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Dear Teachers College Community Members: We are the proud students of Teachers College who have come together to reexamine the state of our institution. We are masters and doctoral students. Some of us are fully funded. Some of us are six figures in debt. We are women, men, residents of the United States and from countries across the globe. We come to Teachers College as first generation college students and as children of academics. Within Teachers College we are an independent group, unaffiliated with student organizations such as the student senate. Yet, members of the student senate are part of our work. Our group is comprised of students from across many departments and programs. What brings us together now is our concern for our College and its ideals. We respond recognizing this vast diversity, speaking not as a single voice but as dynamic voices unified in our concern for Teachers College. We want TC to be an independent institution with a strong, coherent presence that engages with the toughest issues in education. As a dynamic voice, we wish to respond to the letter that President Fuhrman released on May 15th and take up her offer to begin a dialogue regarding our comments, criticisms and concerns. In this letter we also wish to acknowledge and consider concerns of those members of our community beyond Teachers College - teachers, families, and children who are directly impacted by the education policies TC generates - as well as the educators themselves who develop and hone their skills at TC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As caring and responsible scholars and educators, we believe that TC should stand
for what is ethically just and educationally sound. The specifics of President Fuhrman's letter deeply concern us. They bring to light troubling issues of governance and transparency within our institution, and they neglect to address certain questionable aspects of our institution's influence in the greater educational community. We believe the questions posed recently by TC faculty in their letter on the State of the College are timely ones that should be discussed and debated by the entire TC community: What is the role of the university in a society dominated by corporate power? Can Teachers College, as a not-for-profit institution of higher education, provide an independent, respected voice on important issues of education for policymakers and parents?

 

 

President Fuhrman mentions in the beginning of her letter that Teachers College is uniquely poised to lead the world of education in the 21st century. However, throughout the body of the letter she frequently relies on ambiguous references to the practices of other institutions, a bad economy, and the Board of Trustees’ ultimate authority in order to justify the administration’s policies and decisions. If TC is poised to be a leader in higher education, then we ask that Teachers College not merely follow other institutions, but rather lead by example. We are calling for a substantive debate about the political implications of our institution's policies, which would engage those occupying positions of leadership at Teachers College with representatives from the many other stakeholders who are invested in the future of education, at Teachers College and beyond. We believe that TC's leaders should make their beliefs and intentions more clear to

 

those comprising the constituencies that they claim to serve. At Teachers College particularly, and many other educational institutions generally, we are alarmed at corporate or business-like management practices which have undue influence on research and pedagogical performance. A corporate business mentality towards education has led some individuals to become brazen in their attempts to profit privately from the public good of education. A bottom-line, profit-first style of governance is evident everywhere in Teachers College and delegitimizes many of the responses President Fuhrman has given to sundry issues of concern. The corporatization of Teachers College affects both the interior governance of the institution and its influence on citizens beyond its walls. We hope this letter will address this corporate style of governance directly by pointing to its particular manifestations at Teachers College. FY ‘14 BUDGET With respect to the FY Budget for 2014, after invoking the fear of "economic uncertainty" (a common tactic used to justify “austerity” measures), President Fuhrman says that the administration’s "reading" of the available resources at Teachers College limits their ability to allocate funding in ways the faculty and students have asked. She also notes that transparency has increased in budgetary issues for the "relevant" individuals and that she looks forward to continuing discussions with faculty members by department. Charity Navigator reports the opposite. Teachers College gets a fairly low score for an institution of its 'calibre'; receiving 2 of 4 stars in its “financial” section. This low ranking takes into account, among other things, the unavailability of certain tax documents for public examination. Aside from TC’s place in rankings, President Fuhrman’s insistence on transparency for the “relevant” individuals invites a question: who decides who is “relevant”? If everyone at TC--and even those outside of TC--are affected by its budget decisions, then every single member of the TC community is a relevant individual with respect to budgetary decisions. But in an institution with corporate governance, a small group of exorbitantly-compensated individuals decide who is relevant with respect to budgetary information. A similar question arises again when President Fuhrman mentions the administration’s “reading” of TC’s available resources. Her phrasing invites the question: whose reading is the legitimate reading? Perhaps if the community itself, through an open and shared process, were to interpret the status of TC’s resources our conclusions about their proper distribution would be different. Again, here we have evidence of corporate governance where only those who are highly paid decide how we must interpret revenues, deficits, and surpluses. For instance, the 2014-2018 Financial Aid Plan will deepen inequity at the College and won't begin to address the striking lack of funding that makes TC students an exception in the Ivy League. INCENTIVE PAY/BONUS

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Fuhrman writes that financial expectations are not being met; enrollments are falling, and expense/revenue projections are conservative. But senior administrators in the last several years have been nonetheless awarded significant performance bonuses. The question must be asked: what constitutes ‘successful’ performance in the eyes of the Trustees? Again, who decides what counts as a successful performance? Once more, it seems that only a very small group of extremely well-off individuals make this decision behind closed doors.
 

 

President Fuhrman, as she does throughout the letter, places undue authority on the Board of Trustees. She says she will recommend that they not give the administration “performance-based” bonuses. We cannot guarantee that the Board will refuse, however. The implication is that, if the Board chooses to reward the administration for its “successful” performance, then administrators have no choice but to accept the gift. But even if the Board were to take President Fuhrman’s recommendation, can we be given a guarantee that the bonuses won’t then be awarded in another form (e.g. stock in Pearson, increased expense account limits, etc.), as often happens for corporate executives who publicly pretend to forego bonuses, but in fact only forego them as a part of salary payments? This issue, however, goes beyond the confusing relationship between the Board and the administration to which Fuhrman alludes. We are concerned that decisions have been made about surpluses that did not consider the voices of those directly affected by those decisions. To take just one example, is it right that a surplus is used to pay for administrator bonuses even while most MA and PhD students struggle mightily to survive as students in New York City? Given the already high salaries of the administrators we find this decision to award administrators rather than help out students to be quite distasteful. Perhaps decisions about how to use the institution's surplus would be more justly made if every member of the institution was invited to participate in decision-making processes. Here is a list of TC's 10 highest-paid administrators (total compensation including bonuses from FY 2010):
Susan Fuhrman (President) $625,231 Thomas James (Provost and Dean) $464,343 Suzanne Murphy (VP for Development & External Affairs) $435,882 Harvey Spector (VP for Finance and Administration) $369,444 Sharon Lynn Kagan (Assoc. Dean for Policy) $347,352 Scott Fahey (Secretary to the College, Chief of Staff) $300,294 Nancy Streim (Assoc. VP for School & Community Partnerships) $288,193 Lori Fox (General Counsel) $282,109 Janice Robinson (VP for Diversity & Community Affairs) $279,942 William Baldwin (Vice Provost) $252,223

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In light of the above we would like to note that there has still been no coherent explanation as to why tuition is slated for another 4.5-5% increase; an increase which exceeds current

 

inflation rates, and why the college is planning on cutting staff. PEARSON BOARD POSITION President Fuhrman states in her letter that the TC Board of Trustees approves of her board service with Pearson, and believes that it is important for a company like Pearson to have an educator’s point of view represented at the highest levels of the company. However, we find this statement vague and we believe that President Fuhrman’s board position and stock holdings in Pearson are a conflict of interest. The Columbia University Senate's Conflict of Interest Review Committee of 2011 convened in the aftermath of the University's reputation being negatively affected by the activities of two Business School Professors featured on the documentary Inside Job - recommends that constituents of the University should 'Require disclosure of paid consultancy in any resulting publication as well as unpaid activities if they create perceived bias'. Furthermore, Appendix E of the Columbia University Statement of University Policy on Conflict of Interest clearly addresses the scenario of a “Self-Dealing Conflict,” which is defined as occurring when: The possibility of a self-dealing conflict typically occurs where an officer has a significant personal interest in a transaction to which the University is a party coupled with some degree of influence or control over the outcome. In such an instance, since the officer may derive a private or personal benefit from the transaction, the officer is vulnerable to the charge that his or her influence within the University might be used to advance this private interest or benefit. As a stockholder in Pearson (as of 5/9/13, President Fuhrman owned $272,088 in Pearson stock) President Fuhrman is a benefactor of the earnings that Pearson makes each quarter from sales and the multi-million dollar contracts that the company secures across school districts. Based on these facts alone, we neither support President Fuhrman’s position nor investment in Pearson. Nor do we view her alliance with Pearson as a benefit to Teachers College. When the dominant trend in public education is the imposition of policies that promote standardized testing as the valid measurement of student learning and growth, the school year becomes organized around the test and limits intellectual growth to the strict confines of test preparation. To justify her relationship, President Fuhrman notes that she values "cross-sector conversation" between corporate interests and education, drawing an analogy with the conversations between policymakers and researchers. She explains her position on Pearson's board of directors as that of an educator on the inside, representing education's interests in this massive corporation, expressing a concern for the overuse of testing in schools.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We find this problematic. President Fuhrman abdicates responsibility again by claiming that the Board of Trustees hired her while she was already on the board ten years ago. There were a decade’s worth of opportunities for her to decide for herself that serving on the Board of a company which profits by promoting standardized testing across the country was the wrong thing to do. She could have cut ties with Pearson, and yet she stayed on. Though President Fuhrman implies that it has been her goal to represent the interests of educators and students “on the inside,” during her time on Pearson’s Board we have seen the strengthening of the privatized testing regime in New York State and the US.
 

 

Finally, President Fuhrman compares the way corporate interests interact with education to the way in which policy and research within education interact. This breezy analogy is yet another example of a corporate attitude towards education: that education should be subject to mechanisms of private profit in the same way legislators should consider research findings is a deeply flawed analogy. Markets make profit, not justice, and they should not dictate educational policy, research and practice. Students across the country deserve a more humanistic approach to education The use of standardized tests to evaluate student learning, the quality of teaching, and the overall “performance” of schools is both unjust and pedagogically irresponsible. TC should not only be developing methods for authentic assessment beyond derivative managerial examinations (soon to be given to children in kindergarten), but also engaging in a more profound conversation about what constitutes a good education, in addition to actively fighting against the testing regime which often results in the closure of public schools. Only according to a corporate logic would it be so easy for someone to justify the kind of relationship that President Fuhrman, and hence TC, has cultivated with Pearson over the last ten years.

 

 

     
 

TC MEDAL Though President Fuhrman acknowledged that the process for choosing Merryl Tisch as this year’s Distinguished Service Medal awardee lacked broad community involvement, we reiterate with other concerned members of the TC community that we are greatly disturbed by TC’s decision to award the 2013 Medal for Distinguished Services to NYS Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Especially, we sympathize with this year’s graduates who were offended by the award decision and demand shared governance in the future selection process where the voices of graduates and others are valued. This move reflects what we perceive as yet another example of the corporate style of governance so prominent at Teachers College. President Fuhrman states in her letter that the “decision to bestow the TC Medal on Chancellor Tisch was made to recognize her body of work and leadership across a range of fields, including education, and does not constitute an institutional endorsement of specific decisions, opinions, or policies.” We find these words ironic because our objections go beyond the specifics of Chancellor Tisch’s political legacy but what she symbolizes, and it is the

 

 

 

test-driven corporate education reforms that she symbolizes for many, as evident in the NYS parents petition and the national teacher petition. We agree with Fred Smith, an alumnus of Teachers College and a member of Change the Stakes, who described the disastrous political legacy of Chancellor Tisch: “As a member of the [New York Board of Regents] since 1996, Tisch has supported New York’s testing program as it became the black hole of education from the inception of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. Children have been reduced to data points. Education is now a census filed annually on their answer sheets.” The fact that President Fuhrman indirectly benefits from Chancellor Tisch’s decisions as the state’s chief education policymaker to hold major contracts with Pearson makes this issue even more troubling.
 

 

Parents, students, faculty, and staff sent a message during convocation on Tuesday that neither President Fuhrman, Chancellor Tisch, nor any other official complicit in the ongoing corporatization of education could ignore. Holding signs saying “NOT A TEST SCORE,” we communicated our dissatisfaction to the world. The Washington Post, among other mainstream news outlets, picked up the story. We will continue to voice dissent against policies, decisions, and practices that bolster corporate governance of education in this country, from kindergarten to doctoral seminars.

     
 

CONCLUSION Above we have taken issue with seemingly disparate things. We have ethical objections to President Fuhrman’s dealings with Pearson; we loathe Chancellor Tisch receiving the alumni medal; we resent an inexplicable and seemingly inexorable increase in our tuition and debt obligations, impoverishing many of us to the point that we will be unable to lead the lives of service we came to Teachers College to pursue; and we are dismayed, that even should we be able to lead these lives of service, they may be mindlessly governed and routinized by the logic of educational standardization, aided and abetted by our College’s president. In short, we feel powerless in the governance of our own education and stymied in our aspirations to lead lives of service in education. Universities have five constituencies: students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community which they serve. The trustees of Teachers College should be made up of these constituencies equally. As it stands, students, faculty, non-administrative staff, and the parents and children of New York City’s public schools take no real part in the governance of their College. We seek to change this. And until this change happens, until governance is shared, until the college is truly open, we will remain suspicious of those in temporary stewardship of the institution which we cherish. And so we ask those who run Teachers College to join us in seeking John Dewey’s “audacity of imagination” to create an open Teachers College where craven personal enrichment is unheard of and shared governance is as taken for granted as the joy of learning. Only then will we live up to our College’s ideals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

Signed Students of Teachers College 5.24.13