Friday, November 21, 2008

an open letter to Santa

Dear Mr. Claus,

I am writing you to request, as a Christmas gift, funding for the California State University in the amount of six bajillion dollars. It is my contention that this gift is well-deserved and needed, that the CSU collectively and I personally have met a reasonable standard of being good, and that supplying this gift will promote and provide the resources for the CSU and myself to continue being good.

First of all, it should be plain that the CSU is in dire need of six bajillion dollars. State funding has been decreasing in relation to real financial needs of the University for many years, due in part to the political climate in the legislature. Their intransigence and partisanship, clearly rising to naughty levels, have resulted in chronic underfunding of higher education.

Despite this, the faculty and staff of the CSU have continued to educate more students each year. Our dedication to students and to the cause of education are demonstrated by our efforts to support and defend the CSU. Personally, I have spoken out on numerous occasions and rallied with my colleagues in the California Faculty Association in protest against budget cuts and student fee increases. Meanwhile, I remain passionately devoted to teaching, as you are, no doubt, aware.

I freely grant that neither I nor the University are always at our best. I have made mistakes in the past year, but I maintain that at no time have I acted with malicious intent - not even that thing about the guy and the thing, you know what I'm alluding to. The truth is, I meant well.

Likewise, the CSU always aims at providing the best education it can. Some of our higher level administrators and executives act in ways that are hard to explain; however, I do not stipulate that these actions are in fact or intent naughty. Further, the University's overall level of niceness clearly and overwhelmingly outweighs the alleged naughtiness of a few (see Harper v. Delbon, Ca.Su.Ct. 2001-0104).

Six bajillion dollars is a very large gift, but it is neither excessive nor inappropriate. The University would use these funds to assure access to high-quality education for the public, and unused portions of the gift would be held in reserve to use for later needs. Apportionment and allocation of the gift would be regularly reported through the University's accounting firm, so there should be no question of the gift going to good use.

I advise you that the details, ways and means, and weights and measures of this request are still to be negotiated. I look forward to your reply.

Chris Nagel

Thursday, November 20, 2008

an open letter to the governor

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

I realize you have difficult choices to make during this fiscal and economic crisis. As a member of the California Faculty Association, and a member of the Alliance for the CSU, I have already let you know that I believe cutting the budget for the CSU is a shortsighted and ultimately destructive move. The CSU contributes to the state's economy. It's the best, most secure investment the public can make.

It's important that you have all the information pertinent to these decisions, and that is the reason I'm writing to you today.

I earned a PhD in philosophy at Duquesne University in 1996. I have taught philosophy at CSU Stanislaus for 10 years. Teaching philosophy may not make any direct, sizable contribution to the economy, and I can't say I'm responsible for much economic growth, but I am at least a marginally functional member of society, and a taxpayer.

Cuts to the CSU budget would threaten my job. Since what I teach is philosophy, I'm sure you'll recognize that I clearly have no marketable skills outside of higher education. Certainly corporate America has no place for me.

I would have no choice but to turn to a life of crime. I would be forced out of quasi-productive employment into anomic, desperate felony. From being somewhat-less-than-thoroughly-useless to the many students at the CSU, I would be thrust out into the world, totally unhinged, having utterly lost any sense of right and wrong, and with no prospects for any job (did I mention: philosophy), would simply have to begin burgling, thieving, and mugging.

I hasten to point out that, although I have no criminal record, I do have some relevant experience, particularly of picking locks, breaking & entering, vandalism, petty larceny, and loitering and vagrancy.

I don't mean to threaten anything, of course. I just wanted to make sure you were properly informed about the potential impact of the fiscal choices you and the legislature have to make.

Thank you for your consideration,

Chris Nagel, PhD

I mean, consider these options:


I don't want any of those. I'm not angry/crazy enough, for starters.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

an item from the ongoing series

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

15. Collective actions. I just love 'em.

I've spent the better part of the semester, and particularly the better part of the past week, involved in one collective action or another. Most of these were efforts to resist draconian budget cuts at the university - mostly in response to the local administration's decision to cut $1.5 million from the base budgets of academic departments to balance a budget they have been anything but forthcoming about. That effort has apparently led to the restoration of (at last count) about 80% of that budget.

Today I spent several hours helping to gather signatories to faxes to be sent to the governor and party leaders in both houses of the legislature. The university still faces the prospect of around $98 million in cuts during this academic year.

The faculty also face a re-opener of the contract we finally settled after 2 years, and the administration's opening offer was to eliminate the salary raises we spent so much time and effort winning. More collective action on that front, I figure, to follow.

Last Saturday, to take a break from all this, we went to a collective action in Modesto to protest Prop. 8. Apparently, it was the biggest such rally in Modesto over the issue of sex-based marriage discrimination. It seemed like the number of people honking car horns and yelling and whooping favorably was about two to three times higher than the number flipping us off or yelling insults.

We may lose all these fights. The Board of Trustees may vote to raise student fees, blame faculty raises (that we may not even receive) for the fee increase, and turn around and raise executive pay. Prop. 8 may stand, despite what seems like obviously unconstitutional discrimination. But what else can I do? Even if I'm going to lose, I have to fight, because there just isn't any other way to try to defend myself and what I value. Grim hope, I suppose.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

update on university budget cuts

Friday afternoon, November 7, I first heard about the local CSU campus administration's announcement of budget cuts, mid-year, that would cancel hundreds of classes and put dozens of part-time lecturers out of work. I assumed that this was related in part to the $31 million cut offered by CSU Chancellor Charles B. ("Chuckles") Reed, but it turns out that it really didn't have anything to do with that.

Our campus has been running a deficit, off and on, for several years, and the budget cut was to deal with about 2/3 of that deficit. Now, this seemed odd timing for dealing with a deficit that we've had for a while. Why take this moment, with the CSU system preparing to cope with, and to fight against, the Chancellor's giveaway? One answer that seemed plausible, and which I shared with several people, all of whom thought it was not only plausible but likely, is that the local administration was using Reed's action as a pretext. If that seems paranoid, then you must not be a faculty member at this university, where we have had, for a variety of reasons, an extremely antagonistic relationship with the provost.

[Side note to the provost, or to any of his agents: I acknowledge that I'm part of that antagonistic faculty. While the provost has publicly stated his resentment toward some oppositional action by faculty, and has seemed to me to take much of it personally, I do not acknowledge that anything I've said is meant as a personal attack. I don't know the provost personally. I know he plays the accordion, wrote a book about rhetoric, is good at word play, and has a predilection for suspenders. But I don't know what's in his soul, and wouldn't claim to. I represent lecturers on our campus. An adversarial relationship to administration sometimes comes with the job.]

Anyway, faculty were understandably upset by being told to cut classes from academic departments in the absence of any directly informative demonstration that this was necessary - either in general, or in the incredible urgency of the moment. Departments were given a directive to cut a certain number of dollars from their instructional budgets, given a week to do it, and that was the end of the story.

This is the same strategy employed at Humboldt State a few years ago - which I referred to on our campus as the "Blitzkrieg" model of budget management. (There's room here for using the metaphor of Poland annexation, but I'm not sure how to work it.) There was a big push by faculty, students and staff to demand the administration find another way to fix its fiscal problems, other than cut so much from instruction as to damage the institution's ability to educate, and to damage the institution's ability to make enrollment targets and thus to retain its budget allocation from the CSU system.

I spent a lot of time and energy in the faculty part of that effort on our campus this week. One thing I've done, which I always do, is inform my students what's going on and encourage them to get involved. I saw one of my students at a meeting our dean held, but otherwise I have no idea whether anyone has gotten into the push back.

One key difference between our campus and the Humboldt State situation is that our campus president announced to the meeting of the general faculty in September that the university had a $3 million reserve fund, and that a deal had been made with Clearwire to lease them our TV channels as broadband for a $4.5 million one-time payment plus around $1.5 million a year. At Humboldt, the campus president eventually "found" $500,000 to help reverse cuts. And what do you know, but since Friday our campus president has agreed to allocate an additional $500,000 from the Clearwire funds.

The committee that advises the president on budget issues met the first time in the midst of all this tumult, was given no real information about the budget, and issued a memo to the campus community arguing against the cuts and, especially, the do-it-yesterday urgency.

We still face the proposed cuts totalling $97 million, and a partisan legislature generally incapable of compromise, that must reach a 2/3 majority to pass either a budget or any tax increase (like the sales tax increase proposed by the governor). We also continue to face a university administration which seems hell-bent on acting unilaterally, and then, when faced with strong opposition from faculty, modifying or reversing itself - which strikes me as a very strange way to run a public institution.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Setting aside, for tonight, the tumult surrounding the quite foul budget slash effort by the Cow State Santa Claus administration, I shall provide, instead, a harmless goof of a meme.

If you saw ME in a police car, what would you think I got arrested for?

Answer me, then post to your own blog and see how many crimes you get accused of.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

CSU budget cuts, class cuts, faculty cuts, student cuts
won't somebody get that razor away from him?!

California's economy and state budget are in the toilet.

The CSU is facing midyear budget cuts, and the administration's response has been to freak the heck out. The Chancellor's office just announced last week that for the first time in its history, the CSU system will turn away eligible students. I think this means the CSU is violating the education code of the state, which specifies that the CSU's mission, as the people's university, is to teach the top 1/3 of high school graduates across the state. If CSU turns away eligible students, I think it could be legally liable. I'd be really interested to see someone sue over it.

Apparently the plan of action on our campus, presented by the administration, is to cut part-time faculty. The part-time faculty teach 315 classes this year, mainly general education classes required to graduate, rather than in majors. Furthermore, the plan is being hatched in secrecy, which is partly why I'm writing about it here. I figure there are CSU lurkers.

The administration has been holding meetings with department chairs to tell them to cut sections of classes and eliminate part-time faculty. But, and here's the tricky part, they have to keep teaching the same number of students. They'll achieve this by stuffing more students into remaining classes.

But there are freaking obvious problems with this plan. For one thing, many classes are being taught at capacity for the classroom. When everybody shows up for my morning Professional Ethics classes, there are no empty seats. I can't accommodate more students in those classes. Plus, as my colleagues Dan pointed out this afternoon, there are fire regulations at stake here too. If the room has a capacity of 45, it has a capacity of 45, period.

It also makes little sense to think that tenure-track faculty will really be able to teach more than they already do. In most departments, they teach 8 courses a year, which is really high for college teaching by tenure-track faculty (my teaching load is 10 per year, but CFA buys 1 of my classes from the university in exchange for the vastly more work than a course would require that I do for CFA).

And then the big one. Our students are not "traditional" four-year college students (almost no students in the US are, any more). They typically have work and family obligations, commute to school either 2 or 3 days a week, and need their class schedules to fit their lives' schedules as well as their academic needs. Cutting class sections will make it more difficult, and in some cases impossible, for them to continue to advance to their degrees.

Plus, plus, plus: While it's taking them longer to graduate, they may be asked to pay non-state-support fees for the same classes, taught off the state books. AND AND AND the longer they take to graduate, the more it costs them, and the longer the credit crisis goes on, the less access they have to student aid or even loans.

So there you have it. The university plans to fix their budget problem by way of an unworkable solution based on faulty assumptions about scheduling, the lives of students, the work of faculty, the ongoing state budget and financial crisis. Aside from that, of course, it's perfectly alright, provided you're completely uncaring about the people who work for you.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

post-election post

So, Barack Obama.

And, so far, almost assuredly Yes on Prop 8 in California, denying the right of marriage to same-sex couples just months after the California Supreme Court ruled that such a ban was unconstitutionally prejudicial. Simple solution: legalize discrimination. I can't say very much with intelligence for very long on this issue, before the rage overtakes me, and I've spent all my intelligence on it today talking with students.

It's intellectually so damaging and painful even to think through the arguments that I've blown a gasket. In sum: no one person or group's moral or religious conviction gives that person or group moral authority to impose their will. That's the tyranny of the majority, not democracy. Further: every argument for Prop 8 was both based on a false premise, and intellectually dishonest. To wit: the claim that Prop 8 was needed to avoid having clergy being held legally liable for choosing not to marry same-sex couples. (1) Legal same sex marriage does not impose legal demands that any clergy member marry anyone against his or her will. (2) Any clergy member could be sued by anyone for anything at any time, so Prop 8 will not protect them from this. In effect, then, Prop 8 does not do what the proponents claim it would do. Since it will not do this, it only achieves one, simple, legal effect: to discriminate against same-sex couples.

That's it on this one, for now. I'm done. Ask me again, and I'll start insulting breeders.

Back to Barack Obama. Aside from my feeling like he's going to be a good president, I'm proud we elected him. I think the effect on "race" issues is being overblown, but electing a black President is clearly historically important.

On the way home from night class, I remembered two presidential political comments I'd made in the past. One is that Obama fits the pattern of the last 48 years of TV presidents: better hair wins. (Seriously, somebody should be studying this.) The other is that I randomly remembered a satire I wrote November 7, 2000, the year Bush was not elected President, but later selected by the US Supreme Court. It was a satire mainly of US narrow-minded political life, and of US newz media. It was also, in the context of that year, a satire of the result of that election, to wit, that there was no result on November 7. It's titled White Guy Wins Election. And you know what? It's not going to be funny any more.