Sunday, July 22, 2012

When Your University Is Out to Get You.

Wayne State University is one of three research universities in Michigan. It has a student body exceeding 30, 000. It has a medical school, a law school, a business school and all the rest of the accoutrements of a major university. It educates many first-generation college students. With its urban mission, it is never going to have the graduation rates of U of Michigan, but tap anyone in southeast Michigan on the shoulder and it is likely they or their family members got a degree of some kind at WSU.

At the same time, the administration has always been at odds with the faculty-dating back to the eighties and a particularly contentious President. The administration sees faculty as employees, not as the bedrock of a university. Not what a university is about.

There are more administrators than faculty and the number continues to grow. As faculty take flat salary increases, the administration averages 9%.

Most, not all, of the faculty is productive. My husband, for example, has written 14 books, over fifty articles (each over 20 pages and in major journals) dozens of book reviews, presented more than a hundred conference papers. He has won awards for his teaching and research, been awarded a Distinguished Fulbright award and so on. Many faculty members have similar records.

Now the university has turned its contract negotiations over to a law firm known for an intolerance of unions. Negotiations have begun with the strong suggestion that the administration intends to possibly eliminate tenure, reduce health, eye and dental care, cut salaries, fire faculty and staff at will. The elimination of tenure would be a first in the country. It is hard to explain tenure to people outside the profession, but if you can be fired without cause, you cannot just go down the street and find another job. Universities don't work like that.

Why not fire professors making high salaries and replace them with recent Ph.Ds? Or how about going to an all online institution? Or use adjuncts to teach every course?

Can you imagine what the chances are that this university will be now be able to attract any quality professors or researchers in the coming years. Detroit is a hard sell anyway. This will make it an impossible one. And all of this comes with a strong union in place although the state's attempts to make this a "right to work" state may abolish it.

Even if this is just a negotiating ploy, the damage to the university's reputation and its ability to recruit top-notch people is permanent.

I always thought that a university had a soul that a corporation didn't share. That educating students was its primary mission. Obviously that is no longer true at Wayne State. I used to be proud of my state and the university where we worked. All of it is gone.

Wayne State's motto, on billboards everywhere, is AIM HIGHER.


A clarification from a better informed source.

While striking out the Board Of Governors Statutes on de-tenuring, which include peer review and due process, the administration team did not strike out Academic-freedom Statute, even though the very statute (Appointments, Tenure, Employment Security Status, Termination and Dismissal Policies and Procedures) they want eliminated states, "Tenure is a means to certain ends, specifically 1. "Academic freedom."

The most important thing about universities is academic freedom. Without the freedom to explore alternative modes of thinking about the world, whether in politics, philosophy, literature, or science, we stagnate and ultimately wither as a society, as a species. To put people on a regime of quantified "production" as if they were turning out cars destroys the intellectual enterprise of a university and damages our students and our future. Not that for a moment we're arguing that people making cars should make less than a living wage with benefits that allow them to live a middle-class life.


Joe Barone said...

A few years ago, our local University (thanks to the state legislature) hired a businessman, not an educator to be president. The whole environment changed. Recently they did away with the University Press and replaced it with staff they can control. Even upper level courses might well be taught by part-time professors now.

I am sad for what is happening in many U.S. universities today.

Anonymous said...

That really sucks, Patti. Any chance Phil can retire any time soon?

Jeff M.

Chris said...

We've had all kinds of problems at out local university as well in the last few years, though not of this kind. Very unfortunate. I'm sorry to hear about what is going on at WSU, Patti.

Chad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chad said...

I wish I could say that your's is an anomaly. It's not. Last year, in the midst of budget cuts and salary freezes, our University President gave himself a $100K raise. I've said before and I'll say it again, if you really wanted to cut tuition costs then you would elimate some of the bloated administration that pulls in huge amounts of cash for doing very very little and has next to no idea what it's like to deal with students on a daily basis.

I only see our state getting worse. This is the last year for our Governor, a man who has gutted education across the board. However, at the end of his term, he already has a new job lined up as President of the other major university in our state. How'd he get that job? Well, he was elected by the Board of Trustees--after appointing 8 of the 10 members to that position

Anonymous said...

Al Tucher said...

It is difficult to explain the necessity of tenure, but unfortunately, the people who are working to eliminate it understand it perfectly well. They know the contribution that tenure makes to free speech and scholarly independence, and that's why they are so hostile to it.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

In India, a lot of schools, colleges and hospitals are increasingly being owned and run by major corporate houses with businesses as diversified as mining and natural gas or power and steel. So far they are doing a fairly decent job, mainly because higher education is still largely under State control, or at least partially so. Most of our universities are affiliated to governments, both at the central (federal) and state levels.

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks for the heads up. I will never recommend this university to anyone, ever, and if this goes through I will look at any of their graduates who apply for positions where I'm part of the equation with suspicion. without good faculty you aren't going to graduate a lot of top candidates for any kind of job.

Deb said...

It's not just at the university level. Our governor (Bobby Jindal, rumored to be on Romney's short list for VP) just railroaded through a slew of so-called "reforms" that amount to nothing more than an evisceration of the teachers' union and a massive giveaway of public funds to private/charter schools. How did we ever get to this point? I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but it's just insane what's going on.

Jerry House said...

It had to happen, I'm afraid. The virus of stupidity has now spread to higher education.

George said...

We're dealing with the same issues at my College: higher healthcare deductibles, larger class sizes, more part-time teachers, etc. Higher education is still one of the things the U.S. still does well. But budget cuts and give-backs are going to reduce colleges and universities here to mediocrity.

Charlieopera said...

Third world, we are there ... unfortunately, none of this surprises me. It's a damn shame and one I suspect will get worse ... and worse.

Capitalism just doesn't work anymore and it's time we had a political party that told the truth about it.

George said...

There are plenty of types of capitalism, Charlie. The type we have right now where hedge fund managers get to make billions of dollars (and pay little or no taxes) while teachers and police and firefighters get laid off is a dysfunctional model. The billion dollar bonus could fund 27,000 teachers for a year.

Ron Scheer said...

Patti, your post refreshes for me every grievance I've had about higher education dating from the 1970s when I was a new teacher and the state of Pennsylvania began cutting budgets in the state college system. It's an old story...And it is a relief to be retired.