Thursday, February 16, 2012

An Unlikely Exchange: Turd(s) on the Table?

Well, it was an odd exchange, certainly, billed by Inside Higher Ed as a conversation between Michael Clifford, investor in for-profit colleges, and Bob Shireman, architect of Obama administration's regulation of the sector. 

I shall refer to them as 1) Evil Tycoon and Enemy of Higher Education and 2) Fearless Obamanaut and Protector of the University, just to keep things straight. Read the whole thing if you dare, but three scenes really grabbed my attention. 

Scene I
Fearless Obamanaut and Protector of the University: “At public institutions, spending has increased somewhat more than inflation because education is labor intensive. A good professor choreographs a student’s interaction …it is difficult to replace these complex, nuanced judgments with either cheaper labor or with technology.”

It's a daring move, in this kind of historical fiction, to completely rewrite what we know about the past, but Shireman manages it, by ignoring entirely the reality of the past four decades, during which all institutions have been relying more and more on “cheaper labor,” to the point where most college sections are choreographed by adjunct or contingent dance masters, or by graduate assistant understudies. Perhaps Shireman advised VP Biden (here, at about the 47th minute-he does go on) the other day in regard to the theory that faculty costs—and adjunct faculty even!—were the big culprit in ever-rising tuitions?

Scene II
Evil Tycoon and Enemy of Higher Education: “Regarding labor costs, I think that he (Obamanaut) is missing putting the “big turd” on the table: tenure.”

Elegant, no? Anyway, one works with what one is given. Now, isn’t that turd sliding off the table, even as we speak? Again, this is in regard to the replacement of full-time tenure or tenure track faculty, by low paid, and no-or-low benefit part-timers. To the point where, for instance, at one of the places I work, 88% of faculty are non-tenure track. Very soon, at this rate, no turd! Aren’t things sliding fast enough for Evil Tycoon? 

Scene III
Fearless Obamanaut and Protector of the University: “The public policy issues in higher education are complicated and fascinating. They also matter in a big way, especially for the disadvantaged, for upward mobility, for the vitality of our future economy.”

Somewhere along the line, these two guys get around to that point where they hope for future exchanges of views. Oh boy.