Open Letter to Chancellor Charles Reed about the “CSU Online” Plan

Why is Chancellor Reed developing a separate and competing system to the California State University?

In 1960 California launched a highly successful Master Plan for higher education. This Master Plan underwrote the costs for those able to fulfill admission requirements into higher education based on the conviction that an educated populace not only made the state more informed and able, it would – and did – fuel a remarkable economic renaissance. For every dollar invested in higher education, more than five dollars of enhanced economic activity result. What business ventures can boast such a return of five times what you put in?

Despite the Master Plan’s extraordinary success, however, California’s public higher education system is now in danger of being irrevocably damaged. This danger emanates from the so far successful imposition of the privatize-everything agenda of very powerful individuals and groups. Over the last four decades, the public sector has been systematically starved of tax revenue while the wealthy have become rich beyond reason. One manifestation of this shift in priorities has been the appointment to the California State University’s (CSU) highest administrative posts individuals who want to run the CSU – a public good intended to serve the public interest – in the manner of a private business devoted to following the logic of profit-making.

CSU system Chancellor Charles Reed is now pushing an initiative that represents nothing less than an opening wedge in an effort to enlist the CSU’s resources and good name in damaging the CSU’s own status as a public entity. For-profit “education” companies are being brought in the back door, as Reed proposes to enter into a partnership with corporations to offer online courses, dubbed “CSU Online.” Were Reed genuinely interested in coping with the perceived shortfall in the CSU’s ability to meet the next generation’s higher educational needs, he would be proposing that CSU enhance its existing offerings in house, both online and traditional face-to-face courses, including through CSU’s long-standing Extended/Open University.

Instead of taking that logical and reasonable step, Reed is laying the groundwork for “CSU Online” to compete with the existing CSU, funneling revenue away from the CSU into for-profit companies’ coffers.

Education is a critical part of any good society. CSU faculty came into the CSU to foster the people’s collective educational interests, not to become personally wealthy. For-profit companies have a very different goal: spending as little as possible in order to make as much money as possible. Their objective is only tangentially learning. Their real goal is profit. That is why for-profits are known for producing poorly educated and trained graduates.

“CSU Online” represents nothing less than a Trojan Horse for the CSU put forth by those who wish to undo the CSU as a public good. As another sign of his true motives, Reed has kept faculty out of his proposal and seeks to impose it upon the CSU without any real consultation with faculty. As a glaring example of the contempt that Reed feels for faculty and his belief that universities would be perfect if he could just get rid of the professors and their Collective Bargaining Agreement, at the “CSU Online Learning Initiative: Kickoff Meeting, February 16, 2011,” the outside team hired by Reed to promote “CSU Online,” features as its very first content slide the following: “CSU Online: Why Do This?” accompanied by a picture of an imaginary robot teacher and the words: “I have designed the teacher of the future. Instead of using people I have chosen cyborgs because they don’t need to be paid.”

We, the CSU Online Faculty Task Force*, demand that Reed drop his proposal to bring for-profits into the CSU system. No public money or CSU funds should be used for such an enterprise, nor should the good name of the California State University be stolen by applying it to this destructive scheme. An online university run in whole or in part by for-profits is divorced from the development of CSU campuses dedicated to public education as laid out in the Master Plan. Instead, the twenty-three campuses’ infrastructure should be enhanced in order to continue to provide quality education both in person and online. An online university that shreds the Collective Bargaining Agreement and gets rid of faculty governance and control of curriculum cannot assure either quality education for students or fair and equitable working conditions for staff and faculty. Any further attempts by Charles Reed to develop an online university with for-profits with the intent to undermine collective bargaining in the CSU should result in his resignation as Chancellor of the CSU system.

* The CSU Online Faculty Task Force consists of over eighty faculty across the CSU. Find us on Facebook for further information.