Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reaction of Morrill Hall Gang (and Flack)

A Critique of the Cuts at the

University of Minnesota

Some Comments

From comments on an Inside Higher Education post:

Thank you for making the community aware of Professor von Dassow's remarks. She was described as "regal and eloquent" by one local news outlet. Unfortunately, the University of Minnesota administration continues to attempt to marginalize those faculty members who disagree with their crusade to become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic], while destroying the fabric of the university. People who think that we should aim to be one of the top schools in the BigTen are described as "doubters" by our president.

My experience is that many of the liberal arts programs being cut are not very strong, either in terms of scholarship or number of credit hours taught. What often becomes a stirring defense of the humanities as the key to human existence (I'm in the humanities)is really the defense of poorly-performing programs. When one considers various kinds of data it often becomes apparent that those programs either should be eliminated, or their professors should not be given a research teaching load. Furthermore, my experience as an administrator is that humanities programs that are able to demonstrate their strength are cut less, not cut, or are given additional, redirected, funds. (A self-described administrator at a big state U.)


I am also a member of Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education and, like Eva, I spoke at the Regents Open Forum. Everything she said is correct and completely to the point. Bill Gleason noted this. The administrator who commented, exhibited clearly why what Universities need is far fewer administrators. Perhaps at his institution, which he did not name, the Liberal Arts are weak. This is not the case at Minnesota. Even if there are two graduating majors a year in Greek or in Philosophy, these disciplines are of intrinsic worth and importance to our cultural tradition. There was only one Ludwig Wittgenstein, but there might be many millions of MBA's. An university's excellence is not measured by winning the Rose Bowl or making it to the Final Four.

These days, every time I hear an administrator say "productivity," "performance," or "strength," I cringe. It always reminds me of Charlie Chaplin spinning through the cogs of the machinery in "Modern Times." "Productivity" and "performance" are such clear references to industrial measures that I will not comment on them. As best as I can make out, "strength" (high or low) refers to the score a department receives on such measures as the Delaware Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity, one of the tools that Wannabe U (the flagship university that I studied) used to identify weak graduate programs. The web site of the Delaware Study warns that its reports are not designed to help make cuts, but that warning appears to be besides the point. What "counts" in the new accountability regime that dominates higher education today is that the Delaware Study and such organizations as Academic Analytics provide counts. If you can count it, it must be real.


Not very strong programs... those which are continually pared?

When you constantly starve a program, do not give that program the resources to be vital, you eventually will weaken and kill it!

Not enough students! Not enough productivity! Not enough research! I've seen it all!

A simple recipe: you do not replace faculty who retire. That has a domino effect: less faculty, less course offerings, less students, less research... and then you have a "weak" program which needs to be cut precisely because it has not institutional support!

That is the way of the game these days.

And von Dassow is right on the... lack of money!


Humanist: Your post begs the question. You claim that the humanities departments facing cuts are those that are "poorly performing," but the question that is at stake is precisely what one means by performance. Is performance to be defined in terms of revenue generation? If so, then how does one gauge that? Is it terms of grants that the departments receive? If so, then humanities departments will always be at a disadvantage. (One only has to witness the recent events at Middlesex University to see the folly of this way of thinking.) Or, as Van Dassow claims in her eloquent speech, in terms of students served?


It's a great speech, hitting on exactly the issue - many public universities are about revenue generation and not about public education or educational values anymore. The MBAs and number-crunchers have deemed liberal arts irrelevant, and given the declining percentage of liberal arts students (just look at the growth in the life or hard sciences, engineering, and business, or education), this death spiral is likely to increase. The professor's speech was elegant and important, but the barn door has been open for years, and the cows are out.


To add insult to injury, Presidents, Provosts, and CFOs often do NOT adhere to the polemics of productivity. Many academic programs are stunted or pruned even though they do enroll an adequate or even large number of students. Take a look at the Delta Project study of state university costs -- each year at most flagship state universities the percentage of income (from student tuition payments and state student appropriations) goes increasingly toward administrative and non-instructional costs, with a decreasing percentage/amount going toward educational and instructional expenses. Sad but true.


This Spring at the University of Kentucky a faculty advisory group recommended that the Provost should NOT seek a 1% salary increase for faculty and staff -- an increase that would cost about an additional $3.5 million. After all, times are hard and since faculty had not received a raise in the preceding two years, once again faculty would show their sense of team play (contrary to the stereotype of being whiners). A few weeks later at the Board of Trustees meeting in June, the university Board approved an appropriation of $6 million to bail out a long time money losing research park. The university's research park already had received about $11.5 million in university funding and in 15 years had yet to generate a surplus -- nor fulfill its charge to be an "economic engine." So, where is the mantra of "productivity" in this case?


As a humanities faculty member in a state system school (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education--PASSHE) currently involved in very much the same struggle against the same poorly evidenced arguments and thinly veiled profit-driven motives made by our chancellor, board of governors, university presidents, and administrators, I just want to take this moment to applaud Professor von Dassow.

Thank you, Professor von Dassow for your articulate, impassioned, and right-on-the-dollar remarks about the gutting of humanities programs in favor of the flavor-of-the-week money-makers. The corporatizing and privatizing of PUBLIC universities--the down-sizing, on-lining and out-sourcing of programs vital to the very mission of the university--will be disastrous not only to the production of knowledge, ideas, arguments,art, music--the humanities--but disastrous to the creation of an educated citizenry essential to the life of a democracy. The conversion of the acquisition of knowledge into the purchase of a commodity called "information" and the transformation of students into mere consumers is a potential loss whose consequences are simply unthinkable.

There are, however, many of us "out here" who are ready to stand up against this assault on the academy--myself and many others in the PASSHE System included.


Finally someone with not only brain but guts spoke. Every single point she makes applies to many schools. Somehow Universities (along with other unfortunately not-for profit organizations) have decided that management model of (now failing) business world would perform miracles in an environment where the 'product' is the most unique such as learning. Isn't it the whole point of higher education to guide the practitioners, who often are short sighted (albeit justifiable at times), with a long term, well thought out, ... um, vision? I cannot see how a group of assistant, associate vice presidents (I will spare the readers from the history of the rank called VP in industry -- it is shame to see the title is used in academic organizations!) of any administration, and associated expense to compensate their rank, at the cost of larger class size would help restore what a university was created to provide.


Wow, can she come to California and say the same exact thing to the Regents? Because what she said in relation to Minnesota is pretty much spot on for the UCs as well. Yes, yes, the buildings are from funds that are specifically earmarked…but why? Why cut required classes in composition and history, and build yet another building? Why are we creating new centers for this and that when class sizes have increased, and tuition has shot through the roof? What is the point to having fancy buildings if there's no one to fill them?

I once heard a top campus administrator say that the humanities exist to make well rounded engineers. Not only did he reveal much about his biases, as well as the intentions of the university, but more importantly, he revealed that those in the humanities are fighting an uphill battle to 'prove' their worth. Is my work any less valuable because I can't bring in the giant NSF dollars? No. It has intrinsic value. The ability to read, to write, to THINK, is immeasurable.

There is a reason we call it the humanities. It is what makes us human.


From Times Higher Education (UK) comments:

An incredibly well thought through and well-presented argument. That some British University administrations are forcing through changes on the pretext of financial difficulties is becoming well established. However, a troublesome part of all this has been the way that many academics, writing on forums such as this, have only voiced either their own personal agendas (‘I’m losing my job’) or callous indifference (‘take the money and run’, ‘this is life, just deal with it’). Here Eva Von Dassow highlights the real issue – bad changes to Universities being made by unaccountable administrators. We should be concerned about where this is all going. If not then British academia deserves everything that is happening, because it is betraying its responsibility to the education of future generations and the well-being of this country.


I'm sure there will be more comments later, but this gives you an idea of how upset people are about these things, despite the brushoff of Professor von Dassow's comments by the University of Minnesota administration.

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