Saturday, December 6, 2008

A short-sighted error

As I've said before, I teach part time at a small Midwestern university. Recently, my state has asked its public universities to cut their budgets by up to 25%. My university's president has worked on at least that level of budget cuts for the past semester that he's been with us anyway, because that's how much over budget our spending has been. From simple solutions, such as turning off office, classroom, and hall lights when there's no one there, and shutting down computer labs after hours, to larger sacrifices, like a freeze on wage increases, there have been a whole lot of common sense changes made.


Recently, he decided that it was in the university's best interests to place a moratorium on all spending for travel and conferences for professors and students. He also decided to place a moratorium on hiring new people.

This includes replacing professors who've retired or left for greener pastures.

While these two freezes make sense on a purely budgetary perspective, they are incredibly short sighted. The first, taking away travel funds, sends the message to prospective students that this isn't the university to come to--especially if they want to travel--because it doesn't take student needs into consideration. It also gives other universities a tool to help drive down our enrollment further, and to lure away current and prospective faculty (see? we give you money for travel while our competitor doesn't).

The second, the hiring freeze, makes an even more dangerous, short-sighted, error: though our enrollment is currently down, the economy is bad, and getting worse. People are losing jobs left and right, and since many companies are tightening their belts for the coming difficulties, will not easily find another position, if they can find anything at all. What do people do if they lose their jobs and can't find another? They go to school.

We don't have enough full-time professors to maintain the level of non-majors classes in most of our departments without the recent losses we've had (professors quitting, retiring, and dying have left us three short in the English department alone). Our majors classes suffer--many that were on two year rotations in the past have gone to three year rotations, without a concomitant increase in upper division majors classes. We have to offer a specific number of non-majors classes to fulfill the core requirements for all students, and that number doesn't drop with enrollment numbers.

When the economy tanks further, enrollment starts to rise, and we simply don't have the faculty we need to man the classrooms, we're looking at a disaster.


  1. There will probably be plenty of teachers looking for work. So, the job itself will be all the sweetening needed. Do these conferences themselves actually improve the education received by the students? I didn't think so. But if it makes the teacher more marketable, let him pay for it.

  2. First of all, there are always plenty of newly-minted PhDs looking for work, and many of them refuse to work at the smaller universities that focus on teaching students rather than on the research portion. Second, yes, at this level the conferences do make a difference in the quality of student instruction, mainly by providing an ideas exchange amonst those who've studied the subjects extensively.

    Last, did it fail to register that funds for student travel, probably including foreign exchange, have also been cut? That will hurt enrollment, even after the downturn provides an upturn in enrollment rates.

  3. I will refer to the new President as THE Hachet Man. Has come in and effected every department on campus except for the Football Team, here The Hachet Man plans to spend more money on a totally useless football satium.

    This week alone he cut 25% from both the Art and the Music Departments. I have also heard that he cut 35% from the Criminal Justice Department.

    The Hachet Man is going to kill this University, after all he did not keep his promise to have an opened mind before doing anything. Seems to everyone on campus that he is very closed minded about everything except the Sports Department.

    We are not an OU Campus or even PSU one and never will be. The good people of Joplin are just not interested in the Lions Team. I say knock out the sports and save the rest of the University. Really have you looked at some of those football couches, over weight.

    Just my opinion.

  4. My question is, what about online professors and those who are working in conjunction with MSSU? Would there be justification in having a freeze by looking at those at other universities co-teaching non-campus students?
    I'm thinking of the Masters program that is in conjunction with another university and that specific cost.