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


  1. thanks (again) for your helpful analysis.

  2. hopefully not the shape of things to come elsewhere but could be - should be required reading no matter what state we live in or where we teach

  3. The exploitation goes forward in the open now, shamelessly. On the opposite coast, students at SUNY are paying more for fewer, larger classes. Most of the tuition increase is allocated not for tuition but to make up a shortfall in New York’s general fund – a special tax on students and their families who still believe in the promise of higher education.

  4. When did this public university decide to become a company? And who got to decide?

  5. And furthermore...

    In my talks with anyone I've met this summer, they've all said that writing instruction is the most important thing a university can offer. People in public health have discovered that they cannot give interns from UCLA's grad. school writing assignments, since they cannot write. People in Education discover their grad. students can't write. Professors and grad students in biology are appalled at the writing of their students when they finally assign an essay.

    Some of these same students might have taken a writing class at UCLA,; maybe they had too far to go in the ten-week class they got. More of these classes are needed, not less.

    Freshman come in with very little experience as writers (they don't seem to revise in high school anymore, and they get almost no feedback on the writing they do turn in), and small classes in writing act as an important orientation to the university: how to write, how to think logically, how to have a conversation about ideas, how to disagree in productive ways, etc. Every student and every teacher benefits when high school students become college students, and that happens (largely) in freshman composition classes. If we need to talk about profit, there it is.

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