Wednesday, July 04, 2007

 

Freezing in Florida

This is part three in what has become a series.

Last year, the University of Florida attempted to come to grips with the reality of budget crunches and misaligned resources by announcing a five-year plan to trim certain departments and expand others. The idea was to use resources strategically – rather than inertially – to get more bang for the buck.

The faculty in the newly-disfavored areas went predictably ballistic, got a dean fired, raised all manner of objections (both procedural and substantive), and got the administration to cave completely, going so far as to charge the new interim dean with mollifying everybody by spending more money. So some change could occur, but only by adding; 'shared governance' took 'subtracting' off the table. The resources for this were to come from a new 'charge' that would get around legislative limits on spending.

Uh-huh.

Sure enough, this week we have word that the U of Florida has imposed a hiring freeze to deal with a $30 million deficit and the governor's veto of a proposed tuition increase. No word on the fate of the 'charge,' though I suspect it landed in the same bin as the original five-year plan. The University will appoint a panel of faculty, staff, and students to help identify ways to reduce costs.

That would be the same faculty that ran a dean out of town for daring to suggest that continuing to grow the pool of future underemployed composition adjuncts might not be the best use of taxpayer money.

So now, instead of cutting in some areas and using the savings to grow others, the U will cut by attrition and grow nothing, preserving existing imbalances in amber. And any strategic decisions will be made by the already-present, which is to say, those who benefit from the existing imbalances.

I'm not much of a drinker, but if I worked there, I'd drink every single day.

A pretty smart fellow once wrote that freedom is the insight into necessity. The U of Florida seems to be operating on the denial of necessity. Cuts cause conflict? Screw cuts! We'll just conjure more money from, uh, well, somewhere! That didn't work? Uh...it's the governor's fault! Yeah, that's it! After all, who elected him?

Oh. Right.

The point of the university is to serve the people of Florida. It is not to serve the faculty. If we grant that fundamental truth, then 'shared governance' should come with some pretty glaring restraints on it. Otherwise, people with obviously vested interests – that is, faculty with life tenure – will use their power to pervert the university to serve them instead. Astoundingly, they will have the gall to claim the moral high ground while they feather their own nests. When the irresistible force of angry tenured faculty crashes headfirst into the immovable object of Objective F-ing Reality – in this case, the governor's veto – bad things will happen. Like hiring freezes. Underfunded areas will continue to languish; overstaffed areas will continue to produce graduates for already-overcrowded fields.

Inertia kills. Just in the last month we've had word of two colleges dying, and of several more on life support. In many states, public higher ed has been the go-to budget line any time there has been a shortfall – the tenured faculty may or may not feel the pain, but the underemployed adjuncts certainly do. Most of higher education is still nonprofit, but that doesn't mean it's immune to economics. We can choose to try to get a grip on those realities, or we can continue to let them buffet us in the name of conflict avoidance. But the Florida approach of closing your eyes real tight, clicking your heels together, and waiting for the unaccountable windfall to pay everybody off just ain't working.

A hiring freeze is an abdication of strategy. It's exactly the wrong move. You can't wait for flush times to start trying to make changes. If anything, you need those changes all the more when budgets are tight. Now that nobody – nobody – can deny the reality of the budget shortfall, this is the time to get serious about reallocation. That means not setting up processes that will inevitably ratify existing imbalances. It may mean sucking it up and having some nasty political battles. That's what leaders have to be willing to do.

Good luck, Florida. If you figure out where that secret 'windfall' tree is, let me know. I've been doing this for a while now, and haven't found it yet.


Comments:
What's the second "dead" college besides Antioch?
 
You are 100% Right on this one, DD. The days of educators going to the general assembly of their state and claiming "We're doing God's work, give us what we ask for" are long gone! Until we administrators grow a set and call dead and dying programs what they are and deal with them, we will languish in just this kind of malaise. By not dealing with the deadwood like the real world does, we are losing our credibility in the statehouse and on the street corner.

Does that mean we scuttle all programs that don't make money? No. But once cars took the place of carriages, people quit making carriages! Duh!
 
Sorry, DD, gotta correct you here. The purpose of the university is to make the alumni happy by winning football and basketball games. And under their new president they have done just that. He came in 5 yrs ago and promised to restore the athletic department to greatness and has he ever! In the midst of all these cuts, the AD, football and basketball coaches combined make base salaries totalling over $6 million. During the NBA draft, the Gainesville newspaper's sports editor giddily noted that the soon-to-be drafted athletes (who all left as juniors) "had graduated." It is absolutely disgusting.
 
I am not sure if this is what DD referred to, but Sheldon Jackson College in Alaska announced its closing: http://insidehighered.com/news/2007/07/02/sheldon

Happy 4th of July everyone!
 
UF's president has been around for less than 4 years and the University Athletic Association receives no funding from the state. In fact, they are one of only a handful in the nation that actually makes money. Yes, they donate money back to UF to help with academics. It's the Florida Gov. and Legislature who we should be focused on here. How hard can it be to balance your checkbook.
 
Anon you are right. UF's president came on board in 2004. I disagree about the athletic dept. Yes they are a private corp. They may kick back a few bucks to the general scholarship fund but they feather their own nest. They could bail out A&S and still have money left for the private jet and stadium renovations. THe gov and legislature are partly to blame. But they have had terrible mis-management in the college of A&S over the last several years. DD referred to this. Faculty pay and morale are very low. I had to laugh at DD's comments about the "windfall tree." Florida is gearing up for a huge property tax cut next year, on the same level as Prop 13 in California. It could have potentially devastating consequences for all universities. UF tinkered with the idea of privatization several years ago. Maybe this is the answer for them.
 
Privitization would be an interesting play. Then the Academic side and Athletic side would be playing under the same rules. I still think you're going to be faced with crazy salaries for coaches. Face it, they bring millions of dollars a weekend to Gainesville and generate millions of dollars in publicity for the University. You know the saying, "we couldn't buy that kind of publicity" and there has never been a more accurate statement when it comes to UF's athletic success. The thing that kills me though is the legislature's (and Gov's) keep-em-fat-and-happy approach to serious issues. As the St. Pete times said a while back, it's the Wal-Marting of Florida. The next few years will be very scary for Florida taxpayers.
 
I would have an easier time taking this post seriously if it didn't serially get things wrong throughout the description of what's going on at UF.

1) The Dean was not forced out by the faculty. Far from it, he was forced out by the Provost's office - the same office that created the Five Year Plan. This is the same Provost who said, in an open meeting, that she didn't know why a department of Philosophy was necessary for a University.

2) Attempts to increase UF tuition have been in the pipelines and needed for years. Prior to the tuition increase that was finally passed on Monday UF was constrained from increasing its tuition beyond that of other schools in Florida. This was a basic contradiction - UF was expected to be the flagship institution of the state but expected to do so without sensible means of obtaining more funds.

3) The Five Year Plan was based on bad numbers. The numbers in question were just wrong - in the English department, people getting MFAs weren't counted as getting terminal degrees, creative writing courses didn't get counted in terms of the credit hours produced by the department, and PhD production was criticized despite the fact that UF was producing PhDs faster than the national average. In fact, UF's English department has a well-above average placement rate - 70% into tenure track jobs within three years.

4) The English department was targeted on a level far beyond your basic budget cuts. The chair of the department was removed by the outgoing dean without explanation. Funds for basic things like graduate student travel were slashed. This went far beyond trying to downsize a department - which was a bad idea to begin with, as the English department was widely recognized (including in an external review forced by the Provost) as a rising star in the field.

5) The hiring freeze was explicitly announced as a one-year thing prior to the tuition increase the governor passed. Entirely different from how you described it.

6) Internal budgeting issues are deeply corrupt. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was taken to task for running a deficit far smaller in both number and percentage of the total budget than other colleges. The amount of funding the university has is hidden through a series of trusts. It's impossible to tell what the actual relationship between the University's lack of funding and CLAS's lack of funding is, because the overall budget numbers are total mysteries.

I agree that a hiring freeze is a bad idea. But your description of the disenfranchised departments, the forcing out of a dean, and the magical windfall are just wrong, and are ignorantly so.
 
Ah yes . . . just one more reason I left Florida (the state) vowing never to return. Jeb did a number on education, from Pre-K all the way through higher ed (I taught high school while working on my degrees there). I still talk to profs at my doctoral institution and hear the horror stories over the last few years. Although the situation is not as bad as UF's, it is still really bad. There is no excuse for a state like Florida--that has a solid tourism base, expensive housing, a lottery, etc.--to have its educational system so screwed up.
 
Hiring freezes just about guarantee (IMHO) that you will end up with just the bottom of the barrel people.
 
First, property taxes have nothing at all to do with funding any part of higher education in Florida. That will impact K-12, but may require a transfer of funds away from higher ed to cover losses in K-12 if/when that passes.

For those of you who don't know the numbers, the tuition at all state universities in Florida is about $74 per semester hour. UF adds per-credit fees of about $33 per credit, but still very cheap compared to any comparable state university and lots of inferior colleges and universities.

Graduate fees are not controlled by the legislature, so they are much higher than undergrad fees.

The new law will allow UF to increase the base tuition from about $74 to about $104 over several years, but they can't start until Fall 2008. Florida State and South Florida can increase their tuition to $96. UCF is probably figuring what it needs to change to get into that category as well.

So it is still the case that educators can go to the Legislature and get $$$ by claiming to be the best thing since sliced bread and football.

The current "crisis" at UF was triggered by assuming the Governor would not veto a 5% increase in the base tuition when budgeting for fall, compounded by an across-the-state call for an average 4% cut in everything for the current fiscal year. Both of these affect every university in the state. UF just screamed louder or planned worse than the others.

The cut in general revenue funding affects everyone, including colleges. It will probably be worse (the Governor asked each unit to show how it could cut up to 10% from its budget), since some things (like prisons) will not be cut.

Still no report as to whether the state's economists were UF grads. Their March projection of revenues for the fiscal year was already wrong for May, when the budget was passed, and June, when it was signed.
 
Geek

may be right in some particulars but this still doesn't dent CCCD's point. Even if the process was flawed (and point 4 partiucularly seems a "don't gore my ox" type of thing, which Language Arts Departments are the absolute best at), the general argument is accurate...

Faculty completely ignore unfortunate reality (they are neocons in that way) and push budget cuts off until they become attritional cuts that do preserve existing silliness in amber (BTW administration and board's of trustees have culpability here also).

God forbid there should ever be program review that turned into budgeting and planning...

the point of the university is to serve the people of Florida. It is not to serve the faculty.

spot on...for any state..
 
Having been accused of being "serially wrong and ignorantly so," I'll just point out the obvious.

"Geek" declares, in defense of the English department at U of F, that only 30 percent of its graduates are still without permanent jobs within three years. (That's part of charge 3.) If so -- and I have no reason to dispute it -- then you have a pretty irrefutable argument for cutting the size of the program by about 30 percent.

Which is less than the strategic plan called for. So much for being "targeted."

To claim "rising star" status in an overcrowded field is a shaky thing. It's like being the best buggy-whip maker around. That's fine, but do we need more buggy whips? It's not exactly news that English Ph.D.'s are overproduced. Check the MLA placement stats if that seems controversial to you. To claim that you're great because only about 30 percent of your production is superfluous is, well, absurd. To suggest that some of those resources might be better spent elsewhere strikes me as so staggeringly obvious as to be beyond reasonable argument.

As to the hiring freeze being a one-year decision -- where's the windfall going to come from next year? Try applying some critical thinking here.

I understand that nobody enjoys his own ox being gored. I get that. Hell, I see it every single day. And I have no argument with those who suggest that athletics are overemphasized at U of F. (One of the pleasures of working at a cc is that athletics here are seen as supplemental, rather than central.)

But what I'm trying to draw attention to is the political fact that asking incumbents to decide where to cut is guaranteed to lead to self-serving decisions. Such as keeping a department running at a level that produces 30 percent underemployed Ph.D.'s.
 
Astonishingly, you seem to have still failed to read my comment. Where is the windfall coming from next year? From the tuition increase that the governor already approved.

Your conclusion that the department should be cut by 30% is equally bewildering. It makes sense only if you decide that the department's undergraduate teaching load is immaterial to any such decision. In fact, the department is sufficiently strapped for size in undergraduate teaching that it has had to have graduate students teaching upper division courses as a matter of policy. Part of this is that the department has refused to engage in hiring practices such as hiring part-timers, non-tenure-track faculty, or adjuncts. The entire faculty of the department is full-time tenure-track. Yes, a lot could be corrected if the department abandoned that. But that would introduce its own host of problems.

I should also point out that the critique of athletics is misguided - the University's athletic program is, financially speaking, completely separate from its academic units, and there is no meaningful way to transfer funds from one to the other. Although in the past, the athletic program has stepped in to help in past financial crises.
 
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