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Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lesson Number Three, and My Beef with Bob

I've argued that 2009 brought potentially epochal shifts in perception about higher education, both in California and elsewhere.  The first two public lessons of the year were that major cuts in funding are bad for educational quality, and that students will not accept the usual (and sadly incomplete) attempt to cover these cuts, which is higher fees.

The third lesson was that good public universities have and will continue to depend on good public funding.  Public funding is also extremely efficient. A study at Keep California's Promise showed that "good public funding" will cost the median California taxpayer a total of 32 additional dollars per year.  I can't understand why the sheer affordability of a restabilized high-quality public university has not been picked up and broadcast everywhere by UCOP, the Regents, and the Governor's office.

The high cost of not defending public funding has been demonstrated yet again in a new poll by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (ppt version). 

In the poll, more people that ever think that a college education is essential for a person to be successful in today's work world. This percentage has nearly doubled to 55% in the last ten years - a truly meteoric rise.  On the other hand, the percentage of those who think that "the vast majority of qualified, motivated students have opportunity to attend college" has fallen from 45% to 29% over the same period.    Nearly three quarters of Americans believe that high college costs prevent more than just some qualified, motivated students from attending college. 

If high tuition is a problem for the public, so is its supposedly redemptive twin, "high aid." Although they realize that there are many aid programs for college students, "more than 8 out of 10 Americans believe that students have to borrow too much to pay for their education."

This puts higher ed up a box canyon that we now know pretty well.  College completion is essential, but college is too expensive for most students.  At the same time, students and their families are getting tired of borrowing to pay ever rising costs.

Here's where the third lesson comes in: the only way to achieve the "master plan"'s desired combination of high quality and mass access is to restore tax-based public funding to appropriate levels.  The urgency of getting there is hard to overstate - prosperity, democracy, racial equality, social integration, energy decarbonization, among other things will all be greatly assisted by reversing the current contraction of higher education completion.  But the essential element in all this - public funding - does not currently enjoy majority public support. By a 54 to 40 majority, respondents felt that "colleges could spend less and still maintain a high-quality education."

40%  is a lot better than nothing - the glass is almost half-full. So how do we get to 60% or 70% in favor?

The most obvious method is budget transparency, or clear accountability. How else can higher ed convince skeptics that it isn't wasting the money it already has?  UCOP has a long way to go on this.  State Sen. Leland Yee just got the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to request -- unanimously -- an audit of UC's use of public funds. (Note that this audit is distinct from Sen. Yee's 2009 proposal to reduce UC's constitutional independence from the legislature.)  UCOP is likely to stonewall, judging from past practice as well as recent statements, such as CFO Peter Taylor's bizarre claim that the audit CUCFA requested of the fund sources of bond repayments rested on a misinformation campaign that was the enemy of excellence and progress. UC should request legislative funding for the significant additional costs of such an audit, but to refuse it would compound a continuing strategic mistake that I will return to below.

The second way to increase support for public funding is to stop raising privately-paid tuition. The funding model of the last three decades has assumed tuition increases of 2-4x the consumer price index year in year out, rain or shine, boom or bust. Families paying ever-growing tuition for education don't want to pay higher taxes for education.  They see that as the kind of "double taxation" that George W. Bush made a household word.  At the same time, the general public can't see how an institution that increases its charges 7-10% a year, like UC under the Compact, could possibly be hurting for money.   At least two generations of higher ed leaders have helped shaft the case for public funding with their annual recourse to tuition hikes.  Foregoing increases in a crisis will be extremely painful, but we have to bite the bullet on this one.

The third way to increase support for public funding is to reconnect university research to burning social needs.  The PPHE poll asked a very interesting question that got at the heart of this deficiency.

Many academics have been concerned about the weakening of the university's public mission under financial temptation and threat alike. This poll finds a real effect: by nearly 2:1, respondents think that universities don't have a public mission -- at least one that is stronger than the desire to make money.  Why would this 2/3rds of the public ever support give universities, which they see as oriented towards private gain, a bigger piece of hard-earned public funds?

The respondent's answers constitute an indictment of the high-tuition / high-aid model that elite private universities made the American standard, and that public university leaders have sought to imitate.  University leaders have spent decades trying to prove their loyalty to the values and practices of the business and donor communities.  The result has been real success in private fundraising, but increasingly disastrous costs to  public funding.  The whole university community is going to have to pull together on this, including the researchers and program heads who have done extremely well with the systems of private side funding on a public infrastructure base.

Here's where we get to my beef with Bob Samuels.  In a recent piece on the Huffington Post, Bob calls quite rightly for budgetary transparency, so that "parents, students, and taxpayers should know where their money is actually going, and everyone should be concerned about the quality of undergraduate education."    But he frames his discussion with the incorrect statement that "it does not matter how much money these institutions get from the government or even from tuition-paying parents and students; what matters is how universities and colleges spend their money." In fact, both things matter enormously -  fair and effective expenditures, but also publicly-supported revenues.  I have written to Bob in the past to express my dismay at this binary approach, and I don't understand either the analytical or the tactical basis for continuing it.

The same must be said for the way Bob in this piece sets up teaching and research in opposition to each other.  He writes, for example, "by making students and their parents pay for faculty research, the quality of education is reduced; for the simple truth is that the more professors are rewarded for their research, the less they often value teaching."  This is an untrue generalization, and in the disciplines I know best there is a "promotion trap" that works in the opposite direction: tenured faculty spend so much time on teaching and university service that their research gets bogged down.  Some of the most successful researchers I know are as driven to disseminate and explain their knowledge as they are to create it. The non-teaching public needs to understand that in the real world, discovery and communication, teaching and learning, are two sides of the same coin.  Bob is himself a perfect example of this, being a teacher whose pedagogical virtues have been sung to me by some students we have shared, even as he is the author of several scholarly books, including a recent one on new media and critical theory, not to mention his long and impressive series of commentaries on higher education and UC.

The math in Bob's piece should, in my view, be used to make a somewhat different point than he does.  He intends it to show that overall undergrads are getting the crumbs from the budgetary table.  His methodology of one average salary and class sizes is bound to be misleading, and it is better to use the aggregate instructional expenditure calculations developed by Charles Schwartz that Bob cites.   Schwartz's more intricate calculations lead him to the conclusion that "the final cost to UC for undergraduate education (2006-07) is between $6,711 and $7,311 per student," including academic support and related overhead expenditures.  This is in contrast to UCOP's statements that instruction costs around $20,000 per year, which is consistent over several years (2006-07, 2007-08 slide 9, 2008-09).

I have several comments here.  The first is that the UCOP Budget Office figure of $20,000 is instruction over all types of students, including doctoral candidates, M.B.A. students, and medical students. Medical students receive over $20,000 each in General Fund monies, and in 2008-09 received about $85,000 each in overall instructional expenses. The cost for undergraduates is much lower, and in my experience the Schwartz figures are reasonably close to what is spent on most but not all undergraduates - many receive substantially less, and others more, a topic I leave aside here.  

The deeper question is whether this is a bad thing in itself.  In fact it is not bad on its face.  The money that goes to things other than undergraduate instruction goes toward creating the university as a whole.  Undergraduates get many indirect benefits from research, even at professional schools to which they have no direct access. In economics these are called spillovers, and the value received by undergraduates from the university overall exceeds direct and indirect expenditures on instruction.  This includes the advantages of being taught by active researchers like Bob Samuels, or helped by student service staff who have also worked in electrical engineering laboratories, and so on. 

At the same time, there may be unjust underspending in these figures, just as there certainly is in staff salaries.  I have expressed strong support for Bob Samuels, Charlie Schwartz, and other budget commentators for shedding light on what is spent on whom, and for trying to start a rational and open discussion of budgeting, cross-subsidies, and the financial governance of our shared institutions.  We all need to continue this effort. 

Pursuing justice and effectiveness in expenditures doesn't require telling the public that research at a research university undermines undergraduate education.  Poor funding, declining facilities, understaffing, and overwork undermine education.   To repeat what I said above, we are all going to have to pull together to give the public a clear explanation of how in reality research, including the cultural kind Bob and I practice, is a crucial public interest.


Bob Samuels said...

I appreciate this opportunity to dialogue with Chris and address some of my thoughtful critics. Perhaps my discourse is sometimes unclear, but I have tried to maintain the dual strategy of arguing for more state funding and holding the university accountable. For instance, I have promoted the California Democracy Act to change the way the state legislature votes on budgets and revenues, and I have also supported Alberto Torrico’s bill to tax oil extraction and use the revenue for higher education. Moreover, we have been told that because of the protests that I helped to organize at UCLA on November 18-19, the governor has decided to increase the funding for the university. I am also aware, however, that it will take a long time before we change how the state votes on taxes, and so in the meantime, it is essential to fight for more funding and to make sure the money we do get will be spent in a transparent and effective manner.

The next area of controversy is the question of how student fees and state funds are spent, and if undergraduates are being asked to fund things that are not connected to their education. I have shown that while students and the state support pay more than $20,000 per student, less than a third of this amount goes to undergraduate instruction and related costs. In my most recent calculation, I have included the full cost of a professor’s salaries, and so unlike, Charles Schwartz, I am not splitting off research from instruction. What I am doing is trying to trace how students end up paying for administration and infrastructure that has no relation to their education.

Yet, I also do want to focus on how undergraduate instruction is a low priority, and even at the wealthiest campus, classes are getting bigger, courses are being eliminated, tutoring and support is being reduced, and students are paying much more. A major reason for this problem is that much of the undergraduate teaching has been shifted to lecturers and graduate students, but the university hides this fact, and continues to fund these positions as if they are temporary. We are now witnessing the results of this non-transparency; due to a claim of a fiscal emergency, lecturers face layoffs and grad students can’t find employment. Someone must be held responsible for this sorry state of affairs, and a state audit will help clarify how money is really spent in the UC system.

I have proposed solutions to these problems, but few people want to consider my proposal, which is to develop three forms of professors: researchers, teachers, and hybrids. While the hybrids will be judged on their research and teaching, the researchers will be evaluated for their research, and they will not be forced to teach. Likewise, the people committed to teaching will be given support and security. In many ways, this is only a slight adjustment to what is already going on, but there are three major changes: 1) people whose main responsibility is undergraduate instruction will get tenure; 2) researcher who do not or cannot teach will be allowed to concentrate on what they do best; and 3) we will clarify how money is spent in the system.

One reaction to my proposal is that I am undermining the heart of a research university, which is the combination of research and teaching. However, the hybrids will be rewarded for their ability to combine research and instruction. Moreover, we already have many professors who rarely teach, and some teachers who do important research. If we do not clarify these positions, all we can do is to lie to the state and the public about how we really spend our money.

jane said...

Hi all. A couple very brief notes. One, as a matter of popular discourse, when commentators (from journalists and politicians to the comment fields of the republic) engage in that all-too-familiar mockery of research — with exceptions for profit-ready ideas from the sciences, of course — they do not do so by way of suggesting that professors should spend more time professing. They do it by way of implicitly or explicitly trying to damn publicly-supported universities as such. And so in this regard I think there is a real rhetorical necessity to take Chris's position — however analytically accurate Bob's take is on the score, it becomes a disastrous line of debate.

Contrarily, I find myself much closer to Bob's position as regards funding. Of course, if we want to maintain the university in its present state, as an ISA with real ancillary benefits (to use Althusserian terms), then any funding helps, including state funding. Sure, plumb every available depth. However, in the question of where it is most vital to apply force — and possibly all of it, as there is a limited amount — it's verging on self-evident that this should be directed toward the administration. To use a somewhat uncomfortably familial analogy: if your parents are spending the food stamps building a solarium, you don't march on the FDA. More foodstamps, in that situation, is going to get you more solaria, and perhaps a football stadium or two to go with the telemedicine center.

Chris Newfield said...

Bob - I agree with what you say until the end, and you are especially eloquent on the shorting of undergraduate instruction. I don't see the advantages of the 3 types of faculty, though. Why not just push for better funding for undergrads based on an analysis of educational outcomes and goals, and for an end to the threatened firing of the worst-paid and most vulnerable instructors?

I completely agree with you and Jane on the problem of administrative growth. It's a national as well as a UC problem, and it needs to be confronted systematically. I know many campuses are trying to work on this.

I'm not sure I completely follow your last paragraph, Jane. My own position on paying for research is fairly simple, and perhaps simplistic:
1. for the sake of transparency, disaggregate expenditures of various kinds, including instruction and research (also multiple).
2. refuse to disaggregate instruction and research as functions - they go hand in glove at a research university
3. explain the public and educational benefits to parents, students, voters, etc of the I&R combination.
4.make internal adjustments to expenditures as necessary for the sake of equity and effectiveness

jane said...

does it help to know that the FDA originates food stamps? My analogy is straightforward enough, I hope. The administration's course has been to direct the money they do get away from real educational expenditure and toward, most notably, capital projects — more generally, toward a restructuring of the university along private lines. There is every reason to believe that, were they to get more money from the state, it would go toward funding that restructuring — that it would increase the cadence of privatization, not reverse it.

So while it is quite easy to declare in vague terms that we should try to get money from everywhere, it makes little concrete sense to allocate the limited resource of political intervention toward the state, when gains there will still go toward football stadia and administrative bloat. I don't object to the reasonability of your general overview of desirable outcomes. But I know where to fight.

Toby Higbie said...

I would like to applaud Bob Samuel's push for more transparent accounting of how the UC spends the public's money--our money. I agree that this is likely a prerequisite for increasing public support for funding higher education.

Like Jane I think Bob's proposal for a three tiered professoriate is bad rhetorical strategy, and I would add that it is evidently a bad organizing strategy.

My main problem with this proposal is that I just don't ever see it happening in the UC, certainly not in the near or medium term. Therefore as a proposal I don't see what it adds to the effort to bring people together around the political project of refunding the university and the public sector more generally.

Secondly, to the extent that Bob seeks to make common cause with faculty, this proposal is evidently unpopular with the faculty most likely to be allies. I understand the need to debate options. But, Bob, I just don't see the phrasing of your proposal as creating a productive debate.

Looking beyond the funding issue, I see the core issue as one of a more equal distribution of the benefits of academic work (such as they are). The current system has many problems, but the most glaring is that a growing proportion of instruction is done by people with little or no job security who are often not paid proportionally compared to tenure system faculty. It's a bad system and whatever security part timers and adjuncts have pried from the fingers of the universities goes out the window in a crisis.

If we as Senate faculty believe that research and teaching are mutually beneficial, then we should be very strong advocates not only of job security for lecturers, but also access to research and travel funds, and the creation of a reasonable career ladder.

Bob Samuels said...

My relation to the role of senate faculty is complex. I have been arguing that professors have to fight the privatization of the university, and this means demanding a larger role in shared governance. I have also worked with senate faculty to help protect funding for instruction and to protect the quality of education. However, I do believe that much of the university incentive system downplays instruction, and I know there are exceptions to this, but does anyone really think our universities are making it a priority to require high quality teaching?

While it would be easy to blame administrators and the state for all of the university's problems, senate faculty have to ask how they have lost so much control, and what can they do to gain some power back. All over the UC system, task forces and commissions are being set up by administrators, and while faculty may be involved, the terms of the game are being controlled by the administration.

Faculty have also often failed to use their academic freedom to confront the administration and demand budget transparency and shared governance.

There is also the touchy subject of most of the faculty being off the salary scale and negotiating individual deals in a private manner that circumvents the peer review process. It is hard to defend this privatizing system since it sets every individual against every other individual.

Finally, there are many faculty members who are great researchers and have a long record of being ineffective teachers. I feel that it is unfair to make students pay more money, and not try to enhance educational quality. Why not simply let the researcher research and the teachers teach, and have some do both? Instead of this causing the defunding of higher ed, it could help our efforts in telling the public that we provide both great research and great teaching. It will also lead to more honest accounting. The other option is to argue that because the public does not value the research in the humanities and the social science, we have to hide the fact that they are paying for it anyway.

I look forward to a constructive and open dialogue.

Toby Higbie said...

Having only arrived a few years ago, I can't speak to what senate faculty have lost. My guess it that it's been gone for some time.

I'll focus on Bob's last point above. What he describes is sort of the status quo. Some senate faculty are researching all the time and neglect their teaching. Most struggle to balance teaching, research, and service (but err on the side of research). With lecturers, however, many continue a research and publishing agenda, but are only paid for teaching. The university benefits from lecturers' research and publishing, but doesn't pay for it.

Given that any change is going to happen over a long time span, a more effective strategy than creating a three tiered professoriate would be to re-calibrate the reward system in order to raise the value of teaching.

This would have two separate positive impacts. For lecturers who have a relatively higher teaching load, we would properly value their contributions (via security, better pay, research money). Over time, senate faculty would incorporate the changed reward system into their career planning.

Also, this wouldn't necessarily mean "more" teaching in terms of additional classes. Ideally it would mean more teaching that introduces students into the faculty research process. Doing this, I think ultimately changes what we think of as "research" in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

This may be as unlikely to occur as Bob's suggestion. But a push to properly value teaching would move in the same direction.

Chris Newfield said...

I esp second Toby's point on upgrading working conditions for lecturers, but wanted to address Jane's point about buildings.

In itself, there's nothing wrong with state funds going to capital projects. Building infrastructure was a traditional function of the states that housed federally-funded research, took federally-funded student grant money, etc. etc. The value of these buildings to undergrads, to the overall UC community etc., as opposed to value to wealthy Bay Area biotech investors, for example, is an important policy issue, but isn't addressable by questioning STATE expenditures on capital projects. You can see the general breakdown in Budget for State Capital Improvements 2009-10 http://www.ucop.edu/budget/capital/200910/2009-10BudgetforStateCapitalImprovements.pdf p 3. see the itemized list pp 4-5. 46% of STATE capital project funding are going for enrollment, etc., and 97% here (telemed aside) appears to go to "core campus" types of projects. The project list would seem to confirm this. In addition, it looks like 100% of the funding is borrowed, via two kinds of bonds, in true Arnold-era California fashion.
You may also be thinking of NON-state projects. see for example http://www.ucop.edu/budget/capital/200915/2009-15BudgetforSNSCapitalImprovements.pdf. Here 59% are "core," a third of the total going to campuses; 24% go to auxiliary and student fee based projects, pp 6-7. Overall, 41% of the projects, educational and non-educational, involve the med centers. Averaging nearly $10 in Non-state over 2009-15 or 6 years gives you $1.67 B per year in non-state projects, or about twice as much in dollar terms as the $842 M listed for 2009-10 in state projects.

the language that would interest you is on P 8. After the Meister-induced disclaimer that no Ed Fees service construction or debt service, the report states that 26% of this capital program funding IS state funds (meaning, here, mostly General Obligation bonds). Campuses kick in 10% from "reserves,"which are what Schwartz would call slush funds collected by Chancellors taxing parking, dept phonse, housing and food service, etc. etc. If I remember correctly this source has been overtapped at UCLA.

Under "non-state funds," the report lists 4: current funds, gifts, grants, and external financing. Current funds are largely chancellorial taxes on hospital operations and auxilaries of every kind. Gifts are the targeted philanthropy (98% tied up) we hear about. Grants, with some exceptions, seems to mean indirect cost recovery on extramural research.External funding is borrowing, with campuses repaying out of "reserves" they've pledged.

Non-state projects appear to be in competition with campus operations for 3 of the 4 sources (excluding philanthropy). Reserves that don't go to pay off loans on buildings could in theory be plowed back into departmental instructional budgets during a shortfall. ICR that doesn't go to "Garamendi funded buildings" (e.g. the CalISIs) could go to pay laboratory indirect costs and upgrades.

Without casting a shadow over prior and planned non-state projects, we can say that there are educational and opportunity costs to these projects, tradeoffs that should be discussed out in the open.

Harry Nelson said...

I don't agree with Bob's categorization into researcher, teacher, and hybrid... I think it was Enrico Fermi who said something to the effect... research improves my teaching, and teaching improves my research. Richard Feynman echoed that comment as well.

The research portion of a ladder faculty's portfolio is in one part a continual retraining process, good for all.

What is lacking is institutional interest/resources for continual training/rewards for excellent in the lecturer track. I think a prominent reason this has happened is economics... the research track has more $ rewards... recruitment, retention, visiting positions, etc... teaching excellence is just not rewarded as well (with some exceptions). And so Universities exploit that. Another contribution, at least in UC: seems to me we've lost our self confidence in internal assessments, and only really trust other institutions recruitments of our people.

I'm all for budget transparency, just as I'm all for people being honest and ethical in their amorous relationships. The probability of success is low and one always generates righteous anger when sifting through the details... when I've sifted through budgets and found oddities, pretty much everybody hates me. Another way to say this is an overwhelming majority of UC (and Government) employees benefit in curious ways from the lack of transparency, and although maybe we waste 30% of our budget through the chaos, the cost and damage of fixing everything may not pay back the gains. Or it may. It is not clear.

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