Wednesday, January 20, 2010

First Time Visitors

If this is your first visit to this site, the Call for participating in the Master White Paper on the CSU System can be found here. An invitation to share your experiences can be found here.


Anonymous said...

I think the fallacy of "deliverology" should be on the table for discussion. As someone with knowledge of the well tested theories that underlie the study of human resource management, I stand by the following statement that at first blush may seem counter-intutive, but is still well supported by evidence (the idea is important because it explains why degrees are not like widgets, which can be measured using simple measures of productivity like counting output): The fundamental reason for members of the workforce to seek higher education is to acquire knowledge and skills that make them more productive ("human capital accumulation"). When a student takes classes, but does not earn a degree, she still acquires some knowledge skills and abilities that contribute to her productivity. For example, think of the person who takes a few accounting classes (but does not get BA in accouting), gets a job as a book keeper and goes on to have a successful career (perhaps returning to school later to finish or not). The university has still produced "value" for such a student. Narrow measures of productivity that focus on churning out pieces of paper called "degrees" miss the point--universities produce opportunities to acquire human capital. Focusing on "bottle-necks" in the process (like adding more sections of EngComp101 if the classes are impacted) can be helpful, but if the message of "deliverology" is to water down programs to make it easier to grant degrees and thereby producing more "output" then the whole idea is being distorted. Good, high quality education is a series of opportunities and simple measures of productivity (i.e., counting degrees granted) do nothing to ensure that the skills students want and need to be productive will be part of the end product if a "deliverology" mindset is used to reshape the content of courses offered by faculty.

Dennis Loo said...

Dear Anon:

You are quite right that deliverology's treating of education as if it were an assembly line production process producing widgets is very wrong-headed.

Education is a human interaction with multiple dimensions, the ancillary impact of which is one of your points.

Reed's embrace of Barber reminds me of what happened when Alfred Hitchcock met Cary Grant. The two of them hit it off right away, recognizing how alike they were, even though based on outside appearances, they couldn't hardly have been more different looking.

Reed recognizes a fellow neoliberal in Barber. They aren't really interested in and really don't care about a genuine education. They are interested in subordinating all human activities to the logic of business and capital.

Steve H said...

John, just a quick note of thanks for putting this blog together. I think it is imperative that faculty and students have an open venue across campuses to talk about the common threats to the CSU that we are facing. I had originally suggested that on the white paper blogsite -- thanks for stepping up.

Dennis Loo said...

Steve -

Thank you. You mean Dennis, not John, right? : )

As it turns out, I didn't know about the CFA's White Paper ("Restructuring or Wrecking the CSU?") when I proposed this MWP to my CFA chapter's membership and asked that it be raised to the CFA statewide. Then the "Restructuring" paper came out and it fortuitously called for an "alternative narrative," which is precisely what I had in mind.

Steve H. said...

Apologies -- Dennis, not John. It is fortuitous that you are taking this on. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...


My whole point was that even if one takes a hard headed view of education from a "capitalist/business" mindset applying Deliverology to higher-education does not achieve its intended purpose. The "capitalist" utility of education is in providing the skills (critical thinking, analysis, and communication) needed to make people more productive. Those skills do not magically appear on graduation day and many folks use the university as resource to hone the skills they need to be successful, which does not necessarily require a recognized degree. Bill Gates is a perfect example--I'm sure he learned a lot during is three years at Harvard. Maintaining high quality programs that provide the opportunity to acquire a world class education will provide students with the skills they need to compete in a competitive global economy--not pieces of paper. A truly committed "capitalist" (and a moderately insightful one)would realize that Deliverology misses the mark if at any point it is used to trade a shred of quality for a few more degree earned. The real problem is that many administrators tend to lack the capacity for abstract thought, they don't believe in what they cannot easily measure or "see with their own eyes." Deliverology applied to education is like trying to use a hammer to turn a screw.

Anonymous said...

Last point on the mis-application of Deliverology to higher-ed: The "count the number of degrees" approach rather than being "productivity oriented" is more like the central planning under the Soviet Union.

There is a great story about the five year production plans put out by the Soviets. During that era, production managers were rewarded on whether or not they met the target output (number of units). At one Soviet shoes factory, the managers were given a target to produce 100,000 pairs of shoes when they only had been given enough leather for 50,000. So, the managers decided to reach the target (and get their reward) by producing 100,000 pairs of baby shoes. The end result was hugely inefficient and resulted in a dramatic shortage of shoes (adult sizes) and an excess in baby shoes that weren't used.

Apparently, the CSU administrators want to be the modern case study of failed management practices--perhaps we should start awarding degrees based on units attempted rather than units earned!

Dennis Loo said...


Glad to hear your follow-up. I like the hammer to turn a screw metaphor.

The people who are pushing Deliverology are great believers in capitalism. Your point that from the standpoint of business, educating people to become good thinkers and communicators is, in a certain sense, quite true. People who graduate or who spend time in higher education who come out of it as unimaginative drones is a problem for business. On the other hand, it is quite possible, and history demonstrates this frequently, that the people advocating certain steps are actually shooting themselves in the foot by having a narrow view of their interests. This MAY be narrowness on their part. It could also be that they don’t think that the number of people who need to be trained in truly independent thinking is that great anymore and that the upside of more people being trained by rote (fewer people likely to rebel because they recognize that they are being had) outweighs the downside of producing less versatile and creative employees/managers. How else can we explain NCLB’s role in K-12?

Capitalism wants imaginative and analytical people to lead. On the other hand, they don't want people to be too analytical and too imaginative because if they are then they are likely to break out of the narrow mindset that capitalism needs and expects. There are still elite schools of higher education out there for the smaller needs for this level of training – Stanford, Harvard, etc. Certainly the trend in the economy is that the brain drain is no longer running to the US but the other way around. Indians are not flocking here and staying indefinitely as they mostly did previously, many are going back to India.

An analogy can be found in the military. There was a US military officer, whose name I am going to have to look up, who developed an innovative method of command and training that resulted in much more combat efficacy from his troops – Marines – than the traditional model of “Yes, Sir, No Sir, How High Do You Want Me to Jump Sir?” From the standpoint of military effectiveness, his methods were clearly superior. The military, however, rejected his approach because it also involved giving much more initiative to the grunts, and this was something that the military did not want to do.

Beyond this, and perhaps this constitutes the primary reason, the top administrators do not understand education and operate in general as top down commanders. They have a blind spot when it comes to people being creative since the creativity and analytical abilities that they want to see are within relatively narrow parameters. They are also ideologically committed to neoliberal notions that privatization is good, public goods are bad, and private interests should triumph over public interests. Deliverology is nothing if not top down and commandist.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your (mildly) paranoid vision of the future (and administrators): I don't believe it is credible to imagine an administration that wants to train 400,000 "grunts" without the capacity for creative thought and analysis for fear they might rebel--you are giving our leadership too much credicy. Moreover, many of today's elites are less than a generation removed from humble beginnings, so I don't "buy" the notion that they might be intentionally trying to thwart the opportunities of the proletariate. Rather, my guess is that they really are trying to "do good" by "streamlining" the path toward a "degree." I also think that they believe that doing so will be better for students and society by promoting economic prosperity. However, the "simple" treatment of education as a widget factory is their mistake. It's not "really" their fault--they just don't understand the concept of deliverology well enough to know when it is being mis-applied. I don't think a creative and analytical capable work force rebels instead they become rich. It is kind of like Orwell's Animal Farm--well educated people are productive and happy. Without being judgmental, I think we can embrace the end of economic prosperity used to justify the deliverology mindset and successfully argue that prosperity is best achieved by offering quality programs NOT by handing out pieces of paper quickly.

Dennis Loo said...

Dear Anon:

Thank you for the discussion, once again.

Re: your description of my comments to you as being "(mildly) paranoid:"

First, you should note that what I did was offer a few different possible scenarios, none of which was necessarily THE explanation, and most likely more than one or possibly all to some degree were in play here.

Second, the key part of my argument, in the comment and also in other essays on this topic, which you don't address, was that the top administration of the CSU was committed to a neoliberal vision. Neoliberalism is an ideology and as an ideology, the concrete outcomes of following that ideology aren't necessarily in every respect what their proponents might want. For example, a man who is a blatant sexist might not want to have a female partner who is resentful of them for their sexism and who might therefore be less than enthusiastic about having sex with them. Thus, the man suffers consequences that he doesn't want, but his desire to be dominant exceeds his other wants.

Third, you aren't taking into account the fact that the position the top administrators occupy is a different class position relative to faculty (in general) and students. In your view, just because many of today's elites "are less than a generation removed from humble beginnings" doesn't make them any less a member of the elite. While it is true that some people who have "made it" are still not disconnected from their roots, your analysis of their position and their stance misses the obvious fact that virtually all of them HAVE adopted a position that is contrary to the interests of the mostly working class backgrounds (by the way, proletariat is spelled without an "e" on the end) of the students. That is why we are having this conversation in the first place. Your retort is analogous to saying that a woman can't be a sexist simply because she's a woman. The fact that stereotypical male dominant behaviors do exist to some degree among lesbian couples (among other examples) demonstrates that this isn't true.

Third, you speculate (as I did) as to whether or not there is any possible motive involved here in dumbing down the people. You dismiss the idea out of hand. Yet, the fact remains, that the objective impact of NCLB has been to do just that. That, NCLB has that effect I believe is something you agree with since it is your argument that the top administrators' endorsement of Deliverology is a mistake on the grounds that (as you argue) business needs highly sophisticated thinkers.

It isn't speculative, or (mild) paranoia, to say that NCLB dumbs curricula down and harms students' ability to think and find their own bearings. I see this in my classes nowadays a lot.

Why would our leaders do this? I have to put the rest of my reply to you into another comment because I've exceeded the max here.

Dennis Loo said...

You speculate that the administration is "trying to 'do good' by 'streamlining' the path toward a 'degree.'" This is only speculation on your part, however. What is the evidence supportive of this? They say that they are doing this. Let's accept this argument for the moment. If you were in their position, would you be promoting Deliverology on the one hand, and with the other hand, endorsing massive cuts in faculty numbers, cutting the numbers being admitted to the CSU by tens of thousands, slashing programs, and raising fees? Wouldn't you, perhaps, in the alternative, be trying to find ways to help students finish, albeit more slowly overall, under these circumstances and acknowledging, as the East Bay CSU President did in his White Paper that I've reprinted on this site, that the budget cuts are going to have a disproportionately adverse effect on minorities? How does this acknowledgement by him square with all of the ballyhooing talk by Reed and the other presidents and provosts of Deliverology?

Fourth, you state "It's not 'really' their fault--they just don't understand the concept of deliverology well enough to know when it is being mis-applied." What is so hard to understand about Deliverology that our esteemed leaders don't really understand it? The problem with Deliverology, by the way, isn't that it is being "mis-applied." The problem is its underlying logic, regardless of where it is applied. See Seddon's analysis. They understand Deliverology much more than you think. That is why they are embracing it. It fits into their vision of command from the top. It fits into their lack of understanding on a fundamental level of what education and learning and teaching are about.

Finally, you think that becoming smarter makes you rich. I think it's fine for you to believe this, but I suggest you think about this in relation to the CSU faculty ranks. We are a smart and educated bunch, but our salaries don't make us rich.

Anonymous said...


I have enjoyed reading your comments too. I wouldn't pretend to know the definition of neo-liberal ideology well enough to label any person or group. My point was much narrower--simply that the stated aims of the administration (to create the educational opportunities so students can compete in a global economy) do not square with Deliverology. I think we both agree on that point, but the administration obviously does not. I was hoping to move the discussion forward by pointing to the fallacious reasoning underlying the administration's belief that Deliverology will help make the CSU better able to achieve its mission. The basic idea (again) is just that increasing the number of degree completed does not equal more well prepared workers/citizens. I don't believe the administrators could articulate the rationale for why more degrees granted does not necessarily translate into a better university. So, I think we are basically on the same page, but I don't think they are. Moreover, I would say that they might understand an argument against Deliverology if it could be shown to be contrary to their stated objective, but arguments based on "reforming their ideological" frame will be a non-starter.

Re: The faculty being smart, but not earning very much--it is all relative. I was speaking in generalities about educated people being (as a group) prosperous and well adjusted. I think that is pretty obvious. The faculty being under paid is not a social phenomenon, but a disequilibrium situation. In the long run, the CSU won't be able to attract talented academics.

Dennis Loo said...


Thank you for your follow-up comments.

The administration doesn't share our aims. That is why they have adopted Deliverology in a time when the very notion of accelerating time to graduation and bridging the achievement gap should be considered ludicrous in light of the slashing of faculty ranks, truncated course offerings, eliminated programs and departments, rising fees, tighter admissions, and so on.

Any sensible person would look at this situation and say, how could you possibly think that you could accelerate graduation rates now?

As I said in my last comment, the sensible thing to do, if they really were interested in advancing a genuine higher education and not some facsimile of higher education, would be to press for ways to help students get through on a longer time frame, not a shorter one, given the reduced resources. If you really want to help people graduate, and you really want to make up the achievement gap, then you'd pay attention to that. And you'd fight like hell to protect academic affairs, and you'd reduce administrative ranks and pay, and you'd fight for enhanced funding via, for example, AB 656 (which has now been tabled but it might not have happened if the CSU administration had been fighting for it).

The reason why the administration persists in their folly isn't, to my mind, because they are somehow misinformed about Deliverology or somehow mistaken about what should be done. They persist in this because they have a different agenda than you and I. That is the only way to reasonably account for their otherwise bizarre behavior.

As for the underpaid status of faculty: since the administration is more interested in control and command, and desires to become a very large University of Phoenix, they really don't care that much about how talented the faculty is that they attract. They have other fish to fry, so to speak. They will say that they want the best they can get, but their actions belie that claim.

Anonymous said...

If you are correct, I still think my argument has PR value in the sense that if the top administrators publicly claim to want the "biggest bang for the tax-payer's buck" as a justification for changing the CSU. When Deliverology is shown by reason and evidence to contrary to producing a valuable educational experience, the administration will have to back peddle and abandon Deliverology or invent some other justification. If we claim to have the same objective (bang for buck), then the debate shifts to method rather than the objective itself. I think we have a better chance of winning the debate on method--it is our strong suit.

Dennis Loo said...

This part I agree with:

"When Deliverology is shown by reason and evidence to [be] contrary to producing a valuable educational experience, the administration will have to back peddle and abandon Deliverology or invent some other justification."

I also agree that we should, because it's true, say that we are in favor of protecting and enhancing higher ed. But, in the course of battling against Deliverology, and the other bad policies of this administration, we cannot expose these policies for their invidious impact on education and the people without also showing what their real agenda has been and is. Their agenda comes through in their statements, and in their policies. Showing this record and analyzing it clearly is part of our task in this MWP.

The administration hides behind a rhetorical smokescreen ("let's accelerate graduation rates," "let's bridge the achievement gap," etc.) when they are about something very different. By evidence and reason we can show this. And we shall through this MWP.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what MWP means, but I think that the messages sent by the administration seem too reasonable to most of the folks in their audience and that trying to interpret those meanings by changing the paradigm is a losing battle. Most people do not have the patience or time to decipher "true" meanings so they take statements at their face value. There is actually good psychologicl literature to show that there is a distribution among the general population with respect to how many times they reference a strategy imbedded in the messages sent by others--unfortunately the vast majority take statements at face value(think of the Iraq war). I think to effectively combat the method put forward to achieve the administration's objective, we will have to show that it is defective on its face. I don't think either strategy is easily pursued. It might be more effective to have a mock demonstration--Deliverology extreme: We assemble a long line of students in the quad and have them run up to a podium and hand them a piece of paper (Degree). On the otherside, we have a "job fair" table with a mic--"So what skills did you learn--let me see your degree--hmm sorry no openings for a degree in "not much at all". There could be a mock chancelor with a stop watch counting the number of degrees and blathering about how much more productive the system had become. Anyway, communicating the point will be hard.

Dennis Loo said...

MWP stands for Master White Paper.

The way to combat a bad policy is to offer an alternative paradigm. You can't defeat a bad policy or paradigm by offering a better version of the bad paradigm. You defeat it with a better and different paradigm. There's a very substantial literature to support this finding. See, for example, the work re: framing theory.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dennis,

No need to publish this post it's my last. I just wanted to say good luck--I hope you are right. Even though I'm not sure if I agree with your take on things, I'd rather see you succeed because the end--stopping deliverology--is an objective I share. And, I can't say for sure that my approach would be more effective, the proof is in the pudding and we only have one chance to make this work.