By Mary King
The Portland State University campus is in an uproar, reacting to a
directive to all academic units to identify 8 percent of their budgets
for possible elimination by fall term 2014.
PSU faculty members are skeptical of the necessity for such drastic
cuts and alarmed by the destruction slashing budgets would entail.
Battered by Oregon’s 20-year spiral to the bottom for state support
for public higher education, another 8 percent cut represents an
unsustainable blow to PSU’s ability to provide a quality academic
experience for its nearly 30,000 students.
PSU’s faculty members are already far more likely to be part-time
“freeway fliers” than the rest of Oregon’s public universities. Fifty
two percent of PSU faculty members are part-time, as compared with 35
percent on average for the Oregon University System. Part-timers teach a
third of the student hours at PSU.
While part-time faculty may be well qualified, they can’t promise
anything beyond the 10-week quarter. Students can’t count on part-time
faculty for advising, for a future letter of recommendation, or a
commitment to serve on a Ph.D., masters or honors project committee.
Even PSU’s full-time faculty isn’t stable. Forty-one percent of
full-time faculty members teach on short contracts, two thirds of them
for one year or less.
PSU faculty salaries are in the bottom tenth for faculty in public,
research universities, and in the bottom 7 percent of all research
universities, including the privates. As a result, we struggle to
recruit and retain a strong faculty.
PSU is spending on upper administration. The number of executives –
variants of presidents, provosts and deans – grew 65 percent, from 31 to
51, from 2002 to 2012. Executive salaries have soared. Even after
adjusting for inflation, the provost’s salary grew by 46 percent in 10
years and the combined vice provosts’ salaries by 43 percent.
Tuition dollars are subsidizing secondary activities that by rights
should support the academic mission. Millions of dollars are diverted
each year to prop up bad real estate deals; athletics, which should be
supported by donations; and odd giveaways, like the subsidies for
business start-ups in the Business Accelerator.
Some PSU budget moves appear counterproductive. PSU abruptly cut 79
courses this summer, within a week of the start of the summer session.
As reported in The Oregonian, Provost Andrews and Dean Beatty explained
that all of the cancelled courses would be taught in the regular
academic year, and that “PSU professors …can't refuse to see their
student loads increase.” The problem is that many PSU summer students
are in town only for the summer, returning to other schools in the fall,
and others are people attracted by the opportunity to squeeze in a
short, intensive course.
In another example of questionable budget decisions, key projects
helping students improve their writing skills, the drop-in writing
center and writing intensive courses, are on the chopping block.
Meanwhile, the Provost’s Challenge initiative will use student tech fees
to develop a “badge” to certify that students can write, but will not
fund writing instruction.
Three-quarters of PSU faculty responding to an on-line survey
conducted by the PSU-AAUP this last month indicated that they “somewhat
disagree or completely disagree” that “PSU Administrators have a good
feel for our mission, understanding of conditions at PSU and are taking
us in a positive direction.”
Fifty six percent of faculty
surveyed disagree that “PSU Administrators are visible, effective
advocates for PSU and public higher education in Oregon,” and another 22
percent are “unsure.”
Oregon must stop accepting its current
rank as 47th in the country in per-student higher education funding. The
consequences are skyrocketing tuition rates, unconscionable levels of
student debt, diminishing access to higher education and mediocre
universities. For the sake of Oregon’s college students and our state’s
future, we need to get our priorities in order, at PSU and in the State
Mary King is a professor of economics at PSU and president of the
PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the
union representing full-time faculty.
Proposed budget cuts will harm PSU's mission: Guest opinion | OregonLive.com