This is an op-ed written by John McNay, president of the Ohio Conference, and published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Gov. John Kasich’s task force on affordability and efficiency in higher education released its recommendations to the General Assembly recently, and the results were to be expected. The task force was headed by Geoff Chatas, Ohio State University’s chief financial officer and the architect behind the Ohio State parking privatization deal, so it is no surprise that one of the key recommendations is to have colleges and universities lease or sell what the members of the task force refer to as “non-core assets” and “non-academic operations.”
Chatas nearly left OSU earlier this year to take a position with the investment firm that now leases the university’s parking system. As eyebrows were raised at the seeming impropriety of such a move, he changed his mind.
Chatas, who last year made $773,579 and received a $1 million bonus merely for staying at OSU for five years, did not at all address in this task force one of the most agreed-upon cost drivers in higher education: administrative bloat-–the exponential growth in the number of administrators and their salaries.
Mr. Chatas said he had chosen to stay at OSU because he wanted to help find creative solutions to the problems facing higher education. Unfortunately, there is nothing creative about selling off assets constructed at taxpayer expense.
The other recommendations generated by the task force appear to be either an expansion of practices institutions already engage in, such as joint purchasing, or other things that have been discussed for years, such as a reduction of duplicative programs.
Outside of Chatas and the four legislative members, the composition of this task force was head-scratching: a former bank CEO, a president of a managed care company, and a senior vice president and CFO of a construction company. That’s it.
To some extent, we can understand why people with knowledge about finance, health care, and construction were invited to be involved, but that does not explain why not even a single faculty member or student was included. On March 18, I sent a letter to Gov. Kasich about faculty participation on the task force and included a copy of the policy report that my organization had released earlier this year.
In my letter, I said, “The report explores the issues of declining state appropriations, administrative bloat, athletics spending, and other factors that are causing the price tag of earning a degree to rise. I think you will find that faculty can offer a unique perspective in addressing these issues–issues that might not get addressed at all if a faculty member does not have a seat on the task force. In terms of process selection, we recommend that you allow the Chair of the Ohio Faculty Council–an arm of the Board of Regents–to choose a professor to serve in this capacity.”
We received no response from Kasich’s office. And indeed, none of the aforementioned areas was tackled by the task force.
The way our universities are being managed is deeply concerning. The primary mission for our universities is instruction and research. Yet, less than 24 percent of our university budgets is being directed toward employing faculty. By contrast, about 40 percent is being soaked up by administration. The median base salary for a university president in Ohio is just under $500,000. If one adds in their car allowances, deferred compensation, bonuses, mansions or housing allowances, and so forth, many of them are getting close to, if not more than, $1 million in total compensation.
At the University of Cincinnati, more than half a billion dollars has been spent on sports facilities over the last 10 years, but the university, $1.2 billion in debt, has chosen to defer millions of dollars in needed maintenance, and some of my regional campus students have attended classes in trailers.
At the University of Akron, the board of trustees unbelievably spent nearly $1 million renovating the president’s home while laying off staff.
An FBI criminal probe at Wright State University for alleged mishandling of work visas has led to the departure or demotion of three administrators so far.
Bowling Green State University spent a half million dollars on a consultant to tell it how to solve a $3 million deficit. At Ohio State University, the foundation has paid more money to fund managers than it has spent offering scholarships to students.
The list of boondoggles goes on and on. In this context, it is nothing short of stunning that this affordability task force would suggest that further auctioning off of taxpayer investments within our university system would be appropriate.
If the governor and other leaders in state government want to make our institutions more affordable and efficient, they need to talk to faculty–-the people who carry out the central missions and who will be there long after trustee appointments expire and high-ranking administrators move on to even more lucrative appointments. Until then, we’ll keep on seeing misguided solutions that do little to make our institutions affordable or efficient. Students and taxpayers deserve much more substantive and serious solutions.
The op-ed is available at: http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/10/why_no_professor_on_gov_kasich.html
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