Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Battle for Public Higher Education

Recent debate about how these dangerous education policies are at work in higher education as well....the battle has many fronts indeed.  Note that the Goldwater Institute's main priority is the privatization of public services; care about public colleges and universities?  Better start paying attention!

Cut public "subsidies" of higher education Indy Star:
That is the recommendation of an Op-Ed piece in this morning's (8/14/2010) Indianapolis Star. Its author, Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas and a fellow of the Goldwater Institute, bases this recommendation on his analysis of recent trends in higher education cost nationwide as well as in Indiana. Greene argues that
university in the past twenty years have shifted an increasing proportion of their funds away from paying salaries of instructors, researchers, and "service-providers" to pay for a growing number of
highly-paid administrators. The only solution to this "administrative bloat," according to Greene is to shift more of the bill for higher education onto students and their parents and away from public funds.
In his scenario, "cost-conscious" parents will then force the universities to trim their administrative expenses and shift more funds back to classroom education and research.

Greene might be correct about recent trends in the ways funds are spent
in our universities for administrative versus the more primary missions
of instruction and research. University faculty have witnessed teaching
"lines" disappear from academic departments and salaries being frozen
as the numbers of vice-chancellors, assistant deans, and their support
staffs have swelled in recent years. While the latter individuals do
perform invaluable functions in supporting the university's teaching
and research missions, perhaps the charge of "bloat" has an element of
merit that needs to be corrected. In a time of economic downturn, all
parts of the university should be prepare to retrench including the

Nevertheless, the solution that Greene proposes to reduce public subsidies to higher education is based upon an inaccurate analysis of the financing of Indiana's higher education system and its solution
seems more punitive than helpful towards faculty, researchers, students, and parents. The financial "subsidies" that Indiana taxpayers make of the state higher education system already have been in relative
decline in recent years and more of the cost of running the universities has been transferred to tuitions, private donations, and revenues from research. In fact state funding policies seem intended to
make all Indiana Universities and college "self-supporting" on their own revenue sources rather than public funds. Rather than acknowledging the benefit of "public education" for the Indiana public, state
mandates already have forced universities to raise tuitions to record levels. Expecting industries or philanthropic organizations to step in to help higher education at a time of serious economic recession is

Following Professor Greene's recommendation of raising tuitions even higher would threaten to bar lower and even middle class students from enrolling. Higher tuitions are likely to drive away Indiana students from pursing college educations at a time when the state needs to increase its base of well-educated workers to compete in the intensely competitive world economy. Faith that the "market" of cost-conscious parents will reform problems in higher education spending is based on untested ideological assumptions that risk causing fatal damage to the state's public colleges and universities. There seems to be a major campaign in the works against public education at all levels and the future of our state is being placed in jeopardy.




  1. A version of this post has made it to the Indy Star! comments anyone?

  2. Cutting public support of higher education is a

    I agree, however, that universities must examine their budgets. I wonder what the percentages are for IU and IUPUI when it comes to upper-level and mid-level administrators and their support staff. I wonder where the authors of the Op-Ed got their information and what exactly "administrative" means in that data. Large public universities do need a lot of student services staff, so I hope that would not be counted as administrative bloat. Deans and associate deans and vice-chancellors and such can be valuable if they support
    faculty in their work, rather than simply creating more work that detracts from the teaching, research, and service missions of the
    campuses. I do not think such administrators should be paid overly high salaries, especially when faculty salaries are so low and raises
    so few and meager.

    A major problem is that university faculty are increasingly part-time and non-tenure-track AND those faculty are poorly paid and often treated with some measure of disdain or at least ignorance by tenured faculty and administrators (not all, I realize, but some). We have a hierarchy of faculty that is not healthy and does not reflect the real work that is done or that needs to be done. When a high percentage of university courses, taught year-in and year-out, are taught by poorly paid part-time faculty with no benefits and little inclusion in university life, that is harmful to the university and to those faculty members. When departments are increasingly seeing non-tenure-track faculty making up a growing percentage (sometimes 50%, sometimes more), and when those faculty are paid far too little in comparison to tenured faculty, then we have a problem.

    The faculty can be made up of various kinds of people who have diverse
    job descriptions and responsibilities. But ALL university faculty
    should be on a comparable plane when it comes to recognition,
    inclusion, professional development, salary, benefits and working conditions. We need to be a strong, united faculty, and I fear we are
    becoming separated and even polarized.

    A change will require more public money, not less.

  3. The “administrative bloat” has been observed for many years now, and statistics do show dramatic increases. We need to ask, though, what’s behind the “bloat”—are we providing more much-needed support services that we never had to before (more financial aid counselors, tutors, Bridge programs, learning communities), perhaps more people to handle bureaucratic reporting requirements, or are we hiring people who are redundant, lazy, or inefficient? No one seems to be exploring those questions with systematic data. In any event, I agree with Jack that addressing the major declines in state support are not the answer. Michigan at 10% state support is hardly a public university. As the saying goes, we’ve gone from state-supported to state-assisted to state-tolerated. Maybe there’s a lower rung on this ladder? Sounds like!