Monday, February 22, 2010

A Response to Some Critics: Funding and Accountability

Chris Newfield has recently posted a response to my work on his blog “Remaking the University.” I appreciate this opportunity to dialogue with Chris and address some of my thoughtful critics. Perhaps my discourse is sometimes unclear, but I have tried to maintain the dual strategy of arguing for more state funding and holding the university accountable. For instance, I have promoted the California Democracy Act to change the way the state legislature votes on budgets and revenues, and I have also supported Alberto Torrico’s bill, AB 656, to tax oil extraction and use the revenue for higher education. Moreover, we have been told that because of the protests that I helped to organize at UCLA on November 18-19, the governor has decided to increase the funding for the university. I am also aware, however, that it will take a long time before we change how the state votes on taxes, and so in the meantime, it is essential to fight for more funding and to make sure the money we do get will be spent in a transparent and effective manner.



The next area of controversy is the question of how student fees and state funds are spent, and if undergraduates are being asked to fund things that are not connected to their education. I have shown that while students and the state pay more than $20,000 per student, less than a third of this amount goes to undergraduate instruction and related costs. In my most recent calculation, I have included the full cost of a professor’s salaries, and so unlike, Charles Schwartz, I am not splitting off departmental research from instruction. What I am doing is trying to trace how students end up paying for administration and infrastructure that has no relation to their education. 



Yet, I also do want to focus on how undergraduate instruction is a low priority, and even at the wealthiest campus, classes are getting bigger, courses are being eliminated, tutoring and support is being reduced, and students are paying much more. A major reason for this problem is that most of the undergraduate teaching has been shifted to lecturers and graduate students, but the university hides this fact, and continues to fund these positions as if they are temporary. We are now witnessing the results of this non-transparency; due to a claim of a fiscal emergency, lecturers face layoffs and grad students can’t find employment. Someone must be held responsible for this sorry state of affairs, and a state audit will help clarify how money is really spent in the UC system. 


In one of my Huffington Post article, “How American Universities Became Hedge Funds,” I have proposed a solution to many of these problems, which is to develop three forms of professors: researchers, teachers, and hybrids. While the hybrids will be judged on their research and teaching, the researchers will be evaluated for their research, and they will not be forced to teach. Likewise, the people committed to teaching will be given tenure, they will not have to concentrate on research.

In many ways, this solution is only a slight adjustment to what is already going on, but there are three major changes: 1) people whose main responsibility is undergraduate instruction will get tenure; 2) researcher who do not or cannot teach will be allowed to concentrate on what they do best; and 3) we will clarify how money is spent in the system.

One reaction to my proposal is that I am undermining the heart of a research university, which is the combination of research and teaching. However, the hybrids will be rewarded for their ability to combine research and instruction. Moreover, we already have many professors who rarely teach, and some teachers who do important research. If we do not clarify these positions, all we can do is to lie to the state and the public about how we really spend our money.

15 comments:

  1. Bob: I actually do not think professors should be allowed to only do research and no teaching. Teaching is a vital form of scholarly communication. Anyone who cannot communicate their research findings in a way that students (or the general public) can understand is not serving the purposes of a public university. This is not to say that everyone has to work on "popular" topics. Nor that every product of research must find its way into an introductory course or else it doesn't pass muster. But I do believe that scholars must be able to handle both research and teaching.

    So then the question is: what is the appropriate balance and how is compensation distributed.

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  2. Let me modify what I just wrote to say "Anyone who cannot communicate *the importance* of their research..."

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  3. As we know, this country has an anti-intellectual bias in many of its sectors: our last president was a clear example of that tendency. Who, in this context, is qualified to measure what is the appropriate balance?

    What is clear is that the Humanities will be the most disadvantaged according to current and recent trends.

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  6. The argument is simply divisive and ignores the real problem at UC: bloated salaries and staff for non-academic personel. The real problem is the university pays far too much for support services and administration. Salaries for these are far above private industry norms, not to mention the absurdly high benefits. On top of that, the restrictive and arcane work rules make it very costly just to run the university.

    The mission of the university is to serve the people of California, not the UC-AFT or the other labor that work there. Research is a vital part of this mission as is educating students. In a university context, you cannot have one without the other.

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