Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is the Academic Apocalypse Really A-Comin'?

Don Heller wrote a provocative piece today at his location, indicating that we may be on the verge of an Academic Apocalypse:
I'm sorry to report that, after sitting through part of the hearing this week, it is unlikely that this Joint Committee is going to be able to resolve the problems facing higher education in California.  It is clear that the fiscal constraints facing the state are unlikely to be removed without large-scale changes to the political structures there.  This would include changing laws and initiative petitions that have restricted the ability of the legislature and governors to raise the tax revenues necessary to support a world-class higher education system.  It would likely also require changing the earmarking of parts of the state budget to purposes such as K-12 education and corrections, both of which leave little flexibility for funding higher education when federal mandates such as Medicaid spending are taken into account.
For some reason, I was not able to comment on the blog, but I do have a response. I'm posting it here for posterity:

Next time you are this close, do ring me up. I would love to connect over coffee, lunch or a beer - or something stronger as the situation warrants.

The grim reality of the situation in California reflects the abandonment of public education as a public good - across the board - by the good people of California. Really, for example, the public schools below the collegiate levels are being forced to talk about suing the state to gain back some funding to adequately support our schools - It's truly sad that, essentially, we have to sue ourselves, and the only people who will win will be the lawyers (no doubt salivating over billable rates and monster fees). As to if the children will win eventually would be pure speculation at this time.

Perhaps we have a redundancy problem - the bureaucratic infrastructure across just the CSU is enormous. The choice between a 10% pay cut spreading the malaise across all campuses last year is symptomatic of people not willing to make hard decisions. We could have closed 1.5 campuses instead of cutting salaries, and saved the money to pay people to do 100% of the job at 100% the salary. Instead, we are doing 100% of the job with 10% less time and money to do it. It's unfair and harmful to the students.

Unfortunately, the legal structure of the state prevents us from actually fixing this situation. Might we actually think of a solution that takes advantage of the situation? What would that be?

I have been suggesting a five tired (not all steps are related) approach:
  1. Reduce bureaucratic infrastructure and close the CSU Chancellor's office except necessary functions like IT and CSU Mentor application process. Push out the resources to the campuses and have them serve students directly. If you don't have a skill that can serve students directly, you are put on furlough for the duration.
  2. Close the lowest serving campuses and allow those facilities to be rented out or sold off to the highest bidder to generate positive cash flow (for example, CSU Monterey Bay, and moving the Cal Maritime Academy to SDSU).
  3. Invert the tenure process where new hires have tenure for the first seven years (essentially protected to build their academic repertoire), and then you stand on your own record. Presently, those who need tenure don't have it, and those who have tenure don't need it. In that way we can carve away the slack in those who are fullly tenured, but are not pulling their weight - essentially doning the least amount of work for the most amount of pay.
  4. Allow administrators with the credentials to teach courses that have been typically taught by adjunct guns for hire - in that way, it improves the ability of administrators to serve students beyond their administrative functions.
  5. Admit only the number of state subsidized students to the max capacity (whatever the state budget allocation allows), and then charge full market rates (what it really costs to deliver high quality education) for students who are a) out of state students, and b) people who still want to come to the college, but didn't submit their applications early enough, or are not the cream of the application pool. In this way, we could accept the max capacity number of students, and get the proper amount of dollars to fund the courses they take. It seemed odd to me that we would restrict admissions at a time when people really wanted to come back to school to upgrade their skills or change up their careers. There are a large number of people that could have afforded the full rate and would willingly return to school at the full cost. Instead, we cut them out as if there was no room in the classrooms.
Of course, these are radical solutions, which really didn't see the light of day. No one from the CSU Chancellor's office, the University or the State has been asking for my advice. But, radical times require frame breaking change. More of the same only gets you more of the same. And, that's the very definition of lunacy - doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
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Don Heller said...

I think these are all good suggestions, and would certainly help move things in the right direction.

The sense I get, however, is that some in the legislature, as well as on the campuses, believe that the fiscal problems can be solved by eliminating all the "administrative bloat," largely found in UCOP and the CSU Chancellor's Office. Given the magnitude of the budget cuts imposed on both systems, of approx. $600M+, I just don't see how you can restore quality and maintain -- or more importantly, increase -- access purely by administrative cuts.

As many extra vice chancellors or vice presidents as anyone may feel exist, I don't believe there are $600M worth on either campus. As I said in my testimony, the systems have the obligation to ensure they are operating as efficiently as possible. But I don't believe this can be the only solution.

Next time I promise to let you know if I'll be within 2 hours of you!

windspike said...


No doubt, you are correct. Administrative blot is a small fraction of the problem. Literally, about 20 years ago, the State was picking up the tab to the tune of about 90 or so percent of the true cost of the delivery of the education at the CSU. This past year, we have sunk below 50% subsidies.

You can't have your cake and eat it too. What people really want is free HIGH quality education, and that is simply not free.

As the main budgetary officer for my particular program, and because we are by mandate self supporting and sustainable, I set tuition at the level it really does translate to the true cost of delivering the education - it's not rocket science. The reality is that it's near 25K per year per student. People are just not willing to shell out that much as they have become accustom to getting a 50-90% subsidy.

In reality, some one has to pay for it. The truth of the matter is that high quality education costs. Who has to pay the costs is at the heart of the debate. This is why it is arguable that state subsidies should not be used for professional programs such as mine. We don't get any, which translates to you pay what it costs. We leave the "you pay what the market will bear" to the private institutions.