Sunday, November 24, 2013

Proposed budget cuts will harm PSU's mission: Guest opinion |

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 Legislature.
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 |

Thursday, November 21, 2013

PSU Faculty Union Protests Budget Cuts | Blogtown, PDX | Portland Mercury

Portland State University’s administration is once again looking to slim down the school’s budget. Needless to say students, faculty and the faculty union aren’t happy.

Yesterday at noon, around 260 individuals, many from the PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)—the union representing the university’s faculty—along with students and other supporters, marched from PSU at SW Broadway to the Market Center Building, where PSU President Wim Wiewel keeps an office.

The protesters’ beef was with the university’s administration, their high salaries, and the budget-cutting knife they’re now wielding.

University higher-ups recently issued an administrative directive ordering all “academic units” identify eight percent of their budgets for possible cuts. The cuts are expected to take another bite out of student services. But the rub, says AAUP reps, is that this starvation diet might not be necessary at all.

“There’s this history of uneven investment on the campus,” Mary King, economics professor and president of the PSU chapter of the AAUP, told the Mercury.

On King’s wish list of possible cuts are what she says are some of PSU’s more ill-conceived investments. Not the least of these is the University Place Hotel—the former Double Tree at 310 SW Lincoln Street that PSU bought and has been running since 2004. King says the hotel has sucked money from student tuition and should be sold.

Of course, union members have their own more personal complaints against their bosses, and—surprise! surprise—it’s over money. But before you think the teachers are greedy bastards not pulling their own weight, consider their argument. (Which, if you wanted to incite class resentment, isn’t a bad one).

The AAUP claims there’s a lot of fat at the top of PSU’s food chain. According to numbers compiled by the union, over the last decade, the average administrator’s salary has gone up substantially. The provost’s salary shot up 46 percent. For vice provosts it was 43 percent. For vice presidents it was around 29 percent. To give this some perspective, consider PSU President Wim Wiewel’s salary.

According to a Chronicle for Higher Education study released earlier this year—and partially disputed by the Oregonian—during 2011-2012 accounting period, Wiewel was paid $627,000 in salary and compensation. The Oregonian’s Betsy Hammond puts the number closer to $513,000. Ranking him somewhere between 42nd and 70th highest paid university administrator in the country.

During the same period, according to Oregon University System numbers, salaries for PSU faculty were $92,800 for full professors, $73,600 for associate professors, $60,300 for assistant professors, and $41,700 for instructors. PSU also has a lot of part-timers, about 52 percent of its faculty, well above the OUS average of 35 percent. In fact, the school has about 173 adjuncts compared to 409 tenure-track faculty members, and 100 “fixed term faculty” (whatever that is).

Yet, in its on-going negotiations with the university—the union’s current contract with the university expires on November 30—AAUP rep Marissa Johnson says PSU administration has asked the faculty to take just a one percent cost of living increase despite the fact, she says, cost of living has gone up by more then two percent recently, and administration salaries went up by 13 percent in the last biennium.

The context for this bickering is, of course, a slow and steady divestment of state funds away from PSU and other Oregon universities. As a result, much of the financial burden for propping up Oregon’s higher ed—and, if the union is right, its well-paid administrators, and an occasional hotel—have fallen on the backs of students in the form of tuition hikes.

King tells the Mercury the AAUP is planning on releasing a study with a larger set of numbers that’ll further break down and compare the salaries of PSU administrators with that or its faculty. (And, presumably build more resentment against the school’s administrators).

On November 25th—that’s next Monday—the AAUP will also be hosting a meeting to further discuss the budget, and nail home its point. The meeting will be at Cramer Hall from 3-5PM. And it’s open to the public.

PSU Faculty Union Protests Budget Cuts | Blogtown, PDX | Portland Mercury