Governor’s faculty workload policy fails to address real higher ed problems
by Sara Kilpatrick
John Kasich doesn’t think professors work hard enough. Don’t take my word for it; just look at the two budgets he has introduced since taking office. In 2011, Kasich’s initial budget called for full-time faculty to teach one additional class every other year…with no end date. The language was so ill-conceived and poorly crafted that it garnered support from no one, and was quickly removed in the Ohio House. But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. In his latest budget, Kasich included a little noticed provision that says colleges and universities can create workload policies for full-time faculty if they don’t have one, or they can modify their existing ones. However, if the institution chooses to do either, it must require its full-time faculty to teach one more class than they did in the previous academic year. So while the language appears to be flexible, in reality, it is not.
One might wonder what this kind of one-size-fits-all, micromanaging policy is doing in a budget bill. In last Saturday’s Columbus Dispatch, Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols made it clear when he said “It helps universities save money. It’s pretty simple.” Unfortunately, it is not that simple. University professors have a myriad of responsibilities outside of the classroom. To measure faculty productivity purely based on the number of classes they teach would be like measuring Kasich’s productivity by how much time he spends in the Governor’s office. Outside of the classroom, faculty: advise and mentor students, advise and mentor junior faculty, participate in search committees and hiring processes, conduct research, write grants, publish books and articles, work with community groups, and the list goes on.
While the administration thinks that this will save money, it is not considering the costs. For instance, requiring faculty to teach an additional class will restrict their availability outside of the classroom for students. At a time when the administration is calling for a new State Share of Instruction formula based on outcomes (e.g. graduations and course completions), it would be limiting the time faculty can spend advising and mentoring students to aid their success. Additionally, this proposal would limit the time faculty spend on research. Over the last two decades, as state support for higher education has been cut in nearly every budget, faculty have helped make up part of the lost revenue by bringing in research dollars. Moreover, this workload directive will make it less likely that Ohio universities can attract high-quality faculty in the future, as well as make it difficult to retain existing faculty. This will exacerbate the challenges we in Ohio shortly will face as an unusually high number of faculty retire ahead of the changes to the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS).
The real problems with higher education costs are being misidentified. We always hear that university costs are so high because of the labor they have to employ (professors), yet according to data obtained through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), instructional salaries account for only about 20 percent of spending at Ohio’s universities. Administrators outnumber tenured and tenure-track faculty by nearly two to one. If you include all full-time instructional faculty, the ratio is closer to one to one, but think about that: there are as many administrators at a university as there are full-time professors. This trend of ever-growing administrations has been well-documented and referred to as “administrative bloat,” but what it really amounts to is an administrative tax on students. Then there is the deficit spending of universities’ athletic departments. Only Ohio State has a self-sustaining athletic program. Kasich’s budget will allow universities to raise tuition by two percent, but what will students be getting for their money? More administrators? New athletic facilities?
Instead of micromanaging faculty workload, perhaps our elected officials should be requiring universities to find administrative efficiencies and invest those cost-savings into instruction. This idea isn’t crazy. In fact, former University of Cincinnati President Nancy Zimpher, now Chancellor of the SUNY system, is implementing a plan that will shift five percent of universities’ administrative spending to instructional spending. It is time for state leaders to ensure Ohio universities get back to their core instructional mission instead of arbitrarily overburdening those who carry out that mission.
Sara Kilpatrick serves as Executive Director of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors.