15 Ways to Take Your Furlough
#1: “The Birth of the Furlough”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

posted under , , , , by Unit for Criticism

[On January 5, 2010, Interim President Stanley Ikenberry announced a four-day furlough for eligible academic professionals and faculty as a “short-term measure to conserve cash” during Spring 2010. The Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory has commissioned a series of posts entitled “15 Ways to Take Your Furlough.” We have invited contributors from a variety of disciplinary and institutional locales (including some from off campus) to discuss the condition of higher education at the University of Illinois and elsewhere.

The below essay by Lauren Goodlad, “The Birth of the Furlough,” is the first of the series.]

The Birth of the Furlough

Written by Lauren M.E. Goodlad (English/Director, Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory)

Among the many remarkable aspects of the year just passed is the appearance of furlough—as both a noun and verb—on the lips of academics across the land. In Santa Barbara and College Park; Phoenix and Frisco; New Brunswick and Champaign-Urbana, 2009 marked the year when “furlough” penetrated the consciousness of public educators.

The furlough’s advent invites a host of questions and concerns. Who doesn’t wonder what this new-fangled practice bodes for the future of public research universities? For states like California and Illinois? Or even the United States?

One may begin by wondering what a furlough actually is. Is it a gussied up pay-cut, the budget wonk’s equivalent of “collateral damage”? Or is it an appropriate mechanism for stanching the red ink when states are no longer able—or willing—to pay for the services on which they rely?

One may also ponder if it’s actually possible to take a furlough when one already works around the clock, six or seven days a week, and twelve months—not nine!—a year. (How many faculty might actually pay to have an un-furlough—an extra day added to every month in order to meet their publication deadlines, finish grading their papers, prep for their classes, advise graduate students, and do their committee work?) Everywhere I turn I find colleagues asking themselves how to manage their mandated days of non-employment. How should they balance their unrelenting commitments against the commandment not to work? And how should they reconcile their temptation to work on in silence against their awareness that a furlough is no private affair between employer and employee—but a topic warranting sustained public discussion.

On the other hand, a too narrow focus on furloughs risks missing the point. To be furloughed is not simply to endure a one-time floating—or, if you like, filching—to allay the afflictions of one’s cash-strapped state. It is to live through a historical moment: not a four-day fluke but a Furlough Era. On one side of the zeitgeist is an economic crisis precipitated by the deregulated financial system that columnist Frank Rich describes as a “plot to wreck America” more lethal than terrorism . On the other hand is a crisis in higher education which has slowly evolved as states like Illinois have withdrawn support, resulting in successive rounds of budget cuts and tuition increases. The brunt of these changes has long been felt by students in need of affordable education; graduate student employees; non-tenure track instructors; and faculty in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

For students and employees of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (which hosts the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory), the tuition increases we have already seen—which are comparable to those only now being implemented in California—might have presented a manageable (if regrettable) shift toward partial privatization of a once proudly public institution of higher learning and research. Over the last ten years or so undergraduate tuition in LAS has been raised repeatedly (in 2009-10 it is just under $9,500). Meanwhile, the same period has seen permanent budget “assessments” on a yearly basis, including this year’s cash rescission. Why is it, then, that despite the ever greater efficiencies and revenues LAS provides, so many faculty, especially in the humanities and social sciences, have seen so little prosperity in the years prior to the current financial crisis? (We know that one answer is the rising cost of energy; but has that really eaten up the whole of the tuition increases and budget cuts enacted since 2001? And if so, why have the university’s efforts to reduce energy costs been so tepid?)

As many are only beginning to realize, the College’s biggest financial problem is arguably the diversion of LAS tuition dollars to units outside of LAS. In fact LAS generates considerably more than 100% of its operating budget in tuition revenues. When we consider this robust revenue-generating power alongside the fact that LAS relies on the state for less than 20% of its budget, we find that even the 7-10% cut in state funding which we have been told to anticipate ought to present a relatively containable crisis for this ultra-productive academic unit. After all, a 10% cut to less than 20% of the LAS budget means a shortfall of less than 2%. Yet even as I write, LAS administrators are preparing for much deeper cuts of 5, 10, or 15%. Why this discrepancy?

An article by Christopher Newfield in the 2009 issue of Profession suggests one kind of answer . According to Newfield colleges like LAS have long suffered from an unsustainable model of using the tuition dollars generated by low-cost and teaching-intensive programs to offset indirect research costs in other parts of the university. At the public research university Newfield uses for his case study “humanities and social science departments keep only a portion of their enrollment money, about one half and one-third, respectively. The sciences do somewhat better but are not at 100%. In comparison, engineering receives double its teaching workload money. The professional school receives closer to three times its workload money. Were this a medical school, the gap would be far larger” (277). The reason for this transfer of funding from high-enrollment fields with low research costs to low-enrollment fields with high research costs is, Newfield writes, “straightforward, though largely unknown…” High-end research “loses money for universities when one considers the large but underfunded indirect costs that modern research incurs” (277).

At the University of Illinois, diversion of LAS tuition revenues is exacerbated by the inadequate return LAS receives for the teaching it provides to majors in other campus units. While faculty in the humanities and social sciences feel the impact of this invisible subsidization, grad students and non-tenure-track instructors see even less in exchange for the services they provide. Students also bear the costs of these efficiencies as they pay more tuition for less access to the smaller classrooms that many prefer.

This brings us to our present crisis in which LAS, like every other campus unit, must face the shortfalls caused by a delinquent state that isn’t paying its bills on time. Voila le furlough: a “short-term measure for conserving cash” which, according to Interim President Stanley Ikenberry, will generate $17 million. (One might possibly think of it as a tax on university employees in anticipation of the tax increase on all Illinois citizens that our state legislators may enact after their reelections.)

I confess that what concerns me much more than the days of lost pay (much though I regret them) is the mentality of crisis management they may generate. Not the furlough itself, but the furloughisme. The University of Illinois, perhaps unique in the land, is weathering the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression while simultaneously reeling from a crisis of leadership at the highest levels of state and university governance. As the authors of a recent white paper for the humanities note, “The lack of administrative transparency that has characterized the past decade at Illinois has wrought serious damage to all aspects of the university.”

In her brilliant Kritik post last October, history professor Antoinette Burton described this corporate mentality as a “logic of instrumentalization.” It operates by first setting the agenda—articulating “the most important” problems and priorities—and then pursuing that agenda according to its internal dictates. The idea of shared governance with faculty receives lip-service at best. And indeed, how could faculty—or anyone else with a stake in the university’s future—meaningfully participate in governance when access to information is so systematically occluded? Who among us knows the extent of state support which each campus unit enjoys? Knows the budget model used to distribute revenues within and across campus units? Or the rates at which units are compensated for the teaching (“IU”s) they provide? Or the revenues that each unit generates in tuition, research grants, and gifts? Or the ratio between research grants and the share of indirect costs which the university must pick up to make good on these grants?

By far the biggest question that we face right now is this: Is the University of Illinois facing a temporary crisis of state funding or a permanent reduction that requires the reinvention of the university that we know? My sense from the deep budget cuts for which we are now asked to brace is that the answer to this question may have already been decided for us (though by whom it is hard to say). Recent emails from the temporary leaders now holding the bag for the previous administration advise us to “take innovative measures not just to ‘cut budgets’ but to grow revenues and reduce actual costs.” Fair enough. But isn’t that what LAS has been doing for the last ten years? What has it gotten in return for those hard-won efficiencies?

Of course, we must always think creatively and inventively; and there are undoubtedly desirable ways of generating revenue which many might welcome. But what kind of innovations can we reasonably expect if we decide in advance to treat our state like a permanent deadbeat, and to trust our future to a logic of crisis management? The point is not that we may not need or want to innovate and reinvent. But before we rush to introduce contingency plans for a 15% across-the-board cut, shouldn’t we talk about how we innovate and reinvent?

According to the latest estimates, in the last year or so the actual unemployment rate in the United States exceeds 17%. Meanwhile a recent article in the New York Times argues that lack of creativity is what most ails the business culture of today: “students need to learn how to think critically and creatively every bit as much as they need to learn finance or accounting.

What kind of education will the University of Illinois provide to our students to help them create the jobs of future? What will we do for those returning students who need higher education to reinvent themselves in the wake of their permanently furloughed careers? We know that we can offer impoverished programs in the arts and humanities, ever-larger classrooms taught by overworked faculty, and a teaching workforce dominated by underpaid and insecure graduate students and non-tenure track instructors. Is that what our legacy to this state will be?

The costs of 2010’s furlough will be borne by those employees this spring who lose pay for several days of hard work. But the costs of furloughisme at the University of Illinois, and elsewhere, may be borne by the youth of this state and this country. They may be borne by our children and our children’s children.

Let it not be so! I hope that all of us work together, during and after our semester of furloughs, to reject a future dominated by the logic of furloughisme.


Make A Comment


Anonymous said...

Yeah, the University is run on a business model- except for that pesky detail that "humanities and social science departments keep only a portion of their enrollment money, about one half and one-third, respectively." How does no one know about that?!?!

Anonymous said...

Everyone knows it, or I should say, everyone who has stopped to add and subtract and say, "hey, wait a minute?!" Ever since Research 1 institutions, universities and colleges "reformed themselves" into factories, er-r, excuse me, I mean, businesses of higher learning where customer satisfaction is guaranteed, the humanities have been strangled by the model that was sent to save them. Time to reinvent ourselves, I should think.
signed, Anon 2

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lauren, for bringing together so many diverse strands of the reading and thinking we have been trying to do these last months in order to keep up with the accelerating pace of change, locally and beyond. As they require us to further cannibalize our resources, time and energies, University leaders at all levels must lead from conviction rather than fear. They must articulate the mission of Illinois anew, making a robust and compelling case for what we know to be true: that public higher education is an indispensable common good; that research and teaching are inseparably linked to that common good; that efficiencies can be countenanced when they articulate logics of principle and practice collectively agreed upon and when they are distributed vertically as well as horizontally; that faculty expertise and governance are critical to the future of university education; that transparency after the fact breeds mistrust and cynicism; that students facing the future need a variety of competencies, many of which can be “delivered” by a contemporary yet historically mindful and critically engaged liberal arts education; and that there are no foregone conclusions about the fate of higher education unless we submit to them.

Antoinette Burton, History

Anonymous said...

There are many thoughtful and productive alternatives to mere compliance with furlough policies. Teaching students about the history of accessible higher education, for example, the GI Bill, using the opportunity to perform public service with students, and campaigning for the unionization of faculty are among the many possibilities.
Harriet Murav, Slavic and CWL

John Randolph said...

'Furloughisme' -- I love it! (In a love = hate kind of way).

I appreciate this thoughtful piece. Thank you!

One question: do we know enough about U of I finances to say that LAS generates more than it receives -- and that the humanities subsidize high-overhead research -- as Newfield suggests? My understanding was that part of the problem was transparency.

Unit for Criticism said...

Thanks everybody. Antoinette, in the words of the great Tone Loc, "Let's do it." John, I was very careful about fact checking everything in the above piece. It is my understanding that LAS generates substantially more than 100% of its operating budget in tuition revenue. And I've seen figures quite recently which show that tuition revenue makes up roughly 90% of LAS's current budget with most of the rest coming (or due to come) from the state. But the tuition figure that constitutes the 90% is not the whole of LAS's tuition revenue. That is, a certain amount of LAS's tuition is kept back--note that LAS does not collect its own tuition--for a category that I've heard referred to as "overhead." Some of those overheads are for obviously necessary services: e.g., the admissions process. What is the percentage of LAS tuition that goes to overhead? I asked that question and could not be given an answer. How much of that overhead figure, if any, goes to cover indirect research costs outside of LAS (as in the Newfield analysis)? I don't know. But even if the answer were zero--and there is good reason to doubt that since I've not heard anyone criticize the pattern Newfield describes--it's still the case that LAS subsidizes units such as the College of Engineering. That's because the teaching LAS provides to those majors is worth more than what LAS gets in return for it. The latter is a well-known problem and reforms have been under way for several years--but so far with no implementation. Undoubtedly others reading this blog know much more than I do and can perhaps fill in some of the gaps. I'd be very grateful. Thanks again everyone.

Lauren Goodlad

John Randolph said...

Thanks for the reply, Lauren: I asked the budget question not so much because the general proposition sounds wrong -- it sounds right! -- but because it would be great to prove it all the way out, if it is indeed right. Is there some working group that is building a specific white paper on this? I'd be happy to help. Again, I think many of us are thinking in Newfieldian terms now that that essay is out there, but it would be great to see the local specifics worked out as thoroughly and clearly as possible. Who has the best picture of this? The Senate? The CFA?

Anonymous said...

This seems like a fun blog series. I look forward to future posts that discuss the New York Times' several recent articles proposing to make Humanities degrees more "relevant" to particular careers, and especially their controversial statements about ending programs that do not lead to jobs other than teaching that subject. Do we think that these articles are part of that political directive these days to underfund the Humanities? Or, are we being elite/elitist in refusing to be proactive about preparing students for jobs in that cold, capitalist world that we refuse to live in?

I hate to say this and know that it will be unpopular-- but I think that we are acting as foolishly as our Illinois Republicans right now by simply getting mad at the principle of the matter (in our case, Humanities underfunding) rather than embracing this fact—-nicely described here—that we are in a brand new day for academia. Yes, for people in the twilight years of their career, change is a hard pill to swallow. I hate to say it, but many tenured professors would look back fondly on the 1960s and 70s even if these were not years of much greater funding for the Humanities. However, there has also been a lot of positive change for people skilled in reading and writing over the past ten to twenty years (many of which makes this blog possible). Can we also talk about how to capitalize on these gains?

Finally, the idea that “critical thinking” is the most important consequence of a liberal arts education is quite young in the long history of Humanities education. It’s been the consensus (though still not unanimously) for only about 50 years. Less than 80 years ago, scholars in the Humanities were still arguing whether universities ought to be finishing schools or scientific research institutions, places to learn secular theories of political, economic and social behavior or places to learn to be better practicing Christians. Even if the tower of Critical Thinking was one of the greatest monuments built by the academics of the 60s and 70s, let us remember that another monument was toppled in order to build it. When I look at google books, librivox and the meteoric rise of e-publishing this year, I get very optimistic about the future of the Humanities, even if all of this is outside of the academy. Let’s start thinking outside our academic box. And, can I suggest some younger, graduate student voices in this blog series?

Janine Giordano, PhD candidate, History

D. Fairchild Ruggles said...

Thank you for this. As we reflect on what we will do with our mandated, unpaid day “off,” we might consider the following. In my college (FAA), we have been asked to take the furlough in such a way as to minimize the impact on our students, preserving the ideal of excellence in education to which we all aspire. But one of the most profound effects of education can be politicization – the wake-up call to challenge half-truths (such as the eekonomics outlined in the missives from our top administrators) and to recognize that the situation we are in did not simply happen to us but was the outcome of several years of very bad corporate planning for things like a Global Campus (unwanted and nearly unmaterialized) and a half-built and half-funded Research Park. So, can we use our furloughs actively for the purposes of political education?

At a recent meet-the-candidate event, a group of faculty agreed to use the first furlough day to lobby on the Quad in favor of the political candidate of our choice. (Is it permissible to name a candidate on a UIUC blog? U.S. Congress, liberal, pro-single-payer healthcare and sustainability, anti-militarism ... you know who I mean.) I hope many other faculty and staff will join us on the Quad. It will mean agreeing to take our furlough days together, and it will mean using them to exercise the very political voice that the administration tried to suppress during the last election. But according to the Ethics Test, we are absolutely allowed to lobby for political candidates during our lunch hour... or in this case, lunch day.

As an aside, I disagree with the model of measuring LAS’s costs and impact against the other colleges. It is precisely the kind of divide-and-conquer perspective that pits unit against unit, instead of seeking common cause. Furloughs have been assessed equally on the poorest of units (not LAS) and the richest (also not LAS).

Unit for Criticism said...

John, I could not agree more with the importance of clear local analysis: I expect we will hear the call affirmed in several discussions. Although I'm sure the Senate and CFA could be engines behind this analysis my impression is that right now the picture needs filling in. (Note that Joyce Tolliver, Chair of the Senate Executive Committee, will be contributing a post to this series later on this semester so perhaps she will have more to report.) D. Fairchild Ruggles, I agree that we don't need or want any sort of divide-and-conquer attitudes--or narrow fixation on who generates the most "instructional units." On the other hand, if the current model subsidizes high-end research better than, say, new programs in the arts and humanities that is worth looking looking into and talking about, no? Janine, I'm pleased that representatives of the GEO have accepted the Unit's invitation to take part in this series. Please note that Kritik always welcomes submissions on all topics from our many grad student affiliates--from you perhaps? Hang in there too for a few voices in the "15 Ways" series that, while post-phd, are still pre-twilight! LG

Nir said...

If you think humanities are underfunded, then you simply haven't adjusted to where society at large thinks humanities funding should be. What is the benefit to the average taxpayer of the existence of humanities programs? The research these programs do isn't widely read, and it isn't applied. The skills their graduates gain are not hugely in demand. This absurd sense of entitlement that people in the humanities have to the tax dollars of people that actually produce a good or service that other people voluntarily pay for is something I've never understood. I am a theoretical physicist, and the applicability of my work is often questionable. That's why if their wasn't funding for it, I wouldn't whine or complain, but simply accept it and find another line of work. How can you possibly have the gall to complain that nobody is willing to pay you to write a thesis that nobody is ever going to read or use?
The claim that humanities departments are screwed out of their money is laughable. This kind of stuff gets tricky to argue because the university does all kinds of funny internal things keeping track of money. But the reality is that high overhead research is funded overwhelmingly externally by grants, not by the University itself. An experimentalist in physics who stops getting grants literally has no choice but to shut down his lab. Not only that, but whenever professors get these large grants a substantial portion (at University of Toronto, my alma mater, it was 50%) gets kicked back to the University. Plus the university gets another percentage (usually 20%) from spin off companies done by professors. This all adds up to many millions of dollars over and above that departments like physics, CS, bio, etc bring in. In most universities, CS, biology, chemistry, and engineering are the most profitable departments, physics a little less. Most humanities departments are in the red.

Anonymous said...

Nir, the Kritik post is arguing that student tuition pays for the humanities at UI--and even leaves over some for other purposes. Taxpayers don't seem to have very much do it with it. Second, on what ground do you say there is no demand for skills in the humanities? Lots of undergrad majors in the humanities go on to professional degrees. Others teach, go into journalism, advertising, publishing, or other creative work. And lots of UI students take humanities courses while studying other subjects in order to develop that side of their intelligence. Finally, the Profession article by Newfield suggests that the view you present of research grants "kicking back" so much to universities is a myth--because uncovered costs aren't taken into account and these are quite substantial. Did you take a look at it?

John Randolph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nir said...

So, point by point. First off, these are claims coming from a couple of sources that are consistently rooted in the humanities and have a clear agenda. Many aspects of the claims are specious to me. Science is close to a 1-1 ratio of fees to cost, but engineering is 3-1? My undergrad happens to be in engineering physics, and I can tell you right now: engineering and physics both have labs, they both have comparable needs for supplies and equipment maintenance. My classes were usually larger in engineering than physics. To believe this even remotely, I would need to see discrepancies like this resolved. Or the claim that say law school gets 3-1 dollars back in: this in a program where tuition is close to triple what it is in undergraduate, does not require any equipment, labs... Do you understand my skepticism about his accounting? If everybody is saying that money flows from the sciences to the humanities except this one guy, I don't necessarily feel obligated to believe him.
I did not say there is no demand for skills in the humanities. I said it is not hugely in demand. Which I think its quite clear, it isn't. You cannot say that they go on to professional degrees, and then claim demand for that professional degree as part of their undergrad. In most countries outside of North America, there is no concept of doing an undergrad followed by law or medical school. These programs are direct entry (or almost direct entry). You do not need 3-4 years of undergrad to do med school or law school. Teaching, journalism, advertising, and publishing are all good and even laudable professions. But your examples are kind of funny; the teachers that are in demand (and always will be) are math and science teachers; things look worse than they've ever been for journalists, most people (though not all) in advertising are from business backgrounds, and publishing is hardly a huge field to begin with.
I did glance at the article. It is pretty terribly biased. He argues that humanities are not impoverished because they don't fundamentally have the earning power of sciences, etc, but because of university policies.
Such a ridiculous claim could in fact, only be perpetuated by an ivory tower academic in the humanities. You can prove effortlessly that this is false by simply looking at the private sector earning power of people with science and engineering PhD's vs humanities PhD's. Earning power is determined directly by what people will pay for it in a free market, and people will pay an engineering more than a philosopher.
People in the humanities hate to face up to the fact that most of what they produce in their research is in fact completely worthless to most people. Actually, a lot of what I do (along with people in math) is like that also, but with the substantial distinction that there is small chance of it being very useful. Accordingly, I am not well funded and have to TA all the time, which is fine with me. Who are the best funded physicists? Biophysicists, because they are the most likely to produce something of value to society. And to be blunt, thats the way it should be.

Anonymous said...

Nir, the comments on a post is unfortunately not the right spot to iron out the differences between us. You seem to think that the job of a research university is to serve market values and nothing else. I think that the job of a research university is to educate people. You're ready to dismiss an undergrad education (that one might get before going to med school or going into teaching or advertising) as of no value in itself. And you're ready to define your own research (or my research as a scholar in the arts) as worthless unless and until some market value is found for it. But the market doesn't determine every value. And there's no telling what impact comes from what goes on in a humanities classroom, an art classroom, or a physics classroom or through a dissertation or article in the humanities, arts, or in physics. Classrooms education students. Articles are exchanged and read by other scholars who are involved in educating students. That's what a research university does. Of course we need more math and science teachers in K-12. But the reason there isn't enough is that teaching is poorly paid--an example of how the market doesn't always work to society's advantage. It certainly isn't because tax money or university money is being sucked up by the humanities! Have you noticed that a lot of tax money in the US this year went to bailing out banks? Finally, Newfield's article is published in a peer-reviewed journal published by the MLA. There's nothing biased about the charts he provides. They're either accurate or they're not and it seems very unlikely Profession would publish this kind of high-profile article if the info in the example was fabricated. Your impression of who paid for what and what everything cost at your school is, sorry, not exactly authoritative. One small point of misunderstanding: you seem to assume that the "professional school" Newfield describes is a law school but why would it be? He never says it is and law professors probably don't get research grants that have large uncovered costs. Anyway, good luck with your research. And thanks for taking time to discuss. Gotta go now.

Anonymous said...

As someone who tends to agree with Nir, I have an incredibly hard time believing that LAS is as profitable as the engineering department at Illinois. My department, Computer Science, has high grant overheads that go to the University.

Also, just looking at the budget is shortsighted at best. You have to look at the other sources of income for the University, such as multi-hundred-million dollar donations by former students. I would bet there are more tech industry or business or law millionaires donating than there are humanities millionaires.

Of course pretty much everything on this post is just speculation until some real numbers are posted. And of course we need real COMPARABLE numbers, not just unsubstantiated claims about the LAS budget.

Unit for Criticism said...

Gosh, I'm a little concerned that the divide-and-conquer mentality feared by D. Fairchild Ruggles above is already in evidence. To be sure, we would need access to a lot more information to assess the extent to which Newfield's analysis applies to this campus, if at all. I'd like to point out for those who haven't actually read the article that Newfield himself is quite clear that in offering his "analysis of budgetary myths and inequities," he's not "seeking to foment a class war" between disciplines and campus units. The sciences, he writes, "as well as the arts, need even more funding than they have. Given the funding crisis for all higher education, now would be the worst possible time to set up a zero-sum competition between different sides of campus, and I instead advocate cooperation and collaboration across all our disciplines. My analysis is intended to encourage truth in budgeting (279-80; emphasis added). To me this is the key issue as well. LG

Anonymous said...

In fact, humanist millionaires have been very generous to Illinois, in part because they recognize the long-range payoff of a liberal arts education -- both in absolute terms and for its impact on all walks of life and professional careers. Our own Thomas Seibel, computer industry giant, was a history major.

Antoinette Burton

Anonymous said...

I think there's a danger of missing the real point here: the lack of transparency in the way university funds of various kinds are distributed.
As someone who works in engineering, I find some of the claims made in the Newfield article surprising. The article has been published in a reputable journal, so I think we must give them some benefit of the doubt, rather than dismiss them out of hand. As yet, we do not know how funds are distributed at UI. For my part, I don't know how different units handle the issue of offering instruction to other units' students. I don't know how the university handles overhead when grants or donations are awarded. I have heard -- and can believe, though will respect proof to the contrary -- that often, donations for buildings etc. only cover the structures themselves, not furnishings (I don't know whether the UI handles such donations differently); that other infrastructure projects may not cover energy costs; and so on. I know that tuition is higher for engineering students than for students in LAS. I know that donations often come with very specific strings attached -- so you can't simply look at each department's raw income and judge solely from that whether the way tuition funds are distributed is fair to all departments.
To my mind, there are several important issues at stake here; one is of fairness. Regardless of the marketability of specific degrees, the fact remains that there is a very high demand for LAS classes, and there's a large number of students in LAS. (And when judging marketability, let's also remember that LAS includes many of the sciences.) These students want a good quality education in well maintained facilities, just like students in Engineering, Law, Medicine, etc., and they are paying a non-trivial tuition for the privilege. Some of their tuition needs to go to pay administrative costs, maintenance costs, etc. But if money above and beyond a reasonable overhead is being channeled from the income the university derives from students in some departments, and is being used to subsidize costs in other departments, this seems to me to be a problem -- especially if the resulting drop in funding means salary freezes, shrinking administrative support, and letting teaching facilities fall apart in those departments that do not receive their full share of the income.
But right now, we can't know -- we don't have the information. And I think it would be a big mistake to see the original post as an attempt to provoke discord among departments at the university; it's a call for transparency, and for fairness. If the university is forced to make severe cuts to its programs due to cuts in state funding, as opposed to tuition revenue, then it seems like a reasonable starting point to say that the proportion of state funding each unit receives must at least be taken into account when cuts are made. Maybe the university community disagrees with this proposition, in which case, let's have a discussion as a community, with all the facts, and maybe we can come to a consensus about what should be done. But we need the facts first.

Patrick Bray said...

For some facts about the humanities, and their relative worth (and even marketability), see this very useful site sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/humanitiesData.aspx
The importance of revealing university accounting tricks is that we in the humanities (and arts) have been made to feel like we were lucky to be getting everyone else's scraps. Yet our students perform well in other disciplines and flourish upon graduation. Our research has been absolutely essential in determining modes of thinking across disciplines and especially outside of the academy (even if the right would prefer to forget the PC). That we cannot patent our ideas limits their "profitability". Equivalent jobs outside of academia might not exist for humanities faculty (decreasing our ability to negotiate the outrageous salaries of some scientists or law professors), but when we do find jobs outside the academy we are paid handsomely. The "humanities indicators" list shows that less than 3% of humanities PhDs end up in elementary and secondary education, but almost 20% end up in a management position. Those in my graduate cohort who did not pursue academic careers work for UNESCO, the CIA (yes), international consulting, insurance, and import/export.

Rob Rushing said...

Nir refers to the amount "where society at large thinks humanities funding should be." (1) In fact, we are not talking about society at large, but about what the business efficiency experts to whom the university has been entrusted think humanities funding should be; (2) What does society at large think humanities funding should be? I think you will find that most Illinois citizens believe that higher education should offer courses (and indeed, require students to take some of them) in English, foreign languages, history, political science, philosophy, art history and the like. They believe that we should offer these kinds of courses not because they believe that their sons and daughters will get a corporate job discussing the French Revolution, Shakespeare or Titian, but because they think that educated people should know about them; it makes them smart, informed, culturally literate people. Education is not a "benefit to the average taxpayer"—it creates the conditions under which such benefits can be created. I like living in a society with electricity and high-speed internet, but I also enjoy living in a society that is literate, conscious of history and culturally aware. In fact, I think we have seen abundant evidence in recent years that we need more cultural and historical literacy, not less. As a theoretical physicist, Nir should appreciate this—pondering whether M-theory should address 10 or 11 dimensions of 5-dimensional branes is not a product or a service, and the taxpayer knows nothing about it: it is, however, a demonstrable social good, and it is in everyone's interest to fund someone to think about it. It is evident, however, that a libertarian model in which absolutely everything (family, education, health care, and so on) can be reduced to a price determined by market value is pitiless and totalizing. I'm also quite convinced that it's wrong—market logic has had a terrible time dealing with various forms of infrastructure (cable television is a perennial example of how a free market can generate an inefficient and expensive monopoly; health insurance hasn't worked out too well, either). Education is a social infrastructure, one that brings host of direct and indirect benefits with it. Not everyone wants those benefits, but most do.

Kathy Oberdeck said...

More information and transparency in budgeting would help a lot in answering some of these queries about how University revenue is generated and allocated. But such open accounting can’t and shouldn’t be the arbiter of the “value” of particular modes of inquiry or fields of knowledge across the University. And I doubt anyone has produced a tool that can accurately distinguish and weigh the relative amounts of arcane to “useful” knowledge produced by different disciplines. Maybe the “human” tools of humility and wonder at our interdependence need to be brought to bear. What I ended up writing about this turned out to be too long for one post—so please see my next one….

Kathy Oberdeck said...

Yes, I marvel at the intricate pictures of the building blocks of life that biophysicists develop. I’m also inspired by the complex connections made by the globally diverse interdisciplinary teams that make up that field. They must need good training in languages to interact with one another, and understanding of one another’s cultures to work together as open-minded and tolerant people. And they need good artists to produce the imaging tools they rely on. Oh, and when they come up with a useful new pharmacological or biogenetic discovery, and it gets applied in a new drug or a new kind of tomato, I hope that there’s someone who understands the social systems that distribute medicine and the histories of food policies can help those applications get safely to people need them in ways that don’t ride roughshod over existing communities and livelihoods. I need some economists, historians, political scientists, geographers, sociologists, anthropologists and specialists in area cultures around the world to tell me and my fellow citizens about that. I need philosophers, classicists and religion scholars to understand logics and ethics in terms of which such questions have been framed. Actually, I’m glad these scholars have revealed so much out of their own research agendas, because they reveal people to who are complex, with sophisticated needs and wants. Good thing alongside biophysicists we also have engineers, architects, planners, ecologists, psychologists, physiologists, legal scholars, botanists, social workers, nurses … But I notice that the ways women, people of color, gay and lesbian people, and indigenous communities connect to these fields have been obscured by some of the classic disciplines of humanities, social science, and even science. I’m glad scholars in ethnic and gender studies programs have fought to generate methods for investigating those questions….and for the struggles for civil rights, gender equality, economic justice, etc. that they’ve made visible. The connections between those cross-disciplinary efforts and textual analyses developed in disciplines like English help me understand how knowledge itself can silence vital dimensions of human experience. Fox News doesn’t tell me or my fellow citizens about those things and the newspapers that used to report them are struggling, but fortunately, communications programs still teach courageous investigative reporting and critical media analysis. And my kids in public school sure benefit from committed teachers coming out of the Education school. Maybe they’ll even be inspired to go into…..biophysics! And maybe educational research will allow kids in every school to reach high in any field. In the meantime, we make sure they get music, art, and athletics alongside their other studies, so their minds, bodies and souls all find expression. It’s great that we have a Music school that not only provides fine practical instruction, but also explores the practices so many musical traditions, so our horizons there are so broad. And we have some pretty good athletes to inspire my daughters in sport (still, the coaches should participate in furloughs!). So to inform a society that not only produces useful things but generates thoughtful people eager to engage each other in decisions about what is useful and needed, where, and by whom, we need an institution that gathers these forms of knowledge, allows for vigorous, critical, open-minded debate among them, and trains people to appreciate and engage that process. The University doesn’t do it perfectly, and many legacies impede it (which I’ve probably reproduced here-- no ONE scholar or administrator can adequately represent such a multiplicity of knowledge). But public universities are some of the best places I know to generate not just stuff that sells, but engaged people who think creatively, and I want to preserve their accessibility to societies that need ALL the kinds of knowledge they produce.

Martha said...

To reiterate one key aspect of the post and subsequent comments: "I think there's a danger of missing the real point here: the lack of transparency in the way university funds of various kinds are distributed."

As of January 1, 2010 the State of Illinois has been charged with providing a great deal more information under important FOIA changes.

Perhaps the actual furlough days can be spent filing FOIAs and other forms of activism to uncover and expose this vital information about the prioritization of tuition and state funding. These very specific acts can begin to chip away the logic of furloughisme Lauren has identified here.

After all... FOIAs obtained in 2009 regarding the "Category I" admissions scandal enabled us to read the emails and actions of former Chancellor Herman and others loud and clear.

Two resources on FOIAs:

U of IL FOIA filing process

Sunshine Review wikiFOIA information

Martha said...

oops - the links for two resources on FOIAs:

U of I process -

Sunshine Review info -

Bruce Rosenstock said...

Nir has claimed that "the reality is that high overhead research is funded overwhelmingly externally by grants, not by the University itself." Nir's point is, to use his own word, laughable. The university figures that for every dollar brought in by an external grant, it must pay 51 cents toward supporting all the indirect costs associated with the grant. Where does it get that 51 cents? More and more, from tuition. That is why tuition is going up exponentially. And here is the real problem: the university figures that, on average, it is only getting back around 46 cents on the dollar. When you calculate that grant revenue amounts to well over a billion dollars, you can see that this gap is an immense problem. There was a university subcommittee devoted to studying this problem, and their report is quite informative. You can find it on this page:

Bruce Rosenstock said...

Let me make the point clearly: of the 51 cents of indirect costs on external grants, on the average only around 46 cents gets recovered from the granting source. The huge gap is made up. more and more, by tuition. With lower state allocations, the tuition dollars are moved over from the departments that generate large amounts of the tuition revenue with their classes, namely, humanities and social sciences.

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