Tag Archives: budget

UW Struggle: Gong Show Edition

In anticipation of the full faculty meeting at UWM to consider a no confidence resolution in the UW System President and Board of Regents on Tuesday, May 10, we bring you this blog post by UW-Green Bay’s Chuck Rybak, republished with his permission. The original is here.

chuck_barris

What if I told you that someone with responsibility literally brought a red button to a meeting? What if I told you that this person, while his subordinates were making test-run presentations, would push the button and the words ‘no whining!’ would be ejaculated as a sound effect? Again: this is not a metaphor. This is real.

So I’ll ask: Who is this person? What do you imagine the setting to be? Are we talking about adults? Younger people? A gimmicky corporate setting? Friday night neon bowling?

No. That would be the President of the UW System and the subordinates would be our campus Chancellors, who were asked to describe the campus effects of another quarter of a billion dollar cut to state support. They were instructed not to whine (as faculty have been told to not be emotional), and upon further review, the presentations themselves were cancelled. I know what you’re thinking: this can’t be true, no way, this is the president of a university system, we knew you were close and you’ve finally lost it!   I know; that’s what I thought as well. Here is the incident in question detailed by Nico Savidge:

“[The presentations] should be factual, not whiny,” Cross wrote in his message.

Cross insisted on this point — he said in the interview he brought a red button to the meeting to be used if he felt a chancellor was complaining too much in a presentation. When he pressed the button, a sound effect shouted, “No whining!” (emphasis mine, because wow)

What, were hand buzzers and bottles of seltzer spray unavailable? You couldn’t find someone on a unicycle to ride up and poke them in the eyes? Look, I miss Benny Hill too, but I have access to YouTube.

Still, this can’t be true. So I asked Nico on Twitter to confirm—Nico was tweeting a lot about the Final Four, thus I assumed he was brained by an errant chicken wing when the North Carolina Won’t Make Donuts for Gay Heels (see Glazed 3:15) went down at the last moment—he assured me that his mental state was not the problem:

Can you imagine, just for a moment, being a Chancellor of a university—a position with an enormous amount of responsibility to an incredibly wide range of stakeholders—and have someone interrupt you with a ‘No Whining!’ sound effect while you are trying to describe how many staff members you’ve had to lay off and what programs you’ll be cutting, with no end in sight? Would you have an existential moment of crisis where your inner voice conceded, “Oh my god, I’m an adult”? Well, I guess the ‘flexibility’ everyone wants for Chancellors doesn’t apply to their actually speaking without permission and an approved message.

For the record, I really respect my Chancellor and want him to be able to speak freely and honestly about his responsibilities. He is far too classy to ever complain about such a stunt, but I have no class, and thus at the first press of the button I would have immediately gone over the table and engaged in the full Indiana. What is the full Indiana? Behold:

Unfortunately, none of this is a joke.

Right now, the Board of Regents is meeting on my campus, pleasantly hosted by a great number of people they just stripped earned job protections away from. They will have the best parking spots and eat for free. A large portion of the Cloud Commons, where just two night ago students had to wait in line past 9 p.m. to cast their votes, will be blocked off and reserved for this meeting—the Regents will wait for nothing.

What is today’s meeting all about? The continuance of the big lie(s). Right now, a few of those include:

  1. The most important strategy for our future budgets is tone policing. Nico Savidge reported that the presentations were cancelled “after consulting with some Regents and considering, among other factors, the System’s next two-year budget.” False. Reducing money for all things public is a feature, not a bug, andmore cuts are coming no matter what we say or do. Don’t believe me? I suggest you begin making regular stops over at Jake’s place, where he dives into the deep, deep numbers, like this coming disaster: “If the tax-season months of March and April don’t have a bounce-back and stay below trend, it will be likely that the 2016-17 fiscal year budget will have to be repaired…even with $726 million in unspecified lapses built into that budget.”
  2. We have “comparable” and “often better” tenure policies than our peers. This lie has been repeated so often that it’s moving past “big.” We don’t have tenure anymore. We wear a button that says “tenure” until that button is taken away, for any reason you can imagine. That’s been the point all along. That’s also why, whether we whine or not, whether we are emotional or not, more cuts are coming. The reason you strip away everyone’s job security, other than welcoming them to the 21st century, is to begin removing those people. That removal will be dressed up in the language of “necessity” and “tough choices,” i.e. budget cuts. But I get it: the illusion of prestige will be necessary for some to come to work.

But somehow this is all a joke or a gag, worthy of a buzzer; was someone actually tasked with securing a “no whining” button? I can’t help but think what this models for our students and communities, and whether or not anyone cares anymore. We did, after all, just elect a supreme court justice whose main workplace skill/qualification is intolerance. The Rebecca Bradley apologists sang a constant chorus that is relevant to this blog post: those were just college rantings, who wants to be held responsible for their silly college-age thoughts? We grow out of that.

The implication: what college students say should not be taken seriously. But not only is it our job and responsibility to take them seriously, it is our mission.

What students think and feel matters today and it will matter tomorrow. When students interrupted the previous Board of Regents meeting with a chant of protest, the Regent who was speaking at the time rolled his eyes. I was watching the livefeed. He rolled his eyes at students who dared to speak out of turn. When the meeting resumed, the Regents gave themselves yet another round of applause for their hard work, which amounts to a speck of dust when compared with the tenure dossiers of the faculty they swiftly moved to devalue.

So what are we being taught by our central leadership?

Speaking honestly about the effects of another round of brutal cuts is whining. Fighting to preserve job protections, which are an earned property right, is being emotional. (What, after all, is a life’s work worth anyway?) And if you’re a student, or worse, a graduate who has significant debt…learn to be responsible! And these complaints about race and gender issues…silly young coddled college kids.

What is the value of a coordinated message that pretends that everything is okay? At what point is it just blatantly dishonest and who, outside of the UW, will point that out?

I’m not asking for miracles because I’m a realist and I know what is coming. Still, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for our system President to take us seriously, to not belittle the beleaguered, to not scold the scapegoated, and to consider, just once, standing with UW employees even if it means stepping out from behind the great “thank you” emblazoned on our flimsy, rhetorical shield.

A friend of mine posted the following photo the other day from her campus. But there’s nothing to see here, so let’s not whine about it.

Telling Our Story

panther statue

During the last spring of impending budget cuts, campus leaders regularly invited students, faculty, and staff to “keep telling our story,” often by sharing official university publications with others via social media. This was a communication solution to a political problem. Ultimately the audience for our story was not only the institution, its community, and the people of the state, but the powers that be, i.e., the Republicans in control of state government. The real desired effect from this outpouring of narration was to lessen the budget pain to be meted out by the legislature. By hearing our story, they might be persuaded of our value and spare us some of the inevitable trauma.

The story we were encouraged to tell came from University Relations, which produces promotional news items, videos, and other uplifting UWM content. The campus also tells it story in advertisements, such as the one I often heard last spring claiming that UWM has 28,000 students with an “entrepreneurial spirit.” Many of the videos in the IAMUWM YouTube series, which are around a minute long, center on individual undergraduates, like the gay mechanical engineering major from Brazil who says, ”I feel like I can do anything,” and the psychology major who conquered her fear of flying with the help of a professor. These videos often tell stories of inspiring life choices and goals, some with tenuous links to academic achievement. Much of this PR is obviously directed at prospective freshmen and their parents, whose tuition dollars (many of them borrowed) are essential for our continued existence now that at least four-fifths of our expenditures are tuition-funded.

The campus twitter feed also aims at both current and prospective students, with its regular retweets of new students like this one expressing their excitement over attending UWM.

The new  panther statue in front of Enderis Hall is all about making the campus a fun place for undergrads. Everyone will want a selfie with the panther.

All of this is telling our story: that we’re an exciting place to go to school, but also that we can train you for a job (engineering, or whatever), or open your eyes to new horizons.

Of course UWM is a place of many stories, some of which we are seldom encouraged to tell. Some are stories that could hurt our status with the powers that be or inhibit enrollment — or so think our leaders. Since the cuts have dropped while enrollment has decreased and tuition has remained frozen (and not very affordable despite that), we can tell a story of a campus in financial crisis, uncertain of its future. We can tell a story of an institution where administrators give themselves raises and hire more subordinates while faculty lines go unfilled and raises for academic staff and faculty are mentioned only with many eye-rolls. We can tell the story of students who have to work so many hours, and often care for family members as well, that they don’t have enough time to succeed in school. We can tell the story of our dismal rates of retention and graduation, especially for those from less privileged backgrounds. There are so many stories, and so many that are excluded from “telling our story.”

One story we might tell more often is the political saga of a far-right state government decimating its fine education institutions for ideological reasons and to please outlandishly wealthy masters, constricting the public sector and cancelling the social contract. In response to this austerity regime, which was entirely manufactured through the agency of the state government, did our leaders say “stop this political attack”? Either out of sympathy for the ideology, or of pleasure at the new power it gives them over a subordinate and flexible workforce, or of fear of losing their own jobs, they said instead, “Thank you.” They thanked the powers that be for delivering a smaller cut than had been planned. It was like a patient saying, “thanks, doc, for not amputating all of my fingers. I really appreciate being left with the one. This is great.”

Lately, campus leaders have introduced another phrase employed in crisis management and downsizing: “investing in growth areas.” When the painful cuts to come are addressed during meetings and presentations, we are told that we will not only be cutting, we will also be strategically investing in growth areas. (Especially the ones that lead to new revenue streams, which are the holy grail of administration at the moment.) Investing in growth areas will also become our story, when we find out which areas are to be so blessed with investment. (Perhaps the cuts that “investing in growth” distract from will also figure into our story somehow.) Growth areas will be identified by a market logic: what will bring in revenue, what will yield return on investment, what will keep us out of the red. We’re not talking about growth of intellect, growth of citizenship, growth of community ties or commitment to social justice. Criteria of value will be economic even if they are also curricular. 

As a scholar and critic of the narratives of popular culture (this is my “story”) it strikes me that “telling our story” is an endeavor quite central to traditions of humanistic inquiry. Narrative is a topic of interest to a wide array of interdisciplinary scholars from English and media studies to psychology and medicine. But its reputation is squarely as a liberal arts concern. Will storytelling, and the liberal arts more generally, be among our growth areas? It could depend on which story we are interested in telling.

Michael Newman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies and an executive committee member of the UWM AAUP chapter.

UWM’s New Budget Model: An Explainer

There’s a new budget model slated to be approved soon by UWM’s Chancellor, and it’s a major change from the current one — and if approved, will effectively transform individual schools, colleges, and other units into little financial economies of their own, responsible for generating their own income and spending within their revenues. In this post, I’m going give a rundown on this proposed new budget model.

In addition to pushing individual units into an “entrepreneurial” stance, the new model will also create a brand new central pool of money — the Subvention Fund — from which administrators will have great discretion to fund administrative and support units that don’t produce tuition (e.g. Libraries, UITS, the Chancellor’s office), to pursue strategic initiatives and special projects including “partnerships with businesses,” and if they choose, to “subsidize” schools that don’t produce enough tuition to fund themselves. Although this model has been in development since 2012, and is slated to be approved by the end of the year, there’s still no public proposal for how decisions will be made about how to spend this Subvention Fund.

The implications of the model are complex and enormous, and with the Chancellor scheduled to approve the new model in the next three months, the time is now to register feedback and concerns.

On Oct. 1, I attended one of two recent open forums on the new model, led by Associate Vice Chancellor, Finance & Administrative Affairs, Jerry Tarrer. (See an abridged version of the slides he presented here.) Below, I will outline the big messages I took away from the forum, and look at how these proposed changes fit in with trends at other universities.

Accounting details are dry — I’ve tried to make these as readable and understandable as possible. Rather than to repeat the work done by Jerry Tarrer to explain the technical financial details of the old and new models, my aim is to focus on the questions that we encourage students to address every day: What do all these details mean? Why should we care? What impacts will the new model have on units, departments, students, faculty and staff, and, most importantly, the type of education that we’re creating at UWM?  Mr. Tarrer’s presentation was quiet on these bigger-picture questions, in keeping with the messaging we’ve been receiving from the administration on all recent budget issues.

So: What does it all mean?

The Context: Responsibility Center Management.
UWM’s new budget model seems to be based at least in part on Responsibility Center Management, an accounting model that U.S. universities are adopting at a high rate (though it’s been around a while — the University of Pennsylvania adopted it in the early 1970s in response to a financial crisis). In its general form, RCM requires that each unit’s budget consists of the “revenue” that it “generates” (e.g. tuition, research grants), minus a “tax” that goes to a central pool to fund administrative and support units and special projects. UWM’s central fund is called the Subvention Pool. [1]

In theory, the RCM model can bring positive benefits to the university. Many financial decisions are decentralized — each unit is responsible for managing the full costs of their operations, including things like fringe benefits, which were previously managed by the central administration, and is allowed to make programming decisions that can increase their revenue (through recruiting more students and research funding) and then spend what they earn. Accounting becomes more transparent, and the administration gains flexibility with the use of the Subvention Fund to spend on strategic projects, including “partnerships with businesses,” according to Mr. Tarrer.

That’s the theory, at least. But the problems, of course, can arrive when the only evaluation of the success of academic units is defined in financial terms. Good business practices can be applied to help the successful management of nonprofit organizations like universities. But at the end of the day, a university is not a business. Its goal is to produce not profit, but educated humans who are ready not only to take part in a market economy, but to take part fully in their society and be informed members of their democracy. [2]

The Devil’s in the Metrics?.
The key to using economic incentives effectively is to carefully plan what exactly you’re incentivizing. In the UWM model, there are two main mechanisms for influencing the management choices of deans and other managers.

Most importantly, the primary revenue generated by schools and colleges will be calculated by the formula below. All undergraduate tuition will be pooled, then distributed:

  • 70% by student credit hours
  • 20% by enrolled degree majors (as declared by juniors and seniors)
  • 10% by degrees awarded.

Mr. Tarrer explained that the primary goal in designing these metrics was to reward retention and graduation of students. He said that various distribution schemes and metrics had been examined by the Budget Model Working Group, but gave little sense of the content of those discussions other than to say that the team felt that if less than 70% of the formula was based on credit hours, then the formula would “starve” the College of Letters and Science, which enrolls a disproportionately high number of students in classes who are not planning to major in L&S departments.

But as with any economic incentive, incentivizing one behavior disincentivizes others. It is worth noting that the three metrics chosen for the model for distribution of undergraduate tuition reward schools for maximizing the volumes of students moving through schools and units. At first pass, this sounds fine. Who doesn’t want to fund departments with lots of students, and who doesn’t want to encourage retention and graduation? But what perverse effects can result, particularly in an environment where there is little money to go around and we can expect that schools will be scraping for every dollar? Possibilities include grade inflation, less stringent standards for classes and majors, increased class sizes, and more contingent (adjunct) faculty, none of which are incentives for better quality education. Because of these perverse effects, some universities include academic quality indicators in their models as well as financial ones. See, for example, the fourth slide of this budget model presentation from Ohio University.

The second major incentive built into the model is the distribution of indirect cost recoveries from research grants. Currently, 30% of ICR funds go to units, and a whopping 70% to campus overhead. Under the new proposed model, 80% will go to the units, and 20% to the Subvention Pool.

Who Decides How to Spend the Subvention Pool, Now and in the Future?
Despite all the slides and diagrams and years of planning, there are some very important decisions yet to be made about the new budget model. Mr. Tarrer presented a slide on this topic — a list of decisions to be made going forward — that is not included in the slide presentation available on the UWM website that I linked to above.

The questions are:

  • What level of subvention will be offered to schools and colleges that need additional support?
    {Note: This question refers to schools and colleges, such as Letters and Science, that will not be able to cover their expenses with their current tuition revenues under the new model.}
  • What proportion of funds will be allocated to support units? What metrics will be used?
    {Note: Mr. Tarrer explained that the working group has considered a model in which units like the library would send a yearly invoice to each “revenue-generating” unit for services rendered, which those paying units would be able to argue with in a nightmare-ish-sounding back-and-forth, but said that that model has been rejected for now.}
  • How will money be allocated to central administration and student affairs units?
  • In addition, but not mentioned by Mr. Tarrer, is the question of how decisions will be made about spending on special projects, “strategic” initiatives, and “partnerships with business” that the new model is supposed to support. We’ve heard no plans about how shared governance will inform choices made about spending on big projects that will impact the direction of the institution and the types and quality of education and research that we create.

Mr. Tarrer had no information to offer about the status of these discussions or possible outcomes, but it should be clear to anyone that the answers to these questions are the core answers to the question of what the model means for our institution.

The Budget Model Working Group is to make recommendations on answers to these questions in the next two months, but the final decision will be made by the Chancellor by the end of the year, apparently without meaningful input from governance groups on campus.

No Matter What, There’s Not Much Money.
No matter what model we use to split the money up, there’s just not much of it coming in to UWM.

According to Mr. Tarrer, most of the money coming into UWM from the state is for specific purposes: fringe benefits, utilities,and other earmarks. Before this year’s budget cuts, there was still a small portion of unrestricted funds coming from the state, but after the cut, those unrestricted funds have been basically eliminated. Therefore, virtually all of UWM’s general operating funds come from tuition. (Tuition surpassed state support as UWM’s largest source of revenue more than 10 years ago — see the University Committee’s 2014 fact sheet on UWM’s budget.)

In the original version of the new budget model (reflected in the set of slides posted on the UWM website and linked above), a 20% “tax” was estimated on schools’ tuition to be sent to the Subvention Pool. Mr. Tarrer explained, however, that that “tax” will more realistically be about 40%, based on new levels of state support.

What’s Next?
The clock is ticking on filing the final version of the new budget model and the Chancellor’s approval. What priorities should the model represent? How should decisions be made about spending from the Subvention Pool? How to make your voice heard?

  1. Contact the co-chairs of the Budget Model Working Group with questions:
    Associate Vice Chancellor for Finance & Administrative Affairs Jerry Tarrer (jtarrer@uwm.edu)
    Professor of Economics Swarnjit Arora (ssa2@uwm.edu)
  1. Notify your governance representatives on the University Committee and the Academic Staff Committee.
  1. Join the AAUP, and amplify your voice!

[1] At most universities, including UWM, RCM replaces a so-called incremental budget model, which simply means that units are assigned more-or-less the same proportion of the university’s overall budget as in the previous year, plus or minus that unit’s change in its percentage of overall university enrollment. Support units without enrollment numbers of their own (e.g. Libraries, administrative units) are also funded based on historic levels and at the discretion of administrators.

[2] For more information on RCM from a university administration’s point of view, check out Drexel University’s pages explaining their own recently implemented Responsibility Center Model here and here.
For a critical discussion of RCM from a scholar of the American university, see Christopher Newfield’s Unmaking the Public University: the forty-year assault on the middle class.