American Association of University Professors
University of Delaware Chapter

301 McDowell Hall, University of Delaware, Newark, DE  19716
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January 2001 aaUPBEAT

Higher Education


As the union's monthly publication, the aaUPBEAT usually expresses the collective opinion of either the executive council or bargaining committee. Sometimes these group statements consist of policy clarifications or recommendations; at other times, they analyze issues of growing importance to faculty - e.g., how current copyright laws govern the distribution of electronic texts.

Occasionally, although not often, the newsletter expresses the thoughts of a single individual, typically the president or, in this instance, the newsletter's editor. The purpose of such editions is to provide the author with an opportunity to comment on a particular issue or constellation of issues that he or she feels is of special significance.

This edition of the newsletter deals with such an issue: how the corporate model for higher education is slowly transforming university life, including UD's, in ways that could undermine U.S. higher education by shrinking its student base, turning academe against the communities it supposedly serves rather than a responsive neighbor within those communities, and reshaping learning into a commodity to be purchased rather than an experience to be pursued.

One aspect of the learning-equals-commodity equation is of course the notion that students are paying customers who have a right to get what they pay for: high grades. Alarmed by this trend, one Cornell professor informed The New York Times that at his university, "where the average grade approaches B+," the classroom has slowly transformed from an environment in which the transfer of knowledge predominated to one in which "every class has become a show and every instructor a personality... The liveliness of the lectures and the professor's ability to draw frequent laughs count more than content."

Another professor wrote in the Times that the problem of grade inflation "was made worse by college administrators" who tantalize prospective "customers" by obscuring the rigorous nature of a decent education and encouraging them to fantasize about the instant success they will achieve once they've received their degree. Administrators promote, he says, "the fantasy of walking out the door in four years with marketable job skills. No one of them has the courage to tell the clients, the students, that the result of the college experience is directly proportional to the effort made by the student."

We all have heard such complaints. However, we make a big mistake if we think the corporatization of higher education is confined only to the student-as-customer equation.

Cafeteria Workers: Invisible Coporatization and the Plight of Non-Faculty

At a 1998 meeting of the Salaried Staff Advisory Council, President Roselle remarked that the University's relations with Aramark, Inc., the outside vendor which has taken over UD's cafeteria services, were "positive" and that the outsourcing of the school's cafeteria work "improved predictability and quality of service."

President Roselle's remarks were typical of how the privatization of services on university campuses is described by those in charge of the contracting out process. Margie Bryant, director of auxiliary services at Georgetown University, even suggests that outside vendors can enhance workers' employment conditions. "You want to pick a company that's strong in human relations and [will] bring your employees to a better level," she says. Another outsourcing booster is Dave Freytag, vice president of planning and procurement at Marriott, a company which, like Aramark, is in the business of taking over cafeteria work in institutions of higher education. Freytag stresses Marriott's eagerness to protect workers who might otherwise be out of a job when his company takes over a university's dining services. "In general," he comments, "all of the employees are given the opportunity to continue their contract" and keep their jobs, usually at the same wage they received prior to the outsourcing of their work.

Greater efficiency, no lost jobs, raising workers to a "higher level" - this is quite a list; one that's difficult to criticize. Until you find out the list is more illusion than reality. Take, as an example, UD's cafeteria workers, most of whom are employed by Aramark.

Although it's true that many of UD's food workers were able to keep their jobs following Aramark's mid-1990s take-over of the University's dining services, they suffered in other ways, including benefits cuts and being saddled with second-rate status compared to University non-faculty employees, even those belonging to the same union.

At the University of Delaware, Aramark employees, who are members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 439, work side by side with UD employees, who are also members of AFSCME Local 439. Both employee groups typically earn less than $10 per hour. That, however, is where the similarities end. Even a quick glance at the total compensation situation of each group shows glaring gaps. Whereas an Aramark employee with a family of four pays $63 every two weeks for health insurance, a UD employee with the same size family pays $19 every two weeks, less than one-third of the Aramark employee's cost. This, in spite of the fact that they both do equivalent work and belong to the same union. Equally disturbing is the fact that, during the pre-Aramark era, employees who held the positions now controlled by Aramark were eligible for tuition wavers. This benefit, which traditionally was prized by families who otherwise found higher education costs prohibitive, is no longer available to Aramark workers, although it is still available to UD employees.

If the creation of such a two-tier employment situation is what Georgetown's Ms. Bryant meant when suggesting that using outside vendors can "bring your employees to a better level," it is reasonable to question what she means by a better level. We also have a right to question why the Administration at the University of Delaware would claim, as it has done, that budget cuts affecting UD employees are merely technical matters that (a) make the University a more "investment-worthy enterprise" and (b) show UD to be an "exceptionally well-managed institution." The idea that these so-called technical matters hurt people's economic well-being and throw their lives into disarray is nowhere to be found in the sterile bureaucratese employed to describe outsourcing's consequences.

The AFSCME Local to which Aramark employees and UD's other service workers belong has 447 members - 60% white, 34% African-American, 2.5% Hispanic and 3.5% other. Interestingly, the only facet of campus life where the Administration has fostered a significant black presence is in the University's lowest-paying jobs.

Faculty cannot afford to ignore the negative consequences of contracting out UD services. If the process by which the Administration cuts costs by damaging service workers' economic well-being goes unremarked by us, how will we build alliances with these same workers when we fight potential cost-cutting efforts that hit closer to home, such as increased workloads or attacks on tenure? We are not independent of the University's non-faculty staff; we all are part of a complex set of interrelationships, without which the University cannot function.

This is why the plight of Aramark employees is of concern to the AAUP. Their plight is our plight. Not all cost-saving efforts serve UD's overall health.

Costs and the Training of Elites at the Corporate University

As mentioned above, one aspect of Aramark workers' second-class status is that they receive no tuition remission, although workers holding the same positions before Aramark took over the University's dining services did receive this benefit. This loss, although specific to Aramark employees, is part of a larger problem: the economic barriers that prevent increasing numbers of working-class and low-income families from gaining access to higher education at the beginning of the 21st century.

A recent study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education shows clearly that Delaware is not an exception to this trend. Of the fifty states, ours ranks 30th in the affordability of higher education, with cost of local higher educational institutions running as high as 28% of a family's earnings.

A November-December 2000 Academe article by Thomas Mortenson from the Center for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education shows the extent to which affordability has become a national issue. In real dollars, state funding for higher education in the year 2000 has only been 77% of 1979 funding levels. During the same period, student costs rose more rapidly than did federal and state aid to students. In fact, the purchasing power of some of the traditional aid programs declined precipitously: between 1974 and 2000, the percent of yearly higher education costs that an average Pell Grant could pay for was halved at both private and public four-year institutions. Ironically, at the same time that this was happening, financial assistance to students from more economically secure backgrounds increased as legislators concentrated on providing assistance (e.g., removing home equity from needs analysis, providing special benefits to families that pay at least $2,000 in taxes, etc.) not to needy households, but to the more affluent. Not surprisingly, given the numbers just cited, families with incomes of $70,000 or more are not as negatively impacted by these trends as are families with earning in the $25,000 and lower range.

Analyzing these facts, Mortenson concludes that "public and private four-year colleges have become more academically selective over the past fifteen years, and we are fast retreating from affirmative action on behalf of underrepresented groups in higher education. In other words, the social policy tools supporting inclusiveness in the missions and programs of colleges and universities have eroded over the past two decades. And this erosion is now beginning to show up in declining overall social and private investment in higher education... As colleges and universities – especially four-year institutions - become less available to low- and lower-middle-income students, higher education has come to serve mainly a group, made up mostly of affluent white students, that represents a shrinking share of the U.S. population."

This problem exists at UD, as elsewhere. Since the 1981 "vestiges of unconstitutional segregation" charge directed against the University by the U.S. Department of Education, the Administration has failed to significantly alter the student body racial composition. This dilemma is compounded by the fact that the Administration also has failed in the hiring of African-American faculty, who might make the campus more attractive to African-American students. After two decades of almost no improvement in this racial imbalance issue, one can't help but wonder if it will take another twenty years, in a state that is 18% African-American, to inch the number of black UD faculty (which is now 2.8% of total faculty) up to 5.5% or 6%, which would still radically under-represent Delaware's black population. To say that the University's failure to achieve success in this area is an embarrassment is an understatement. Situated only twelve miles from the state's largest city, which has a majority African-American population, the University's lack of will in attracting black faculty plays a major role in the school's absence of appeal to potential African-American students.

What makes this situation even worse is that it occurs at a time when the educational racial gap has widened among the nation's youth. In a report released this year by the U.S. Department of Education's statistics center, the data showed that after a period during the 1970s and 1980s when the educational gap between black and white students narrowed, the difference between the groups grew again during the decade of the 1990s, a period of corporate-driven "reform" in the public education system and assaults on affirmative action.

Although it is possible for higher-education administrators and faculty to distance themselves from such facts by claiming we aren't involved in elementary or high school education, such a rationale misses the point. At a time when the educational gap between white and black youth continues to damage the nation, and when universities become more and more of an enclave of the white middle class, UD must deal with the fact that, in spite of being a "seat of learning," we have learned almost nothing about how to solve our own racial and class imbalances. What's more, when Delaware African-Americans and others not in the white middle class look at us, they see nothing to inspire their youth with the hope that opportunities exist for them in higher education. What they see instead - and what all of us see - is a University that, far from being a leader in resolving racial or class problems, is itself one of those problems.

Given this context, the union's support of targeted hiring should not be surprising, particularly since African-Americans are a disproportionate part of the state's low-income families. The race and class composition of the University is a problem that will not go away, and, if left unaddressed, will ultimately undermine the institution's integrity.

Non-Tenure Track Instructors and the Corporate University

An increasing percent of courses intended to bridge the gap between high school and college is taught by non-tenure track faculty. Given that these faculty members perform a task that is as central to the University's educational mission as are the activities of other faculty, they should be treated as equals by tenure-track and tenured faculty. As part of this equality, the AAUP should take an active interest in non-tenure track faculty workloads and make sure that teaching at the University is only done by full-time faculty members.

For some tenure-track faculty the increase in the number of non-tenure track faculty raises questions related to the nature of the traditional research university. They fear that the influx of these new faculty alters, in ways that could be harmful to the University's mission, the balance between faculty primarily involved in teaching and those for whom research is the main priority. Although this fear focuses on facts that it would be inappropriate to ignore, it exaggerates these facts' significance, and, in doing so, it implies, even if unintentionally, that the correct mindset for traditional faculty is one which perceives non-tenure track faculty as inhabiting a lower, unequal level within the overall faculty.

If faculty members do not stay alert to the problems caused by the corporate model's tendency to promote a two-tier workforce within each occupational category at the University, we may find ourselves at some point victimized by this very tendency, and with no allies to help us.

Within the UD environment, as well as at other institutions of higher education, it is in unionized faculty's best interests to treat all those who teach at the University as equals, and also to recognize that we have common interests with non-teaching staff as well.

This same vision is articulated in a recent statement by Scholars, Artists and Writers for Social Justice, which comments that faculty are justified in fighting to protect their "democratic rights of free speech, economic security, and equal opportunity" as we attempt to diminish "the growing sway of corporate values over university life." The statement also reminds its readers, however, that the rights just mentioned should also be guaranteed to all university employees, "including service and maintenance workers; clerical and technical workers; security personnel" and so on.

Conclusion: Coalition-Building

As part of the AAUP's effort to coalition-build around some of the issues mentioned in this newsletter, I have already met with AFSCME Local 439's leadership, as well as with some of the union's members, and have tentative plans to attend, along with Gerry Turkel, their February executive meeting. At that meeting, we will discuss activities that we hope will be mutually beneficial.