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It's the Shared Governance, Stupid by Jonathan Rees Colorado State University – Pueblo (Presented at the University of Denver Strategic Issues Panel on the Future of Higher Education, 17 July 2013)
It's quite an honor to address this panel, so I feel bad that I'm going to take the punch bowl away from this party. That's because I'm here to represent the faculty point of view with respect to the future of technology in higher education. Fortunately, there are many reasons that I am a terrible representative. First, I'm tenured. While everyone has an impression that professors are tenured and invulnerable and employed for life, nothing could be further from the truth on all counts. That leads nicely into the second reason that I'm a terrible representative of the faculty point of view: I have a full-time job. Those of you outside of academia need to understand our dirty little secret: 76% of faculty nationwide are currently off the tenure track, employed as contingent faculty for as little as $3000/course with no benefits and on year-by-year or even semester-by-semester contracts. To make ends meet, these instructors often take jobs at multiple institutions, which often requires insane commutes that would drive ordinary people crazy. All of this so that they can be addressed as “professor” by their students. My heart goes out to each and every one of them. Their dedication makes mine look puny by comparison. Please do not forget that 76% figure. It should affect whatever conclusions this panel eventually draws. I am also a bad representative for the faculty point of view because I am in the humanities. While faculty like me make up a significant portion of most colleges, we are often accused of being dinosaurs in this new vocational age. I think we tend to be more resistant to change than other members of the professoriate. I also think we tend to be angrier because humanists tend to be at the low-end of the salary scale in any university because little or no private sector exists for our services. When I was in graduate school, I was a leader of the Teaching Assistants Association at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, the first graduate student union in the country. Sometimes it seemed as if our entire membership came from the Sociology and History Departments. Grad students in the sciences wouldn't give us the time of day, let alone join our organization.
2 My brother is an economist at the University of Colorado – Denver. While we both gripe about the general stinginess of our mutual employer, the State of Colorado. he is on an entirely different salary plane than I am. I understand how markets work, but this still doesn't make me particularly happy. After all, I actually teach more than he does. This symbolizes the way that faculty members tend to be stratified. Economists over historians, at least with respect to compensation. Full professors over Assistant Professors. Tenure track faculty over adjuncts. It would be difficult for any individual to represent the point of view of all those sub-groups. I'm also a bad representative of the faculty point of view because I think most faculty don't have a point of view about the future of higher education. They're too busy, especially the adjuncts. As a labor historian, I have always been more prone to think about the terms and conditions of my employment more than my peers. What got me directly involved in these issues was a note from my Provost about seven or eight years ago. It explained that our university had made a terrible oversight in the paperwork they had used when hiring people for the previous decade. Every instructor hired at that time was supposed to sign a statement swearing to protect and defend the Colorado Constitution and they had neglected to give us that document. I wasn't planning on plotting a coup, but I had no idea what was even in the Colorado Constitution. I'm not sure why, but I sent an e-mail to the American Association of University Professors (or AAUP) asking them if I could be fired for not signing. I got a call back within half-an-hour. The staffer on the other end of the line explained to me that this had been tested in court many times and that, yes, I could be fired for not signing. I signed. But, more importantly, at the end of the phone call, the staffer noted that my campus had no AAUP chapter. Would I consider starting one? Any organization with such useful information at its fingertips seemed like it would be an asset to me and my colleagues so I said yes. This is how I became interested in university governance issues. The AAUP will gladly offer any faculty member a crash course in higher educational best practices to anyone who chooses to participate. I dove in head first, and then started writing about the experience. The AAUP will be celebrating its 100th year in 2015. In that time, it has studied and reported on all kinds of issues facing campuses of all types. What role should faculty have in picking a new president? The AAUP has a best practice for that. You say your dean is interfering with the internal affairs of your department? The AAUP has a best practice for that. Adjunct faculty on your campus are being exploited? The AAUP has a best practice for that. Seriously, if you're in higher education and you don't have a copy of the AAUP Red Book, then you are
3 missing out on what may be the best resource available for running or simply just participating in university life. That goes for administrators and faculty members alike. The AAUP has been recording the best practices in university governance for almost a hundred years. It has seen everything, and therefore has much to teach interested administrators who are willing to learn. If forced at gun point to choose the most important lesson which the Red Book contains, I would offer up two words: shared governance. What is shared governance? It is the foundational principle that since universities are dedicated to higher education, the people who do the educating should play a significant role in determining how the university operates. The greater the effect of a particular decision on the practice of higher education, the greater the role that faculty should play. I can't remember the exact moment that I first heard the term “shared governance,” but I remember what my immediate reaction was. It was, “Wow, we can do that?” Shared governance is not something that gets mentioned in graduate school. Your dean, unless he or she is an extraordinary person, will not tell you about shared governance. Shared governance is something you learn about from your colleagues. Unfortunately, as higher education becomes increasingly adjunctified and more and more of it moves online, fewer faculty than ever will ever even hear that term, let alone be able to practice it. Therefore, the fact that I am discussing it here makes me a bad representative for the faculty point of view. However, this does not make me a dangerous radical. Shared governance does not mean the faculty control campus. It means that governance is indeed shared. I liken it to the kind of workplace administration that trade union organization like the Congress of Industrial Organizations used to espouse during the 1930s: Labor and management sitting down to work out issues facing an enterprise in an environment of mutual respect and cooperation. Shared governance is not a philosophy designed to promote a communist takeover. It is a philosophy that promotes the idea of labor and management working together for the benefit of themselves and students alike. To champion shared governance is like begging to be managed rather than simply controlled. While the word “management” may seem antiquated during an age when so many employers cut health benefits for employees or move jobs offshore to China, management used to mean showing employees carrots as well as sticks. Faculty are highly-skilled workers. Recognize them as an asset and they can make any university stand out in a crowded field. There I go being a bad faculty representative again. I'm talking about universities as if they were businesses. Of course some universities – for-profit universities – are businesses, but if there's anything most
4 faculty members will agree upon it's that most universities aren't businesses. They're a public good. None of us got into this line of work because of the money. Even the business school professors I know with salaries that would make my brother the economist green with envy could be making more in the private sector. Nevertheless, nearly all of us have entered academia because we believe in the value of higher education for both students and society at large. Start treating higher education like a business, and that value gets diluted if not entirely lost. A good university is a public trust. It's not supposed to make money. Whatever losses it experiences will be more than paid back to society by the revenues that its graduates generate over the course of their working lifetimes. When we talk about reforming higher education to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, we have to remember the success that American higher education has had during the previous hundred years. Even today, more than 40 of the 100 top universities in the world are in the United States. In our lust for reform, let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. That would by my cue to start talking about MOOCs. A few years ago, I started a blog. I named it “More or Less Bunk” after my favorite Henry Ford quote. It was originally a history blog, and it wasn't very good. It picked up steam when I began discussing online education. I had been offered an opportunity to teach online and was appalled by the low standards that were required for these endeavors. I researched the subject and reported my findings on my blog because I figured few of my fellow faculty members knew about this either. Then, maybe a year-and-a-half ago, a textbook publisher friend of mine blogged about a computer science course out of Stanford that had 30,000 students in it. “They can't be serious,” I thought to myself. “How can you possibly teach 30,000 students at once?” They were serious, and you can't (but I get ahead of myself). I can't remember if they used the term in that article, but this was the first time I ever encountered MOOCs (or Massive Open Online Courses). Since then MOOCs have become a mania, the one thing that will single-handedly change higher education as we know it. What separates MOOCs from regular online courses is not only their size, but the entire student experience. While many commentators on my blog who taught online explained to me that good online instructors can work pedagogical miracles through good course design and close personal attention, MOOCs are inherently impersonal endeavors. MOOC professors, superprofessors is now the popular term, do not deal with students. Indeed, many MOOC syllabi instruct students to not even e-mail them. The students' written work (if any is even required in a MOOC) is often graded by machine, or passed off to peers who probably know little about the subject
5 matter. Otherwise, why would they even be taking the course in the first place? This is industrialized education at its worst. The Industrial Revolution began in America around 1815. Most historians place its end around 1930, but really it's ongoing as many industries have yet to industrialize, including higher education. What does it mean to industrialize? I wrote a book on industrialization that came out last year, and in it I define industrialization as “Mechanization + The Division of Labor = More Stuff.” Let's take those terms one at a time. Mechanization is the easiest term here. That simply means replacing people with machines. The division of labor means breaking a job into its component parts and having workers repeat just one of those parts all day rather than trying to do everything. It is the same principle that makes the assembly line possible, but it predates the assembly line. In the nineteenth century, this could be measured in terms of physical manufactured product. In the twenty-first century information economy, this can also be measured in terms of efficiency. Mechanization is what separates a MOOC from regular online educational offerings. While I am still not a fan of online education in general, these classes at least require a living, breathing professor at the other end of the computer screen who is dedicated to the success of every student in the class. The only way for a MOOC to operate at a massive scale is for the entire process to be automated. Students log on, they watch the product that the superprofessor and their team of tech experts produces. They still work essentially alone. The division of labor here involves the relationship between providing content and the rest of the functions of teaching. The superprofessor provides the content. If the MOOC is being used on a college campus, then there might be a local professor who has “wrapped” his course around the MOOC. In an ideal world, that person can give students the individual attention they deserve. In a less than ideal world, local administrators fire that person in order to save money and replace them with a less-qualified teaching assistant. If you think the product of higher education is education, then the comparison between industrialized factories and MOOCs breaks down with the output. However, if you look at the product of higher education as the number of students – and sadly I think that's the way most administrators think – served then there's no problem with this analogy at all. Even if the students in a MOOC aren't paying, the data they provide offers a potential source of income – if not instantly, then perhaps somewhere down the road. This is the revenue model pioneered by
6 Facebook. Who cares if 90% of them drop out? They still get their data, and even 10% (the average completion rate of all MOOCs heretofore given) of a massive number can potentially make a real dent in a school's bottom line. Of course, that dent in the bottom line comes at a cost. I've seen figures as high as $250,000 as the start-up costs for producing a MOOC. However, it's important to remember that those start-up costs are one-time expenses. The entire purpose of a MOOC is so that, like any good piece of machinery, it can be used over and over again. Who cares if the scholarship changes? After all, it's not like anyone is actually paying tuition for the privilege of taking a MOOC. With a MOOC, students get what they pay for. But what happens if students want credit for what they've learned later? That's where the other great financial advantage of MOOCs over courses of all kinds come in – once created, they can run on very little labor, especially the highly-trained labor that college professors provide. Schools that use MOOCs (as opposed to those that produce MOOCs) won't have to pay superprofessors salaries or benefits. More importantly, schools that use MOOCs won't have to pay for any professors at all. They'll need machine tenders, not teachers. Like the iron puddlers of old who were gradually replaced by unskilled steel workers, the market for our skills will dry up even as the demand for the information we provide remains strong. Unfortunately, industrialized higher education is an inferior product. Studies have shown that the most important factor in student success is direct contact with the professor. MOOCs can teach facts, but they can't teach skills nearly as well. The most important part of any college class from an educational standpoint is the grading. That's where the rubber meets the road, especially in any class that involves writing. Much of the problem with MOOCs lies in the inherent limitations of automated grading. Peer grading, in particular, implies that you can learn as much about any given subject from other students as you can from a professor – a position that defies logic, let alone all known pedagogical theory. Yet many people in control of universities want to make online education less interactive rather than more. Since tenure-track faculty are expensive, anything that allows them to limit those numbers is going to be appealing no matter what the effect it has on the quality of education. This fact is absolutely essential in any discussion about MOOCs. Even the best administrators face terrible budget pressures these days. Even if they came up through the faculty and understand the importance of human contact to the educational experience, I am afraid that they will likely opt for MOOCs over living, breathing professors for financial rather than pedagogical reasons. If that
7 happens, I believe that students will forego college in droves since nobody wants to pay thousands of dollars to be treated like just another face in the crowd. Faculty's role in this discussion should be to serve as a check on administrative budget-cutting zeal. We are, after all, the ones who say what education is. If MOOCs do not provide an adequate educational experience, we should not award credit for completing them. If we work in an environment in which there is pressure to give credit for MOOCs anyways, then that is as much a failure of shared governance as it is a failure of any particular university to do its job. In short, it's not really the MOOCs that are the problems. I've taken two so far and have largely enjoyed the experience. They would be an asset to the world – nerdy edutainment for the intellectual crowd – if it weren't for the entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and administrators who are assisting MOOC providers by supplanting living, breathing professors with their videos and computer programs. What professors should fear then are not the MOOCs themselves, but the kind of university governance that makes this kind of abuse possible. That said, those of us who don't think MOOCs are worth the cost still have obligations to the future. We need to explain how our industry can still use technology to benefit students without becoming automated. Speaking personally, I believe in a professor-centered edtech world where we can pick the tools that help us teach better and eschew the ones that simply don't work, or are run for the benefit of investors rather than for students. The learning management system Blackboard, for example, goes through constant updates whether faculty and students need them or not. Hosting my syllabi on the blog website Wordpress, on the other hand, I can control every aspect of its presentation and use and count on the system being mostly the same from one semester to the next. Shared governance offers the vehicle we need to make sure the professoriate's collective preferences are heard, even if they aren't necessarily implemented in their entirety. I believe that faculty, administrators and students alike are all better off as long as that principle continues to be respected. There is an old joke among university presidents that trying to manage a faculty is like herding cats. Ultimately, I'm a terrible representative of the faculty point of view with respect to technology in the future of higher education because I'm only one cat. Nonetheless, I do think that most of us believe that this kind of intellectual diversity is a strength in higher education. Superprofessors who teach tens of thousands of students at once only teach one point of view: theirs. Imagine a future where everyone took classes from Harvard, MIT and nowhere else. What an empty future that
8 would be! Diversity should be cultivated, not treated like a liability that should be targeted through technology or any other force that may somehow transform higher education.