Search This Blog

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dancing with Zemsky, Inc.

This is an advanced seminar in Zemsky/TLA Inc. for those who have read his “Remaking the American University: Market-Smart and Mission-Centered,” and for those who are interested in applying more critical thinking to why TLA is now investigating our A&S College and discussing the implications of this investigation for present and future A&S and UT students, faculty and staff.

Make no mistake: Dr. Zemsky, CEO of The Learning Alliance (TLA) is a dangerous zealot. The book suggests it is so. This recent Zemsky speech leaves no doubt.

Also read here:

Zemsky’s TLA should be called “The Free Market Core of Social Engineers, Specializing in Transformative Change for Public Higher Education.” His mantra to higher education administrators over the last decade has been “dancing with change” to which he has now in desperation added “on the side of the angels”! Glory Be!

Dr. Zemsky is dangerous because he does not trust the American public to demand “transformative change” in public higher education quickly enough to serve his ideological agenda. Frustrated with public complacency he advocates instead “top-down” change and advises like-minded thinkers like our own Board of Trustees to make change happen quickly. We recognize here the same sort of privatizing free market mentality that serves greed and fosters corruption and is ruining the global economy at present (see today’s Wall Street Journal).

Zemsky is a dance instructor who teaches his own twelve-step – a sort of rollerball tango -- to presidents, provosts deans, chairs and directors of administrations of public higher education. Let Zemsky et al have their way here at UT and the outcome will not be pretty for the A&S College and its liberal arts tradition. At present it looks like our next TLA visitors will be Dr. Joan Girgus, Professor of Psychology from Princeton University, who specializes in quantitative measures in Assessment. I would ask her: “How to you statistically assess the power of poetry to shape character and civic responsibility?” “How to you assess the complex dynamics of student, faculty and staff morale?” Plus a zillion other hard questions about "quality" assessment in benchmarking begging to be asked. The other TLA visitor is Dr. Susan Shaman of the Peach Bottom Group who specializes in – wait for it -- Board/Trustee Relations! As we already know, Dr. Robert Zemsky, TLA CEO specializes in Institutional Mission. He probably had a hand, indirectly, in ghost-writing our own Mission Statement to suit his ideal timetable for transformative change in public higher education, which is now playing out here at UT– though temporarily bogged down by some unexpected A&S “bad behavior”-- in its “Directions” implementation stage. Which is why TLA is here; to get our ducks in a row.

The term “transformative change” and its explicit and implicit threats to public higher education have been around on this campus for some time. A&S Council specifically considered its virtues and vices in their “Resolution Adopted at the Special Meeting of the Arts & Sciences Council on October 19, 2006.” In retrospect I see a pattern of aggressively systematic transformative change here that begins several years ago with the BOT hire of The Good Dr. Johnson, includes the opportuistic and hastily contrived UT/MUO merger, continues with the hires of President Jacobs, Provost Haggett, ex-Dean Lee, and is now immersing our A&S College in TLA investigations and indignities. These days I wince every time I hear our Provost use the term “transformative change” (and she does so A LOT), because I, like you, have read up on Zemsky ideology and TLA benchmarking rhetoric which depend on successfully proselytizing that phrase and all it implies as it is reason for their own enterprising existence (read $82,ooo plus expenses, and counting ...) . I think "transformative change"s time is past, and its idea and underlying assumptions are clearly bankrupt as demonstrated by current trends in the marketplace of goods, services, ideas and institutions. Why does our BOT enthusiastically embrace trends in the marketplace long after they have begun to fail elsewhere?

For A&S citizens, and especially for those on the TLA Roundtable, dancing with Zemsky Inc. means the sort of “transformative change” you suffer by giving into his demands to lead, which entitles him guide you anywhere he chooses and meanwhile permits his clients to step on your toes. His guidance will take you to a mystical place in his zealot mind of a perfect world where ideally the managerial demands for a skilled workforce are finally met by a thoroughly privatized higher-education machine that supplies skilled droids promptly in response to these demand. No independent critical thinking humans will be welcome in a Zemsky dystopia of our futuristic workplace. Expendable and loyal worker ants who hoe the row for low wages ONLY need apply. Do you too want to be on “the side of the angels” in this epic battle for the soul of public higher education? Then trust Zemsky Inc. and the TLA, the UT BOT, and the Jacobs Administration top to bottom and that you will be kindly herded (no cattle prods, please!) to a good place and not to a bad place.

No thanks! The whole TLA scenario unfolding takes me on a walk across our lovely main campus to gaze from a bridge upon the present Ottawa River. As you all know, we have always had this little river on campus, The Ottawa. Its name, like the campus it flows through, once upon a time sung of our UTraditions, and of peaceful, productive times in the not-so-distant past that many of us concerned student, faculty and staff in the A&S College cherish loyal to that Tradition fondly recall and strive to preserve as a living memory to pass on to future A&S students, faculty and staff. Several decades ago some bigwig in the Army Corps of Engineers had a bad idea and transformed the original river with its unique historic character and rustic identity, and its profound educational message, into a muddy ditch, lean and mean -- just because he could. The Truth of that river could not drown out his power. That bucolic river was deliberately engineered to speed right through the campus on some mindless journey rather than allowed to remain in its God-given majesty and allowed to continue to meander through UT and its productive educational community while on its own contemplative journey through time. This history of our river provides now a timely lesson in the error of “transformative change.” What happened to the Ottawa on campus is that some powerful hydraulic engineer’s wet dream came true. The story has irony: now UT planners want to “restore” the Ottawa River Tradition on campus to its bucolic state. They hope to recapture some of its inspirational charm and educational virtue. I hope they succeed, but the creative destructions of misguided transformative change writ large are almost impossible to reverse once entrenched.

I also hope that informed A&S faculty TLA Roundtable Alliance members, having 1) read up on the Zemsky ideology, and 2) recognized his mystical zeal for top-down “transformative change,” and 3) become increasingly concerned that they too have been duped or seduced into becoming essential parts of a TLA-scripted and BOT-endorsed self-justifying benchmarking process, will now consider politely recusing themselves on moral and ethical grounds from any further participation in this sordid TLA process.


sir lawrence said...

ok diogenes-
that is a good seminar on some of zemsky's positions on higher education, and it should give us pause in blindly approaching our so-called "assessment". i am sure that jacobs suggested the learning alliance at the may meeting for exactly the reasons you are suggesting; i.e. "Which is why TLA is here; to get our ducks in a row." jacobs was certainly familiar with zemsky's philosophy and agrees with much of what he says. however, i repeat: zemsky is no fool and does not suffer fools. he turned around the discussion in the philadelphia interview, insisting that the dean situation be resolved before he would bring TLA on board. i don’t think he is going to preach to the board what they want to hear.
what you say is based on two things: zemsky statements in books and forums where he is expected to speak his mind on education, and jacobs statements about what he wants for UT. while these sources are important and worthy of caution, they are external to the assessment process as defined by TLA. as mentioned by dr. tucker in his description of his interview, and from my own interview with zemsky himself, the impression is that the roundtable discussions will define the outcome of the report. zemsky is only acting as a facilitator, not a seminar instructor. in fact, i sneakily suspect that zemsky feels we have to do a lot of “transformational” change before we can even get into the league of institutions that he wants to influence. dr. tucker said in his interview: “First, I believe we are charging university prices for a community college education.” i said in my interview: “I think the community still sees us as ‘Bancroft High’ for a variety of reasons.” a long conversation followed about what makes a university a university. zemsky was stunned by the lack of Ph.D. programs in the humanities. he particularly mentioned english and sociology. so, i think we have to read a little more into his writings than a simple “His guidance will take you to a mystical place in his zealot mind of a perfect world where ideally the managerial demands for a skilled workforce are finally met by a thoroughly privatized higher-education machine that supplies skilled droids promptly in response to these demand.”
i guess what I want to suggest is that transformational change (yah- i hate that word too, and i know that it is already out-of-date- my church organization, unitarian-universalism, tried it 10 years ago, and they were following corporate examples- go figure) need not be bad, if we are in charge of it. change for change sake (as often happens with administrators trying to move up some ladder) is silly. but, we should be open to opportunities to direct useful change. what is ‘useful’ is clearly good for debate, but debate we should, rather than simply refuse to change.

yo, duh! said...

I checked at the A&S office shortly before I left last night--they had about 6 copies of the Zemsky that can still be borrowed, think it was 7 loaned out. Great! So go get one of those copies still there and inform yourselves.

MikeP said...

I have read the book by Zemsky, et al. Actually, I don't think he is saying he has a zeal for top-down. What he seems to illustrate is how often faculty stay passive and let top down management overtake decisions that faculty should have made.