On Thursday, February 26, Chris Newfield, Professor of English at UC-Santa Barbara, presented “The Price of Privatization: Faculty Governance – How it Can Be Rebuilt.” Newfield offered a structural diagnosis of the decline of public universities and offered some tentative solutions, particularly in regard to faculty governance.
Broadly, Newfield talked about the post World War II settlement that created the great public universities of the 20th century and thereby a very large, educated middle class. This settlement has gone into sharp decline in the last 30 years, however, through political attacks on the university, the withdrawal of state financial support, and internal corporate restructuring.
Newfield discussed the centrality of faculty governance in the early 20th century, including key roles in the areas of academic planning, communication with governing boards, administrative hiring, faculty hiring and promotion, and budget. This is being replaced, however, with a “post-faculty” university structure that is much more hierarchical, image-driven, and profit-focused—and in which tuition on students is continually raised and faculty are relegated to a politically weakened labor force. Austerity and technical bias makes professional judgment seem disposable and obstructionist, as a logic of efficiency trumps everything else.
Newfield offers some practical steps to confront this grim scenario. These include focused effort on the faculty decision-making about educational practices; academic rigor in management practices; research-based, independent voices on planning and budget; and the reframing of the university’s public mission via professional autonomy and the university as a place to develop skills, and creative capabilities.