John T. McNay, a professor of history at UC-Blue Ash, is president of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors. The following op-ed appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer on September 28 and is available at: http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/09/28/opinion-bloat-driving-uc-miami-costs/16410479/
We appreciate the column by David Hodge, president of Miami University, and Santa Ono, president of the University in Cincinnati, in the Aug. 29 Enquirer. They touted results from a poll commissioned by the Inter-University Council (IUC), and we are equally encouraged that Ohio voters so strongly support higher education and funding it. We agree with Hodge and Ono that higher education is critical for the future prosperity of Ohio. However, their editorial stopped short of how to address the most pressing problems Ohio’s public higher education system faces.
We applaud the efficiencies that Hodge and Ono mentioned because there is work to be done. In a U.S. Department of Education survey released recently, Miami ranked as the most expensive public university in the nation when student aid is included. Ohio State took ninth place and UC was 16th. We cannot ignore the fact that administrative bloat – the huge growth in the number of administrators and their salaries – is one of the key drivers of college costs.
Too often, rather than streamlining administration, universities have turned to eliminating faculty positions and academic programs to cut costs. Prime examples are last year’s effort to eliminate 100 full-time faculty positions at Bowling Green State University and the proposal to eliminate 55 academic programs at the University of Akron. By contrast, Ohio University President Roderick McDavis recently received an 8 percent raise, making his annual salary about $465,000 with an $85,000 bonus.
Amazingly, his pay remains less than average for an Ohio public university president.
On average, the costs of salaries and benefits for faculty make up less than 30 percent of the budgets of our universities. And yet there are about as many administrative positions as there are faculty. Too often our universities are focused less on instruction – the reason the universities exist in the first place – and more on real estate development, sports management and enhancing administrative staffs.
A strong faculty is the backbone of any university. But consider the fact that at universities statewide, much of the undergraduate teaching is done by adjuncts who outnumber full-time tenure-track faculty. These hard-working, dedicated, part-time faculty members are paid $2,500 or less a course. They often have no office space and rarely receive benefits. Instead of focusing on hiring more full-time faculty that are available on campus to help their students and have resources to support their teaching and research, too often administrators are hiring adjuncts on the cheap. Students, who are paying thousands of dollars to be in those classrooms, should ask where their money is going.
The IUC poll indicated that 57 percent of Ohio voters believe their taxes are reasonable or too low. It is time for the state’s college and university presidents to stand up to Gov. John Kasich and say that tax cuts are hurting the state’s ability to fund higher education, and that the long-term decline in funding must be reversed. Unless there is a renewed commitment to higher education from the state, institutions are going to keep pursuing privatization schemes to raise revenue, like the fool-hardy leasing of the OSU parking system, that only succeed in passing additional costs onto students. The lack of commitment to higher education funding is inhibiting access and affordability, which is the whole point of having a system of genuinely public universities. Ohio’s colleges and universities have been on a path from state-funded, to state-supported, to merely state-located.
We want our students to be employed when they graduate, but the mission of an institution of higher education is to educate-–to help create an educated citizenry capable of critical thinking. We must not confuse higher education with job training. If we invest in affordable and accessible education, we will have the well-rounded, skilled graduates we need to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow. Better choices by university and political leaders about expenditures can directly address these problems.