I was a little surprised to see all the traffic that came over here about yesterday’s Yglesias/Newfield post, until I realized that Yglesias had responded to me on his own blog. Since Yglesias seems genuinely interested in communicating with academics on some policy issues (though they sometimes seem less eager to hear from him), I thought I’d lay out my differences with him. This seems particularly important, since Yglesias seems to believe that my “alternative [to the status quo at universities] is very much along the same lines as what [he is] arguing for.”
Um, afraid not. Yglesias, for whatever reason, does not seem to register that the point of my post was that Newfield (unlike Yglesias so far) seems to understand the negative political consequences of higher ed accountability regimes for institutions that serve underrepresented populations. In Newfield’s historical argument, which he has elaborated upon in several books, efficiency regimes and disinvestment go together, because one serve as the pretext and rationale for the other. This seems to be historically demonstrable, and describes, for example, the plight of the California system much better than any “tenured professors are lazy parasites who don’t care about their students” theory.
I understand that this is an arguable point, but I do wish that Yglesias would attempt at least to recognize it, along with my other point, which is that long-term disinvestment in public universities is a) a political problem for those interested in liberal or left-wing ideals of democratic access to higher education and b) a major part of the right wing privatization and politicization strategies that have overtaken K-12 and now higher ed reform for some time. So any educational reform that does not at least try to recognize the political contexts of the productivity “debate” is a non-starter, in my opinion. At the very least, such a technocratic view of educational policy cannot be considered very left-wing, or liberal, in my view, because it ignores the ideological valences of current debates over defining and account for teacher “productivity.”
My disagreement with Yglesias can be summed up in the innocent-sounding sentence I found in his response, which omitted any discussion of Newfield or his point:
We could try to debate the difference between this kind of “transparency” and the dream “accountability” model, but I think they amount to the same thing.
Well, no. If he hasn’t lived through an institution’s trying to implement such accountability measures (as I have), he may want to read some books on the bureaucratic complexities that such measures introduce into both faculty’s and students’ lives. But the fundamental point is that such measures, no matter how appropriate or well-designed, can never be considered transparent, and have only an indirect relation or benefit to the actual business of teaching and learning at a university.
So my message to Yglesias would be: propose what you want, but remember that your proposals would be better, and certainly better received, if you showed more awareness of how they would concretely impact the people and institutions you’re talking about.