Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thinking about the Delaware budget and higher education

[Sub-title: Dana, this one's for you]

This afternoon my employer, Delaware State University, makes its pitch at the Joint Finance Committee. I don't usually blog about DSU because of potential conflicts of interest and my position as faculty union president.

But sometimes you just have to go with what you believe.

I suspect (I have absolutely no inside information on this) that DSU will put on a presentation that attempts to justify the same level of funding as originally projected, in an effort to avoid anything more draconian than a 3% cut. I suspect that many other agencies will do so as well.

It's no secret that DSU--like a lot of American citizens these days--is walking a tight financial line. I could give details, but that might get me into confidential information--just go read the newspapers and public documents if you are really interested in the numbers.

I have to say, however, that going in today and suggesting that higher education cannot take cuts at least as deep, if not deeper than public education in this State is a dire mistake.

DSU, UD, and Del Tech all possess an ability that the public schools do not have: they can gin up money from other sources: grants, tuition, fees, donations, etc. etc. So point one is that colleges and universities have a better ability to compensate for such cuts than public education--and they need to acknowledge that fact publicly.

Point two: the cost of higher education has been skyrocketing for the past two decades, way out ahead of inflation. I'm not sure why: for the last two decades I have only seen departmental instructional budgets go down, and teaching lines eliminated as the number of administrators go up while more and more millions are spent on sports and branding. Wait, maybe I do know why the costs are increasing....

Colleges and universities in this State need to present evidence of some serious cost control measures before claiming some sort of exemption from the same budget cuts faced by my children's schools. With respect to my own institution, a more cynical observer than me might ask why a university with with about 180 faculty and 3,500 students requires a Provost, two Associate Provosts, six Vice-Presidents, and six deans--or one senior administrator for every 12 faculty and every 234 students.

Point three: without public education functioning, higher education is pretty damn meaningless.

Point four: school districts are now having serious conversations about whether or not they can afford inter-scholastic athletics while cutting services to special needs students. Good for them; it's the right discussion to have. Where is that discussion on the part of higher education in this State?

Point five: if banks and corporations receiving Federal funds are (rightly) to be subject to extreme transparency and even government regulation of salaries, why not State-supported higher ed? Delaware and Pennsylvania are--to my knowledge--the only two states in the damn country which basically exempt state university operations from most FOIA provisions. What the hell? And what about those bloated administrative salaries? Is the General Assembly going to ask Harker, Smith, or George to insure that the top 10 administrators at each institution take 5-10% pay cuts to do their part? [Kudos, by the way, to Harker for getting that ball rolling.]

I expect that if any of my colleagues reads this I will hear about it in a negative way. So be it.

But as recipients of State and Federal funds, colleges and universities in Delaware have an absolute responsibility to conduct their operations frugally, transparently, and in the spirit of insuring that all education in the State is adequately funded.

PS--on a tangential note: dropping the DSTP tomorrow and replacing it with off the shelf assessments to replace our NCLB requirements would save $5 million instantly. And Jack promised he'd do that. Hope we see it.

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