Saturday, June 23, 2012

Our alleged DACs

The president’s recent memo provides a breathtaking example of disingenuous sophistry. This DAC fiasco is in no way “shared work,” or “transparent.” Instead, it represents another top-down attempt by our administration to impose its arbitrary will on CSU faculty. In labor history, bosses have been able to make their workers easily replaceable by a tactic called de-skilling, which takes production knowledge from the master worker and transfers it to the boss where the production process is broken down into small, repetitive steps. Training for this kind of production can be minimal, resulting in an unskilled workforce that may be easily replaced (if they become troublesome for example) with other (low wage) unskilled workers. This process is occurring in pre-college education with things like mandatory curricula, etc. In this context, teachers become unskilled workers delivering instruction.

Although this is an imperfect analogy for what is happening here (see Paul's post on the blog for another variant on this theme), I think the administration of CSU (the bosses) are attempting to make faculty knowledge irrelevant. Tying syllabi to meaningless criteria like "measurable outcomes" or "assessment" or "reflection" that are so popular in education is simply another step toward standardized syllabi and ultimately standardized curricula. In the new DAC for the Social Sciences, one of the requirements is a course syllabus "in the HLC format and [that] will include items required for specific accrediting agencies when appropriate." In addition, course materials "are expected to reflect the following qualities: balanced coverage of the assigned material . . ." Who gets to decide what constitutes “balanced coverage?” What does that even mean? Does that mean all syllabi for a particular course are supposed to have the same "balanced coverage," ie., the same curricular material? Finally, there is this gem. "All courses should have assessment measures. Additional assessment instruments may be required for some courses, as designated by the department. Faculty administering such instruments must compile the results and return them to the Assessment Coordinator on a timely basis. Effectiveness will be measured by the quality of reports submitted for evaluation." So the criteria becomes the quality of the assessment report, not the value of the assessment itself. Again, this seems rather vague, does this mean that all courses must have standardized assessment criteria? It seems like we're headed in that direction.

I don't mean to be an alarmist here, but it seems to me that if the curricula and course materials can be micro-managed and standardized, when "assessments" are also standardized, when faculty are judged by the quality of their reports rather than the quality of their teaching (I would argue that none of these criteria are indicative of good teaching, rather they reflect the ability to collect data and give the bosses what they think is appropriate), then faculty with specific disciplinary knowledge can be eliminated. After all, if profoundly anti-intellectual administrators think we can all teach interchangeably, perhaps that really is the goal of our administration. I think this represents de-skilling in the academy and if we allow ourselves to accept any part of this process or its ultimate product, we consign ourselves to perpetual second-class status.

The Board of Trustees description of CSU faculty indicates that it is our "mastery of our subjects that entitle us to our classrooms (I don't have the exact language)." The attempt by our administration--led by the president and abetted by all our administrative personnel, provost, deans and chairs included--to hijack a process that has always been faculty generated, represents a new front in the attempt to ultimately eliminate tenure. At the least, it will assist in the move toward complete politicization of this campus. No longer will there need be any pretense of faculty inclusion in things like hiring, promotion, tenure and retention. Instead of being judged on our merits, we will be evaluated on the basis of our political reliability. In 2009, a former City College employee sued then Chancellor Wayne Watson for a number of alleged unethical and possibly illegal activities. Ultimately the City Colleges settled the suit in favor of the plaintiff. One of the comments made by the plaintiffs lawyer described the atmosphere at City Colleges as follows: "the allegations in the lawsuit are part of a larger culture at the City Colleges that 'demands absolute loyalty.' There is essentially a standard operating procedure in place at City Colleges so people who speak up and speak about things the powers that be don’t want to hear, they are retaliated against, they are terminated.” This is the atmosphere that Wayne Watson has brought to Chicago State and the attempt to take the DACS out of the hands of the faculty serves the goal of making CSU a completely political institution.

We are the persons who know our disciplines. We know the demands of a 4-4 teaching load and the ways that load (and the heavy service requirements at CSU) affects research productivity. The members of each discipline are uniquely qualified to judge the qualifications of both their current and potential new colleagues. However, we have no control over who is hired and DACs have been ignored by this administration fairly regularly. In the past three years, we've witnessed two blatant attempts to curtail free expression (Computer Usage and Communications policies) which we have successfully resisted. We have seen curriculum and degree requirements imposed upon students with no faculty input. Now we're being asked to rubber stamp a product that emanates from a process in which we took no part, to endorse new requirements that come not from any empirical evidence of their necessity, but from the impressions of a president with no knowledge of academic disciplines. We must resist this effort with all our power. We must not allow this process to receive even tacit approval.

The DAC process must begin anew, produced by the faculty. Any specific objections to DACs should be in writing and directed to the appropriate departments and their members (per the contract). Or, the university administration can simply review the DACs already submitted then comply with the contract. In any event, we should not recognize the authority of our administrators to write DACs that apply to disciplines about which they know nothing.

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