Making the Case for Our Values

The following letter was published in the Toledo Blade this past week. It was written in response to a seemingly well intentioned and fairly thoughtful op-ed on the increasing tuition and fees being paid students and their families, which unfortunately suggested that faculty compensation and the leverage provided by unionization were among the main culprits:

“In response to your March 20 editorial “Rethinking student loans”: I agree that college costs too much. Our students should not have to go into debt to get an education that ultimately benefits all of society. State legislatures shortchange our future with every dollar they cut from public education.

“I take issue, however, with your claim that “the rise of faculty unions and increases in professors’ pay” is one of the “sources of runaway college costs.” In fiscal year 2014, the total salaries of the 600 union faculty at the University of Toledo was approximately $50 million, which amounted to less than 10 percent of the total operating expenses for the academic side of our university.

“If you wish to examine the sources of runaway college costs, I suggest studying university administrative bloat, the overbuilding of the physical plant, and university investments in commercial ventures, none of which contributes to any reduction of the cost of college.

“Linda Marie Rouillard

“Editor’s note: The writer is an associate professor of French at the University of Toledo and a former president of UT’s faculty senate.”

I am reprinting Linda’s response here not only because it makes an important point about costs but because it makes an important point about what we need to do as advocates for faculty and students.

Very often we see these kinds of items in our local newspapers, on the websites of local television and radio stations, or on blogs and other websites, and we mutter to ourselves—or say something more sharply and loudly—and then forget about it. It is extremely important, however, that we instead take the few moments that it requires to make not just a response but a thoughtful and a concise response.

We let the Far Right fill too much of the public “space” with their talking points without any challenge, and then when there is a legislative or a ballot issue that cannot be left unchallenged, we end up expending tremendous resources fighting it—usually much more resources than the Far Right expends promoting or defending it. A very telling chart presented at a recent political-action conference, which came to me by e-mail after being passed through an e-mail chain, shows that Progressives outspent the Far Right by 40% to almost 100% in each of the last three election cycles, and most of that spending was defensive—that is, to defeat Far Right ballot initiatives, rather than to support Progressive initiatives or Progressive candidates.

Sometimes, responding to a Far-Right opinion piece requires only a reference to another item published very recently—or even on the same day–in the same newspaper or on the same website. For instance, very close to the publication of the op-ed in the Toledo Blade, a news article was published about a trip to India taken by a group of University of Toledo administrators to a university in India, with which Toledo is offering an MBA program. The administrators were simply attending the commencement ceremonies at which another cohort of students in the program—about 70 students total–were receiving their degrees.

The host institution covered lodging for their guests from Toledo, but the airfare for the half-dozen administrators was $37,000—or slightly more than $500 per each graduating student.

The article does point out that one of the administrators would be giving a talk at an event that weekend. And one of the administrators is quoted on why the expense related to the trip is justifiable: “’I think that I see this as an investment rather than an expenditure. . . . Such visits help ensure the program’s sustainability and creates international connections.”

Indeed, the article presents statistics provided by the university administration that show that the program is profitable:

“The program, which has graduated an estimated 550 to 600 students since its start, is a revenue generator, said Anand Kunnathur, executive associate dean of UT’s business college.

“In the past three years, the program brought in more revenue for UT than it has cost to operate, according to a financial breakdown provided by the university. UT received $434,250 in revenue from instructional fees so far in fiscal year 2015, while expenses came to $189,935.”

I feel compelled to ask why only three years’ numbers are being cited and only one year’s numbers are actually quoted, but I’ll focus instead on some other information that the article provides:

“Dr. Jacobs, who stepped down as president June 30 before his contract expired, will accompany the group in an ambassadorial role, he said. His travel cost will be picked up by the president’s office and not from the up to $15,000 in travel reimbursements he was allotted under an amended contract trustees approved in June.

“That agreement provided for the reimbursement of ‘reasonable travel and lodging expenses’ during Dr. Jacobs’ fellowship with the Council on Competitiveness in Washington, in addition to a $392,700 a year salary for three years, a one-time $150,000 payment, and other benefits.”

Anything above very minimal increases in faculty compensation inevitably raises eyebrows and suspicions, if not outright complaints or charges, that it is “excessive.” But if that same amount of revenue is being directed at administrative compensation, it is justified as “market-driven” or coming out of some “other” pool of money.

So, if this article had appeared before, rather than after, the op-ed to which she responded, Linda Rouillard might also have asked the op-ed writer if he had any idea what Lloyd Jacobs’ retirement deal would represent if it were parceled out in raises to all of the faculty at the university. Knowing just the total number of faculty at the University of Toledo and the salary averages in Ohio, I suspect that it would amount to a raise in the 1.5% to 2.0% range—and one could emphasize that such a raise would apply to the salaries of the entire faculty.

We need to ask the public how it benefits anyone’s education that a university president gets a very lucrative retirement package. Again, if the timing had been different on the op-ed in the Toledo Blade, Linda might also have pointed out what the president’s retirement package amounts to as a per student cost. For instance, if the president is receiving roughly $1.2 million in that retirement package and there are roughly 25,000 students enrolled at the university, the cost per student would be $48 per student. That might not seem like much, but one can make a reader visualize each of the 25,000 students having to hand over that amount in cash—something like the passing of the collection basket at church but being done at the university convocation. Now there’s a visual that might make administrative bloat seem like something more than just “class warfare.”

We need to explain to the public that, at most institutions, only one in five dollars paid in tuition is being allocated to the salaries and benefits of faculty.

We need to emphasize to the public that large numbers of part-time faculty are paid poverty-level wages and provided with no benefits whatsoever.

We need to emphasize that the money that is coming out of students’ pockets or out of their future earnings is paying for two-thirds of everything now—that they are directly supporting tax cuts to the most affluent that have reduced state revenues, an unnecessarily expansive bureaucracy in our colleges and universities, heavily subsidized intercollegiate athletics programs, and in some instances, grandiose campus construction projects paid for much more through bond issues than by donors’ gifts.

And we need to do this repeatedly and tirelessly.

One of the ways to insure that it gets done is to recruit a faculty member at each institution in your state to monitor the local media and to make such editorial responses to stories that are skewed to Far Right talking points. At every institution, there are faculty members who are voracious consumers of the daily news. Those are the faculty to target for this task. And if they feel that something warrants a mass response or that the frequency of their responses is undercutting their credibility, they can always recruit a few like-minded colleagues to help.

The full article is available at: http://www.toledoblade.com/Education/2015/04/02/UT-will-send-6-to-India-for-convocation.html#CWw268uSoApMygGt.99

 

2 thoughts on “Making the Case for Our Values

  1. To underline your point: We need to help the public be much more aware of how many undergrads are taught by contingent academic labor and what that means for academic curricula and undergraduate learning and education. A lot of image problems for academics to overcome.

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