April 13, 2012
Zombie trade agreements: According to some documents acquired by the organization European Digital Rights (EDRi), it appears the G8 has decided to do a Dr. Frankenstein impression and reanimate some of the most thoughtless portions of ACTA’s Internet provisions. This latest instantiation of the ACTA agreement wants control over intellectual property, technology devices, network infrastructure, and YOUR BRAINS.
An awesome experiment on awards (published in PLoS ONE) by Michael Restivo and Arnout van de Rijt – both in the Sociology department at SUNY Stony Brook – shows that receiving an informal award (a barnstar) from a peer may have a positive effect on highly active Wikipedians’ contributions. The paper is only three pages long, but if you want to you can also read the Science Daily coverage of it.
Mako’s extensive account of his workflow tools is finally up on Uses This. The post is remarkable for many reasons. First of all, Mako puts more care and thought into his technology than anybody I know, so it’s great to see the logic behind his setup explained more or less in full. Secondly, I found it extra remarkable because I have been collaborating (and even living!) closely with Mako for a while now and I still learned a ton from reading the post. My favorite detail is unquestionably the bit about his typing eliciting a noise complaint while he was in college. As a rather loud typist myself, I have been subject to snark and snubbery from various quarters over the years, but I’ve never had anybody call the cops on me!
The Soviet Union lives on! But maybe not quite where you’d expect it. My friends and former Oakland neighbors Daniel Gallegos and Zhanara Nauruzbayeva have recently moved themselves and their incredible Artpologist project to New York. Upon arrival, they found themselves surrounded by a post soviet reality that most New Yorkers or Americans simply do not know exists at all, much less in the epicenter of finance capital. Their latest project, My American New York, chronicles this “post soviet America” through photos, stories, Daniel’s beautiful sketches, drawings, and paintings (e.g. the image at the top of this post), all wrapped up in a series of urban travelogues.
Philosophy Quantified: Kieran Healy has done a series of elegant and thoughtful guest posts on Leiter Reports in which he explores data from the 2004 and 2006 Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR) surveys in an effort to generate some preliminary insights about the relationships between department status and areas of specialization.
February 21, 2012
The recently opened Wasserstein Hall at Harvard Law School has a lot of little plaques around to recognize the donors that made such a behemoth new building project possible. However, only one of those donors has won my heart and mind and that is William A. Falik, who (in collaboration with then HLS Dean Elena Kagan) perpetrated this gem:
Yes, you read that right and yes, the donor knew what he was doing. Here’s an explanatory excerpt from Elie Mystal’s slightly surreal phone conversation with Professor Falik (he’s on the faculty at the Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley) in which he explains his actions:
Although I have developed several new communities in California, with a name like “Falik,” there are limited naming opportunities. (Somehow “Falik Blvd” or “Falik Ave” does not cut it). [As the] piece in the SF Chronicle suggests, I thought the best use of my name would be to name a Gentleman’s Lounge (aka Men’s Room), when I made a large donation to the Berkeley Repertory Theater. Dean Kagan, who has a great sense of humor, liked the idea, but for reasons that I cannot articulate, the Falik Gentleman’s Lounge moniker did not get through the chain of command at HLS, so alas, it is now the Falik Men’s Room.
So basically, this guy has successfully trolled future generations of students and theatre-goers at HLS and Berkeley Rep.
Best. Donations. Ever.
(H/T to my fellow residents of the Geek Cave at the Berkman Center – and especially Dan Jones for forwarding the story to me)
January 9, 2012
For today’s post, I offer a hasty sketch of a modest academic fantasy: free syllabi.
As a graduate student, I have often found myself searching for and using syllabi to facilitate various aspects of my work.
Initially, syllabi from faculty in my department and others helped me learn about the discipline I had chosen to enter for my Ph.D. Later, I sought out syllabi to design my qualifying exam reading lists and to better understand the debates that structured the areas of research relevant to my dissertation. More recently, I have turned to syllabi yet again to learn about the curriculum and faculty in departments where I am applying for jobs and where I could potentially teach my own courses. When I design my own syllabi, I anticipate that I will, once again, search for colleagues’ syllabi on related topics in order to guide and advance my thinking.
The syllabi I find are almost always rewarding and useful in some way or another. The problem is that I am only ever able to find a tiny fraction of the syllabi that could be relevant.
This is mainly a problem of norms and partly a problem of infrastructure. On the norms side, there is no standard set of expectations or practices around whether faculty post syllabi in publicly accesible formats or locations.
Many faculty do share copies of recent course syllabi on their personal websites, but others post nothing or only a subset of the courses they currently teach.
I am not aware of any faculty who post all the course syllabi they have ever taught in open, platform independent file formats to well-supported, open archives with support for rich meta-data (this is the infrastructure problem).
Given the advanced state of many open archives and open education resources (OER) projects, I have to believe it is not completely crazy to imagine a world in which a system of free syllabi standards and archives eliminates these problems.
At minimum, a free syllabi project would require faculty to:
- Distribute syllabi in platform independent, machine-readable formats that adhere to truly open standards.
- Archive syllabi in public repositories
- License syllabi for at least non-commercial reuse (to facilitate aggregation and meta-analysis!).
In a more extreme version, you might also include some standards around citation formats and bibliographic information for the sources and readings listed in the syllabi.
In any case, some sort of free syllabi project seems doable; useful; and relatively inexpensive (at least in comparison to some expensive, resource intensive projects that involve streaming full video and audio of classes).
Update: Joseph Reagle, who is – as usual – much better informed on these topics than I am, responded to my post over a Berkman Center email list. Since Joseph’s message points to some really great ideas/references on this topic, I’m re-publishing it in full below (with his permission):
Aaron S’s posting today about “A Modest Academic Fantasy”  (free syllabi) reminded me I wanted to share a post of my own  in response to Greg Wilson’s question of “would it be possible to create a ‘GitHub for education’”? .
While a super-duper syllabus XML format might be great (as I’ve heard David W discuss) — but would have fork-merge-share problem’s as Wilson notes — I’ve always (since 2006) provided my syllabus online, in HTML, with an accompanying bibtex file for the reading list. I think this is the best way currently to share without waiting for a new standard.
On the course material front, I recently started sharing my class notes and slides. These are written in markdown — which makes them easy to collaborate on — put up at Github, and are used to generate HTML5 slides (e.g., ). I’ve also started putting up classroom best practices and exercises (e.g., ) on a personal wiki; I’d love to see something like this go collaborative.
For in class collaboration, I understand Sasha C[ostanza-Chock] has successfully used etherpad. The PiratePad variant even permits wiki-style links. I desperately want a light-weight synchronous editor with wiki-style links but none exist. (etherpad-lite is a great improvement on etherpad in terms of memory requirements, but does not have wiki-style links; I’ll probably end up using Google Docs because I don’t have to worry about any back-side maintenance.)
I’d love to hear from other people about what they are doing!?
December 13, 2011
Wow! Berkeley is going to provide all students with “free” copies of Microsoft software for the next couple of years.
Berkeley Vice Chancellor for IT and CIO Shelton Waggoner emailed all Berkeley students late on Tuesday night to announce that the project for Operational Excellence (OE or Bain & Company consulting, for short) would be distributing Windows and Office to us all as part of the “OE Productivity Suite” (or OEPS – pronounced “whoops”).
Here’s the email (fresh from my inbox less than 30 minutes ago):
We are pleased to announce that the campus has signed a license agreement to provide Microsoft Office and Operating System software to all students at no cost this year and next. Students will be able to download one copy of the following products and may keep the software perpetually upon graduation.
Office Professional Plus or Office for Mac Home & Business (one or the other, not both)
Microsoft Windows Desktop Operating System (OS) upgrades including Windows 7 Enterprise
The software will be available for download beginning Monday, January 9, 2012. Check the Student Technology Council`s (STC) website, http://stc.berkeley.edu, in January for download information.
This agreement is part of the Operational Excellence-sponsored Productivity Suite (PS) project. The goal of this project is to reduce complexity and costs and, at the same time, distribute licenses for the most commonly used software and tools so that everyone can work with the most current version. The Adobe agreement reached at the start of the fall semester is also part of this project.
Have not downloaded Adobe yet? Go to the STC`s “Downloads“ page, http://stc.berkeley.edu/downloads.htm. Links to help with troubleshooting are on the same page. Watch for information about spring semester Adobe training and a T-shirt design contest using Adobe products.
During this academic year, ASUC President Vishalli Loomba and Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab are partnering with the STC on assessing and advising the PS project; first, to support the adoption and use of these popular software products, and second, to gauge interest and usage for such a program over the longer term. Depending upon student feedback and students` continued level of interest, alternatives for cost recovery for student downloads will be explored. More information about these efforts can be found on the STC`s “Downloads“ page, http://stc.berkeley.edu/downloads.htm.
If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact Vishalli, Bahar, or the STC (email@example.com).
President, Graduate Assembly
Associate Vice Chancellor-IT and CIO
Administration & Finance
I’ll have more to say about this soon…but for now, venom.
November 20, 2011
The past two weeks’ protests and police-led violence at UC Berkeley and UC Davis signal both the expansion of the occupy movement as well as the extent of the leadership vacuum at the country’s most prestigious public university. Participants and observers much more eloquent than I have offered thoughtful responses to the situation. However, after reading about the events and media reactions to them, I thought that some recent history behind these campus movements could clarify how things got so bad in California and what they might mean in the coming months.
Most news reports have depicted the protests and confrontations as an outgrowth of the occupy Wall Street and Oakland protests, but in fact, the campus movements has much deeper roots. Four years ago, UC President Mark Yudof and co. responded to the financial shortfall brought on by the California budget crisis with a series of highly unpopular initiatives designed to centralize administrative authority, slash funding for a variety of programs, and avoid any sort of public accountability or debate over these actions. The following year, the union of graduate students and academic staff faced a lengthy, contentious budget negotiation in which the university negotiating team repeatedly undermined the collective bargaining process. Around the same time, a series of unilateral tuition increases provoked rage across many of the campuses and, at Berkeley, culminated in a violent showdown between police and student protesters seeking to occupy a classroom building.
The resulting climate around the campuses has become tense and polarized as the mutual distrust between the administrations on one hand, and an alliance of highly mobilized students, faculty, and staff on the other, has escalated.
The student organizers at Berkeley made a smart tactical decision to harness the momentum of the occupy movements and, in particular, the widespread resentment against the violent police response to the occupation of Frank Ogawa plaza in Oakland. With the November 9 protests, they sought to keep the pressure on their campus administrators as the UC regents planned to approve a new round of tuition increases last week (the meeting, planned to take place in San Francisco, was canceled in the wake of the Berkeley violence).
Chancellor Birgeneau (Berkeley) and his staff, in contrast, failed to learn anything from either their own past mistakes with the budget crisis protests or the errors of mayors across the country in responding to the recent occupations. Faced with a group of students opposed to further university budget cuts, tuition increases, and the widening inequality gap in California and across the country, the administration deployed the UC and Alameda County police departments. In doing so, they chose to enforce the letter of campus rules at the cost of student and faculty safety. The resulting violence was predictable, avoidable, and (from the point of view of building a climate of constructive public debate on campus) counterproductive. Birgeneau’s subsequent defense of the brutality was inexcusable.
The Davis protesters looked to build on the momentum of their Berkeley peers, joining in non-violent solidarity against budget cuts, police brutality, and inequality. Somehow, Chancellor Katehi managed to respond in an even more ham-handed manner than Birgeneau. Not only did she deploy the police – who, along with their pepper spray, proceeded to make national headlines – but she didn’t even plan on facing protesters when she called a press conference later that evening. Not surprisingly, her actions provoked righteous anger (and a poignant, silent confrontation as she left her office) on the part of students and faculty alike.
Today, UC President Mark Yudof entered the fray, delivering slaps on the wrist to his colleagues along with some bland comments condemning the excessive use of force against students and professors. Announcing that he will hold meetings and convene committees to review the events, Yudof delivered what many have come to expect from him in times of systemic crisis: bureaucracy.
In this sense, Yudof’s response is not only inadequate to the situation, but fails to address the complete breakdown of trust that has now occurred between the UC administrators and their respective constituents. On both campuses, the interests of the administrative elite have become so far removed from those of the students and faculty that the two groups are, perhaps a little too literally, at war. As a result, both Birgeneau and Katehi should go. They should be replaced with leaders who understand how to adopt creative responses that defend free speech and student safety at the cost of bending a few campus restrictions. These new leaders should also undertake an immediate overhaul of UC police crowd management techniques.
To close with a speculative prediction: I suspect that the intensity and extent of the violence on two UC campuses this past week will galvanize support for the students and, by proxy, the occupy movement with which they have aligned themselves. As James Fallows notes, the images coming out of New York, Portland, Oakland, Berkeley and Davis have much in common with those from Selma and Birmingham half a century ago. For many Americans, this sort of violent repression of protest speech will not resonate as either a legitimate or democratic use of state power.
November 13, 2011
I just read this short piece by Richard Van Noorden in Nature about the rising number of retractions in medical journals over the past five years and it got me thinking about the different ways in which researchers fail to deal with failure (the visualizations that accompany the story are striking).
The article specifies two potential causes behind the retraction boom: (1) increased access to data and results via the Internet facilitating error discovery; and (2) creation of oversight organizations charged with identifying scientific fraud (Van Noorden points to the US Office of Research Integrity in the DHHS as an example). It occurred to me in reading this that, a third, complementary cause could be the political pressure exerted on universities and funding agencies as a result of the growing hostility towards publicly funded research. In the face of such pressure, self-policing would seem more likely.
Apparently, the pattern goes further and deeper than Van Noorden is able to discuss within the confines of such a short piece. This Medill Reports story by Daniel Peake from last year has a graph of retractions that goes all the way back to 1990, showing that the upturn has been quite sudden.
All of these claims about the causes of retractions are empirical and should/could be tested to some extent. The bigger question, of course, remains: what to do about the reality of failure in scientific research? As numerous people have already pointed out, in an environment where publication serves as the principal metric of production, the institutions, organizations & individuals that create research – universities, funding agencies, peer reviewed journals, academics & publishers – have few (if any) reasons to identify and eliminate flawed work. The big money at stake in medical research probably compounds these issues, but that doesn’t mean the social sciences are immune. In fields like Sociology or Communication where the stakes are sufficiently low (how many lives were lost in FDA trials because of the conclusions drawn by that recent AJS article on structural inequality?), the social cost of falsification, plagiarism, and fraud remain insufficient to spur either public outrage or formal oversight. Most flawed social scientific research probably remains undiscovered simply because, in the grand scheme of policy and social welfare, this research does not have a clear impact.
Presumably, stronger norms around transparency can continue to provide enhanced opportunities for error discovery in quantitative work (and I should have underscored earlier that these debates are pretty much exclusively about quantitative work). In addition, however, I wonder if it might be worth coming up some other early-detection and response mechanisms. Here were some ideas I started playing with after reading the article:
Adopt standardized practices for data collection on research failure and retractions. I understand that many researchers, editors, funders, and universities don’t want the word to get out that they produced/published/supported anything less than the highest quality work, but it really doesn’t seem like too much to ask that *somebody* collect some additional data about this stuff and that such data adhere to a set of standards. For example, it would be great to know if my loose allegations about the social sciences having higher rates of research failure and lower rates of error discovery are actually true. The only way that could happen would be through data collection and comparison across disciplines.
Warning labels based on automated meta-analyses. Imagine if you read the following in the header of a journal article: “Caution! The findings in this study contradict 75% of published articles on similar topics.” In the case of medical studies in particular, a little bit of meta-data applied to each article could facilitate automated meta-analyses and simulations that could generate population statistics and distributions of results. This is probably only feasible for experimental work, where study designs are repeated with greater frequency than in observational data collection.
Create The Journal of Error Discovery (JEDi). If publications are the currency of academic exchange, why not create a sort of bounty for error discovery and meta-analyses by dedicating whole journals to them? At the moment, blogs like Retraction Watch are filling this gap, but there’s no reason the authors of the site shouldn’t get more formal recognition and credit for their work. Plus, the first discipline to have a journal that goes by the abbreviation JEDi clearly deserves some serious geek street cred. Existing journals could also treat error discoveries and meta-analyses as a separate category of submission and establish clear guidelines around the standards of evidence and evaluation that apply to such work. Maybe these sorts of practices already happen in the medical sciences, but they haven’t made it into my neighborhood of the social sciences yet.
June 16, 2009
A public relations bomb just landed in my inbox: an email fromUC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Provost George Breslauer announcing the impending reality of horrific budget cuts across the Berkeley campus and the rest of the UC system as the state slowly faces up to fiscal reality. Instead of the 8% cuts (approximately $67.2 million) that the campus had originally projected during their budgeting process, they now anticipate that the cuts likely to be approved by the legislature will force a 20% (or $145 million) cut. As you can imagine, the letter doesn’t get better after that.
I just read this a few seconds ago, so I don’t have anything thoughtful to say about it yet, but I felt compelled to reprint it here in full in order to publicize the situation. As I was looking at it, I couldn’t help but wonder at the extent to which these circumstances are likely to bring about radical changes for all of us affiliated with the country’s most renowned public institution of higher education. The inherent volatility of financial markets aside, the situation is a tragedy which could have been at least partially prevented through more effective action by California’s political elites.
Dear Campus Colleagues:
As you are undoubtedly aware, California’s financial crisis has worsened severely in recent weeks; this means that the likelihood of unprecedented cuts in State funding of the University has risen dramatically. UC Berkeley is facing the most difficult financial situation that we have ever encountered in our university careers.
We know that you have been hearing rumors about a number of potential actions designed to reduce costs not only at Berkeley but across the system. We want to lay out the financial context for you, tell you what we think may happen, and let you know our leadership strategy for the Berkeley campus as we manage through these difficult times.
Today, we find ourselves facing stark new realities.
Six weeks ago, UC Berkeley faced a $67.2 million budget gap for 2009-10. That anticipated shortfall has now grown to $145 million. Here is how we have been working to address the anticipated shortfall.
* The recently-enacted 9.3% student fee increases and other revenue-enhancement measures that become effective July 1, have reduced the $145 million gap by $30 million.
* In addition, through the work of many of you, our cost-saving measures introduced in 2008-2009 have further reduced the gap by another $15 million.
* That leaves us, at present, with a $100 million remaining gap for the academic year 2009-2010. We are hopeful that this gap will not grow further as the State finalizes its budget, but we must assume that this is our working target as we plan for the coming year.
* The possible loss of the Cal Grants program, as proposed by the Governor, is not included in the above totals. These grants total $47 million annually to the UC Berkeley campus. They cover fees for a large number of our undergraduates. The loss of Cal Grants would not only disadvantage those students; it would fundamentally subvert our social imperative to provide broad social access to the excellence at UC Berkeley. The Joint Legislative Budget Conference Committee has proposed protecting student awards for 2009-2010 grants, but that is not 100 percent certain.
* Federal stimulus funds are beginning to trickle in, but are not designed to cover existing core operations.
UC Berkeley, of course, is not alone in facing these challenges. Private universities have suffered major declines in their endowments while public universities nationwide have experienced severe cuts in State support.
This basically means that we are now facing a reduction of our baseline budget that will likely continue, and may even deepen, over multiple years. These unprecedented developments require us to examine the underlying assumptions that guide us in delivering and supporting the University’s mission of teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and public service.
For UC Berkeley, this much is certain: all of us—students, faculty, staff, and senior administrators—will be required to sacrifice as we navigate our way through this crisis. At the same time, it is essential that we work together to address the formidable challenges ahead of us.
Our budget planning scenarios, which had earlier anticipated an average of 8% permanent budget cuts to all campus units for the coming fiscal year, will now likely be at a campus-wide average of 20%. While some units will need to spread the cuts over two years, the campus average cut must be at least 12% in 2009-2010. The remainder must be taken by 2010-2011.
These cuts will not be uniform “across-the-board”; units that are core to the teaching and research missions will be given somewhat lesser cuts than the others, and, within the teaching-and-research realms, units with higher capacity will be asked to take larger cuts than those with lower capacity. This is the only rational approach in a campus like ours if we are to preserve our depth and breadth of academic excellence—our principal competitive advantage.
Clearly cuts of this magnitude will require all areas of our campus to sacrifice considerably, and to make changes in their core operations. We will need to reduce our workforce significantly and this will be painful and difficult. To accomplish this, we will also need to make changes to our core operations and the way we do our work. All of these efforts will take time to achieve.
Over the summer, managers will work with their units to make difficult but necessary decisions about reductions in our workforce, while determining which services we can eliminate or curtail. Naturally, all policies and procedures will be followed, and we will work to treat our people with the respect and dignity they deserve under these very difficult circumstances. We are sensitive to the impact of staffing reductions on the workload of remaining staff and are seeking ways to streamline our business processes.
As each unit or department works to meet our new budget number, many specifics remain unclear, requiring approval by the Office of the President and the Regents for system-wide implementation. We would like to inform you of those things that are likely or certain to occur in 2009-2010.
What We Know for Sure
* It is, unfortunately, certain that, during 2009-2010, efforts to implement permanent budget cuts at all UC campuses will result in the elimination of many staff positions.
* It is certain that, during 2009-2010, there will be a near-total freeze in new faculty hiring at UC Berkeley.
* It is certain that, during 2009-2010, a staff hiring freeze at UC Berkeley will remain in effect.
* It is also certain that there will be no faculty or staff early-retirement programs at UC campuses on the order of the VERIP of the 1990s.
What is Likely to Happen
* It is highly likely that, through temporary furloughs and/or pay cuts, faculty, staff, and senior administrators at all UC campuses will see their wages reduced by about 8 percent (with potentially a lower rate for our lowest paid workers); it remains uncertain whether pension calculations will be affected by this reduction.
* It is highly likely that, at some point during the 2009-2010 academic year, faculty, staff, and senior administrators at all UC campuses will begin contributing to the UC pension fund.
* It is quite possible that the health-care premiums paid by faculty, staff, and senior administrators at all UC campuses will increase significantly.
Our first and foremost goal is to preserve the academic excellence of Berkeley. To that end, let us be clear as to what we will not entertain during this crisis.
* We are not discussing or considering layoffs of Senate faculty members, tenured or untenured.
* We are not discussing or considering making Senate faculty promotion decisions contingent on available funding.
* We will not sacrifice Berkeley’s commitment to breadth and depth of academic excellence.
* We will not allow the budgetary crisis to subvert either the delivery of our teaching mission or the support infrastructure for research.
* We will not sacrifice our commitment to social access: low-income students who have earned a place at Berkeley must be capable of affording a UC Berkeley education.
* We will not flag in our commitment to recruit to Berkeley the best graduate students in all fields.
* We will not abandon our efforts to train and promote a highly skilled and diverse workforce.
These are the guiding principles that will be in the forefront of our activities as we entertain difficult choices.
As we progress through this budgetary crisis, we are also looking forward to the longer term prospects and we are taking measures to reduce the size and cost of our enterprise by streamlining work. For example, we have begun implementing a multi-year plan to streamline administrative processes in IT, Human Resources, procurement, business services, student advising, research administration, and other areas. Many of these improvements will involve centralized and automated systems that will reduce our dependence on a patchwork of decentralized, labor-intensive operations.
Over time, a combination of layoffs, retirements and normal attrition will result in a smaller workforce that will bring our staff and faculty payroll closer to alignment with State funding, while maintaining high-quality services. Toward these ends, we have already made substantial investments in systems such as the Human Capital Management (HCM) systems, the Berkeley Financial System (BFS), and an upgrade to ePro, our procurement system.
We are also working with the Office of the President on ways to cut costs by adopting system-wide (UC) administrative systems and reducing prices through system-wide procurement of some goods and services. Locally, we are consolidating the administration of contracts and grants and are merging back-office functions of both academic and non-academic units.
We are actively engaged and working closely with the Academic Senate and a faculty subgroup that has been formed specifically to examine budget reduction measures. We anticipate evaluating all options around hiring, retention practices, and strategies to defend the breadth and depth of academic excellence for which UC Berkeley is renowned.
We are implementing an entire suite of revenue-enhancement measures: full recovery of the central administrative costs associated with our self-sufficient auxiliary enterprises; negotiation of a higher federal overhead rate for campus research; expansion of the reach and earnings potential of University Extension and Summer Sessions; and, of course, intensified private fund-raising. We are also restructuring campus debt to reduce those costs over the near term.
In the external realm, University leaders are advocating aggressively, making sure that legislators, the public, and UC’s closest constituents understand the value of our mission, employees, and students.
We pledge to redouble our efforts to strengthen UC Berkeley’s long and rich tradition of combining access and excellence. Throughout the State, country, and even the world, Berkeley remains the standard by which all other universities are judged when it comes to the combination of comprehensive academic excellence and deep commitment to a public mission. We will not shy away from our commitment to either of these lofty goals.
Through shared sacrifice by students, staff, faculty, and senior administrators, and through renewed efforts to reduce over time the cost of delivering instruction, research, and administrative services on campus, we will emerge from this crisis more focused and more efficient, but equally excellent and accessible. UC Berkeley has been an outstanding institution for 141 years and it will still be outstanding 141 years from now. We look forward to working with you toward these ends.
What happens next?
We are acutely aware that the economic situation makes this a difficult time, professionally and personally, for many of you. Change of this magnitude will be difficult. We have asked our Human Resources area to assist in a number of ways, specifically by supporting managers and employees as we work through this difficult time. We understand that clear information on campus actions and resources to help you is essential. We ask that managers and supervisors please take time to go though this message with your employees. We renew our commitment to bring you that information as we learn it, via e-mails and on our Budget Central website: newscenter.berkeley.edu/budgetWe hope that you will watch the site for budget news as it develops, and we thank you for your continued commitment and dedication to this unique institution.
Robert J. Birgeneau
George W. Breslauer
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost
Andrea Foster filed a story with The Chronicle of Higher Education that should send a chill down students’ spines everywhere.
As if the recent spike in bogus copyright infringement lawsuits gushing out of the RIAA and MPAA wasn’t enough, it looks like these organizations are taking their fight to state legislators. Here’s the story’s lede:
Higher-education officials say that the entertainment industry is pushing for state laws that would force colleges to police their networks for illegal trading of music and video files and to buy software to stem the problem.
Lawmakers in Tennessee and Illinois recently considered such legislation, and a similar bill may be brewing in California, according to officials who spoke at a technology-policy conference here on Thursday.
To be honest, I’m kind of surprised they haven’t tried something like this in California already – after all, the RIAA and MPAA practically own L.A….
There is no legislation in California to deter file sharing on college campuses. But Kent Wada, director of information-technology strategic policy at the University of California at Los Angeles, told the technology officials at the conference Thursday that there was an “informational hearing” in the State Capitol in March to discuss the issue. Among those speaking at the meeting was Mitch Glazier, senior vice president of government relations and industry relations for the RIAA
My favorite quote comes from an earlier story in The Chronicle for Higher Ed., in which Foster interviews Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, about the recent jump in aggressive lawsuits filed by his organization against alleged copyright infringers. Check out this gem:
“There’s just no connection to anything that’s happening in Congress, in the courts, or anything else,” Mr. Sherman said. He added that the increase in notifications did not mean that there had been a sudden rise in campus piracy. “We’re constantly asking our vendor to improve performance,” of its software that scans for copyright violations online, Mr. Sherman said. “They just completed work on an upgrade and, poof, it just happened.”
Did he actually say that with a straight face? Does anyone believe this joker?
If anybody else out there has a stake in a California educational institution, this might be a good time to contact your local administrators, legislators, etc. California has better things to do with its time and (empty) state coffers than play toy cop for the culture industry.
In the case of UC Berkeley, the University’s Chief Information Officer is Shel Waggener. Shel is quite a brilliant guy who is almost certainly already aware of this issue and probably already working on it. I think I might send him a quick email, though, just to be sure…
April 27, 2008
As detailed in an interview with UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Administration, Nathan Bostrom on the UC Berkeley news website, the US’s most prestigious public university has taken another step towards de-facto privatization. Facing yet another budget crisis, the state government has decided to impose funding cuts across the UC system totalling over $100 million (Bostrom points out that it’s actually over $400 million if you compare the proposed budget approved last year with the new slash and burn budget).
The cuts reinforce a trend that has been happening for roughly the past 20-30 years: the financial de-coupling of the UC system from its dependency on public funding. This is not an angle that the UC News folks emphasized, but it emerges quite clearly from their coverage nonetheless. Check out the following quote from Bostrom when the interviewer asks him how the cuts will impact UC Berkeley in particular:
We get about 27 percent of our funds from the state; 30 years ago we got over 50 percent. That’s largely been made up by big increases in research funds, student fees, and private philanthropy, including not only gifts but grants and contracts. The good news is that that has made us somewhat less vulnerable to state cuts, in that we have more robust funding sources. The bad news is that the bulk of the state funding goes to our core mission.
Hmmm, so if the state’s not funding the core mission – which includes crucial public functions such as extending opportunities to underrepresented Californians, graduate student funding, and preserving public control over University resources – who will fund it? In the short term, the answer appears to be nobody.
Odds are, last year’s $500 million BP research deal at Berkeley was just the beginning of a new wave of mega-donations from the private sector. As I pointed out to my students in a fall course on global poverty and development, however, such “donations” come with numerous strings attached. Not only did UCB have to hand over authority over some of the hiring and funding decisions, it also surrendered many of its rights to any of the IP that will emerge from the new research center. In setting up shop on the campus of one of the country’s most progressive and respected public university campuses, BP simultaneously green-washes its image and free-rides on Berkeley’s resources, reputation, and infrastructure. While the agreement also creates opportunities for Berkeley students and faculty to participate in biofuel research, it may constrain their ability to exercise independent control over the research agenda and to explore alternatives that do not align with BP’s researchers’ interests.
Clearly, the UC system’s professors, students, and administrators must find a way to adapt to this new financial environment. It is not enough to merely bemoan the decline and fall of public support for knowledge development in the United States – our education system has been moving towards privatization for several decades now. In response to these circumstances, it is crucial that Berkeley and the other UC campuses leverage their remaining resources to generate more advantageous funding arrangements than those created by the BP deal. In particular, UC must find better ways to prevent private knowledge enclosures from infringing on vital freedoms of speech, thought and research. Handing over the IP rights for new research centers is not a good way to deal with the problem. In the context of America’s broken IP system it only promises to create patent thickets and other barriers to campus researchers’ access to knowledge. At that point, the UC regents will not only have turned their back on the system’s core mission, but will also have facilitated the erosion of the University’s ability to promote knowledge creation for the greater social good. In the long run, such a transformation does not serve anyone’s interests.
March 19, 2008
UC Berkeley just announced that it will host yet another public-private research venture. This time, the “partners” are Intel and Microsoft, who have agreed to fund a $20 million parallel computing lab at UCB. This is small potatoes compared to the $500 million deal with BP that Berkeley landed in the fall, but the same problems and questions apply. The UC regents and the individual campus units continue the trend of depending on the private sector for a larger and larger portion of their annual operating expenses without engaging in a serious public debate about the issues this raises.
The biggest concerns that the website and all the happy press releases don’t say anything about are (1) the governance arrangement of the center, and (2) the status of the intellectual property the new center will create. It’s all fine and good that the University gets to say it has a new building and does cutting-edge stuff, but the concrete impact of these centers on the campus depends more on how they fit (or don’t) within the campus’ existing governing structure. Will the lab get to hire and fire new faculty? Who will make decisions about their tenure? How much teaching will they do? Who will pay their salaries? The IP-related questions only make matters more complicated. The revenue from any patents and products that emerge from the lab are likely to exceed the value of the lab itself several times over. Who gets to keep that? Also, irrespective of the answer to that question, should a supposedly public university contribute to the enclosure of scientific knowledge?