FINANCING the UNIVERSITY -- PART 3

by Charles Schwartz, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
schwartz@physics.berkeley.edu             July 3, 2000

>> This series is available on the Internet at http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz
 
 

SUMMARY

The UC President's office has issued a formal response to the study and proposals contained in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Examining that letter is very instructive and leads to important insights about the alternative policy choices available in UC's financial planning. Next, we take a look at some new external forces that lie ahead.

In recent years, a variety of experts have been predicting two categories of emerging threats facing higher education: online education and other new technologies of instruction; privatization, coming from a growing public and governmental reluctance to pay the high costs of universities in their current operating habits. The response of the leaders of the University of California has been hardly discernible, especially as they plan for the expected enrollment growth called Tidal Wave II.

In this paper, I shall give a (superficial) survey of these evolving challenges, consider their financial impacts upon UC in the years to come, and integrate this (r)evolutionary scenario with the particular analysis and suggestions given in the earlier Parts 1 and 2 of this series. The minimal conclusion is that a strategic posture for the University that is "faculty-lean" rather than "faculty-fat" will be most prudent.
 
 

Response from the UC President's Office

A May 30 letter from C. Judson King, UC's Provost and Senior Vice President - Academic Affairs, gives the administration's official response to my earlier papers, Parts 1 and 2 of this series; and this new material proves to be very instructive. (For the full text of Provost King's letter, see Letter #5 on my web site or the appendix to the hardcopy version of this paper.)

Provost King, writing on behalf of President Atkinson, rejects my proposals to save several $Billions in UC's planning for Tidal Wave II: "Your suggestion of providing only 1,000 new faculty for 63,000 new students would seriously undermine the quality of the education UC offers its students," and this conclusion is based entirely upon a discussion of the University's overall student-faculty ratio in the past, the present and the future. Such an argument is rather astonishing, since a major portion of my Part 1 was devoted to a study of the many different student-faculty ratios one can find at UC, showing that there is little, if any, logical connection between the University's overall student-faculty ratio and the concept of quality of education.

Provost King's letter should be understood, however, as a bureaucratic rather than an intellectual response to my papers. Much of the text in his letter appears to have been cut-and-pasted from the latest version of The Regents' Budget (see http://budget.ucop.edu/budget/200001/tc.html especially pages 40-41 and 49-50), which is prepared by UCOP under the direction of Vice President Larry Hershman. The University's overall "student-faculty ratio" may be a statistical fantasy, lacking intelligence or logic, but it has worked well for UC officials in securing a series of generous appropriations from the Governor and the Legislature in recent years. Thus, UC's top officials cannot afford to acknowledge this nonsense.

In an April 27 cover letter to President Atkinson (see Letter #4 on my web site) I specifically asked "that you and your staff review these two papers of mine in critical detail and let me know of any faults you may find." It is very significant, therefore, that Provost King's letter in response contains no mention whatsoever of any number, fact, analysis or conclusion contained in my Parts 1 or 2 that they consider to be either inaccurate, misleading or unjustified. I take this as authoritative confirmation of the validity of my work. Let me list here the main quantitative findings:

a) The cost of UC's plans for accommodating Tidal Wave II will amount to $10-13 Billion over the next decade; and most of that money will be spent to hire and support an additional 3,000 faculty members.

b) Actual student-faculty ratios at UC vary enormously from class to class, from department to department, and from one student level to another. For graduate students, in fact, higher quality of a campus correlates with a higher student-faculty ratio.

c) Faculty teaching loads at UC are about 20% lower, on the average, than those at our comparison institutions.

d) Almost half of the primary classes offered throughout the University are taught by temporary faculty (Lecturers, etc.); of the primary classes taught by regular-rank faculty, half are undergraduate courses and half are graduate courses.
 

While the President's staff have found no fault in my papers, I have found a few statements in Provost King's letter which appear to be erroneous or misleading:
 

  •  "...increasing the University's student-faculty ratio ... would put us in a non-competitive position with regard to recruitment and retention of faculty."

  • Faculty considering a position in a research university are not much concerned with overall student-faculty ratios but rather with their assigned courseloads and the time they would be expected to spend in teaching rather than in research. Both of these considerations were discussed in detail in my earlier papers.
     
  •  "We are working with the State to find cost-effective ways to provide a high-quality education for the anticipated increase in students and are exploring the use of summer sessions as well as off-campus sites to minimize capital expenditures."

  • In a recent report (http://www.ucop.edu/planning/yearroundreport2000.pdf), UC acknowledges that the cost savings derived from those measures amount to $200-240 Million over the next decade. The cost savings implied by my alternative suggestions are at least 20 times greater!
     
  •  "The University's faculty have worked hard to provide required courses and to sustain interaction with undergraduate students. The average 1997-98 primary-class teaching load has increased 12.1 percent since 1990-91."

  • Examining the source of this data (http://www.ucop.edu/planning/uginstruction99.pdf Tables 2 and 3) I find that this 12.1 % increase in overall primary-class teaching per regular-rank faculty breaks down as follows: a 5% increase in undergraduate classes and a 22% increase in graduate classes. So this statistic is really one more example of the higher priority given by faculty to the graduate program rather than to undergraduate students.

    The conclusion from this exchange of papers and letters is that there are two viable planning schemes for the University to accommodate Tidal Wave II while maintaining its academic quality. UC's present plan has the advantage of being easier to implement - i.e., no change in existing policies - but it incurs a very large cost to the State in the commitment to provide for 3,000 additional faculty members. My alternative plan has the advantage of saving the State several $Billions in cost over the next decade, and to accomplish this it requires a small readjustment in the balance of faculty workload between research and teaching.

    Bringing about the changes of this alternative plan would require some effort by an enlightened leadership within the University - of which I can see no evidence at the present time. Let us consider, next, some external developments in the coming years that might change this picture.
     
     

    Dire Prediction #1: E-ducation

    Electronic computers have been a major part of my whole professional life, as a tool of research in theoretical physics since the 1950's and as a tool of teaching in large physics classes since the 1980's; and I have always sought to use them in creative ways. Yet it is only recently that I have begun to acknowledge the emerging Digital/Information Age as a phenomenon which is transforming much of this world, and will have a major impact upon the sub-world of higher education.

    For starters, I quote from two recent articles on the New York Times' Op-Ed page.
     

  •  Thomas L. Friedman (NYT's Foreign Affairs columnist), November 17, 1999:
  •    So what comes next? With the first phase of this wall-destroying Internet revolution -- the e-mail and e-commerce phase -- now fully under way, I posed that question to John Chambers. Mr. Chambers runs Cisco Systems, which makes the routers that run the Internet. ...
       ''Education,'' said Mr. Chambers. ''The next big killer application for the Internet is going to be education. Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail usage look like a rounding error'' in terms of the Internet capacity it will consume.
       What will drive it will be the demands on companies, in an intensely competitive global economy, to keep improving productivity. E-learning, insists Mr. Chambers, if done right, can provide faster learning, at lower costs, with more accountability, thereby enabling both companies and schools to keep up with changes in the global economy that now occur at Net speed. Schools and countries that ignore this, he says, will suffer the same fate as big department stores that thought e-commerce was overrated.
       If universities move properly, they will offer the ideal combination of online and instructor-led learning, argues Mr. Chambers. But if universities don't reinvent their curriculums and how they deliver them, for an increasingly Net-driven economy, many students, particularly in information technology fields, ''will go to schools online,'' he says. ...
       Although the technology exists today, this revolution will take about 10 years to be fully in place. But, insists Mr. Chambers, ''it's coming next.''

    _ _ _ _ _


  •  Arthur Levine (president of Teachers College, Columbia University), March 13, 2000:
  •    Today's pace of economic, social and, above all, technological change has put higher education in danger of falling behind again. And this time, pressures from outside are likely to force those of us who shape the academy not only to adapt our institutions, but to transform them.
       In the decades after World War II, higher education was a growth industry. Governments around the world, eager for better educated populations, supported it with few questions asked. Today it is a mature industry, and in return for continuing support, through direct funding, grants and student aid, government is asking a good many questions. How much should faculty teach? What's the appropriate balance between teaching and research? How much should it cost to educate a student? Should we have lifetime appointments for faculty? Why aren't graduation rates higher? Why does it take students so long to graduate?
       Once higher education could simply add new activities to the old, but the current wisdom is that it must do more with less. We in academia must figure out what is really critical to us and what we are willing to give up. ...
       The rise of online education and other new technologies has enormous implications for all of us. Textbooks are dying. We're moving to learning materials that can be customized for the students who are in our classes. There won't be any excuse for those of us who are still using yellowed notes to teach our courses year after year. ...
       Many countries built systems of higher education based on propinquity, trying to build a campus in easy proximity of every citizen. How long will it be before nations ask why they have so many campuses? How long before they ask higher education to request new technologies, not new buildings? This is where growth of the private sector in higher education comes in.
       In the United States alone, higher education is an industry with revenues of $225 billion, and that is causing the private sector to look at postsecondary education as a potential target for investment.
       One corporate entrepreneur recently told me: "You know, you're in an industry which is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and you have a reputation for low productivity, high cost, bad management and no use of technology. You're going to be the next health care: a poorly managed nonprofit industry which was overtaken by the profit-making sector."...
       I recently saw a list 30 pages long, single-spaced, of for-profit firms that have entered higher education internationally.
       Not long ago a questioner at a conference asked what my biggest fear was. I answered: "I think in the next few years we're going to see some firm begin to hire well-known faculty at our most prestigious campuses and offer an all-star degree over the Internet. So they'll take the best faculty from Columbia, Oxford and Tokyo University and offer a program at a lower cost than we can."
    ...
       The trend is a convergence in knowledge-producing organizations: publishers, television networks, libraries, museums, universities. The head of technology at a large publisher told me recently, "We're not in the book business anymore." When I asked what business he was in, he answered: "We're in the knowledge business. Our big focus now is teacher education. We're using television and we're using computers, and we're in thousands of schools. We want to put our brand name on professional development for teachers."
       The "content people," he went on, "are on staff, not at universities." As for credits and degrees, "we're working on that," he said.
       In the years ahead, every knowledge-producing organization will begin to produce similar kinds of products.
       Those of us in higher education have a small amount of time to stop and think. What is the purpose of higher education? How shall we continue to accomplish it? Not to answer these questions is to make a profound decision, by default, about our own prospects for the future.

    _ _ _ _ _

    For more academic views on this topic, the reader may refer to the list of Readings provided by Berkeley's Center for the Study of Higher Education at the web site  http://media2.bmrc.berkeley.edu/projects/satherconf5/readings.html  Among the dozen accessible articles listed there, I particularly recommend these three for the breadth of their perspectives.
     

  • James Duderstadt (former president of the University of Michigan), "Transforming the University to Serve the Digital Age" (1998) -- he is alarmed.

  •  
  • Gerhard Casper (former president of Stanford University), "Come the Millennium, Where the University?" (1955) -- he is sanguine.

  •  
  • William F. Massey and Robert Zemsky (two prominent academic scholars specializing in the study of higher education), "Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity" (1995) -- they are practical.
  • Some other authors on this list (Bates, Twigg, ...) report on the experiences of people working with the new technologies to restructure university education.
     

    The prevailing attitude at UC appears to be something like this: "The new information technologies will not replace faculty and will not reduce the cost but they will allow us to enrich the quality of the education we offer." I wonder if we should be so complacent.

    The simplest notion is that of a videotaped series of lectures by an outstanding professor which could be made available to students via the Internet. The next step up is a well developed multi-media production, where the lecture is linked to many resources - reference texts and images; examples and demonstrations both static and animated; exercises, applications and self-quizzes - which are relevant to each topic covered in the course. This not only provides the students with a rich collection of information which is immediately available but also puts more of the control and initiative in the students' own hands. Add to this online communications student-to-student and student-to-teacher for discussion, advice and evaluation. Learning will be greatly advanced, say the enthusiasts for the new instructional technologies, and the current practice of so many professors delivering their lectures, year after year, to a room full of note-taking students fades into history. This is indeed a revolutionary vision of higher education.

    The commonest response of faculty members is, "No, you cannot have meaningful education without the direct human interaction between teachers and students." (For a stimulating series of papers on this challenge, see David Noble's "Digital Diploma Mills," available at http://communication.ucsd.edu/dl/index.html ). It seems, so say the experts, that some form of human contact will probably be necessary to complement the packaged course, no matter how technologically sophisticated the latter might be. But what form might that new mode of teaching take? In the large research university we now have Teaching Assistants who provide the close human contact for students in the discussion and laboratory sections of our large lecture courses; and one can readily imagine some modified version of that teaching activity in the brave new world of online education. Will the research professor be expected to take on that role, one-on-one in small groups of undergraduates, acting as an intimate mentor rather than a remote lecturer? If not that role (and imagine how time consuming that would be), what will become of the teaching job of UC's faculty?

    At the leading research universities, like UC, one can expect many faculty members, aware of these developments, saying that this digital revolution in higher education may have a great impact on lesser institutions, but not here; we provide a product that is so unique in quality that it cannot be mechanized (digitized). Let's consider this. At the level of graduate study, this confidence would appear justified. (Although we note that Stanford University now offers a completely online Masters degree in EECS; and the professor who developed that course is the incoming president of Stanford.) At the other end of the spectrum - teaching the introductory courses that fill the lower division of undergraduate study - we should recognize that most of what we do here differs little from courses offered at 4-year colleges and even at accredited community colleges. So it appears unrealistic to believe that UC will be immune from the digital revolution; only the full extent of its impact is uncertain.

    Some of my colleagues may relish the idea that in not-so-many years the onerous job of teaching undergraduates will be entirely taken over by intelligent technologies assisted by graduate student teaching assistants or other temporary teachers; and this will leave them, the permanent faculty, free to concentrate all their time and energies on research, which is what they do best. At this point I ring a little bell and remind the reader of the central topic of this series of papers, the Financing of the University. Those who pay the salaries of faculty at a research university - state legislators and/or undergraduate students and their parents - do so first and foremost on the grounds that we provide a top quality undergraduate education. It is in this nexus that I see the greatest instability and danger for the University.

    Perhaps the most prestigious private universities (Harvard, Stanford, ..) will be able to survive with little change, since it is likely that there will always be customers willing to pay an exorbitant price for a "designer label." However, for the public research universities, UC being preeminent here, this threat to future financial viability should be considered very seriously.
     
     

    Dire Prediction #2: Privatization

    When one hears talk about privatization around this university it is usually in connection with biotechnology research (as in the recent contract between UC Berkeley and Novartis Corporation) or the management of medical centers (as in the recent failed merger of UC San Francisco and Stanford University hospitals). The subject I want to raise here has to do with the basic educational operation, as a new array of ideas and attitudes about public funding are evolving across this country. My primary source here is a recent seminar given at Berkeley's Center for Studies in Higher Education by James R. Mingle, former Executive Director, State Higher Education Executive Officers. The following is a sketch of the emerging scene for public higher education.

    The outstanding features of this new privatization are:

  •  A new entrepreneurial attitude at state governing bodies.
  •  Promoting private, rather than state, support.
  •  Vouchers or student tax credits are on the table at the state level.
  •  Eliminating boundaries - giving students more flexibility of choice.
  •  Stressing private benefits to students - undercutting the rationale for public support.
  •  Not chained to stability - willing to take risks in new experiments ("charter universities"?)
  • These developing attitudes toward higher education arise in the context of wider social-political-economic trends: de-regulation of service industries, restructuring of business and reinventing government, increasing economic efficiency and customer choice through greater competition. Higher education is seen as a large and growing industry, essential to the new "knowledge-based" economy; and there is a lot of for-profit capital out there. All these forms of privatization come at the loss of a sense of the public interest or a public mission for institutions; and they often lead to widening gaps between the "haves" and the "have nots" in society. Internally, the shifts from a producer-driven to a consumer-driven industry will have a drastic impact on most faculty. (For more detail, see the article by J. R. Mingle and R. M. Epper in Marvin W. Peterson et al, "Planning and Management for a Changing Environment - A Handbook on Redesigning Postsecondary Institutions," Jossey-Bass (San Francisco) 1997.)

    Again, one expects a response that these changes may affect other segments - community colleges and four-year colleges - but not the elite research universities. I suggest that the University of California should not be too confident about maintaining its privileged status. Elsewhere, I have heard that some in Sacramento are interested in the idea of breaking up the UC and CSU cartels in favor of a free-market competition for public funding of higher education.
     

    The two sets of dire predictions discussed above - new technologies and new attitudes about public funding - work to reinforce each other. They do not merely add as challenges to the status quo, they multiply each other's potential for dramatic change in the operation and financing of higher education.
     


    Prudent Planning for UC's Future

    One cannot know the future but one is obliged to scope out a range of likely possibilities and make plans using all available intelligence. The University of California's present planning for the next decade, as discussed in this series of papers, appears to present an extremeset of assumptions:

    a) That new instructional technologies will have no significant impact upon UC's educational operations;
    b) That emerging trends of privatization in higher education will have no significant impact upon UC;
    c) That the current generous level of state funding, and funding increments year-to-year, will continue unabated over the next decade; and therefore,
    d) UC should stay tied to the current budgetary formulas involving the numbers of students, faculty and dollars.

    Why criticize that approach? "Get while the getting is good," is the operative ethic throughout this society. Let me point out some reasons why this approach may hurt the University, even in terms of its narrow self interest, over the coming years.

    The key variable in my alternative analysis and suggestions is the number of permanent faculty employed by the University. This number is the primary factor determining the cost of accommodating Tidal Wave II; and this number is connected in a very particular way to the balancing of faculty workload between research and undergraduate teaching. If one allows that either of the dire predictions discussed above may become significant in the years ahead, then one would expect to have to adjust UC's present plans in the direction of fewerfaculty members. If economic conditions worsen and the state cannot afford the full bill which UC presents for accommodating Tidal Wave II, then the same imperative holds: teach more students with fewer professors.

    In the private sector, when economic conditions require a company to downsize, employees are just laid off and business goes on. At the university it is quite another story because of the issue of faculty tenure, the violation of which may ruin the institution's academic reputation irreparably. Even the weaker measure of a freeze on hiring and letting retirements reduce the size of a faculty can cause serious damage to a research university because the continual infusion of new scholars is so vital.

    What is important to remember about my analysis in Parts 1 and 2 is that UC is in a very fortunate situation, with the leverage factor and the faculty teaching load discrepancy, which would allow downward adjustments in faculty employment while still maintaining the quality of this research university. In order to make use of this "reserve" capability, however, it is necessary to start early and to move gradually in that direction - from a profile that is "faculty-fat" to one that is "faculty-lean". This requires a major change in policies and a very different character of leadership from that which govern UC now. Furthermore, what is needed is more than educating and moving faculty members' attitudes and habits; there is also the question of public opinion and legislators' confidence in UC's management. Their bent for bureaucratic nonsense, as shown in Provost King's letter, only harms the University's credibility.