Monday, November 2, 2009

Gould Commission at UCI

The Gould Commission came to UCI, with our own Chancellor Drake, Cynthia Brown, Mary Croughan and Chris Edley presenting the Commission's structure, its mission and its willingness to listen to a sparse audience, perhaps sixty profs at most with a smattering of students and staff. The Commission asserted that the policy recommendations that they were going to draw up were not to be reactive, but rather to be authentic projections of the better UC that we should become. As expected, Edley was by the far the most aggressive member of the Commission, cross-examining the former Chair of our Faculty Senate in his best lawyerly style when she insisted that the UC should not have differential tuition across the campuses. He turned it around and asked her if UC Merced should offer better financial aid, and if financial aid should not be differential across the various UC's. Jutta Heckhausen paused and said she had not thought of this, and considered UC Merced a special case. I thought that Edley was supposed to be LISTENING, but obviously he has a few ideas of his own that he isn't keeping so secret. At one point, he asked Carol Burke to go home and think about how big a graduate program at UCI should be, and asked her to email him the answer when she had drawn her conclusions. To Julia Lupton's eloquent statement about technology and distance learning as well as distribution of resources for instruction rather than on-line ed, Edley replied, "Of course our initiative will serve professors and instructors first." I was almost reassured, when the gloves finally came off and he expressed exasperation in response to my brief statement about the Commission's managerial ethos, which seemed to neglect an intellectual rationale or vision for the UC: Edley, "I've been in California almost five years four months and twelve days, and I am tired of the ROMANTICIZATION of the UC." To paraphrase, he went on to tell us we aren't all that, and that we need to be remade and reinvented. He was also responding impatiently to an Assistant Professor of Anthropology who had mentioned that the Socratic method had worked for 3000 years and that sometimes, education at the University took place simply as conversation in his office; Ann Van Sant of English suggested the Commission may not have the instruments to measure such interactions: Edley: "You just can't compare the excellence of teaching 400 students with the excellence of conversations you are having with three of them!" I WISH I had recorded his controlled rant about how blind we all are to our limitations, and how deluded we were about our past. Now there are enormous problems with the UC, but when one of the Gould Commission's members is already "tired" of our alleged self-mythologization then, the power that he has can indeed be wielded to destroy an institution's legacy in the name of his version of a the future. In addition, he urged us to have "charity for UCOP" because if we knew about how dire the budget situation was, we would be grateful indeed about how much money we managed to get from the State considering the depth of all the cuts that have been made. This seems persuasive on some level, but I wonder if Edley or UCOP recognizes what it is like for the rest of us. I would like the admin to be a bit more grateful that we are all working at a feverish pace at less pay, watching our community's most vulnerable members lose their jobs as staff and clerical workers live in fear of a pink slip. If I saw a bit more understanding of life on the lower echelons, I might be more inclined to feel "charity" for our leaders. I am already a philanthropist of my own the tune of 7% of my paycheck. Drake seemed to be genuinely distressed when one speaker spoke of how poorly her students wrote and commented that large lecture courses of 400 were perhaps not the best places to learn the skills we assume college students should possess...One emeritus Medical prof suggested that what we should be offering as a University is something more general and broad than simple professional training. Yes, but Edley's 400 haunts us all...Managerial solutions have taken on the allure of a sovereign heroism...and the rest of us are seen as impractical malcontents, unable to fight the right wars, renounce our ideals or our romanticism and take on the new realities...Athenians in short.