Issue 7 (February 2014)

 

The War on Terror Comes to UC

Beezer de Martelly

 

Unwelcome to the University of Nowhere

The shove towards online education has been particularly swift and forceful in California, but in January, Governor Jerry Brown told the UC Board of Regents that they weren’t falling down the rabbit hole fast enough.[1] Since then, Brown has been aggressively urging administrators to “carry out online vigorously,” even though the required work of “restraining the system in many, many of its elements [students, faculty, and workers at Community Colleges, CSUs, and UCs, I wonder?]…will come with great resistance.”[2] It’s quite strange to read metaphors of forceful bodily restraint in a discussion about virtual learning—it’s almost as if the Governor is anticipating a physical struggle over the future of the state’s public education systems in the unwelcome transition towards online education.

And no wonder, as lately, the path has been decidedly bumpy. Case and point: after quickly moving into a partnership with distance learning mega-vendor Udacity last January, CSU’s San Jose State University is now pulling out of the deal. Why? More than half of the students failed the first semester of classes offered through the pilot program,[3] generating an awful lot of skepticism about the value of this brave new educational business model. It seems that every day, more people are weighing in on the failure of online education to actually educate.[4]

Yet, despite similar concerns being raised here at the UC, the school’s online education program, University of California Online Education (UCOE), continues to expand its work with edX, lodging itself ever deeper in this uncertain experiment. At Berkeley alone, there’s a brand new Berkeley Resource Center for Online Education (BRCOE)[5] tasked with creating online programs for every digital education consumer ranging from the more “elite” Small Private Online Courses (or “SPOCs”) geared towards those seeking that virtual liberal arts feel to the very massive online courses being developed through Berkeley’s MOOCLab initiative for, well, the masses.

While it’s surprisingly difficult to figure out just how much money has been poured into these financially risky online education projects—at least $17 million has been “borrowed” from the brick and mortar UCs and allocated to online education expansion to date[6]—this sudden burst of funding for digital course development is…curious. After all, the Governor and Board of Regents have been telling us since 2004 that there is just no money[7] for funding tutors, library staff, and other important student resources; paying university workers living wages; reversing the rapid tuition inflation and restoring the Master Plan’s vision for free public education in California; or supporting the traditional smaller, more intimate classes where students receive a thoughtful blend of individual attention, intellectual stimulation, and social interaction (i.e., they are treated like humans). Instead, the UC administration would now like us to believe such education is to be reserved for an “exclusive” clientele, too good to waste on most of us.

 

Decisions In the Dark

Another trend accompanying the shift towards online education is a serious undermining of shared governance over academic institutions and a lack of transparency in decision-making—to new and unprecedented degrees. For example, in the selection process of the next President of the UC, Gov. Brown not only kept faculty and students fully in the dark,[8] but in a move that has been critiqued as especially clandestine and undemocratic, he even circumvented the authority of the Board of Regents, a group of California’s wealthiest and most powerful financiers hand-picked by the Governor to make important economic and structural decisions about the university. Rather than including the full Board of Regents, Brown approached only a few of them to work silently alongside Isaacson Miller,[9] an external executive search firm, on a top-secret mission to select the next head of the school system.


The result? This small team identified three suitable finalists to lead perhaps the most prestigious public education system in the nation: former National Security Advisor, Commander of the U.S. Army Forces, and Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta; and former Arizona Governor and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Janet Napolitano. These three individuals are not only “uncharacteristic” choices to guide an academic institution, but all of them have also headed large military intelligence apparatuses. In the end, the job offer was extended to Janet Napolitano, who vacated her position from the DHS even before the Regents’ token vote of approval on her appointment.

 

A Brief History of the DHS and its Current Interest in Education

What logic underlies this presidential choice, and what might it indicate about the future of the UC system? After all, the DHS is far from a neutral agency to network with one of California’s largest employers and institutions of higher education. This fairly new department was quickly erected after 9/11 and has expanded rapidly alongside other now-infamous intelligence agencies like the NSA.[10] Now rather massive, the DHS traffics in domestic and international surveillance and even torture[11] of anyone unlucky enough to incur the government’s overflowing suspicion. And Janet Napolitano, the new UC President, has been instrumental in developing and orchestrating its missions.

While Secretary of the DHS, Napolitano coordinated a large-scale, secret collaboration among local police departments, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the FBI on the “Secure Communities” (or “S-Comm”) initiative.[12] Launched in 2008, S-Comm authorizes local police to monitor, arrest, and deport undocumented immigrants. To date, over 1.5 million undocumented people have been forced out of the country, the largest number of deportations in the history of any U.S. administration.[13] Further demonstrating the agency’s securitization efforts, the DHS has pushed the government to expand construction on a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico,[14] arming and militarizing the border in the process.[15] As if these projects were not concerning enough, the DHS has also championed the expansion of armed drone surveillance vehicles to circle the border like predators on the hunt.[16]

This border is just one of several the DHS is interested in militarizing. In 2012, the agency also allocated nearly $10 million to Zionist groups, many of which subsidize Israel’s militaristic efforts to eradicate Palestine. In defense of this controversial grant program, Napolitano argued that the U.S. has “a special friendship with Israel…and we are looking for ways to express that commitment within the portfolio of tasks that the Department of Homeland Security performs.”[17] In a troubling expression of the deep relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the DHS routinely sends American cops to train alongside the Israeli military to learn the art of efficient combat in the Terrible War.

One result of these training sessions was the brutal police repression of the 2011 Occupy Movement. During Occupy, a movement that resonated powerfully on many college campuses with students’ struggles against rising tuition, the preservation of public education, and the right to free speech and assembly, the DHS worked closely with campus and local police departments to spy on, harass, and beat anyone brave and astute enough to criticize the corrupt financiers who govern our schools.[18]

And now, the DHS would like to set up a permanent home on college campuses. Critically, the agency’s list of its suspicious people now regularly includes academics, [19] making the valuable research and teaching we do increasingly vulnerable to censure and censorship from within the university.[20]

 

President Napolitano’s UC of Homeland Security

These Orwellian and deeply racist policing practices are materialized in the figure of Janet Napolitano, who brings the War on Terror to the UC. But why, and what might this have to do with the push towards online education?

A speech given by Janet Napolitano at San Jose State University in April 2012 sheds some light on this question.[21] In it, Napolitano references the DHS’s plans to intervene in all institutions of learning ranging from kindergarten to post-graduate education in order to create a “dependable pipeline” for jobs in “cyber security” and state surveillance, jobs just like the one that compelled NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to speak out.[22] As part of this initiative, the DHS is pursuing “a robust effort…to engage and partner with colleges and universities” primarily through implementing online education programs, where classrooms are better able to be continuously monitored by the DHS and its private contractors.[23] Through programs with deceptively tame names like NICE (the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education) and NICCS (the National Incentive for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies), Napolitano hopes to convince us that “DHS is a great place to come to work…in the fight against the new generation of threats to our homeland.”

And there’s no time like austerity to push a desperate public into swallowing an awful reality! Who better to explain this logic than the folks at BOOZ Allen Hamilton, a private contractor that works closely with the DHS and NSA on education surveillance?[24] In a position paper entitled Reimagining Government, Booz Allen Hamilton argues that now’s the time for private investors to pounce, as “institutional resistance to change often fades during troubled times, particularly when the institution…are [sic] threatened by a prolonged or severe crisis. The current federal fiscal crisis has reached this stage…Many will welcome efficiency reforms.”[25] A description of these proposed “efficiency reforms”:
“[N]ew activities, such as cybersecurity, are becoming increasingly critical to mission objectives…The Department of Homeland Security…[and] federal organizations are using the cloud [for] continuous monitoring…Academic institutions, agencies, and CIOs are sharing insights on cyber practices that are evaluated for government-wide adoption…The volume, velocity, and variety of data collected and stored by federal agencies are growing exponentially, as is the potential value of that data if used more fully.”

And with its $60 million annual budget, most of which is discretionary, the DHS is poised to dump a lot of money into a “cash-strapped” public education system to compel the transition to online education.[26] The agency has already begun the work of coordinating with numerous higher education institutions to create online degrees in Homeland Security,[28] a program of which UCLA Extension is already a part.[27]

While I don’t know what the future of education holds for us, I do know that it would be much brighter if Janet Napolitano, Jerry Brown, and their thugs would stop de-funding and dismantling meaningful public education; forcing our campuses and classrooms under continuous monitoring; and silencing those of us with divergent ideas about what our campuses should be like. Perhaps it’s time for each of us to take this struggle to the diminishing terra firma of our campuses, to resist the “restraining of the system in many, many of its elements,” and to make real the dream that we might live our lives more freely at the UCs and beyond.

 

***

 

Beezer de Martelly is a graduate student in ethnomusicology at UC Berkeley. She is also a Head Steward in UAW 2865, the Academic Student-Workers Union.

 

 

_________________________________________

 

[1] After saying so much at the January 2013 UC Regents’ and CSF Trustees’ meetings, Brown convened a conference on “Rebooting CA Higher Education.” There, he invited a variety of distance learning vendors to peddle their wares to education decision makers with inflated tuition money to burn, a collaboration that was certain to put smiles on Silicon Valley stockholders’ faces.


[2] “Jerry Brown Says UC and CSU Leaders Pledged to Pursue Online Education Vigorously,” Capitol Alert, July 23, 2013 http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2013/07/jerry-brown-says-uc-csu-leaders-pledged-to-pursue-online-ed-vigorously.html


[3] Will Oremus, “University Suspends Online Classes After More Than Half the Students Fail,” Slate, July 19, 2013, http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/07/19/san_jose_state_suspends_
udacity_online_classes_after_students_fail_final.html



[4] See, for example: Will Oremus, “Online Class on How to Teach Online Classes
Goes Laughably Awry,” Slate, February 5, 2013,
 http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/02/05/mooc_meltdown_
coursera_course_on_fundamentals_of_online_education_ends_in.html
;
Geoff Shullenberger, “The New MOOC Strategy: Rise of the Higher Ed Empires,”
Dissent: A Quarterly of Politics and Culture,
August 7, 2013, http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/the-new-mooc-strategy-rise-of-the-higher-ed-empires;
Audrey Watters, “Further Thoughts from Rebooting CA Higher Education,” Hack Education, January 9, 2013, http://hackeducation.com/2013/01/09/further-thoughts-from-rebooting-ca-higher-education/

[5] See EdX, https://www.edx.org/school/uc%20berkeleyx/allcourses


[6] UC Online borrowed $6.9 million from the brick and mortar school system at a time when the latter faced drastic cuts in funding for educational services and skyrocketing tuition. In addition, the Governor proposed that the University spend an additional $10 million of funds, gained through a desperate tax measure passed last November in order to assuage these cuts, on online course development. While Brown vetoed his own budget proposal mandating that these funds go towards online education, the UC Regents are still planning on using the money for digital course development. See: Nanette Asimov, “UC Online Courses Fail to Lure Outsiders,” February 22, 2013,  http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/UC-online-courses-fail-to-lure-outsiders-4173639.php;

“Gerry Brown Votes Down Proposal on Online Education,” Capitol Alert, June 27, 2013, http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2013/06/jerry-brown-vetoes-own-budget-proposal-on-online-education.html;

Regents’ Meeting of July 18, 2013, Progress Report on Online Education Efforts at the University of California, http://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/regmeet/jul13/e1.pdf


[7] Bob Meister, “Response to Faculty Questions: ‘They Pledged Your Tuition II,’” Council of UC Faculty Associations,  http://cucfa.org/news/2009_oct19.php


[8] “On the Recent Nomination of Janet Napolitano for UC President,” UC Student-Workers Union UAW Local 2865, http://www.uaw2865.org/?p=3365


[9] Isaacson, Miller, http://www.imsearch.com/about.html


[10] Mirren Gidda, “Edward Snowden and the NSA files—timeline,” The Guardian, July 25, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/23/edward-snowden-nsa-files-timeline


[11] Rider on the Storm, “DHS Wants New Torture Technology,” Daily Kos, March 28, 2008,  www.dailykos.com/story/2008/03/28/486118/-DHS-wants-new-torture-technology


[12] “S-Comm,” American Civil Liberties of Massachusetts, http://aclum.org/s-comm


[13] Paul Bedard, “Illegal Immigrant Deportations by the Numbers,” US News, September 6, 2011, http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/washington-whispers/2011/09/06/illegal-immigrant-deportations-by-the-numbers


[14] Robert Beckhusen, “Homeland Security Delays Plan to Place Sensors on U.S.-Mexico Border,” Wired, February 11, http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/border-sensors/


[15] “Doubling the Border Patrol? Not a Smart Idea,”Homeland Security Watch, June 22, 2013, http://www.hlswatch.com/2013/06/22/doubling-the-border-patrol-not-a-smart-idea/


[16] Tom Barry, “Homeland Security Taps Generals to Run Domestic Drone Program: The Rise of Predators at Home,” Truthout, August 7, 2013,
http://truth-out.org/news/item/17995-homeland-security-taps-generals-to-run-domestic-drone-program-the-rise-of-predators-at-home


[17] http://undertheradarmedia.wordpress.com/tag/israel-palestine/;
http://forward.com/articles/157280/jews-face-special-risks-napolitano-says/?p=all


[18] “Documents reveal DHS monitored OWS protests daily as matter of policy,” The Daily Caller, April 3, 2013,
http://dailycaller.com/2013/04/03/documents-reveal-dhs-monitored-ows-protests-daily-as-matter-of-policy/;

Michael Gould-Wartofsky, “Homeland Security Goes to College,” Mother Jones, March 22, 2012,
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/03/homeland-security-college-campus-crackdown-occupy


[19] Glen Greenwald, “Obama moves to make the War on Terror permanent,” The Guardian, October 24, 2012,  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/24/obama-terrorism-kill-list; David

Miller, “Spying on Academics Will Not Help Terrorism,” The Conversation, July 15, 2013, http://theconversation.com/spying-on-academics-will-not-help-fight-terrorism-16046

[20] Gould-Wartofsky, “Homeland Security Goes to College”; Ethan Huff, “Homeland Security Infiltrating Higher Education by Establishing Big Brother, Campus Recruiting,” Natural News, March 11, 2012, http://www.naturalnews.com/035209_Homeland_Security_campus_recruiting.html


[21] “Remarks by Secretary Janet Napolitano at San Jose State University,” Department of Homeland Security, April 16, 2012, http://www.dhs.gov/news/2012/04/16/remarks-secretary-janet-napolitano-san-jose-state-university


[22] Rebecca Shapiro, “Edward Snowden NSA: Guardian Reveals Identity Of Whistleblower Behind NSA Revelations,” Huffington Post, June 9, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/09/edward-snowden-nsa-leak-guardian-whistleblower-nsa-revelations_n_3412245.html


[23] Michael Gould-Wartofsky, “Seven Steps to a Homeland Security Campus,” The Nation, March 22, 2012, http://www.thenation.com/article/166981/seven-steps-homeland-security-campus#


[24] “Booz Allen and Online Surveillance...I Mean Education,” Occupy Education Press, June 11, 2013, http://occupyeducationpress.blogspot.com/2013/06/booz-allen-and-online-surveillancei.html


[25] Booz Allen Hamilton, “Effectiveness and Efficiency
Reimagining Government: How US Federal Leaders Can Modernize Their
Agencies to Meet Critical Mission Objectives and Customer Expectations,” http://www.boozallen.com/media/file/E3-Reimagining-Government.pdf


[26] Budget-in-Brief, Fiscal Year 2014, Homeland Security, http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/MGMT/FY%202014%20BIB%20-%20FINAL%20-508%20Formatted%20%284%29.pdf


[27] “Colleges and Universities Offering Homeland Security Programs,” Center for Homeland Defense and Security, http://www.chds.us/?partners/institutions


[28] UCLA Extension, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, https://www.uclaextension.edu/bam/homeland/pages/default.aspx