Ohio: Where Graduation Rates, Teaching Loads, and Administrative Bloat Have Become Part of the Debate about the State Budget

Testimony of John McNay, Ph.D., President

Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors

Before the House Finance Subcommittee on Higher Education

Representative Cliff Rosenberger, Chair

March 6, 2013

Chairman Rosenberger, Ranking Member Ramos, and distinguished members of the Higher Education Subcommittee:  my name is John McNay and I am President of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).  The Ohio Conference AAUP represents nearly 4,500 college and university professors at both public and private institutions of higher education across the State of Ohio.  I am also a professor of American history at the University of Cincinnati where I teach courses on the Cold War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. I’ve published books and articles on the Cold War.

The mission of the Ohio Conference AAUP is to promote the greater social good that comes from a dynamic, active professoriate – professors being the backbone of quality education and research in higher education. To achieve that goal, we work to preserve and advance academic freedom – the right to engage in good teaching and important research without fear of being terminated for political reasons; and to promote shared governance, so that important decisions are made with the input from those with the expertise to make good decisions and from those who must carry out those decisions in the best interests of students and the general public.

I come to you today to share the thoughts and opinions of the Ohio Conference AAUP regarding House Bill 59, the state budget bill.  My comments will focus on three key topics: the new State Share of Instruction (SSI) formula, the provision pertaining to faculty teaching loads, and the problem of administrative bloat at our public institutions.

First, on the issue of the proposed SSI formula, my organization is not opposed to the idea of rewarding colleges and universities based primarily on graduations and course completions.  However, no faculty were consulted in development of this plan and so I would like to bring to your attention what we believe to be potential unintended consequences of this outcome-based funding approach.

Over the past 15 years or so, there has been a national trend in higher education of administrators overriding faculty-given grades.  Not only does this violate academic freedom, but it also calls into question what kind of value a grade or a degree holds if it was not earned.  The trend, as documented by reports in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, appears to occur mostly with student athletes and students on the cusp of graduating.  Some of our faculty unions’ collective bargaining agreements contain language that prohibits administrators from overriding grades; however, this is not the case at all of our public institutions of higher education, particularly the ones that do not have faculty unions.  We fear that the new SSI formula could encourage this kind of behavior, thus undermining academic freedom and the quality of education.

Next, I would like to address the language in the budget that would require universities to increase the teaching load for full-time faculty by one additional class from the previous academic year, if the university chooses to create or modify a workload policy.  While the language in the bill is “permissive,” it is quite inflexible.

This provision fails to take into account the myriad of factors that determine how much teaching faculty are assigned.  Universities are complex organizations, consisting of different colleges, schools and departments, each with different missions. Teaching loads at our universities have been carefully crafted to allow faculty to carry out these distinctive missions.  For example, at my college, UC-Blue Ash, the state’s oldest and largest regional campus, I’m a full professor whose teaching load this term is three sections of World History and an upper division course on the Cold War.  I teach about 100 students per term. But faculty at our College of Engineering and College of Medicine teach fewer classes and have fewer students because they are often engaged in grant-based research, sometimes with commercialization in mind.

Faculty at our state institutions of higher education are huge economic drivers – they bring in millions of research dollars into the Ohio economy every year through grants.  In fact, as state support for higher education has dramatically decreased over the past two decades, faculty research money has helped to replace the lost revenue.  Placing this kind of arbitrary mandate on their workloads will jeopardize that revenue source and distract from their research and innovation.  So while the Administration has identified this provision as a cost-savings measure, it could actually have the opposite impact.

A one-size-fits-all edict from the state will impair the ability of faculty to carry out their distinctive missions and make it difficult to retain our most productive faculty and attract high-quality faculty to come to Ohio. This kind of micromanaging will do more harm than good. To measure faculty purely based on the number of classes they teach would be like measuring legislators based only on the time spent in their legislative chamber – it would fail to take into account their committee work, constituent service, and all of the other responsibilities expected of legislators.

If we are to find solutions and make our public institutions of higher education more efficient and effective, we first have to correctly identify the problems.  One of the most pervasive problems is that universities are spending too much money on unnecessary administration. Even conservative think tanks like the Goldwater Institute have found that “administrative bloat” is the largest factor behind rising tuition costs and waste in higher education.

Using data from the Integrated Post-Secondary Data System (IPEDS), Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum, Professor of Economics at Wright State University, has calculated that for all two and four year public institutions of higher education in Ohio, between 1987 and 2008, spending on instruction and academic support increased 179 percent. In contrast, spending for institutional support and student services (mostly administrative spending) increased 270 percent over the same period. Ohio’s institutions are spending far too much on administrators and not enough on instruction.

We often hear that universities’ costs are so high due to the labor (e.g. faculty) that they have to employ.  Yet the IPEDS data reveals that Ohio’s institutions spend around 20 percent or less on instructional salaries.  Administrators outnumber tenured and tenure-track full-time faculty by a nearly two to one ratio.  If you include all full-time faculty, the ratio is closer to one to one; but think about that: our universities are employing as many administrators as full-time faculty.

Administrative bloat is amounting to an administrative tax on our students.  HB 59 would allow institutions to raise tuition by two percent, but what will our students be getting for their money?  More administrators?

While there is widespread agreement on the problem of administrative bloat, there has not been a whole lot of discussion on solutions, until recently.  Former University of Cincinnati President Nancy Zimpher, now Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, has a plan to shift five percent of administrative costs to instructional spending. That would seem like a good start.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I would be happy to answer any questions that the committee may have.

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