Jerry Brown, Vanguard of the Digital Revolution (He Googled It)

Originally posted on Remaking the University.

At the last Regents meeting, Governor Brown mounted the digital barricades and sent a shot across the bow of every University of California professor and administrator. Tossing a mixed green salad of metaphors about technology, education, capitalism, and revolution, he warned us to embrace online education or go the way of the Post Office and the daily newspaper. Fossilized. Downsized. Out of business. Also, we need to “fix this” in the next two years, and don’t expect any money from Prop. 30.

Helpfully, he’s planning to recruit business and technology advocates of online education to make an hour-long presentation to the next Regents meeting (and maybe faculty will be able to reply). Thanks Governor!

Listening to this eight-minute clip from the Regents meeting, I was struck by the reality that UC faculty should not count on our administrators to defend our interests, or those of students.

Brown steamrolled Yudof’s meek appeal that we’ve already cut too much, and launched into an off-the cuff rant with a fairly clear message: change or die. He portrayed the UC as a lumbering giant mired in tradition, choking on its own “excellence,” and sorely in need of radical transformation. All of these I can agree with. Unfortunately, Brown thinks Silicon Valley will be our savior.

Brown began with backhanded praise for the UC’s institutional conservatism, and quickly moved on to harsh business realities.

I appreciate the university and the durability of its ways. I won’t call them ‘folkways,’ but it’s a powerful tradition and I, and half of me very much likes tradition…. [But] just while people were talking I went to my iPhone and I went to Google and I typed in ‘university education online’ and there’s a lot there and we don’t have to wait until January, or February, or March. We can have it right now. So that’s the world we live in…. The newspaper, the Post Office, the university. We can build the most fabulous buildings, we can have the teachers, professors, all this kind of stuff. But if other people come along and offer the same, or better, when they want it, you’re going to find there’s pressure out there.

Warmed up, he suggested the educational emperor is not wearing any clothes…

We invoke the terms ‘quality’ and ‘excellence’, but those are highly abstract terms that provide no particular guidance to what we’re talking about here. So I think we have to get grounded here. So: What takes place in a classroom? Are there other, equally fine alternatives that are so much more available? I believe that to be the case.

…then he rose to a crescendo with the triple threat: Schumpeter, McCarthyism, and Angela Davis:

… What we’re talking about here is disruption. Make no mistake about it. That’s what everyone loves to celebrate about capitalism, the creative destruction of the capitalist model. Okay, so we’re going to have to have some disruption here. So I would propose that we invite some of the individuals who are pushing this technology. Not that we have to agree with them, but the university is a place where you can accept ideas whether you like them or not. This is not the time when the Regents used to censure someone for being a little bit too ‘red.’ This won’t be as threatening, or maybe it will be more threatening, than having Angela Davis teach on the campus.

That’s a lot to chew on, and a lot to spit out. In any case, our problem is not mixed metaphors; it’s the coherent message. And the message is this: get your butts in gear, put your courses online, and don’t expect a raise. If not, kiss your sweet sinecure goodbye.

Is Jerry Brown a bolshevist for the digital revolution? Or is he trying out for the part of west coast Rahm Emmanuel? We’ll find out at the next Regents meeting, January 15-17 at UCSF.

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