BY JOHN T. MCNAY
John T. McNay is president of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors and a professor of history at the University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash. This op-ed appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer and is available here.
Professors at Ohio’s public universities and community colleges acknowledge the determination of state elected officials to find ways to drive down the cost of a college degree. We do not want to see our students financially burdened for pursuing a college education and all of the advantages it provides.
Yet while the mid-biennium budget proposals recently offered by Gov. John Kasich for higher education budget “reform” may seem constructive and innocuous, some serious unintended consequences appear not even to have been recognized, much less addressed. This tunnel vision is in part the result of the absence of faculty input in the development of these sweeping proposals. This is a problem that has plagued Kasich’s approach to higher education since his first year in office.
Faculty are willing to provide needed expertise, yet we were not consulted. Neither was the Ohio Faculty Council – an arm of the state Department of Higher Education. The faculty who do the core work of our higher education system continue to be left out of these important discussions.
This raises the question: Who is being consulted? Taxpayers, students, and parents deserve to know the sources of these continuing proposals that are drastically changing Ohio’s university system, and not in a positive way.
The governor’s proposals misidentify the cost drivers in Ohio higher education, which are: chronic underfunding by state government, misplaced priorities at state universities that spend far more on administration than instruction, the sacrifice of academics to subsidize athletics, and far greater investment in bricks and mortar than in faculty support and development. Instead of tackling these root issues, Kasich’s budget package would circumvent them.
Community college administrations champion the governor’s ideas. It’s not hard to see why: They stand to benefit financially if students are pushed to spend three years rather than two at community colleges, and if these colleges are permitted to award as many as 10 bachelor’s degrees.
But at almost all Ohio community colleges, adjunct faculty teach 60 to 90 percent of courses. Full-time faculty already face teaching overloads. Lower-level course offerings in many academic disciplines, including humanities and social sciences, are limited in comparison to those at our four-year universities.
No one has explained how community colleges will be able to provide high-quality academic programs without a considerable infusion of state funding to expand and develop their full-time faculty. No one has explained why that investment would be more effective or efficient than fuller financial support of the programs already offered by our colleges and universities. And no one seems to have considered the budget impact if four-year universities are reduced to providing one-year completion programs to large numbers of students. It leaves one to wonder whether the governor actually wants a university system?
Ohioans also should be skeptical of Kasich’s proposal to have the state enter into a relationship with Western Governors University – a corporation without any faculty that awards dubious “competency-based” degrees to students. This drive is a strategy to replace faculty and classrooms with standardized exams.
If competency-based credit is to be awarded, to the limited extent where it may be appropriate, those requirements should be developed by each institution, with criteria established by its faculty. Anything else shortchanges students.
In trying to make higher education less expensive, we must not unintentionally cheapen it. There is too much emphasis on degrees, and not enough on education. We want – and the people of Ohio deserve – opportunity and quality in higher education, not simply degree production. State officials must critically reexamine this direction.