FINANCING the UNIVERSITY -- PART 2

by Charles Schwartz, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
schwartz@physics.berkeley.edu         April 27, 2000




Part 1 of this new series, which has the title, "A Critique of UC's Planning for Tidal Wave II -- The Question of Cost," (dated March 2, 2000) is available on the Internet at http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz

In Part 1 it was estimated that the University's current plans for Tidal Wave II - accommodating the expected 43% increase in undergraduate enrollments over the period 1998 to 2010 - will cost around $10 Billion. Based upon an informed study of relevant data provided by the University, it was suggested that several $ Billions of this public money could be saved, without harming the core of academic quality, by modest re-adjustments in the present overall balance between research and teaching in the University's utilization of the faculty. This is a heretical idea and I expected that UC's leaders would not receive it kindly.

At the Regents' meeting on March 16, this subject was raised by Michelle Pannor, the student member of the Board, and she was answered by C. Judson King, UC's Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs:

Pannor: "[I]t has been observed that the faculty teaching loads are actually... rather low in comparison with our ... comparison universities. So I was wondering if you could address that.... if you could relate to us any discussions that have been going on about increasing course offerings and if there has been any discussion about faculty teaching loads and staff increases."
King: "Sure. Let me start by saying that it is not true that our teaching load is low in comparison with our comparison eight or other comparable group of universities." [He then went on to talk about plans for summer session.]

It is surprising to see such a flat-out denial by Provost King, since the data which I cited in Part 1 - showing that faculty teaching loads at UC are low in comparison to our peer institutions - come from an official report to the state legislature which was produced last year by King's own office. A second response to Regent Pannor was given by Professor Lawrence Coleman, the faculty representative at the Board of Regents:

Regent Sayles: "Professor Coleman, would you comment on the faculty view?"
Coleman: "Certainly. The faculty teaching loads are essentially at the national norms... The teaching load of a professor of physics at Davis, the teaching load of a professor of physics at Harvard or Michigan or Minnesota are essentially the same. And that's true by discipline. Bigger differences are by discipline. But all of those teaching loads are essentially at the national market."

Now it happens that Professor Coleman is a physicist, like myself, and so I can interpret the word "essentially", which he used three times in this reply. When we say that one thing is "essentially the same" as another thing, we mean that the two things are not identical but the difference between them is insignificant. In Part 1, after looking at the University's official data on faculty teaching loads, I concluded with the estimate that "UC faculty courseloads are, on the average, around 20% lower than those at our comparison universities." That 20% difference may appear to some people as too small to be of any significance. But that is not so, as I shall now explain.
 


The Concept of Leverage

When we look at the division of faculty teaching duties between undergraduate courses and graduate courses we find that it is just about 50-50. One older source of data on this question was cited in Part 1 (after my Table 5); and a recent source of data is the same UCOP document referred to above, "Undergraduate Instruction and Faculty Teaching Activities...", dated 3/99. Tables 2 and 3 of that document present the latest tally of Primary Classes (lecture and seminar courses) taught throughout the University by Regular-Rank Faculty (appointments in professorial titles, excluding health sciences and visiting titles and those on sabbatical leave). For the academic year 1997-98, the average number of Primary Classes per FTE was 5.0 quarter courses when all levels of instruction, undergraduate and graduate, were counted (Table 2); when they counted only undergraduate instruction (Table 3) the number was 2.6 quarter courses per FTE, just about one-half of the total.

This implies that we have a leverage factor of 2 in seeking to increase faculty productivity in undergraduate teaching. By this statement I mean the following: If we increase overall faculty teaching loads by X percent and direct all of this increased effort to undergraduate courses, then we have increased the faculty's undergraduate teaching by 2X percent.

Thus, taking the numbers given above: a 20% increase in the average UC faculty teaching load could provide a 40% increase in undergraduate course offerings without adding any new faculty members. That pretty much solves the challenge of Tidal Wave II, at a tremendous saving in cost, without significantly compromising the quality of UC as a premier research university!

Is this a fantasy? No. Is this an oversimplification? Yes.

What about the plans for an increased number of graduate students at UC? See the discussion in Part 1, which explains the desirability of large student-faculty ratios in the PhD programs, where most of the graduate students are.

Won't we need more Teaching Assistants to serve the increased number of undergraduate students? Yes, that is correct, but they are much much cheaper than regular rank faculty members.

Looking again at the same UC report cited above, we find another striking pair of numbers. Table 1 gives the total count of all Primary Classes taught at UC in 1997-98 as 46,085, while Table 2 gives the same number as 25,218 when they count only courses taught by Regular-Rank Faculty. This means that nearly half (45%) of all Primary courses are taught not by the Regular-Rank Faculty but by temporary faculty on the staff at UC. [Note. These numbers do not count the many discussion sections and laboratory sections of lecture courses, which are taught by graduate student teaching assistants.] Who are these other teachers? They are mostly Lecturers, plus a small number of Visiting Professors and other titles, who are hired on a per-course basis to teach (mostly) undergraduate courses throughout the University. These temporary faculty are, I am sure, fully qualified to teach the courses for which they are hired; and they cost the University a great deal less money.

Does this new data on temporary faculty imply an additional leverage factor in looking at Tidal Wave II? The answer to this question is not clear to me. But what is clear from all this discussion is the need for UC officials to undertake a thorough, detailed, quantitative study of a variety of new options in planning the future staffing and financing of the University. This advice enlarges my recommendation to the Regents stated at the end of Part 1.
 


The Value of Research

The proposals put forward in Part 1 and further discussed above do involve a shift - albeit a small one - away from research and toward teaching in the overall balance of faculty work within the university. Such a reduction in research time implies a potential cost (to society) which should not be neglected, but it also should not be overblown.

When I mention the idea of some increase in teaching loads to one old friend and colleague, he responds, "Well, if you want to reduce the university to the level of a state teachers' college, ..."; and I cite this to indicate the extreme level of sensitivity among faculty to this subject.

University research is awfully important; and it is awfully difficult to measure its value quantitatively. What is the right balance between research and teaching? What is the proper teaching load for faculty at a research university? Let me start with some historical perspective.
 

  • From an article in Business Week, October 29, 1990, p.63:

  • "When Donald P. Jacobs joined the faculty of the B-school at Northwestern University as an assistant professor of finance in 1957, he was required to teach nine courses a year. By the time he had become dean in 1975, the teaching load had shrunk to only six courses, to allow faculty more time for research. Today, the average is four courses a year."
     
  • My own field of physics became the leader in low teaching loads for research faculty after the second world war, responding to the market created by the DOD and the defense industry.

  •  
  • In recent years, molecular biology has jumped into the lead, responding to the market created by the NIH and the biotechnology industry.

  •  

     

    Not long ago, chatting with a high level university administrator, I commented that over the years faculty teaching loads had always gone down; but maybe soon they would need to go up. The response was, "I just hope it doesn't happen on my watch." I cite this to indicate how loathe our academic leaders are to thinking outside of the box.

    Tidal Wave II represents a new market force; and there are other phenomena on the horizon which deserve the attention of UC's planners. (See Part 3).

    Another way to approach the issue of re-balancing research vs. teaching within the university is to ask the question, Is all research equally important?, the answer to which is self-evident. Here are some others' observations.
     

  • Derek Bok (former president of Harvard) in, "The Cost of Talent", The Free Press, 1993, page 171.

  • "[S]urveys consistently show that a majority of faculty members believe, even in selective research universities, that the number of articles and books published, rather than the quality, is the principal criterion for awarding tenure. So long as this belief persists, many faculty members are likely to devote more time than they should to research simply to compile longer lists of publications to impress appointments committees."
     
  • Donald Kennedy (former president of Stanford) in a speech to his faculty, March 6, 1991, called for

  • "significant changes in the process of appointment and promotion, so as to decrease the pressure on the quantity (not quality) of research production ... The overproduction of routine scholarship is one of the most egregious aspects of contemporary academic life: it tends to conceal really important work by its sheer volume; it wastes time and valuable resources." [Quoted in Martin Anderson, "Impostors in the Temple," Simon&Schuster, New York, 1992, page 83.]
     
  • Malcolm W. Browne (senior science writer for the New York Times) reflecting on his career in NYT February 27, 2000, Week in Review section, page 7.

  • "...[S]cience floods the world with discoveries of variable quality -- unhappily, the overwhelming majority of scientific papers fall into the category of junk science ..."

    The best policing of research quality is that done by the faculty members themselves; what the university should do is move away from the "one size fits all" (i.e., research first) habit of the past, giving more respect and reward to faculty members who take above-average interest in undergraduate teaching.
     


    Conclusion

    In these first two papers, I have shown that it is (intellectually) feasible to chart a very different course in the University's planning for Tidal Wave II; and the proposals I have outlined have the virtue of saving several $ Billions of public money, while preserving UC's essential academic quality. However, it is unlikely that such reasons, by themselves, are enough to persuade this large institution to change its plans; much inertia sits on the present course. In the subsequent paper (Part 3 of this series) I plan to address some further practical motivations that the faculty and administration ought to consider.
     



    Correction: In Part 1, UC's "marginal cost of instruction" per FTE student was given as $8,533/year; the correct figure is $10,267/year, as found in the report of the Legislative Analyst. With this correction, my estimate of $9-13 Billion for the total cost of UC's plan to accommodate Tidal Wave II becomes $10-13 Billion.