Posts Tagged ‘academy’

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That, unfortunately, has been the question at the University of Southern Maine for the past two years.

Fortunately, after a long series of faculty and student protests against the administration’s attempts to engage in significant “eliminating, retrenching and/or reshaping academic programs” at the university, the American Association of University Professors has delivered a forceful rebuke to the stated rationale and procedures of the program cuts and faculty layoffs that have been imposed.

Among the investigating committee’s findings:

1. There is “no plausible reason to conclude that USM is facing a financial disaster—or significant financial distress of any kind.” In fact, the committee suggests the university should be expanding, not cutting, its academic programs and staff.

2. In making the program cuts and laying off faculty members, the university administration “ignored not only AAUP-supported governance standards but also its own published statements.”

The AAUP as a whole now has to consider the report and decide on whether or not to officially censure the university. Meanwhile, the faculty union has taken the university into binding arbitration.

According to Susan Feiner, President of the USM chapter of the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine union,

The USM Chapter of AFUM is distressed by the impact of administrative actions on students and public higher education in Maine. At USM, dozens of courses that were to be taught by full-time fully qualified professors were cancelled. As a result, students have been unable to enroll in courses needed for degree completion. We are concerned that the administrators have instituted piecemeal, arbitrary changes to program graduation requirements. Furthermore, we are worried about the educational consequences of doubling the permitted enrollments in some classes, effectively eliminating the ability of faculty to review writing and work individually with students.

In addition to the findings noted above the AAUP report notes that USM administrators repeatedly ignored faculty offers to work with the administration to help solve budgetary, revenue, and enrollment problems. . .

The USM Chapter of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine (AFUM) welcomes this report. We agree with its findings. We note that many administration actions cited in the report also constitute violations of the faculty’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the University of Maine System.

Clearly, the battle over the fate of the University of Southern Maine is not over. But the AAUP’s investigation into the financial and governance issues surrounding the austerity measures imposed by the administration at Southern Maine will clearly resonate in many public colleges and universities across the country where similar attempts at “eliminating, retrenching and/or reshaping academic programs” are being enacted.

The findings of the AAUP point in a different direction: to opening up the books, creating and respecting forms of shared governance, and expanding academic opportunities for working-class students in public higher education.

stress

We’ve all seen it among our students: their stress levels are way up.

The sense that, over the past decade, students are feeling more stress is confirmed by the latest report on first-year college students from the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA [pdf]. 34.6 percent of the students surveyed reported that they are frequently overwhelmed by all they had to do. According to the Huffington Post [ht: ja], that is up from 24 percent in 2005.

Only half of last year’s freshmen consider themselves “above average or better” in emotional health, continuing a skid from 63 percent in 1985 and 54 percent in 2005.

Denise Hayes, president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors in 2011, theorized at the time that the declining emotional health was connected to financial pressures.

“College tuition is higher, so they feel the pressure to give their parents their money’s worth in terms of their academic performance,” Hayes said then. “There’s also a notion, and I think it’s probably true, that the better their grades are, the better chance they have at finding a job.”

Think about it: workers are increasingly stressed on the job, and when they lose their jobs. And college students are increasingly stressed by the prospect of paying for their education and finding a job.

Clearly, there’s something seriously wrong with the way workers—who have jobs, who have lost jobs, or who have yet to find jobs—are being stressed out today.

Perhaps then we need to transfer that stress to those at the top to accept a radically different set of educational and economic institutions.

Higher-Ed Ladder Fig. 6

According to a new study by Demos, the major cause of the rise in college tuition costs is not, as is often believed, administrative bloat or construction binges, but the decline in state funding for higher education.

In the past, state funding for education often rose and fell along with the economy: since higher education funding is viewed as “discretionary” spending, it is often a target for cuts when states are forced to close recessionary holes in their budgets. However, in the past decade, state funding for higher education has diverged from that trend. Six years after the great recession, state higher education funding per student remains 27 percent below its pre-recession level. Unfortunately, declining state support for higher education means that many students today have no choice but to take on significant debt to finance their educations, the negative effects of which are increasingly evident in young people’s lives.

The fact is, public higher education in the United States no longer exists. Because more than half of core educational expenses at “public” 4-year universities are now funded through tuition, a private source of revenue, they have effectively become subsidized private institutions.

Addendum

Higher-Ed Ladder Fig. 2

The other interesting piece of information in the Demos study is the enormous increase in part-time faculty. As Figure 2 shows, the number of employees per thousand students changed little between 1991 and 2011. But the composition of universities’ staff has changed dramatically. At both types of institutions, the relative number of full-time faculty has remained approximately constant and the number of executives and administrators has actually slightly decreased relative to the size of the student body. However, both types of institutions are employing substantially more part-time faculty (as well as professional staff—admissions and human resources staff, IT workers, athletic staff, and health workers). At the same time, the relative number of non-professional staff—workers providing clerical, technical, skilled craft, or maintenance services—shrank dramatically.

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. . .and students go on food stamps.

According to a new report by Moody Investor’s Service (cost: $550), the richest American universities are getting even richer.*

The coffers of the nation’s 40 wealthiest universities, including Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Michigan, are filling at a faster rate than those of other schools, thanks to particularly strong investment performances and generous donors, according to a report to be published Thursday by Moody’s Investors Service.

“It’s really a tale of two college towns, if you will, or cities,” said Karen Kedem, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody’s. “Looking ahead, the expectation is that this [gap] will only widen.”

The 10 richest institutions held nearly one-third of total cash and investments at four-year schools in fiscal 2014, while the top 40 accounted for two-thirds. Wealth was concentrated among elite schools at similar rates before the financial crisis, but the gap shrunk as top schools lost big on more-volatile investments in 2008 and 2009.

They have more than recovered since then. Schools on Moody’s top-40 list saw assets grow by 50% between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2014, significantly outperforming other schools with strong credit ratings but smaller asset bases.

Meanwhile, with tuition skyrocketing and wages remaining stagnant, more and more students are forced to rely on food stamps.

the price of tuition has risen 1,120% between 1980 and 2010. Tuition at four-year public colleges has gone up 25% since 2007. Many students are forced to choose between low-wage jobs to help pay for tuition and unpaid internships for credit to build experience in their chosen field.

Colleges, aware of the financial troubles their students face, have begun opening food banks on their campuses. In Massachusetts, 12 of the state’s 29 public college campuses operate pantries, according to the Boston Globe, and about 200 colleges nationwide now operate pantries, reports the Wall Street Journal.

It’s no surprise then that on Wednesday, Fight for $15 campaign organizers expected students from 170 campuses to join in what was the largest US protest by low-wage workers.

“It’s important for students to be involved because even if we aren’t working for McDonald’s or Walmart, we are still on McDonald’s or Walmart type of wages,” Robert Ascherman, a student activist from NYU, told the Guardian on Wednesday. He says some students have to choose between buying food or buying textbooks.

From 2001 to 2010, the percentage of US students on food stamps has more than doubled to 12.6%, up from 5.4%, according to a 2013 analysis by Philip Trostel, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine.

*Here are the lists of the ten wealthiest private and public universities in the United States:

universities universities-public

Disclaimer: I relied on food stamps in graduate school, until the Reagan administration cut back the program. I now work for one of the 10 richest private universities in the country.

David Simonds cartoon showing oil firms preparing for mergers

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There is no doubt, for those of us who work in and around institutions of higher education, that the university is dying.

Terry Eagleton has been making that argument for a long time. Now, he’s making it in the Chronicle of Higher Education [ht: ja], with his characteristic incisiveness and wit.

Eagleton’s argument is about the death of the British university but much of his analysis holds for the United States as well.

Universities, which in Britain have an 800-year history, have traditionally been derided as ivory towers, and there was always some truth in the accusation. Yet the distance they established between themselves and society at large could prove enabling as well as disabling, allowing them to reflect on the values, goals, and interests of a social order too frenetically bound up in its own short-term practical pursuits to be capable of much self-criticism. Across the globe, that critical distance is now being diminished almost to nothing, as the institutions that produced Erasmus and John Milton, Einstein and Monty Python, capitulate to the hard-faced priorities of global capitalism.

Much of this will be familiar to an American readership. Stanford and MIT, after all, provided the very models of the entrepreneurial university. What has emerged in Britain, however, is what one might call Americanization without the affluence — the affluence, at least, of the American private educational sector.

But Eagleton, I think, focuses a bit too much on the decline of the humanities, as if English and art departments were the only source of critical thinking. Better, it seems to me, is to identify and analyze the crisis of critical thinking across the length and breadth of the university—in economics as well as English, anthropology alongside art. Critical thinking in all the disciplines is disappearing as “Philistine administrators plaster the campus with mindless logos and issue their edicts in barbarous, semiliterate prose.”

The death of critical thinking in and across all its disciplinary forms is the real death of the university.