by Megan McLaughlin, CFA Pres.,
[delivered at Feb. 15, 2010, Teach-In/ Common Action Day]
Universities originated in medieval Europe—as guilds (something like a union) of scholars, who banded together for self-protection and self-regulation. The word “university” comes from the Latin word universitas—which means something like ”the whole,” or, more concretely, “all of us.” I hope you will excuse this little excursion into my area of expertise, medieval history. The point I am trying to make is simply that universities have always been groups of people with a shared love for knowledge and teaching, working together to promote those goals. A university is, by definition, a unifying force, bringing together those with shared values. The real tragedy of the current situation is not the fact that “all of us” need to tighten our belts, but the ways in which it is dividing us from one another. Whatever else this Common Furlough Day and the three others that are scheduled for later this spring do, I hope that they can remind us of our underlying commonalities and our desperate need to work together to save the university and public higher education in Illinois.
Having called for unity, I am now going to say a number of things that will sound pretty divisive. My excuse is this: most of us are already thinking these things. So the time has come to say them out loud and take action to correct them, so that we can restore our common purpose. I would like to preface my criticisms by saying that they are NOT intended as a personal attack on either President Ikenberry or Chancellor Easter—both honest and honorable men. The two of them have inherited a mess not of their making. But if that mess is largely the fault of the State legislature, it has certainly been made much worse by the actions of the university administration over the past ten years. So now it is up to Ikenberry and Easter to correct their mistakes and help us get the university back on course.
One of the buzz-phrases of the administration’s response to all financial problems over the last few years has been “shared sacrifice.” When the furlough policy was announced, President Ikenberry emphasized that he and other highly-paid administrators were taking ten days of furlough, while the rest of us were only taking four. I applaud that action—I really do. But does anyone here believe that sacrifice is ACTUALLY being shared? Budget cuts are clearly hurting some folks much more than others. The ones suffering the most are our students whose tuition goes up and up and up—apparently without end–and the hourly workers on campus, some of whom have been laid off, while many others have had their hours, and thus their wages cut. Faculty members and academic professionals have seen salaries that don’t keep pace with inflation, and now actual pay cuts (the term “furlough” is, of course, just a euphemism for “pay cut”), but we’re not really hurting—at least not yet. But what about the administration? Are they making their share of the sacrifice?
The answer is: it’s hard to tell, because we don’t have budget transparency at this university. We desperately need information about the budget that we can trust, and we just don’t have it. Worse, years of secrecy about university budgets have eroded any trust we may once have had in administrators. Yet in the current crisis, we are apparently expected to rely on those same administrators to bring us out of this situation with both our finances and our values intact. How can we do that when the administration’s track record is so dubious? These are the folks, you will remember, who gave us the Banner system and Global Campus.
Given that history, I decided last week to do a little preliminary reconnaissance in the budgetary jungle, looking, in particular, at administrative costs as they’ve changed over the past ten years, between budget year 2000 and 2009. This is a very complex subject, and I am about as far as one can get from being an expert in this area, but I would like to share some preliminary results with you. Let’s start with administrative salaries. It turns out that our Chancellor’s salary rose nearly 70% during the period in question. That of the Vice President for Technology and Economic Development (on whom more later) rose about 38%. This in a period when salaries for graduate employees, academic professionals and permanent faculty, for contingent faculty and hourly workers, were stagnating.
But there’s much more to the story than that. Not only are administrative salaries growing rapidly, but the number of administrators is multiplying. The Office of the Chancellor had ten administrators associated with it in 2000; by September, 2009—when service workers were already being laid off—there were nineteen, and the total amount of salary money designated for administrators in the Chancellor’s office had tripled. Things were even more exciting in the office of the Vice President for Technology and Economic Development. It was a new office in 2000, with only two administrators associated with it; by 2009, there were 37. Spending on salaries in the Office of the Vice President for Technology and Economic development increased ELEVEN-FOLD between 2000 and 2009. Just a month after furlough language first appeared in our contracts, the Board of Trustees approved paying out over $4,000,000 in total salaries to that office—in other words more than one fifth of what the university originally claimed it expected to recoup from its furlough policy (their numbers have since changed). Now frankly, I just don’t see the “shared sacrifice” in these figures. Of course, I’m only a medieval historian, and not an accountant, and I don’t know much about the finances of higher education. Perhaps cutting back on administrators and their salaries wouldn’t really help very much in our current crisis. One thing I am pretty sure about, however, is that INCREASING administrative spending, especially at this rate, is not going to do the trick.
That’s why the Campus Faculty Association is forming a new “Faculty Watchdog Group on Administrative Costs.” The Executive Committee of the CFA is overstretched at the moment, and none of us is a financial expert—so please, if you do have any expertise in these areas, considering helping us with this important endeavor.
Let me now turn briefly to the subject of “shared governance,” in particular as it relates to an issue I am calling “mission creep.” Long, long ago—back before 1999—the mission of the University of Illinois was threefold: teaching, research, and service. That’s what faculty were hired for; that’s the basis upon which they were given raises and awarded tenure. But in 1999 rumblings began to be heard in certain quarters of the administration about a “fourth mission”—economic development. At first, apparently, this was seen as just one form of service, fitting into the traditional threefold mission model. Gradually, though, it took on a life of its own—as witness the creation of the Office of the Vice President for Technology and Economic Development. So far as I can tell, the faculty were never consulted about the addition of a new, fourth mission—it just occurred. And of course, if they were never consulted, they could play no role in defining “economic development.” Does it, for example, mean “development from the bottom up”—programs for empowering the poor to get ahead economically? Does it mean support for small businesses, the ones that produce most of the jobs? Don’t be silly. For the administration, “economic development” means providing resources for corporations—preferably big corporations of the type that you find at the Research Park, or high-tech start-up companies that will take technologies developed at the U of I and make them profitable.
Well, it would have been nice to be consulted about whether we wanted our university to take on supporting corporations as a new mission. But it would have been even nicer to be consulted about the next step, which involves re-allocating scarce resources, in a cash-strapped university, away from programs that don’t serve this bogus fourth mission. Allow me to quote from the budget request currently before the state legislature. The Budgetbook submitted in November, 2009, repeatedly lists four missions for the university, the fourth being “economic development. It then states: “The University of Illinois must [add] capacity in the areas of highest enrollment demand and those of greatest economic development promise. It is essential that additional reallocation accompany these incremental advances . . .” In short, more money will be provided not only to programs with high enrollments (fair enough, perhaps), but also those of “greatest economic development promise.” And that money will be taken from other programs, which presumably offer less economic development promise.
Now this is not entirely new. For as long as I’ve been at the U of I, professors in some fields have been paid more than professors in others. But it was never an explicitly and publicly stated policy; and it never threatened our research and teaching, it never threatened our STUDENTS the way it now does. Under this new policy, if you’re a student in engineering or business administration, you’ll have to pay a higher differential tuition, but you’ll get relatively small classes, more teaching assistants, the latest in classroom technologies, state of the art laboratories, and extensive career counseling services. On the other hand, if you’re a student in social work or special education, in history or English or mathematics, in theater or ethnomusicology, you’ll have more trouble getting advice about requirements because your department only has one advisor for hundreds of majors; you’ll have trouble getting the class you need to graduate because a professor has retired and hasn’t been replaced; you won’t be able to finish your term paper because the library is closed during the only times when you’re not working two jobs to pay for college; and you’ll have to get your letter of recommendation from a professor who only knows you as part of a class of 150.
This is not in the future—it’s already happening, right now. But that doesn’t make it acceptable. A university is—by definition—all of us. We can’t allow a small number of misguided administrators to distinguish the worthy few from the unworthy majority. For make no mistake about it, most of the faculty on this campus will fall into the unworthy category, the category of those who don’t have much “economic development promise,” those who “merely” educate our students to be informed, engaged citizens and productive members of society. It’s time for our colleagues in the senate to take a stand against “mission creep.” It’s time for the rest of the faculty to support them by writing to the administration and the board of trustees about this pernicious policy. It’s time for students to reassert their right to a world-class, affordable education. And when April 21 rolls around, it will be time for all of us to get on the bus to Springfield, to insist that the legislature properly fund OUR University.