Monday, August 31, 2009

Bob Samuels: Yudof and the Divided University

Monday, August 31, 2009

Yudof and the Divided University

When UC President Mark Yudof was asked during a press conference why the UC can lend $200 million to the state but has to cut the salaries of its own employees, he gave a very telling response. He said that the university will be making money by lending cash to the state, but if it just paid salaries, the money would be gone. In other words, from his perspective, an activity that does not generate a profit is a waste of funds. So we must ask, how does instruction fit into this profit-driven framework?

Recent actions have made it clear that if instructional programs cannot show themselves to be profitable, they will be downsized or eliminated. For instance, at UCLA, we have been told that writing and language courses may need to be moved to either summer, extension, or online because they do not generate their own revenue. Of course, these programs do teach a large number of students at a relatively low cost since they rely mostly on less expensive non-tenured faculty for the majority of their courses. Yet, since required courses are not tied directly to external grants or auxiliary services, the teaching-heavy programs have to go. One idea from management is to wring some revenue out of these courses by requiring students to take them but offering the courses only in the summer—thus gathering more student fees for summer session. Moreover, like the extension programs, summer session is not only a revenue generating sector, but it also is allowed to hire faculty without having to worry about expenses like salary increases or benefits.

This move to push students to the privatized sectors of the university mirrors the idea that the revenue-generating faculty should not be part of the furlough system. For instance, faculty and researchers funded out of external grants will not be getting a pay cut, and the most highly paid faculty in the UC system, the medical professors, will be excluded from the furlough/salary reduction program. What is being set up here is a divided university, where one part receives special support because it brings in more money, while the other part is reduced and furloughed because it does not generate its own revenue. In this incredible splitting of higher education, instruction is cast as a waste of time and money.

Yet, this notion that the teaching-heavy programs in the humanities and social sciences do not generate revenue is a myth. In fact, the high-enrollment, low-cost courses in the humanities generate a huge profit that often gets siphoned off by the supposedly profit-making sectors. Large general education and introductory courses taught through departments in the humanities teach many students from the sciences and other fields outside of the humanities. Furthermore, required writing and foreign language courses generate student credit hours for the whole university, but these programs are usually funded entirely out of the humanities’ budget. While these courses in the humanities may not be tied to external grants and other profit-making sectors, they do produce a large percentage of student credit hours, and thus they bring in money through student fees and state funding. Courses in the humanities also accomplish the core mission of educating undergraduate students. From Yudof’s perspective, however, it is not enough to just teach students; programs and faculty have to show that they are profit-making entrepreneurs.

The university, therefore, is at a crossroads: it has to decide whether it still wants to fund undergraduate education, or shift as much money as possible into profit-generating activities. Of course, this is a false choice, since what is really going on is that the state and the students are subsidizing the profitable sectors. What we really need is a transparent and fair budgetary system that is coupled with a clear commitment to balancing instruction and research. We also need to rededicate ourselves to the idea that we are all part of a single system and we must all share in the profits and the costs of being part of this educational community. One solution would be a simple tax on all programs and units to be used to support the core missions of the university. Another needed reform would be to fund shared programs and required courses, like writing, foreign languages, and general education, through the chancellor’s office. If we do not make these changes now, all non-profitable programs will be placed in the position of UCLA, which is considering suspending all undergraduate requirements.

Bob Samuels


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