Faculty insight on ISU budget survey

Wednesday, April 11, the Tribune’s lead story “ISU braces for budget cuts” included a sidebar, both written by Liz Allen, summarizing suggestions garnered from an on-line survey of faculty opinion.  Pretty much everyone (263 out of some 300 respondents) agreed that we could do some serious energy conservation, while support for preserving information technology was surprisingly soft (226 said no and 71 said yes).

 What the Tribune story did not comment on was the open-ended commentary added by the respondents to the survey.  A little more than half (about 170) of those answering the survey also provided additional comments.  The Faculty Senate Executive Board, in joint session with the RPA Council, spent some time in its Tuesday, April 10, meeting discussing how much of the identifying information (college, department, and academic rank) should be included with the attached commentary when it was added to the Faculty Senate web site and released to the press.  General agreement expressed was that anonymity should be preserved.  Staci Hupp was present at the meeting for the Des Moines Register, and I was there substituting for Chris Schilling.  At no point was it recommended by any of those present that a summary of attached comments would suffice.

 The question was mooted after the comments were leaked to the listserv <facultyvalues>.  Retired professor William Kunerth characterized the “overwhelming sentiment in the study” to be that “Iowa State University is over-administered,” and he added, “Interesting result, considering that this issue wasn't included in the structured questions.”

 Indeed, making cuts in administration was conspicuous by its absence on the statistical part of the survey.  I took it upon myself to remedy that apparent oversight. We were asked to be brief (always a challenge to me): “Reduce administrative BLOAT.  To dispossess employees who do the WORK of the university while overpaid, ineffective administrators keep filling their own coffers is obscene.  Is that brief enough? --Virginia Allen”  I signed my name.  If someone else chose to say something really provocative, I didn’t want their comment to be dismissed on the grounds that it was probably written by that n’er-do-well Virginia Allen.

Some of the comments were very specific: “review administration staffing and eliminate 30 % of positions”; others were more general: “Reducing administrative expenses should be a high priority”; “Look into reducing the number of administrators”; and “Cut high-level administrators.”  The sentiment was expressed with decorum: “Decentralize management,” and without: “Cut administrative fat.”

The same theme was repeated by one respondent--“Reduce  the number of administrators from the President's office down to the deans' level”—after another--“If there are to be lay-offs and/or position hiring freezes, we should look very carefully at administration positions”—after another—“ Take a cue from private industry and move toward a flatter administrative and management structure.  Lately we have been going in the opposite direction.”

  Someone asked, “why do we seemingly have more administrators than faculty?”  Another said, “ISU is the most over-administered university at which I've worked--and that includes two Big Ten schools. Mid-level administrative bureaucrats usually have one mission in life: to keep, if not expand, their own positions. ISU should therefore cut as many mid-level administrative positions as possible, along with their inflated salaries; governance of the university should be returned to the faculty.”  And another: “Stop spending money on the multiple levels of red tape activities that cost valuable faculty and staff time and hiring extra levels of administration to monitor the activities.”

One person protested the placing the “burden of budget cuts on departments and programs without demonstrating similar percentage cuts in higher levels of administration.”  A second elaborated on the point: “If we are to create a mean and lean organization, we should first examine our burdensome bureaucracy.  The resources expended in administrative activities are in many ways overhead that contributes little to the major objectives of the institution (to educate and advance knowledge).”  The overwhelming sentiment of the ISU faculty who responded to the survey was that the administrative policies of the past have failed: “If any progress is going to be made at ISU it will only come if these failed policies are reversed and departments are restored to full funding.”

 The trial balloon in the air at the time of the survey was “furloughs,” an idea that was endorsed by 115 respondents to the survey and rejected by 147.  I had urged Interim President Richard Seagrave at an earlier meeting that if furloughs were instituted those whose salaries were below the poverty level should be exempted.  “Five days of your salary and five days of mine,” I said, meant very different things to the two of us.  He acknowledged that he had already considered “the fairness issue,” and I was glad to see in the April 11 story in the Tribune that he was quoted as saying that furloughs probably would not be a part of the plan.

Labor practices really do matter in the scheme of things, and the continued exploitation of temporary and part-time instructors is the problem, not a solution.  Faculty at ISU recognize the part played in the current budget crisis by the economic downturn in the country, but they also recognize that the grandiose claims and pretensions from the decade behind us have been counterproductive.  We cannot, as one respondent put it, act as “a self-motivated profit center … selling our intellectual property to the highest bidder for our own profit” while relying on the state to fund our basic operations.

 ISU has for too long gratified its edifice complex, unmindful of how new buildings will be heated in the winter and cooled in the summer.  Coaches are paid outlandish salaries while teachers in the English department pay for their own office supplies and teaching materials, many of them out of poverty-level salaries.  Prestige rankings and academic awards are greedily sought and celebrated, but “show me the money” is our true slogan.  The university loses credibility with the public “with each profit oriented move we make,” as one person said in the survey.

 The real story here is not that ISU faculty tend to think it has become too expensive to continue supporting a “new generation of administrators [who] seem to view themselves as a   group apart--even ‘above’--the faculty,” as one respondent described them; the real story is that as I write this, high-ranking members of the administration and the Faculty Senate Executive Board would collude to keep that sentiment quiet.

Gregory Geoffroy is unlikely to show up on July 1 riding a $225,000 white horse, but he deserves to hear the whole story, and so does the public.

Virginia Allen
815 Seventh St.
Ames IA 50010