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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Humanities Cuts of Choice

Budget shortfalls are now frequently being used to justify decisions that clearly undermine educational goals.  In most cases, as in that of the SUNY-Albany suspension of five humanities departments, the few figures given do not offer specific evidence of the stated budgetary need.  In the case of the Browne Report that threatens to cut Britain's public funding for university teaching by 80%, the mayhem is prompted by a polemical metaphor at the start of a section on page 47 -- public funding is a "hidden blanket subsidy to institutions" -- and anchored by one entirely unexplained number for "minimum investment" -- 700 million pounds per year. The tone of this report is one of blithe immunity from counterargument, and it is superficial in a way that is possible only for a small, appointed committee that does not feel the need to make a serious case for the millions of practitioners of the professions on which it passes judgment.

In this climate, it is particularly urgent to get the numbers right, and for everyone affected to inform themselves about what the numbers actually are.  America's most prominent English professor, the New York Times blogger Stanley Fish, got into the act last week by commenting that the SUNY-Albany cuts could be rejected on professional grounds but not on budgetary ones, since the humanities "do not earn their keep."  Fish was roundly criticized for this, and takes up a couple of pieces of mine (the one he doesn't link is here) and by the UCLA English professor Robert N. Watson (UCLA Today version).  The good news is that Fish describes the much more aggressive stance university leaders need to take in relation to political and business leaders.  On the other hand, the post unhelpfully reiterates the common misconceptions about university funding that Prof. Watson, I, and others, working independently, have been trying to undo.

Fish continues to describe research funding as "soft money" that adds to university budgets.  In reality, extramurally funded research loses large amounts of money, e.g., $720 million in losses on $3.5 billion in gross research revenues at the University of California.  This means that extramural research funding is not actually available  as soft money to "shore up" the humanities or anything else, but requires large infusions of internal cash flow to keep going.  These infusions, aka "cross-subsidies," can only come in large amounts from a combination of state funds allocated for instruction and/or student tuition, also generally paid with instruction as a primary goal.  UC President Mark Yudof himself has acknowledged in a response to Prof. Watson that this means that "the humanities indeed can be seen as cross-subsidizing science, engineering, and similar departments."

Fish also suggests that Watson, I, and others might be right about a "small private liberal arts college," but are wrong about the lower-fee public university.  But publics generally have kept their expenditures lower in line with their lower incomes: our general argument that these universities need to use cheap fields to support expensive ones would remain the same. Bob Samuels has attempted some calculations for UCLA, and it's worth noting that UCLA has roughly $25,000 per student to spend in state funds plus tuition (minus financial aid).  Poorer schools like SUNY-Albany don't have a different model: they are just more desperate to maximize returns on the model, as the Albany cuts indicate.

 No doubt there are cases in which a hum department with very low enrollments at a low-tuition public with low per-student public funding does lose money.  SUNY-Albany should show the numbers they were working with: I would bet that if those five departments run in the red, their collective loss is small by comparison to the losses on the campus's sponsored reserach.  In any case, we should assume these to be special cases rather than the general rule, and then get real numbers so we can have rational discussions about how to fund what, discussions that include humanities professors and students before their fields get whacked in the night.

The larger point is neither to separate teaching from research (students should help pay for research to a transparent and agreed-on extent), nor to cut science funding. The point is to fix funding shortfalls (see, e.g, Barnett and me on this point), and have an honest series of debates about the true costs of both research and teaching.  It has served neither science nor the humanities disciplines to pretend that science costs much less than it really does.  I recommend reading the actual analyses  Fish references and helping to develop more open accounting standards at universities, which would be of great educational benefit.


cloudminder said...

do you have any thoughts on this latest story


about the funding shortfall for UC- Lentz says $1 billion this year.

Chris Newfield said...

cloudminder thanks for the link. it's good coverage to recall the orginal 913 M request. If we don't reverse this underfunding AND get a better grip on equitable internal allocations we're heading for Albany ourselves - it won't take as long as we think

Tyler Curtain said...

I agree with Fish that we need to change the frame of the conversation away from particulars of any given research project and who pays for it to the value of the university as a collective enterprise, and for whom.

What's remarkable, though, is the assumption that all basic science research is equally utilitarian or conveys an equal relationship to 'marketable' skills. Such assumptions are maddening in part because it mischaracterizes how it is that science works, or doesn't work, and what sorts of skills it imparts to those who learn its procedures and skills, its knowledges and cultures, and in a broad sense participate in its institutions. Moreover, it misdescribes, or simply obscures, utilitarian skills imparted by a course of study in the humanities. (Writing, research, and argumentation are key activities, ones often not focused on within the sciences.)

But I agree with you that we need to get the math right to explain how it is that our classrooms and teaching contribute to the overall financial health of the institution; and we then need to get the description of what it is that we do right in order to counter false characterizations of the work as a whole.

At places like UNC Chapel Hill, there is a deep sense by a good part of the public that the work that is done at the university is for the public good, and its students meant to bring what they learn here back into their communities. Whether or not this particular paper or that particular experiment can be easily characterized as 'for the public good' it is not difficult to make an argument that universities as an engine for knowledge production contribute to the public good, broadly defined, and that in a democracy should be available to all because they are citizens not simply because they are rich.

Anonymous said...

"These infusions, aka "cross-subsidies," can only come in large amounts from a combination of state funds allocated for instruction and/or student tuition, also generally paid with instruction as a primary goal"

That seems to simple to me. Even if research and teaching both cost more than the directly-associated income, that doesn't mean that they are diverting funds from each other. Universities have other streams of income (gifts, endowment, IP fees, etc) that can be covering part of the cost of both research and teaching.

cloudminder said...

this also caught my eye, it is from Bob Samuels:
it is titled "Everything Stanley Fish Knows About Higher Education Is Wrong"


Anonymous said...

The Samuels screed is silly, ill-argued, ad hominem, and at core a restatement of what Newfield among others has been arguing, whatever the satisfactions of the title.

Bob Samuels said...

Dear Anonymous, Please tell me why you need a cloak of anonymity to attack my article for being a “silly, ill-argued, ad hominem” screed. After all in your rebuttal, you do not offer a single piece of evidence; in fact, you do not even make an argument. Your strategy reminds me of Fish’s own rebuttal http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/stanley-fish/ of Chris Newfield’s and Robert Watson’s actual research.

After stating that both of these authors show how courses in the Humanities and the Social Sciences subsidize expensive research in the Sciences, and after admitting that as a department head, he made the same argument, Fish turns around and simply states: “My first reaction to this is to say (with Hemingway), “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”, and my second reaction is to report to you the conversations I have had in the past week with deans, provosts and presidents at four large public universities situated in different parts of the country. The picture they paint is complex and has something of the aspect of a kaleidoscope. There are so many variables that a nice clean account of the matter will always be an oversimplification.” Instead of refuting Newfield and Watson with his own facts and figures, Fish says their arguments are wrong because administrators have said they are wrong. (continue Below)

Bob Samuels said...

For my full response to Anonymous, please go to:

cloudminder said...

wow, anonymous 4:20 - who, hopped on my comment four minutes after i posted it! whew!:

1- one man's screed is another man's blog post, or book - if you don't want to read it-- then don't, move along-- and folks who use the term "screed" are suspect right off the top anyway (joking)

2- also anon.,your comment seems disingenuous at best because your complaint that Samuels piece is "silly, ill-argued, ad hominem, and at core a restatement" are comments that can directly also be applied to Fish's article as well- the Fish description of the languages was offensive to this reader- but we lived through it, no snark required.

Finally, I just want to put a suggestion out to all: could you please find another term other than "faith based budgeting" - it is offensive- it was offensive when Yudof said it at a Regents meeting and it is offensive when others say it- and unnecessarily so because the term does not even accurately convey what is going on with the budget- for many, faith is not the same thing as wishful thinking -- I think the Graduate Theological Union would back me up on that one. Remember some of the stake holders are people of faith interested in the issues.

I did not respond to anonymous 4:20 yesterday - because it just looked like a silly comment. It got under Samuel's skin and that is too bad and made me regret posting the link for half a second, but then I was glad that I did --because Samuels contributions to UC are far greater than Fish's on the subject imo

Once again I recommend Samuels original post on Fish and his rebuttal to anonymous - they are both a very "good read".

Finally, a suggestion to Meranze and Newfield that the "fight or die" latin phrase was far better and more accurate than the "she is tossed by the waves but she does not sink" latin phrase-- even Chris said we could go the way of Albany a lot faster than we think...
many thanks once again for all the efforts to inform.

Chris Newfield said...

I agree with Tyler on the need to define a larger public good. Sticking with the technical issue raised by one of the anonymouses, Anon 3:47: unfortunately, gifts are close to 100% restricted to specific activities, usually construction or focused research, and NET patent revenue is close to nil (see e.g. http://www.ucop.edu/ott/genresources/documents/IASRptFY09.pdf, and compare Exhibit 17, a version of gross, with Exhibit 23, net; UC is one of the best cases). Tuition and state funds are a very high percentage of the funds available for general campus operations. A good place to start on this is the Futures Report (http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/senate/reports/AC.Futures.Rpt.0107.pdf), and see also Appendix A with its expenditure breakdown.

cloudminder said...

i know everyone is consumed with the pension issue and funding for their own depts right now
but do you know if the Academic Senate has taken a position on Yudof and the Chamber of Commerce in light of recent voter suppression news headlines and Nov 2nd? if you don't know what I am talking about please see:


Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Newfield.

Trying to reach you... new email included below.
Don't have yours at the moment.


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