Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Should students feel the brunt of university budget cuts?

(Another post from recent weeks at BlogHer)

I opened my local newspaper this morning to find local faculty griping about how any cuts to their salaries should be reflected in reduced time spent in the classroom. The article quotes Professor Keith Watenpaugh of the University of California, Davis religious studies department:

"Furloughs in which faculty aren't teaching, offices are closed, labs are closed down, the library doors are barred … I think the people of the state will understand better what's at stake with this chronic underfunding of the UC system," Watenpaugh said.

"If we're going to have a pay cut, there should be a commensurate cut in what we have to do in teaching. No one wants to shortchange the students, … but the pain, we're all feeling it and it needs to be shared."

Some students said they're already feeling the pain, thank you. They don't want to lose class time so professors can make a political point.

"We're already feeling the budget cuts as students – they're cutting our programs and raising our fees," said Justin Patrizio, 21, a political science major who is active in student government.

"To request that the furloughs negatively affect student life is a little bit inconsistent with the goal of the university."

Again and again when I speak with faculty, the first thing they talk about cutting is their teaching. When really, if their duties reflect the traditional breakdown of 1/3 teaching, 1/3 research, and 1/3 service to the university and community, then only one-third of the proposed cut to their time should come from their teaching--which means about 2.5% of their time each month, if UC Davis salaries are slashed by the promised 8 percent.

Yes, students should be made aware of the budget cuts, which means, as Watenpaugh also suggests in the article, that the library should be closed along with other amenities. But I'm tired of hearing how students need to bear the burden of the cuts, especially since students are now paying higher tuition and are finding it harder to secure financial aid.

On the one hand, faculty are talking about cutting classroom time because it's a good rhetorical strategy: these cuts will affect students, they're reminding the administration and the public. But as Squadratomagico comments on a post at Historiann, that strategy may backfire:

The suggestions about trying to bring home to students and the general public that less pay means less work is a reasonable one, and it was my own inclination when talks about pay cuts started on my campus. But, a colleague brought up what I thought was an interesting word of caution. She noted that the general public already looks at us as having three months off (or of glamorous travel) in the summer, long vacations during the year, and perhaps 20-25 hours in the classroom the rest of the year. They tend to discount class prep, grading, research and all the other multitude of things we do aside from the hours in the classroom. And this colleague suggested, quite correctly, I think, that reacting with too much indignation will only backfire, as most of the public already thinks that academics do far too little work. Such responses will be seen as borne of massive entitlement.

While I think it is important not to keep pay cuts and other hardships completely invisible to the public, I think the way this gets communicated is important. Outrage will only generate hostility, because everyone is hurting. I know about 4 people who have lost their jobs outright: if I were to complain of my losses to them, they would rightly feel impatient. Students themselves are only too well aware of the economy. Here at OPU, not only are we expecting significant pay cuts, but tuition is going up quite a bit for them as well. I suspect this is the case for many unis.

Definitely check out Historiann's post for an interesting discussion in the comments.

Additional engaging discussion of infuriating circumstances is taking place in the comments at Confessions of a Community College Dean and at The Adventures of Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar, who laments,

Well, it seems that Urban University may be headed towards furloughs for TT faculty. And they tell us it´s not a pay cut, but two unpaid days a month (where we´re not supposed to work -- yeah, right) comes out to 6% of our work days, which means that my tenure raise is effectively wiped out before I ever see it.

Roxie Smith saw this coming, and back in December asked why there was an auto industry bailout but not a similar plan for higher education. After all, the amount of money some research universities get from the state is a very small slice of their budgetary pie--these universities might as well be considered private nonprofit institutions instead of governmental ones.

In an important post written some months ago, Tenured Radical asks faculty to reflect on some of the assumptions underlying their belief that pay cuts are particularly unjust for the professoriate. Among the questions she asks and answers is this one:

Isn't letting the administration get away with a salary freeze just lying down and letting them walk all over us? No, keeping your trap shut, repressing your anger at how you are treated, not disagreeing with anyone who might ever vote on your promotion, and never saying or writing anything you believe until you have a tenure letter in your pocket is letting people walk all over you. Agreeing to a salary freeze, when it is explained as part of a well-reasoned plan is sticking out your hand and playing your role as a partner in the enterprise.

The strangest thing I have heard -- and I have heard it from more than one person -- is the narrative of sacrifice, in which a faculty member claims to have chosen university teaching when other, far more lucrative work was possible, but in an act of self-abnegation chose to teach the unwashed masses who seem to cluster regularly at private colleges and universities. Having made this sacrifice, the story goes, no others should be required: nay, this person should receive raises while others near and far, working class and middle class people working in soulless occupations, lose their jobs.

Amen, and thank you.

Of course, Dr. Crazy offers one of her typically well-reasoned rebuttals to my assertion that faculty should not immediately cut their teaching when they take pay cuts or furloughs:

When budgets are flush, it's possible to get release time from teaching in order to perform in other (required) areas of the job. With release time, an instructor can maintain the number and type of assignments as well as the level of rigor in all of his/her courses while also being a high performer in another part of the job (which, I'm going to note again, is REQUIRED - not a "pet project" or something like that, but REQUIRED). Now, even though things are comparatively good at my institution, release time has disappeared. And let's say that a faculty member has to teach four courses while also doing a REQUIRED part of her job that will be exceptionally time-intensive. What gives? I'll tell you what gives: stuff in the classroom. Because, realistically, I can control that part of my life more than I can control the required service thing. And so, what I will do is I will assign fewer papers (which means students will not get scaffolded writing assignments and their learning will be affected), I will stop doing quizzes in my lower level classes (which means many students will not be as inclined to keep up with the reading, which will mean that they learn less), and I will eliminate as much prep as possible across my classes, effectively finding time in my teaching to do another REQUIRED part of my job. While it is true that I could take time out of my non-work life instead, protecting students from the reality that my institution expects work from me that they don't support, I refuse to do that.

Honestly, I can see both sides of this issue, but in the end, I think faculty should preserve their classroom time to the fullest extent possible. Maybe faculty can get away with less prep for a while, but they should put in the face time with students and encourage their development as thoughtful citizens at a time when we dearly need them.

No comments: