The Irascible ProfessorSM


Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"The liberally educated person is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration."....  ...Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1987).

Commentary of the Day - February 17, 2002:  Unity and the University - Listen Up Charlie Reed, Listen Up!

The current Chancellor of the California State University system, Charles B. Reed, seems to have been at war with his faculty since he was appointed in 1998.  Unlike his predecessors who for all their faults had reasonable academic credentials (Glenn Dumke was a historian of some note, Ann Reynolds has a Ph.D. in zoology, and Barry Munitz holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton), Reed seems strangely disconnected from the campuses he leads.  He holds an Ed.D. degree in Teacher Education from George Washington University; and, he has held administrative and political positions for most of his career.

Reed's demeanor towards his faculty is unusually combative and gruff for a person who leads a major university system.  However, Reed is a skilled politician who has managed to ingratiate himself to the CSU Board of Trustees and to the state legislature.  He knows how to tell them what they want to hear.  Recently, Reed has been involved in a protracted dispute with the faculty union -- the California Faculty Association (CFA) -- over compensation and working conditions issues (the IP is a member of the faculty union, but has not been active in union affairs).

In his past dealings with the faculty union, Reed adopted an intransigent position that led to votes of "no confidence" at campuses up and down the state.  This year promises to be no different.  Good faith bargaining has broken down once again; and, the dispute has gone to "fact-finding" before an arbitration panel.

On February 9th Reed gave a speech to the ACE Fellows Workshop at the American Council on Education Conference in San Francisco.  On his way into the meeting he was greeted by several hundred noisy demonstrators from CFA, who were protesting the lack of progress towards a new contract.

In his speech, Reed touched upon six key points.  His first point was that "universities must stay united".  It appears that what he meant by this is that universities should speak with one voice when addressing the public or policy makers.  Unfortunately, the reception that he received on his way into the ACE meeting made it quite clear that the various constituencies within the CSU have quite different points of view.  Charlie Reed would prefer that everyone in the system hew to the Chancellor's Office line.

Listen up Charlie Reed, listen up!  If you continue to treat your faculty members like dirt, its highly unlikely that they are going forego their right to speak to legislators.  After all, these faculty members vote and pay taxes.  They and their families have enough votes to swing a close election.  Those California legislators will listen to them just as readily as they listen to you.

Reed's second point was that "universities must seek and embrace accountability and credibility".  His main point here was that universities must "add value" to everything they do, and that they must be accountable to the people who pay the bills.  Few would argue with that.  But, the California State University campuses were adding value to their students' lives and to the communities they serve long before Charlie Reed arrived on the scene, and they will be doing so long after Charlie Reed is gone.

Listen up Charlie Reed, listen up!  If you want people to believe what you say about accountability, start by showing the California taxpayers how you can trim the bloated administrative staffs both at the Chancellor's Office and on the campuses.  Right now far too many of the taxpayers' dollars end up in the "black hole" of administration.

Reed's third point was that "universities must be more closely connected to the economy and workforce".  He said that we "have to keep our offerings relevant", and that we must keep up with industry and technology.  However, universities are not trade schools.  Offerings that may not appear "relevant" to the CEO of a large corporation, may -- in the long run -- be very relevant indeed.  The Enron scandal shows that knowledge of the technical aspects of corporate life was insufficient.  Some of those Enron executives might not be in the pickle they now find themselves in if they had paid more attention to those "irrelevant" offerings in philosophy and ethics.

Listen up Charlie Reed, listen up!  There are a large number of CEO's out there who would like us to fit our offerings to their needs.  But, our job is not to train students for their first jobs, but to educate them for a lifetime of work during which they may change jobs several times.  Our job is not to make them great technicians, but to ensure that they become good citizens.

Reed's fourth point was that "we must stay focused on the larger mission of the university".  Here he means that faculty should look beyond their immediate disciplines and departments.  As an example, he said that we need to find a "meaningful way to reward faculty who spend time working with the public schools".  Few would argue with that.  However, the notion of "service" to the community already is built in to the retention, tenure and promotion documents of the California State University campuses.  Service to the community is recognized as a worthy goal.

Listen up Charlie Reed, listen up!  If you want the CSU faculty to increase its involvement with the K-12 sector, we need more full-time faculty members.  Part-time and adjunct faculty are too busy driving from campus to campus in order to make a living.  Much as they might like to, they usually don't have the time or the energy to work with K-12 teachers and students.  However, our full-time faculty traditionally have looked upon this role as important.  We need more of them.

Reed's fifth point was that "we must be more selective about getting involved in social issues".  He said that we can't be all things to all people, and that we "can't solve poverty or homelessness", but we can help public school students to learn to read by the 3rd grade.  True enough.  We can't be all things to all people, but the very nature of a university is to be many things to many people.

Listen up Charlie Reed, listen up!  If we in the universities don't help our young people to develop a social conscience, then who will.  If it weren't for the actions of university students during the sixties and seventies, we might still be living in a country where segregation was the law of the land, and where the Vietnam war was still being fought.  True, we can't remedy every social ill, but we might be able to make a dent in a few of them.

Reed's sixth point was that "we must devote more resources to improving public education".  By this he meant that we in the universities need to improve the public schools, and that we have the responsibility to prepare more and better public school teachers.  Again, no one would argue with this.  But "more" and "better" may be conflicting goals.  We can prepare better teachers by strengthening requirements in our teacher education programs.  But, this may have the effect, at least temporarily, of reducing the numbers of teachers we credential.

Listen up Charlie Reed, listen up!  Only a small fraction of the education of a K-12 teacher is done by the education faculty.  Those of us who teach in the arts, the sciences and mathematics, the humanities, and the social sciences play an important role in teacher education.  In your speech you recognized this.  Now it's time to provide real support to the hardworking faculty members who carry this load.  Sit down with CFA and talk in good faith.  Come to a reasonable agreement that will help to improve faculty morale.  Start working with us instead of against us!

Listen up Charlie Reed, listen up!  If you want unity in the CSU, you have to become a unifying force!
 

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