4 year universities to become state-associated training programs that serve only those subjects with easy to measure employment impacts.

Large, teacher-centered lectures could be automated, leaving more resources for other educational endeavors. But that is not the agenda of the automators.

Governor Scott (FL) just declared war on the liberal arts. The liberal arts are a waste of money! All investment must flow to production. Producing is our new identity.

Software should be a friend to teachers everywhere, but right now, no one is much interested in raising a new generation to be better than ourselves, so the defensiveness over automation should be unsurprising. It appears that growing numbers of people are mostly interested in how to acquire a credential with the least actual education possible.

Turning education into just another market transaction negates the socializing function of education. Our working paradigm for assigning value is fundamentally flawed, thanks to the dehumanizing effect of poorly constructed and highly politicized cost/benefit analyses that reward short term growth over long term investment. The market system no longer works for us, we work for it, there can be no non-economic rationales for anything, starting around age 14. How very sad.

97 Thoma Hawk October 12, 2011 at 1:03 am

I didn’t see many human teachers at Cal.

98 Pat MacAuley October 12, 2011 at 12:45 am

Universities exist to provide good jobs for professors and administrators.

99 GiT October 12, 2011 at 4:56 am

God forbid the University administration should consult teachers in deciding how to pursue its educative mission.

100 Jim October 12, 2011 at 10:37 am

God, what a bunch of entitled, smug, thieving losers there are on this site. UC wants to turn teachers’ work into another revenue stream. Why *shouldn’t* the teachers share in this revenue? Most of you people make me want to puke.

101 The Anonymouse October 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

Wow Jim, tell us how you really feel. 😉

102 Salient October 12, 2011 at 11:37 am

So, the university can’t assign its faculty the uncontracted responsibility to create online courses without consulting the union.

It makes sense that you’d want lecturers to have some protection from the university forcing lecturers to videotape their lectures and put all their class materials into an online course for no additional money. I mean, I’m being asked to do this at my university. It’s a lot of extra work that is guaranteed to work me out of a job, as they relegate the class to “online only” status and let me go (they plan to continue offering the courses but aren’t hiring anyone to teach them, so guess what my mandatory “online supplements” are going to become).

Changes to one’s job duties are a pretty big deal, especially when one is assigned “you must leave behind a canned audiovideo poor substitute of what we’ve hired you to do each year so we can fire you and assign those students the online course made from your work instead.” I don’t blame them for being a little boisterous in response.

103 Salient October 12, 2011 at 11:40 am

…I should say that technically speaking it’s actually other people who are (potentially) losing their jobs over this (though no “final decisions” have been made, the winds are a-blowing). I’m playing at most a secondary supplementary role, as someone who is contracted year to year. So there’s an extent to which I’m speaking on colleagues’ behalf there.

104 bunker brown October 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm

If you don’t like it you can quit. Just like the private sector.

105 Nathanael October 15, 2011 at 12:26 am

Or you can strike. Just like the private sector.

No particular reason why employers should be allowed to be tyrannical dictators, although I do realize it is a popular view among fascists.

106 Foobarista October 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Maybe you should say “the culture that is unions”…

107 JRP October 13, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that this thread lacks a discussion of the comparative marginal benefits available to the education consumer. The greatest weakness in our education system appears to be our inability, or unwillingness, to identify those components of education that produce the greatest bang for the buck. Internet or classroom aside, what elements produce more learning by actual students? The ability to distribute materials with demonstrated effectiveness over the Internet should be a plus. On the other hand, I doubt Jaime Escalante was a great teacher because he handed out superior lecture notes. Nevertheless, I don’t see how the Internet can ever replace teachers with the empathy needed to engage and inspire students. In any case, the teachers’ union crushed Escalante’s math program and drove him out of the profession without having to consider the Internet.

108 Nathanael October 15, 2011 at 12:25 am

Given that you don’t know jack shit about university working conditions, perhaps you don’t understand that this is actually pretty much necessary. Lecturers are treated horribly. I have no doubt that the union is happy to provide online courses *if the lecturers are paid properly for preparing them*.

There have been serious attempts made by university administrations to require additional work without additional pay when assembling online courses.

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