Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Financial Crisis and the Decay of Public Universities

Bob Herbert has a nice (if that's a word that can appropriately be applied given the subject matter) op-ed column in Saturday's New York Time about the effect the economy is having on UC Berkeley. And, of course, the same things are happening in schools all over the country, public and private.

I understand that state governments are getting hammered. Most of them are constitutionally prohibited from running a deficit, unlike the federal government. I'm in a much better position to see this now that I'm a faculty member, although I have no real administrative responsibilities. But, obviously, it is of absolutely vital importance to keep public universities flourishing, and they're the most vulnerable.

The ironic thing is that there appears to be an inverse relationship between the general quality of state governance and the degree to which the financial crisis is causing problems for the states in general and public universities in particular. States who collect a lot of taxes, spend a lot of money, and do a lot for their residents are being hit hardest; states who don't do much are having an easier time skating by. (Ross Douthat wrote an op-ed column about this a few weeks ago, and, of course, drew the exactly wrong conclusion.) Bummer, dude.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

The problem isn't just state schools. Currently, I hold a position at a top-50 "US News" school and things are getting very bad. Approximately 80% of our undergraduate courses are being taught by non-permanent faculty members; over 65% of those courses by people without PhDs. Now, I do not mean we have TAs, I mean that these people have full-responsibility for these courses. The number of full-time visiting spots we were given this year was reduced by 60%, and the salaries of those visiting positions we were given was reduced by 12.5%.

All of this is happening while the University (like most schools) is enrolling the largest incoming class in the history of the school. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that the University continues to hire more administrators with salaries that would make senior faculty members blush. On top of this, our senior faculty members cannot focus on their work or on working with our students because they are being burdened by administrative work.

What is the result of all of this? 6 of my "A" students from last year transferred. Many of my good students this year (both first and second year) have talked to me about transferring. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that I have brought these issues to the attention of some administrators (they don't seem to care about the quality of the classes, but they care about retention and class size, right?). The response I got was shocking: "For every student who transfers, 10 others want to take his/her place." My response, "But we're losing 'A' students and getting 'C' students." Their response, "Those 'A' students are probably on scholarship and the 'C' students we bring in are paying the full price." Holy crap.

I wish I was making this stuff up. Maybe you all are having better experiences where you are but this is very disturbing to say the least. It's very frustrating working at a "nationally recognized institution of academic excellence" that seems to care so little about the quality of undergraduate education or education in general. It's also demoralizing to teach somewhere where, when family friends are thinking about where their children should go to college, I have to say, "Don't send your kids to my University because of X, Y, and Z."

Anonymous said...

Herbert is right - it will 'say a lot about what kind of nation we've become' if we continue to let our public universities decay. Unfortunately, much has already been said - by administrators, by politicians (fast becoming the sleaziest sector of society), by the citizenry's apathy (granted, they've got shit on their mind).

It's hard not to be incredibly pessimistic, and bitter, especially towards administrators. Hell, it was hard not to be bitter at administrators before the financial crisis. The best thing to do, I think, is be straightforward with students about what getting an education will in fact require from them. Say it in every intro class. The ones who want an education can still sometimes seek it out: although, paying what they do, they shouldn't have to. The ones who don't care are still numerous, and you can't save everyone.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but if Spiros at Philosophers Anonymous is right, the JFP is beyond dismal:


PFS said...

New Philosophy Job Wiki. Looks good: