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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Can A Faculty Strike Break a Legislative Loop?

Out here in California, our Democrat-controlled state government has been busy repainting higher ed austerity as abundance. Last week's Legislative Analyst's Office reports form an interesting case in point.

Appearing to be a rejection of Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown's college funding scheme, they assert the full adequacy of the current public funding base and call for inflation-capped funding augmentations that will come in large part from tuition increases.  The LAO does want higher ed segments to get a budget keyed to workload, which is an improvement on the governor's more Platonic approach to university funding. But the LAO folds in UC's unfunded students, accepts the current cost share between the general fund and student tuition, and sets up figures that will be impervious to current senior managemnt arguments for better funding.

Meanwhile as Michael noted, the faculty at the University of Illinois-Chicago are going on strike today.  Reading through an explanation for the strike, I found at least one argument that would work better with state government that what most public universities are doing right now. 

What are we doing now? We are in general broadly hinting that current state funding isn't enough. For example, in an interview with UC's President Janet Napolitano, the Chronicle of Higher Education's Eric Kelderman noted that California is on the "vanguard" of economic and demographic shifts towards low-income and first-generation students, and asked whether UC's post-cuts funding was enough to meet the needs of the state in the future.  Pres. Napolitano replied, "No. We have to be talking to the state about increases--increases in the right way" (3:13).

Does this mean more than the 5 percent partial restoration of prior cuts that Gov. Brown has said is the upper bound? Pres. Napolitano didn't say.  UC has previously calculated that it needs annual 12 percent state restorations (see previous posts like  "Addressing the Austerity Lock-In at Public Universities," Jan. 2013) or "The Old State Funding Model is Dead: What Will Replace It?, Nov. 2013).  The Governor and legislative leaders have assured everyone that this will never happen. The current track is that UC will have climbed back to the same state general fund income in 2015-16 that it had ten years before, uncorrected for inflation and enrollment growth.

But why should public universities get much faster state funding growth, exactly? What do public universities need more money to do?

President Napolitano mentioned maintaining and building large capital facilities, keeping low tuition, and planning future enrollment growth.  (She did not mention faculty salaries and pension costs, for which I am very grateful.)   How do these needs play with state government?

Enter on cue the LAO report, "Analysis of the Higher Education Budget," which is not to be confused with the no less attractively titled "A Review of State Budgetary Practices for UC and CSU" referenced by Dan Mitchell at the UCLA FA Blog.

The LAO shows UC core funding as better than ever (Figure 1), up 10 percent over two years in a soft economy and in the midst of a tuition freeze.  The crucial calculation from the state point of view comes in Figure 2, below.  As you read it, bear in mind that the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce recently calculated that the country's 468 "most selective" universities spend on average $13,400 per student per year on instruction (Part 2).

The LAO tells us that even after massive state cuts, UC spends nearly $10,000 more per student than the "most selective" college average.  It also shows UC spending twice what CSU can spend per student, and four times what the community colleges spend.

I am not saying these numbers are accurate: they no doubt greatly overstate how much money winds up in the classroom.  But as presented, the figures destroy any UC claim to inadequate funding. They also make a tacit case for giving new state money to CSU and CCC, since entry-level learners need more instructional resources if they are going to achieve the national goal of increased degree completion.  (The Georgetown report, Separate and Unequal, is a searing, unforgettable analysis of the economic and racial consequences of underfunding).

The first element of a better public research university response would be that much of that money goes to support the core mission of basic research: in UC's case, that we are after all a research university.

On this point, President Napolitano's major innovation has been the new slogan, "We teach for California. We research for the world." This has played well in the state: you may have noted the Sacramento Bee's enthusiasm for assurances that, in spite of a major shift towards the admission of non-resident students, UC is still in the business of educating Californians.

But the second half of the statement implies that UC research should be supported not by the state but by rest of the world, since it's the world that mainly benefits.  This isn't true, and in fact the opposite of the new slogan is just as true: We increasingly teach the world, thanks to the pursuit of non-resident tuition, and we research for California--in ethnic studies and literary history as much as in agriculture and electrical engineering.  Our research is also tied to our  instruction, and is not a separate activity in which undergraduates have no role to play.  Were they separate, UC students should save half of their tuition by going to Cal State.

We've often criticized insufficient support for research costs on this blog (e.g. Michael last month)--and the lack of transparency about them.   If the state doesn't understand the costs of research, it has no reason to pay them.  That is exactly what has been happening, as we can see clearly in a figure from a Public Policy Institute of California report that I discussed in 2012.  The numbers are different from the LAOs because this figure excludes tuition revenue.

The state has plainly decided to fund UC, the research university, more like Cal State, a comprehensive, teaching-oriented university.  If the state doesn't need to help fund research, why shouldn't it cut per-student general funds to Cal State levels?

To keep this convergence from continuing, UC needs to disaggregate and explain research costs.  These can indeed be justified, and we need to do this as a large-scale collaborative project.  UCOP will be formally required to present disaggregated expenses information to the state next year.

While we are waiting for this to happen, we can also focus on instructional costs.  And here, Chicago is more helpful than Sacramento.

Michael has linked an article about the UIC faculty strike by Lennard Davis and Walter Benn Michaels, and they start from the fact that UIC's student body is working-class and first-generation--that it is, in other words, a lot like UC's:
Only about a third of our students come from families making over $60,000, and many of our students are from immigrant families, live at home, hold full- or part-time jobs, and even have children of their own. . . . [T]he UIC faculty and the UIC administration are completely united on the fact that we don’t think that the way to solve [retention and related academic] problems is by getting “stronger” (which is to say, richer) students. In fact, when we put together a “Strategic Thinking Report” back in 2005, we explicitly said we’re not looking to recruit “better” students; we want to do a better job of educating the students we have.
The main goal of UIC strategy, then, is to increase educational quality--which any reader of this blog has undoubtedly noticed has become a national movement.   Profs. Davis and Michaels add, "The UIC faculty is committed to that mission. And the whole point of the strike is to help us fulfill it."

What is the relationship between improved retention of lower-income students, educational quality, and a strike? At first it would seem wages as such: "The median salary of all faculty at UIC is about $65,000," they write, "less than what the average Chicago public school teacher makes.   But the deeper issue is working conditions that allow quality instruction: 
Start with the retention problem. The biggest falling off is between the first and second years of college, so our administration is (rightly) concerned with the first year experience. What courses do first year students take? Who teaches those courses?
Every entering UIC student takes at least one writing course; most take two. Not surprisingly, our writing courses are overwhelmingly taught by lecturers (i.e. non-tenure track faculty), on year-to-year contracts and paid a standard salary of $30,000. Furthermore, although the administration carries on endlessly about the importance of merit, they’re unwilling to mandate a promotion track for non-tenure track faculty, the whole point of which would be to reward merit. 
So what exactly does it mean to insist on the importance of the first year experience and then pay the people most responsible for that experience a wage that virtually requires them to work a second job? What does it mean to claim you want to reward the best and the hardest working when you not only won’t promote them, but you won’t even provide a position they could in theory be promoted to? You’re short-changing both the faculty and the students.
Public universities need new revenues to give students full-time faculty who can be more devoted to feedback, follow-through, advising, and the other forms of face-to-face contact that have been repeatedly shown to improve persistence and learning. They can get them from tuition hikes, which then deters and/or indebts exactly the most vulnerable students that they are trying to help. Or they can get these revenues from the state--on the grounds that a major upgrade in student learning--on a mass scale--is a public good that defends the future.

UIC and UC are research universities that operate in a state political environment in which the Cold War research funding deals are completely finished, and where tuition hikes can and should be capped by the basic facts that public college students are poorer and more diverse and more indebted (and arguably more interesting, worldly, and engaged) than ever. This means that we all have to make the teaching and the research case in interconnected ways and at the same time.  I think we are up to this, and the UIC faculty are making arguments that can help us in California.


Anonymous said...

So the graph shows General Fund appropriations PER STUDENT. CSU has turned away a lot of students but UC continued to take all students, so that convergence has something to do with UC deciding it had a responsibility to the students. And of course, since UC is better funded and has multiple fund sources (including much higher tuition and much more non-resident tuition), it could afford to do what CSU couldn't. But that feeds back into your other point -- UC is more well-funded on a per student basis but it also teaches a greater proportion of students who are higher cost, both by level and by discipline.

Chris Newfield said...

Yes. The state, however, constantly raises the issue of whether UC students need to be "higher cost" at all. Couldn't we be as cheap as CSU if we were more efficient? Both the governor's office and the legislature see huge total revenue increases during the recession and use DOF figures showing that tuition revenues have more than made up for state cuts (arguably even after financial aid is netted out of the gross tuition revenue). They also see the privatization of the Big 4 professional school disciplines, led by Chris Edley at Berkeley Law starting nearly ten years ago, such that state residents get no tuition discount even as those units continue to get state funds. So, the state would figure, UC is covering it's "higher cost" students with high tuition, which leaves the campus's undergraduates (grads not looming large in the Sacto imagination). And since UC averages $22k in revenues per student (before aid), and tuition is so damn high at the professional schools, etc. UC, this argument goes, has plenty of money to cover educational upgrades for undergrads without more new money. Within this framework, the burden of proof is *entirely* on the university to show that educational quality requires all the money it now has plus some restoration of lost state money to do important new 21st century educational work--work that will fill in the growing gap between private and public universities. That's where the faculty come in--senior managers can't make that kind of argument successfully. My point here is that UC faces political checkmate, and has no choice now but to make broader and much more specific educational arguments than we have before, ones that tie salary structure / working conditions to the excellent outcomes for students that all parties want.

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