Professor's Critique of Public Education Generates Buzz for Berkeley Blog

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University News Editor Mihir Zaveri talks to Academics and Administration Chief Reporter Katie Nelson about a blog site for professors to post their opinions.

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Public policy professor Michael O'Hare declared in a letter Monday that UC Berkeley students were being "swindled" out of a good education due to statewide inefficiencies.

The next day, his letter had received more than 50,000 hits between two blog sites and more than 150 comments from faculty and the UC Berkeley community on the online campus forum, The Berkeley Blog.

The overwhelming response to O'Hare's letter generated plenty of buzz for the blog, setting records for both the number of hits and the number of comments, said Sara Leavitt, a member of the web team for the blog. She hopes the blog's popularity will continue.

"We want (the blog) to be provocative and controversial," she said. "The letter really hit a nerve. But that is the point of the blog - to be a two-way conversation and share the faculty's wealth of knowledge. The fact that we are getting a lot of comments is very gratifying."

In his letter, O'Hare lamented the fate of public education, both primary and secondary, blaming the state's bureaucratic institutions for denying appropriate funds to schools and universities.

"Your education was trashed as California fell to the bottom of US states in school spending, and the art classes, AP courses, physical education, working toilets and teaching generally went by the board," O'Hare said in the letter. "You spent your school years with teachers paid less and less, trained worse and worse, loaded up with more and more mindless administrative duties, and given less and less real support from administrators and staff."

O'Hare said the letter, which he originally posted on the "The Reality-Based Community" blog, was a "reflection of what the hell is going on in California."

The Berkeley Blog has become a hub of activity for staff and faculty - hailing from the music to agriculture and resource economics to marketing - to post and weigh in on ideas and opinions in a forum that draws feedback and commentary. Recent topics range from articles on the study of xenophobia to analyses of the Federal Trade Commission's crackdown on false weight loss advertisements.

While the university-wide blog "Remaking the University" allows any faculty member from any campus to publish posts on issues within the university, the Berkeley Blog is the only faculty-specific blog on a UC campus.

Only a year old, the blog is the brainchild of Jeff Kahn, director of UC Berkeley's main, NewsCenter and Calendar Network websites. Since its inception, the blog has gone through multiple design changes to cater to the preferences of the 150-plus faculty and staff authors, Leavitt said.

"It took time to get authors on board," she said. "We started out asking a particular question and having faculty respond. Now, the faculty come up with their own topics. They are more engaged now."

O'Hare, who usually posts on "The Reality-Based Community," is relatively new to the Berkeley Blog, having only a few of his items posted. In contrast, anthropology professor Rosemary Joyce has published more than 25 blog posts since October 2009.

"I only had two or three posts there before," O'Hare said. "Now 30,000 hits (on "The Reality-Based Community"), and over 20,000 on (the Berkeley Blog) - I have never communicated with that many people in my life."

Public policy professor Robert Reich, a frequent author and commentator on the blog, said in an e-mail that he feels the blog is an opportunity to expand the way in which faculty and students discuss and debate a variety of issues and can be an important addition to campus.

"Faculty have many policy ideas and opinions, but have lacked an easily-accessible place to post short summaries of them, or react to other's ideas and opinions," he said in an e-mail. "Ideally, the Berkeley Blog can serve this function. I hope it catches on."


Katie Nelson covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected]

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