Higher education is ground zero for America’s ongoing culture war. But the battle to control the political tilt of the curriculum obscures another equally vital struggle: the contest between administrators and the faculty over who will define what higher education is today and how it will develop tomorrow.
The bad news is that here in Massachusetts – as indeed throughout the nation – bureaucrats are winning. This has two clear cut implications: student costs will continue to climb while the on campus intellectual climate declines.
To see this dynamic in action, look no further than the UMass system.
Consider Laura Krantz’ recent report in the Boston Globe that because of unanticipated budget shortfalls, the UMass Boston administration recently announced a cut in subscriptions and volumes deemed essential for teaching and scholarship by the faculty.
The cuts, the Globe reported, were made without consultation with faculty members. Equally destructive will be the reported $22.3 million budget shortfall for this year, “driven,” Krantz reported, “by rising payroll and construction costs.”
Rising payroll? It is highly unlikely that this item includes paying for additional professors or granting munificent pay raises to current faculty.
This past June WGBH/News reported that “scores” of adjunct (part-time, non-tenure track) faculty members – fully one-third of the faculty at UMass Boston – received warnings that they might not be rehired due to lack of funding. Larger classes were predicted, one emeritus professor warned.
And it is unlikely that money is being siphoned off to maintain the physical plant: The same WGBH/News report notes that the campus parking garages have been crumbling for decades, with netting installed to prevent falling chunks of concrete from injuring people. That a campus essentially 40 years old is in need to such major reconstruction is a political scandal of serious proportions. (For this the current administration can not be blamed.)
So where is the money going? The entire UMass system has lately expanded its handsomely-paid bureaucracy. Martin Meehan, former Congressman and now president of the UMass system, has been publicly pleading for the Legislature to allocate more funds. Yet Meehan himself exemplifies a big part of the problem – a growing and increasingly expensive administration. According to theGlobe, Meehan earns annual compensation of at least $769,500, including salary, annual performance bonuses, and car and housing allowances. It is easy, and doubtless part of the explanation for administrative bloat, that in a public university, administrators proliferate because of the ever-present thirst on the part of legislators, who approve institutional budgets, to pad payrolls with politically-connected individuals.
Of course, one might say, administrators are essential for the operation of any university. But when the size and duties of campus bureaucracies are examined, qualms arise. Consider, for example, UMass Amherst’s recent hiring of Eric Moschella as the school’s “first associate provost for student success.” Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye and Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Carol Barr made the breathless announcement: “He will play an instrumental role in overseeing the strategy and framework to student success, working closely with campus partners on critical initiatives.” None of these “initiatives” were further described in the announcement.
It is no wonder, then, that in late December the UMass/Lowell adjunct faculty, who are part-timers paid by the course, protested in front of the UMass Club in Boston, demanding better salary and benefits. But all of this ignores the reason so many adjuncts are hired in the first place – they are much cheaper than the corps of permanent tenured faculty around which most universities historically have been built.
Indeed, adjuncts nationally have been replacing tenured faculty at a frantic pace: According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), adjuncts and other contingent faculty made up around 70 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities in 2011. Tenured faculty has become the exception, not the rule.
In the same issue of the Globe that reported the funding cuts at the UMass/Boston library, the letters column sported a missive by local human rights activist, author, and Holocaust scholar Jack Nusan Porter, who taught courses at UMass/Lowell between 1977 and 2003, complaining that at the current minimum salary of $4,400 per adjunct course, he could not afford to teach there any longer. “Why,” he asks, “is there no money for adjuncts?” In other words, while the numbers of permanent tenured faculty are reduced, the adjunct teachers who replace them are being paid increasingly poorly.
The answer to Porter’s “why?” question likely lies in a comprehensive count of the massive bureaucracy now found on the various UMass campuses and in the central administration run by Meehan. But to my knowledge, nobody has released such a count, nor is that likely to happen.
As college bureaucracies grow, the failure, or refusal, of campus administrators to consult tenured faculty on major decisions has dire consequences for educational quality. Consider a column recently written by Daphne Patai, a long-time professor in the Department of Language, Literatures, and Cultures at UMass/Amherst. (Disclosure: Professor Patai and I serve together on the Board of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a campus civil liberties organization.)
Professor Patai complained that the administration announced to the faculty, without prior consultation and bypassing the Faculty Senate, major changes to the curriculum that would have required students to take a third “diversity” course, thereby further limiting the number of traditionally academic courses in which they might enroll. After faculty outcry, the administration backtracked. Nevertheless, that the administration would announce such a change to the curriculum without first consulting the faculty is alarming.
Fewer books, fewer tenured professors, more bureaucrats: It does not augur well for the future of higher education as we know it.