16 December 2010

Open Letter to President Floyd and Provost Bayley

December 14, 2010

Dr. Elson Floyd
PO Box 641048
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164-1048

Dr. Warwick Bayly
Provost and Executive Vice President
PO Box 641046
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164-1046

Dear President Floyd and Provost Bayly:

The WSU-AAUP chapter has paid close attention to the current budget cut planning process and has been engaged in associated discussions regarding vision, process, and shared governance.  We want to convey to you our concerns regarding the budget cutting process.  Some of these concerns relate as well to the operation of the university at large. 

The responsibility of the faculty is the university curriculum, as is standard practice in universities across the nation.  Since many of the budget cut plan elements will impact curriculum, the faculty should have had a wide representation and approval power on the plan and on the final rendition of it.  This faculty power should be in place whether the issue in question is attributes of specific courses or policies on establishment, reorganization, and discontinuance of programs, departments, colleges, and larger programs of study.

Planning meetings regarding budgets should be public meetings to the extent of the law, and confidentiality requirements of members of any planning committees should not be made except in the cases demanded by law.  ‘Closed meetings’ and broad requirements for confidentiality from committee members stand in the way of shared governance.  Information dispersion to faculty and representation from a wide range of faculty voices should be standard practice.  On all committees whose decisions potentially affect contingent (non-tenure line) faculty members, contingent faculty should be full members of those bodies in a percentage reflective of their percentage of the university faculty. 

In the current round, after a semester of planning and a month after deans’ plans were due, the administration announced its budget plan on Dec. 3 and held a public forum on Dec. 8 on the plan.  The administration required, however, that the university community respond to the plan by Dec. 15, only a week and a half after the announcement.  Coincidentally, the final plan is also scheduled to be announced on Dec. 15.  How is it possible that university community responses will be seriously considered when they can be offered until the same date of the final announcement?  This confluence of dates makes more obvious perhaps the overall message of this short response time – that faculty, staff, and student responses were never going to be taken into account in the ‘final’ plan.  Likewise, announcing a plan and calling for responses at the end of the semester when faculty and students are deep in preparing, taking, and grading final exams and then departing from campus, is not at all conducive to a real consideration of any plan and well-developed responses.  This end-of-semester/vacation timing is a repetitive pattern for major announcements by the administration, even when not driven by state information releases.  Announcements of plans need to occur during a regular semester, not at the end of a semester/over break; more lag time is needed between the announcement and the response deadline; and the responses of the university community need to be seriously considered by the administration. 

Throughout this round of budget cut planning, ambiguous terms have led to confusion and anxiety in the university community.  There has been administrative talk of ‘everything is on the table’ when, in fact, the entire community understands that some programs are more at risk than others.  Terms such as ‘reorganization’, ‘realignment’, and ‘restructuring’ have all been used by various levels of administration, but these terms are not clearly or consistently defined, so the university community is left to wonder and worry. 

In the case of ‘reorganizations’ of programs (whatever that may be), WSU has no clear policy on what processes and conditions will be used to make decisions regarding tenure track and contingent faculty positions.  Faculty as a whole should be defining these processes, including  negotiation on moving positions, job responsibilities, retention of resources assigned to faculty, and potential rehirings in the case of terminations.

We urge that you delay the decision and announcement date for the final plan for cuts until the end of January to allow time for more input from the university community and serious administrative consideration of the responses. We ask that in any future deliberations regarding budget reductions, realignments, restructuring, or reorganizations, attention be paid to the requirements of shared governance and transparency.  We urge that the university operate within the nationally- recognized guidelines in the AAUP Redbook (http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/policydocs/default.htm).


Judy L. Meuth
President, WSU-AAUP

05 December 2010

WSU-AAUP General Meeting 4:10 Wednesday, 8 December

Please come to the last general meeting of the WSU-AAUP for the fall semester. The meeting will be held at 4:10 on Wednesday, 8 December, in the Bundy Reading Room in Avery Hall. (We are trying to arrange for videoconferencing to the urban campuses. We will announce the locations as soon as we know them.)

Discussion Items on the Agenda:

  • Budget cut plans
  • Processes to be followed during the implementation of any cuts.  For example, 
    • what does AAUP propose should happen to faculty if a program is “reorganized” rather than closed. 
    • if contingent faculty are terminated and then ‘hired back’, what should be hiring criteria, etc.?
  • An accurate definition for administration the breadth of ‘curriulum’, in terms of what faculty should be able to control and/or have a voice in.
  • Ways to interact with the Senate to act on the faculty’s behalf.
  • Collective bargaining – should WSU faculty move toward unionization?
Once again, we invite all members of the WSU community.  Participation in WSU-AAUP general meetings is not restricted to members of the organization.  We would like to talk with all faculty (tenure-line or contingent (instructors, lecturers, clinicial)), students, and anyone else with an interest in the future of WSU.

17 November 2010

My Question for the Week

Can anyone tell me (in dollars--not percentages, not comparisons to the amount requested, just plain dollars) how much money the university had each year since 2001 for actual operating costs? Not money dedicated to particular research or locked into an endowed chair, money that the university could use to pay teachers, underwrite research, provide essential university services to students.

I look at the operating budget and get sums that are not coherent with the claim that WSU has lost enormous amounts from its operating budget--so I must assume (given my acceptance that no one would lie about the operating budget) that much more of the current money is locked down for specific purposes than in our prior budgets. Is there any way to get this information from any public source?

Lynn Gordon

An Interesting and Useful Article

Here is an article which should be of interest to all of us interested in the future of higher education, universities, public universities, and WSU specifically:

"A Faustian bargain: An open letter to George M Philip, President of the State University of New York At Albany" by Gregory A Petsko at http://genomebiology.com/2010/11/10/138

On edit: This is an excellent article, but it concedes as true the claim that the humanities/liberal arts are not self-supporting.  After reading this letter, also read  "The Humanities Really Do Produce a Profit" by Robert N. Watson at http://chronicle.com/article/The-Humanities-Really-Do/64740/

Lynn Gordon

13 November 2010

Sources of Information about the Budget

It is difficult to find all the information one might want about the WSU budget, but here are three sources of information provided by the university:

Lynn Gordon

12 November 2010

Unending Budget Numbers

A while ago I posted a brief commentary on our operating budget numbers over the last 7 biennia.  It occurred to me that I might not have been entirely fair, since I reported those in dollars, not in dollars adjusted for inflation.  So here's another round of contemplating the operating budget numbers from  the same source (http://ir.wsu.edu/utils/File.aspx?fileid=5956).  Converted into 2010 dollars using the U.S. government's inflation calculator (http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl), our operating budgets over the last seven biennia have been

  • 1998-1999     $956,770,690
  • 2000-2001     $947,017,550     (1 % cut from the preceding biennium)
  • 2002-2003     $1,044,491,010  (10% increase from the preceding biennium)
  • 2004-2005     $1,078,352,700 (3% increase from the preceding biennium)
  • 2006-2007     $1,084,138,730  (1% increase from the preceding biennium)
  • 2008-2009     $1,255,350,460 (16% increase from the preceding biennium)
  • 2010-2011     $1,229,711,000  (2% decrease from the preceding biennium)
With the best will in the world, I find it difficult to see this as a disaster that requires immediate, catastrophic restructuring.

We might also consider that the proportion of our operating budget that comes from tuition has been steadily increasing over this period--so why does it make sense to reduce the number and quality of undergraduate courses (since like most other universities, the bulk of our students are undergraduates)?

P.S.  I am a linguist, not an accountant.  I would be happy to see anyone with more experience working with budgets take over my self-assigned task of interpreting the operating budget.  Really I would.

P.P.S. Click here to see the proportions of the operating budget from each of the major sources.

Lynn Gordon

(edited to add link to chart and to correct typo)

11 November 2010

A Question

Background:  Twenty years ago, WSU underwent a retrenchment similar to the one we have been suffering through over the last year or so and at that time the decision was made to restructure the university by making vertical cuts.

Question: Has anyone studied the process and results of that 'realignment'?  (We are, after all, an academic institution--we believe in research and in general we believe that understanding the past can help us understand the present.  Or do we?)

Lynn Gordon

24 October 2010

Where is diversity going?

One change in the proposed Gen Ed curriculum would replace the Diversity requirement with something vaguely and disingenuously called “civic engagement.” The proposal’s definition of civic engagement is even more vague and elusive than  the name itself, and so effectively this change would mean that many of our white students—the numbers and percentages will surely increase—will experience an entire four-year degree program without taking classes taught by faculty of color or classes in which they are actually in a minority.  Recently WSU created a Faculty Diversity Committee, charged with boosting recruitment and retention of “diverse” faculty. This committee is not charged with influencing the undergraduate curriculum, but there is a clear connection between “diversity” courses and a diverse faculty, and so we can only hope that the committee is voicing its protest against the Gen Ed proposal. Prospective faculty of color would surely rather work in a school with a “diversity” requirement than in a school without one.  More important, in these times of extreme and vicious polarities in our nation’s and region’s political discourse, now is no time to eliminate courses that require undergraduates to learn the histories of race and racism, gender and sexism.    

John Streamas

17 October 2010

Funding Priorities in Hard Times

A while back, in writing a satirical lexicon of terms for university procedures and institutions, I defined a university as:
University, n. (1) (arch.) collection of people paid to engage in research, teaching, learning and service for the benefit of the larger community; (2) structured set of positions (temporarily filled by people); (3) collection of buildings continually being torn down and rebuilt, usually surrounded by trees and insufficient parking.
Unfortunately, I think this reflects more truth than I would have liked to believe when I wrote it. In a rational world, it should be clear that if a university is place to create and share knowledge the only crucial parts of it are people: people as students, as teachers and often simultaneously as researchers or artists.

A university (or any school really) is only a school when people are thinking and talking and trying to get closer to what best accounts for how the world works and how best to represent the concerns of humanity and share that with others. That can be done in brand-new, beautiful, well-equipped buildings or in tents. When the society as a whole is doing well, it can and should invest in beautiful and useful buildings, complex and useful technology, and convenient and well-planned landscapes. But when money is tight, the focus of spending in a university should be on the people--on making the university run. A university that is not teaching students is not a university. A university that is not supporting people to think and discover and share is not a university. No matter how beautiful the buildings, no matter how thoroughly equipped they may be, a university is the people in it.

We would be unwise to fail in our duty of maintenance for the physical body of the university, its buildings and grounds, but we would be far more unwise to fail in our duty to our faculty and students in supporting them in learning and teaching. We fail our students when we increase the cost of tuition and fees every year--as though educating students is only a profitable to the individual, not to the entire community. We fail our students when we decrease the time they have with teachers. We fail our faculty when we reduce their numbers and do not recognize their dual functions of pursuing knowledge and of sharing knowledge and therefore their need for the community of other students and teachers. We fail the university when we pretend it is the buildings. We fail the university when we act as though building new buildings is more important than keeping up those we already have and more important than supporting faculty and students in creation and discovery and sharing of knowledge.

It has been noted that when we move out of these hard times, we will be grateful for the money spent on new stuff—new buildings or equipment. Maybe. Maybe we will consider it already out of date. It is easier to build buildings than to build or maintain faculty and students. In times like these, we must again consider what a university is. The other day I heard someone refer to the university as its administration only. That is wrong--a university is all its people--its students and its faculty and those who work to make the work of the students and faculty more effective.

What does that mean from practical point of view? It means that in bad economic times the primary function of university funding should be to make the university operate. The accounting convenience of separating the budget into a capital budget and an operating budget and then allocating money to the capital budget while slashing the operating budget is wrong. We have to stop thinking of things as permanent and people as transitory.

New buildings can wait.

Education should not.

Lynn Gordon

15 October 2010

Everything is on the table

How many of us have heard this from the dean of our college or the provost?  Lots of us, but clearly not all of us.  Because, in fact, not everything is on the table.  A small number of things are on the table--things the administration doesn't think are "exciting" or "innovative", but which exist at the core of education.  Teaching itself is on the table.  Foreign languages are on the table.  Writing is on the table.  Any course with fewer than a hundred students is on the table.  Service to the rural community is on the table.  

It has been pointed out repeatedly that the overwhelming majority of the university operating budget is in salaries, as if this is not as it should be.  Education is primarily a human activity; creation of knowledge and art is a human activity.  What else should the overwhelming majority of the budget be spent on?  

But back to "everything is on the table", even when it isn't.  Why does that keep being said?   No one is proposing the innovative idea of trying to run universities without presidents or provosts or deans.  No one is proposing an experiment with a flatter administrative model.   No one is proposing that administrative salaries be linked directly to faculty salaries. These things are not on the table.  I'm not suggesting that they should be, but as long as they are not, everything is not on the table.  

However if we keep being told that everything is on the table, there must be a perceived value to that claim.   If someone does the same thing repeatedly and it has the same effect, ultimately one must assume that the effect is desired.  

The primary effect of saying "Everything is on the table" is to intimidate the audience--it translates as "Your job, your field, your teaching, your department, your program of research is on the table.  Justify it.  Prove not just that it is productive and useful and of general cultural value--prove that it is better than his or hers.  Show us change--we can't do business as usual.  If your program is working--you and your colleagues are producing research or art, your students are completing their work in ways that show that they are learning, your majors are getting jobs or getting into graduate school--that is not enough.  Things must change.  What is enough?  Everything is on the table.  And anything we don't like or aren't interested in or perceive as too labor intensive--that is going to go."  And when that happens, everyone else, all the survivors, breathe a sigh of relief quietly and submissively, because everything was on the table and their thing maybe got reduced, maybe got burned, but survived.  

To infer the goal from the effect, isn't the goal a smaller, quieter, even more submissive faculty, not merely cheaper, but easier to "lead"?

Be honest.  

Some things are on the table.  Most things aren't. 

But a compliant faculty is priceless.

Lynn Gordon

12 October 2010

Where did faculty oversight go?

I'm worried by the development of this idea of "service" credit classes (see the proposal for the new ULRs) for a number of reasons.

Reason 1 --- we're being asked to take on a responsibility (the development of a sense of "community" and an understanding of the value of "service") that really belongs with the parents, churches, and other civic organizations.

Reason 2 -- I've seen how WSU integrates new ideas into the curriculum --- and it's frequently a sloppy job. Lots of promises about how great this will be --- but let's get real --- big pieces of the undergraduate curriculum are taught by temporary faculty. This is just ONE more thing that we'll have on our checklist to do.

Reason 3 -- As a regular volunteer for several local social service organizations, I promise you --- students doing this kind of service will inundate the limited social services of the community, all creating havoc as they try to get their mandatory hours of service done for some class --- possibly a class which has no connection whatsoever to the service organization they are "helping." JUST THIS WEEK, I had to help a coordinator of a service I assist with to find "placements" for 20 students each of whom had to do 5-10 hours of service for various classes. Can you spell MAKE WORK? That is exactly what we did. Frankly, we don't need their help that badly.

Reason 4--- And this is the one that should bother you --- who is going to oversee this service credit requirement? The Center for Civic Engagement seems like the logical possibility --- but I can't see any direct tenured faculty oversight of this program. And I REALLY don't want WSU to invest in some major curricular change without a tenured faculty person there to directly oversee it and fight for it. Otherwise, it smacks of yet one more misguided curricular effort being sent our way by an administration that thinks it's okay to gut the Gen Ed requirements and fill them with WHAT?

Liz Siler

06 October 2010

The Budget (in Hard Times?)

The operating budget of Washington State University for 2010 was $604, 811, 000 of which $196,277,000 came from the state general fund.*  This is approximately half a million dollars less than the operating budget of 2008.  (The first year of each biennium has a noticeably smaller budget than the second so we should compare 2010 to 2008, rather than 2009.  If, however, we choose to compare 2010 to 2009, the operating budget for 2010 is 3.6% less than the operating budget for 2009--a total of approximately 23 million dollars--most of which was the reduction of money from the general fund.) 

As of now, the posted operating budget for 2011 is $624,901,000.  This includes the supplementary reduction of $13,480,000 from the general fund allocation.  This represents an increase of 3.3% over the operating budget of 2010 and a reduction of approximately two and a half million (less than .5%)  from the operating budget of 2009.  If the budget for 2011 were reduced another 10%  from the general fund, that would mean that the general fund contribution would be $179,712,000 and the operating budget would be $604,933,000 (i.e. slightly larger than 2010 operating budget), a reduction of 3.2% from the $624,901,000 currently budgeted.

I would not argue that this reduction is a good thing--I would however argue that it is NOT a catastrophe.  It is not a situation that requires massive changes to the way the university conducts its operations.  I wonder why we are instead responding to this situation as though 'no good crisis should go to waste.'

Lynn Gordon