GEORGE KENNEDY: Numbers reflect transition to corporate university

Thursday, August 2, 2012 | 5:24 p.m. CDT

My attempt last week to analyze the fight over the University of Missouri Press in the broader context of the changing nature of the university itself led to a lively few days in the comments section of the online Missourian.

I was accused of endorsing developments I decried. University decision-makers were described as miscreants. Professor Lois Huneycutt of the MU Department of History eloquently defended the Press, especially for its importance in chronicling the story of our state.  Professor Stephen Montgomery-Smith even brought into the fray Theodore Roosevelt, who extolled the virtues of the combatant as opposed to the wimpiness of the observer.

This week, I’ll try to be clearer. I’ll also share a few numbers that I see as evidence of the ongoing makeover of our university into something more closely resembling a business corporation.

First, though, a brief update: After receiving an email from Professor Huneycutt, I called Professor Harry Tyrer, who chairs the MU Faculty Council. He told me that both President Timothy Wolfe and Chancellor Brady Deaton have agreed to meet with the executive committee of the council to discuss its resolution, adopted last week, calling on the president to delay action and engage in discussion with the faculty. When we talked Thursday, he was still trying to arrange that conversation.

He also told me that the council will take up the subject again at its Aug. 23 meeting, as it considers points raised in a resolution adopted July 24 by the American Association of University Professors chapter. A central issue, he said, is the faculty’s level of confidence in a campus-run Press.

Last week, I described the administration’s handling of the Press and the laying off of its staff as ham-handed and sorely lacking in the transparency and faculty involvement we should expect in a university. I also argued that both the decision and the manner in which it was made are more typical of the corporate world.

That’s the world into which, for better or for worse, we are being led. I fear we’re experiencing the latter, but I can understand the pressures of rising costs and diminishing state support that have pushed the institution in this direction.

Here’s what I mean. (These numbers came from campus budget master Tim Rooney. The adjustments for inflation were made by my friend Steve Scott, who sent them to me.)

In 2002, MU received from the state $201 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $257 million today. In fiscal 2012, state support actually amounted to only $178 million.

State funding in 2002 supplied 18 percent of the total campus revenue. In 2012, it supplied just 9 percent.

Meanwhile, over that same period, the annual cost of tuition and room and board for an in-state student has increased from $8,781 (or $11,201 in 2012 dollars) to $16,088.

Our customers — I mean students — paid 13 percent of total campus revenue in 2002. Now they pay 19 percent.

The university-as-corporation clearly can no longer count on the legislature and governor for adequate support. So it does what any business would and turns to another revenue source. That’s also why the university is working harder, and succeeding, at luring the out-of-state students who pay even more.

Corporations, of course, seek to maximize the number of customers while holding down costs and commitments to employees. A few more numbers tell how well MU has done at both.

In the decade from 2002 through 2011, enrollment increased by about 29 percent, to 33,805. This year, we’re likely to top 35,000.

Meanwhile, the number of regular tenure-track faculty grew by only 3.4 percent. The number of non-regular faculty, or those not on a tenure track, grew by 86 percent. In some divisions, including the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, the College of Human Environmental Sciences and the Missouri School of Journalism, the number of regular faculty actually shrank during the decade.

So we’re teaching more students with less expensive faculty. For a corporation, that’s a great model. For a university, especially one that aspires to being world-class, it’s not so great.

In that context, the fate of the Press might not appear to be such a big deal. We’re only talking, after all, about 10 employees (none of them faculty, as a Faculty Council member noted inhumanely last week) and a subsidy that may — or may not, depending on who you believe — amount to about $400,000 a year.

Defenders of the Press-that-was see the struggle as one that goes to the heart of what a university is and what it should do. Proponents of the proposed new model see themselves as embarking on a necessary experiment that holds the promise of saving money while tying the Press more closely to campus teaching and research.

Like the defenders, I wish the Press could carry on as it has. I just don’t think that’s going to happen in a corporate university.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Michael Williams August 2, 2012 | 6:00 p.m.

Two points:

(1) I understand that those employed at the press, and supporters of the press, may not agree with me...but y'all need to better pick the battles you fight. Even if you win this battle, not much has changed except a fleeting "we showed them" feel-good moment. The real battle is whether we have a university that is managed from the top-down....or the bottom-up.

And money (see below).

(2) Most of the extra faculty that Kennedy is talking about are known as "Adjunct Faculty". They teach their areas of expertise and that's about it. Their pay is much lower than full-time faculty, and bennies are nonexistent.

The availability of adjunct faculty is going to end, or at least go down in a real hurry...eventually. Adjunct faculty consist of "retired" folks with nothing else to do (i.e., a little income is nice, and I like teaching anyway), but it also consists of many younger folks unable to find a full time job, faculty or not. This economy WILL improve and jobs WILL become available in the future (take a guess as to when), and when those jobs ARE available there will be monetary hell to pay. If you think faculty salary costs are high now, wait until UMC has to replace all those adjuncts with full-timers to teach 50K students!

INO, you ain't seen nothing yet.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice August 2, 2012 | 6:12 p.m.

We need to quit pretending like there's a "new" model. There's no new model, there are different people promoting a version of the model the press was/had already implemented.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 2, 2012 | 10:15 p.m.

Is the University of Missouri System (forget this "MU" nonsense) ALONE in having these problems? There seems good reason to suspect that it is not.

As for attracting out-of-state and international students, most educators think having a certain number of such students enriches a university culturally and socially as well as monetarily, but any state-supported university or college should give priority to academically qualified students from that state. Not to do so is turning the entire historic concept of public higher education on its head.

(Report Comment)
Ryan Meyer August 2, 2012 | 11:02 p.m.

Mr. Kennedy – It’s hard to see why you feel this addresses issues that commenters had with your previous column. You have basically repeated your previous column although you added a sprinkle of numbers related to state support of the university. I don’t believe any of the commenters took issue with the fact that the university is receiving less state support or that there is a trend of “corporatization” of universities. Mostly, it seems they took issue with the laissez-faire outlook you seem to express with respect to university administrators resorting to secretive and deceptive practices to circumvent legitimate stakeholders in the press matters. This is despite your own apparent strong disapproval of the manner in which press matters were handled.
What is the point you are trying to convey with these two columns? It seems the points you may be trying to make are 1) that the university press actions are an inevitable consequence of the “corporatization” and therefore efforts to preserve the UM press seem futile to you, or 2) that administrators deserve a pass on their secret and deceptive behavior because times are tough, or 3) something else entirely.
If your point is 1), then what motivates you to write two columns to express your lack of passion or support for a cause with which you seem to fundamentally agree with? Your column seems full of conflict.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 3, 2012 | 6:07 a.m.

George will become more exercised about certain things if and when enrollment at MU is also capped. Why "also"? Because it's already capped at MS&T, due to insufficient facilities to meet surging enrollment demand. MU's Chancellor Deaton has been quoted as pointing out the possibility of a future cap.

Capping creates a reason for raising academic admission standards. Is that a bad thing? Some of us believe they need to be raised.

Let's return to the press. Has anyone considered the possibility of fully or partially endowing the press? At our campus we have an endowment to assist in paying tuition for our middle school and high school summer camps in cases of family financial hardship. Much as we treasure our summer camps, the press is more important. If such an endowment were attempted we'd expect interested parties from all four campuses to contribute.

Recently a pledge drive mounted by MU netted at least $1 billion; another drive conducted by MS&T netted at least $227 million. Given the relative sizes of those campuses, those were equivalent efforts. When push comes to shove, money can be raised. The student center at MS&T was built and furnished without using state funding.

Or we can whine about how the state isn't giving us enough money, which I am not disputing, but given the state's monetary commitments to primary and secondary education and to certain social programs, what do we expect to have, in at least the near future?

Just for the record, there has been more than one campus at this university since 1870, and there have been four campuses since 1963.

(Report Comment)
Donna Potts August 3, 2012 | 6:36 a.m.

"That's the world into which...we are being led." We can't allow ourselves to be "led" anywhere. Yes, there are budget cuts, and yes, there is corporatization--but our president at Kansas State University gave the faculty a say in how those cuts were made. It is possible to give the faculty a say. For the sake of social justice, we need to challenge the top-down system that squeezes the rest of us out of the conversation.

(Report Comment)
Lois Huneycutt August 3, 2012 | 7:18 a.m.

William Least Heat-Moon has contacted President Wolfe and offered to spear-head efforts to create a 6 figure endowment fund for the Press. He says he has talked to people who have pledged in the neighborhood of 25K to start. Last I heard, there has been no answer from Wolfe's office. But a low six figures will admittedly not generate more than a token revenue stream. We need to see the Press as an investment rather than a liability. And let's face it, the "new model" is not going to save anywhere near 400K a year, particularly with three faculty member employees whose total salary/benefits packages are likely to approach that figure all by themselves. Their salaries will of course appear as rate in the English Dept or School of Journalism rather than as expenses of running the Press, but does that book-cooking really solve anything or fool anyone?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 3, 2012 | 11:05 a.m.

Oh, Ms.Huneycutt, some folks are VERY adept around here at fooling themselves; they've been doing it for years. If an endowment for the press does materialize, put me down for $5,000.00. Some of us put our money where our mouth is.

Our alumni association can give you my address.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 4, 2012 | 9:52 p.m.

The elephant in the room is that like every other university press, ours publishes books that the vast majority of people don't care about – even those in academia. Does the world really need another 200-page book about some third-rate writer from 50 or 100 years ago? Only if you're the author who needs it to get tenure and is able to convince an editor that the topic warrants a book rather than a journal article, if that.

That's why it's laughable when people argue that closing the press will be a blow to Missouri's culture. The closure is the first time that most Columbians, let alone the rest of Missouri, even heard about the press.

(Report Comment)

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