Los Angeles Daily News: Academic collision

March 25, 2013 

Excerpted from Wednesday's Los Angeles Daily News.

University of California faculty leaders reacted with outrage last week when a legislator suggested a paradigm shift in public higher education.

It almost doesn't matter what the suggestion was. It was ever thus when academics at the august university feel they are being pushed around by the Sacramento electeds. They are the doctors of philosophy, and they're not going to let some baby-kisser tell them how to impart the wisdom of the ages. The fights have been going on for as long as there has been public higher education in the state of California -- 145 years.

This time, though, the fight goes to the high-tech future of pedagogy and the down-and-dirty ways education is paid for. Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the state Senate, was touting his bill that would allow UC and California State University students who can't get the classes they need because of budget cuts to take them instead from other colleges. Schools old and new, famous or not, with old-fashioned classrooms or in the newfangled manner of classes streaming through a computer. And here's the kick in the head: They could include online courses from the dreaded for-profit schools trimming the trees of traditional groves of academe.

This brings up "grave concerns," say the professors. They talked about "the clear self-interest of for-profit corporations in promoting the privatization of public higher education through this legislation." And there is that. But this is really an old battle fought with new weapons. For generations, the University of California and the Cal States as well have been denying transfer credits for courses taught on other campuses simply because they weren't presented by faculty they consider up to their levels. "Some junior -- er, community -- college version of trigonometry? Not up to snuff. Take it again here in Westwood." In fact, trigonometry is pretty much trigonometry, and there are great teachers and awful ones at every school.

What this spat is really about is California's will or lack of it to provide enough funding to maintain both high standards and enough courses at public universities so that students can move on after four years. The solution: Cut the bureaucracy at the UC and the CSU headquarters, where there are dozens of nonacademic vice presidents of nonsense and plow the money back into teaching, where it belongs.

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