Thursday, May 24, 2007

Oregon cuts Universities "to the bone"

From the Cronie of HiEd (read it before the 27th if you don't have a password).

I suspect that Oregon is previewing SIU's future as well. Society can't figure out why it should fund public universities all across the country and is going to leave the funding to the students and others that get a direct benefit.

When we apply this to SIU, I suspect that SIU could/should layoff about 25% of all employees and retire about half with new people and have a much better result. College professors have the best jobs in America according to a nation survey and have been number 1 or 2 for many years. Tenure and union contracts protect many people should be fired. Retirement is for life and includes full health care. Everyone can see this story fairly clearly.

When I moved back to Carbondale six years ago, a friend told me that this was going to happen. He told me that the state legislature knew how fat the universities were and were going to stop increasing their money until they got it together. That is exactly what has happened. The USA is a wonderfully efficient machine. We all know that the results from the universities aren't good enough. The universities have become places that pander to the employees and don't serve the society well enough. The free money is going away, until things change.

A signal that enough money has been removed from the university system might be when professors don't have one of the top 10 best jobs anymore?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Peter, just what are the results that we all know aren't good enough? Are they published somehwere where we can all look at them? I'd love to take a look at them....

I see software engineer is the No. 1 job. What happened there...why'd you get out? I figure a guy like you, with your superior managment skills and all, would get back in to do it all over, you know, prove that it wasn't a fluke.

Anyway, you sound a bit like Blago with your rant against universities. Is is just SIU that you don't like, or is it all universities. Or all universities in Illinois? Please clear up these mysteries.

I do agree with you that there's a lot of people at SIU who should be fired...most are professors and staff who refuse to change...and yes, you've written about that before. Change is what drives the world...its what makes me get up in the morning. Those who resist are only in the way. And resistance is mostly out of fear. But I digress...

Perhaps this new chancellor can bring about positive change...I'm surprised you're not all over that. Oh, I know it is easy to say that the problem is too deeply rooted to believe that one person will make a difference. But is has to start somewhere, my man, and hope springs eternal...

Peter in Carbondale said...

Reasonable economic theory tells us that people don't value public universities, because we have allowed our government bodies to stop funding them at a high level. If the goal of universities is to get more public funding, they aren't good enough. Society is voting universities off the island.

Computer programmers have been the engine of one of the three great movements of mankind in the last 20 years. Right, the internet. Their time at #1 is likely numbered as we switch into the renewable energy age. The value to our society is there at the top and bottom line. Computer professionals also work about twice as many hours a week as professors and are more highly skilled (and educated, if degrees don't count). In order to have a computer job, you have to love the work.

The professional question for me is if I want to work 80 hours a week and what do I get out of doing that much work. My part-time gig in Carbondale is going fairly well. What would you do if you didn't need the money?

The replacement cycle is 20 years for SIU employees, the new chancellor has a tough job ahead. SIU will turn around as soon as you can fire the losers, until then the current course is the course. The real story is Glenn Poshard's vision and not the chancellor. I'll have moved before the Fall and I will not be watching. I do wish him the best of luck, he is going to need it.

Anonymous said...

Reasonable economic theory??? Do they teach that over at the Econ Dept.? Sounds more like Peter Gregory theory to me.

What would I do if didn't need the money. I'd probably be a coke addict with many young females attending to my every need...now there's a lifestyle to aspire to...

But back to reality...if society is voting higher ed off the island, we're all in big trouble, aren't we?

If the public doesn't see the need for higher ed...then private donors will probably be the money source. Many of your high dollar boys will insist that things are done their way and we'll end up with some mutant system that won't look at all like the current higher ed setup.

I do believe you're right about the renewable energy thing. It won't be too long before only very rich can afford to drive gasoline driven motor vehicles. However, as prices for fossil fuels go up, renewable sources will begin to look very attractive financially. Seems we're approaching that level what with gasoline and utility companies jacking up their rates.

I read an interesting article that in effect said that because government was pushing alternative fuels, such as ethanol, the oil companies are now reluctant to build new refineries or upgrading existing facilities. And that's one of the major reasons for rising prices. The oil companies apparently believe demand for their product will start going down and soon. In the meantime, demand is still high but supplies are slipping, mostly at the refining stage. That's driving up prices.

Enough for now...

sandra said...

Peter,

You'd be amazed at the amount of hours professor's have to work just to keep their jobs. The "actual" time they are at school is but the tip of the iceberg.

Although I am of the view that generalizing can be dangerous, I recognize that one problem with some universities, is that they are run as businesses. That is to say, some students (and their parents) feel entitled to A grades by virtue of having payed for their education (and if they don't get them they'll complain). In some areas of SIU students are even referred to as "clients." In our business-oriented society, don't we aim to please clients? How can that model possibly work for education? Business accountability transfers the burden of education from students to professors as providers of a service called "legitimizing my education because I payed for it." While a legitimate pedagogical accountability keeps the burden on the student AND the professors to develop skills such as curiosity and imagination, skills necessary to learn how to think outside of the box. I think the real problem here is a problem of values.

Anyway, that's my two cents worth.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I'm apparently not smart enough to figure it out like our anonymous poster. So, riddle me this - why is funding for public universities going down? Is it because society as a whole agrees with their mission and performance? Maybe it is like the Republicans and global warming, it is just random bad luck?

We are only in trouble is Higher Education provides a better way of learning when funding goes up. In Oregon they are down to 18% funding and there are no real complaints about the quality of education thus far. They cut German and didn't fill a few positions when people retired, big deal. Where I personally agree that research is worth funding at the university level (if there is performance), I'm fairly sure that 80%+ of Americans don't really understand why we need to do research.

The USA is speaking, it is time to change the university model or public universities will not be funded as they were before.

I'm dying to know, is funding down from well over 50% of costs to well below 50% (and falling) because of bad luck or because of performance? I feel the market is speaking, but maybe there is a better explanation?

Peter in Carbondale said...

Hi Sandra -

I agree that many professors work very hard. Let's say, 25% for grins are working at 45-80 hours per week. Let's say that another 25% works at a reasonable level, say 40 hours per week. Now let's say that 25% more work at 20 to 39 hours a week, cut corners and get by. Then we have the final 25%, no research in years, tenure, 6 low effort teaching hours, poorly managed slackers. If you didn't have tenure and union contracts, you would be looking at replacing 50% of all university employees if this curve were real. What happens if only 25% should be replaced?

I like your values idea. What I see is GPA is up 1 full letter grade in the last 25 years at SIU. The standards to get a degree are a joke in many disciplines. SIU is a cupcake university, handing out passing grades to students who sleep through class and have no retention of course materials. I know it is better to only remember the stars and ignore the trash you passed to get a better raise, but is that the way people with values behave?

The system that manages universities like SIU is broken. The results aren't good enough and you super smart people should do better. You will not do better, until you decide you have a problem in the university as a whole, instead of hiding out in your little silos and claiming you are OK, while the walls are tumbling.

I guess if you are only interested in producing students like you are, you close your eye and hold the super students close to your breast? Push them into advanced degrees and try to clone yourselves. But is that what our society wants or needs?

You guys are all living a lie. Snap out of it and you can do so much better. It isn't enough that you are OK, if your employer is lousy it reflects on your too.

MS said...

Peter wrote: "Reasonable economic theory tells us that people don't value public universities, because we have allowed our government bodies to stop funding them at a high level."

I do not agree, but do not claim to fully understand what is going on. Here is part of what I think is going.

(1) Centralization of resources at the flagships. Notice the headline of your Oregon article: "In Oregon, Regional Colleges Struggle to Overcome Shortfalls;
When budgets tighten, far-flung institutions are often the hardest hit". Economies of scale is part of what is going on. In a market system many mom-and-pop universities would go out of business as the big-box schools take over - save for a few that find unique niches.

(2) If the public lacks faith in college why do record numbers of people want to go to college? The fact is as more and more people go to college states are pressed to cover the costs. I don't think over all state spending on higher ed is that far off, but spending per student is way down.

(3) Some schools - UVa for example, do not need much from the state. Between tuition, grants and fund raising, UVa only gets 8% of its funds from the state. It is a kind of back-door privatization.

I do not know what the future holds for higher ed in the US, but is clear things are changing fast. I doubt any one economic model describes all of what is happening.

Peter in Carbondale said...

Hi MS -

It is normal that the flagships are going to be hurt the least, they the most resources and most waste. When the cuts come, they have more fat. It could be that one of SIU's problems has been that they were higher up the food chain than anyone else in Illinois expect for U of I? Where the regional schools started feeling pinch earlier and started to improve their performance and got ahead? SIU was the second jewel of the Illinois system for artificial reasons, for a brief time, maybe location does count and SIU is just becoming the small regional university it should be, instead of the Morris led juggernaut it was in 1968?

I agree enrollment numbers are up, but maybe we see universities as a new form of baby sitting, post high school and not temples of higher learning? I universities aren't special, why should society pay extra for them? I suspect this is more about how rich America is and not about the quality of universities. We are delaying adulthood in the USA well into the 20's now, continuing in school is part of that.

I think there is just one very complex economic model, but we can't understand it and never will. The places that want to succeed in fast changing times, have a tendency to change as they can and try to improve. If SIU doesn't change, maybe it will no longer exist in 50 years?

Thanks for the solid set of ideas.

Anonymous said...

Peter is right in that most people don't know about the importance of university research. To the vast majority of people, college - or higher education- is a necessity for getting a "good" job and nothing more.
Its been said here before that society is the "customer." What society wants is well-rounded, educated people. Students are the raw product that need to be shaped and molded into those well-rounded, educated people. That's the model that should be followed. When students are perceived as the customers, you get real problems.
I do believe the first anonymous poster is right, though. As public support for higher-ed dwindles, more and more private sources will be sought out and those private sources will call the shots. Look at public TV, the very rich and well-heeled private foundations are sponsoring most fo the programs. What do you get, British soap operas, high brow music performances, etc. Just an observation....

MS said...

People are flocking to college for many reasons: some sound, some not. At delayed adulthood, see

Arrested Adulthood: The Changing Nature of Maturity and Identity,
by James Cote.
http://www.amazon.com/Arrested-Adulthood-Changing-Maturity-Identity/dp/0814715982/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/104-7204772-9726348?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1180108194&sr=8-1

"Why are today's adults more like adolescents, in their dress and personal tastes, than ever before? Why do so many adults seem to drift and avoid responsibilities such as work and family? As the traditional family breaks down and marriage and child rearing are delayed, what makes a person an adult?"

Anonymous said...

Its been said here before that society is the "customer." What society wants is well-rounded, educated people. Students are the raw product that need to be shaped and molded into those well-rounded, educated people. That's the model that should be followed. When students are perceived as the customers, you get real problems.
I do believe the first anonymous poster is right, though. As public support for higher-ed dwindles, more and more private sources will be sought out and those private sources will call the shots. Look at public TV, the very rich and well-heeled private foundations are sponsoring most fo the programs. What do you get, British soap operas, high brow music performances, etc. Just an observation....


Well, then we are in for some problems, because that is exactly how Poshard views students - as 'customers' to be served.