Sunday, July 28, 2013

The insanity in (of) higher education--Oregon edition!

I so wish I had not picked up early in my life the bad habit of reading the newspaper every morning.  Life would have been so much easier.

Even though my eyes got to the headlines even as I picked up the paper from the porch, I had all the more the reasons to keep it for the last.  You would have done the same too when the headline blared:
UO begins a new era of bargaining
A sea change arrives as a union forms and oversight shifts
After reading through the comics pages (which were a dud!); the local pages (lots of dog-bites-man stories!); sports (Dodgers on top in the division!); opinions (nothing by me, so who cares!) I finally got to the front section and the main story:
It’s a cash problem.
“In most states, the legislators — along with the federal government — have reduced (support) and the proportion of their budget that goes to higher education,” Boris said.
That’s true in Oregon.
The state has steadily decreased its support for its universities over the past two decades until Oregon student tuition pays the lion’s share of the cost — 70 percent — while the state pays 30 percent, according to Oregon University System figures.
Scrambling for money became a way of life at the University of Oregon.
 So far, so good, right?  Finally, a recognition of the bottom-line that "it's a cash problem."

So, what are they gonna do about it?

Fasten your seat-belts. In case you feel queasy, look away from your computer and keyboard.

Contributions from the university’s general fund to athletics has long been a bone of contention with UO faculty. The athletic department gets much of its revenue from sales of tickets and television broadcasting rights.
This past week, administrative bargainers handed the union documents confirming that the university — as opposed to the athletic department — pays about $2 million annually to provide special tutoring to student athletes exclusively at the John E. Jaqua Center for Student Athletes, the shimmering glass building at the campus entrance.
That amounts to roughly $4,000 per student athlete; the university spends a fraction of that for special tutoring of non-athlete students. In May, the university senate formally asked Gottfredson to require the athletic department to pay for the tutoring at the Jaqua Center.
At the bargaining table last week, the union’s professional negotiator, David Cecil, told the administration’s professional negotiator, Sharon Rudnick, he would evaluate the university spending on tutoring student athletes.
“We’ll let you know if we think it’s a wise investment,” he said.
Gleason said the union is entitled to an opinion, but the decision is management’s to make. 
You read that correctly.  Everybody recognizes that there is a cash problem. But, dammit, there is no way we are going to touch that expense item on athletics.  

Wait, there is more.  

That was the insanity from the management side that it was their decision to make, even if the investment in athletics is an unwise one.  Faculty can be insane too--after all, we faculty didn't pursue our doctorates for nothing, and typically the deans and presidents were once faculty!
 United Academics of the University of Oregon wants 16 percent increases in spending on faculty salaries over the two years for the 1,900 members in its bargaining unit. In the past week, the administration offered 10.5 percent. “That’s the one that’s the greatest challenge for all of us,” said Tim Gleason, dean of the School of Journalism and Communications and an administration bargaining team member.
The union’s proposal would cost the university $20 million more than the current two-year budget for faculty salaries. The administration’s proposal would be $14 million more — a $6 million difference, according to the administration’s figures.
16 percent. 10.5 percent. Oh well, we might as well give them a 20 percent raise. 

Oh, wait. Whatever happened to the bottom-line:
It’s a cash problem.
I suppose we can pay-it-forward!


Ramesh said...

I am a bit puzzled as to what sort of Union negotiations this is. I have had a fair share of such stuff in my time, but in this corner of the world. No pay negotiations happen without a corresponding negotiation on productivity. We have to show productivity increases - either in the form of technology, or increased hours, or job cuts, or simply higher targets for incentives. These are as much negotiated as salary raises. Only then can additional costs be accepted.

Don't your administration and unions hash out such deals ???

Sriram Khé said...

Ah, "productivity" ... in education and in healthcare, the two sectors where most Americans can feel their wallets being drained if they have to transact there, it gets very difficult to measure productivity. In healthcare, remember how quickly those discussions morphed into "death panels" ...?
A gazillion people can develop a gazillion measures of productivity in education, especially in higher ed. That is a discussion which will go nowhere.

How do faculty unions demand salary increases? Often on bizarre arguments. Like the one in the news item. A few years ago, a colleague told me "if I had known that it will pay only this much after a PhD, then I would never have done my PhD and would have done other things." It is a typical sentiment--we need to get paid more because we have PhDs. An obvious lack of critical thinking, and an obvious lack of understanding of the market system works. Which is why in these contexts, I always refer to Robert Nozick's rather polemical essay on why intellectuals oppose capitalism:

The MOOC idea is based on a false premise (yes, my opinion, of course) that students go to college for the information and, therefore, if we can provide that for free then that will help a lot towards bringing down the costs. This is why I pointed out in my post that MOOC can work really well only when the students knows how to learn. And most students don't. MOOC might be a wonderful model for lifelong continuing education, but not for the typical undergrad.

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