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An Example of the Problems with Higher Education Today

[ 41 ] November 29, 2011 |

I should preface this post by saying that I rarely complement higher education administrators. I am naturally suspicious of people in power anyway and I always question the motives of faculty who love meetings and the minutia of academia so much that they choose to turn their backs on research and teaching for it. I have found most college/university presidents duplicitous corporate gladhandling hacks. One excellent example of the new species of university president is the University of New Mexico’s David Schmidly, probably the most loathed individual in the Land of Enchantment. Schmidly embodies everything I dislike about the new university–a corrupt man who is “business-friendly” in the sense that he has used his time in the job to destroy much about the university, particularly within the liberal arts, social sciences, and university press.

That said, there are some good ones out there. One is the current (until yesterday) president of my alma mater, the University of Oregon, Richard Lariviere. As Farley can confirm, the University of Oregon was not exactly a great institute of higher education when we were there in the early to mid 90s. Property tax limitations copied from California had severely undermined university funding. The school shut down many programs, including most of the education program. Tuition began rising. In order to make up funding, the university began recruiting heavily out of California. That might sound fine, but in reality, we were getting students who were not smart enough to get into the UC system but had enough money to not have to suffer the Cal St. schools. Rich, lazy Californians, sounds awesome. And indeed it was.

The school has improved some since then, but still ranks very low in pretty important metrics. It has sunk to the lowest per student funding of any American Association of Universities school, and in fact could follow the University of Nebraska in getting kicked out of the organization, which would be a huge blow to the institution. It also paid its professors significantly less than its peer institutions, leading to 15 leaving last year for other jobs. The state was not going to fix. In fact, the state ordered the schools to not give pay raises, saying the state couldn’t afford it. So Lariviere decided to act on his own.

Realizing state funding was never going to come and knowing that the state only provides 5.8% of the school’s funding anyway, Lariviere combined tuition increases, enrollment increases, private funding, and research grants to give employees a 4.5% raise, a huge jump in this day and age. He did this without 1 cent from the state and without asking the state’s permission.

For this, he was canned yesterday.
There are ancillary issues. First, salaries for administrators jumped too. And that’s bad given how much they make. But let’s be honest, it’s not like state governments really care about this unless it’s convenient for them. Administrator salaries are skyrocketing across the country at schools that are eviscerating their faculty. If we want to run our institutions of higher education like a business, we have to concentrate 99% of our resources in the top 1% of employees, right? Second, for whatever reason, people with ties to UO are underrepresented on the Oregon Board of Higher Education (essentially it’s board of trustees) while the regional schools like Western, Eastern, and Southern are highly represented. The Board was outraged that the state’s flagship institution might outpace its regional schools. Third, Lariviere totally bucked Governor John Kitzhaber’s orders on this so I don’t know what he expected.

Maybe Lariviere didn’t care. Unlike most university presidents, doing the right thing by his faculty took priority. I like Kitzhaber. His stand on rejecting the death penalty is to be lauded. But he is wrong here. If the state isn’t going to provide a majority of funding, or anything even close to a majority, why should it have such power over the institution? Last year, the state of Oregon provided $62 million to UO. This year, it is providing $47 million, the lowest number since 1986 and that doesn’t even count for inflation or the much larger student body today.

More here.

Plus, it’s hard to not like a man who not only wears a hat like that, but who kind of looks like John Huston circa-Chinatown.

Comments (41)

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  1. Malaclypse says:

    Plus, it’s hard to not like a man who not only wears a hat like that, but who kind of looks like John Huston circa-Chinatown.

    I see Kolchak the Night Stalker myself. And to be clear, that totally rocks.

  2. wiley says:

    Man, I wish U of O had had the degree program I wanted. I’d be one term shy of a bachelor’s in “Communications in Agricultural Issues” right now. OSU sucked balls. If I wanted a degree in Forestry it would have been a good program, but that’s not what I wanted, and the campus would have still been packed with people who were being encouraged by the administration to extend their childhood into their twenties.

    Are all undergraduate universities treating all the students like children now? It sucks completely.

  3. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Plus, it’s hard to not like a man who not only wears a hat like that, but who kind of looks like John Huston circa-Chinatown.

    You see, Mr. Loomis, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of ANYTHING.

  4. Yosemite Semite says:

    Well, Erik, the University of Oregon wasn’t much before. When I was there in the early 60s, it was known as the University of California at Eugene. My classmates then were probably the rich, lazy parents of your classmates.

  5. Paul Orwin says:

    I don’t really have anything to say about UO, but I am not really too pleased with the casual slagging of the largest public university in the USA (as well as my workplace). The CSU has a tough job, which is not made easier by our chronic underfunding or our suffering K-12 system. We take a lot of pride in our efforts and for my part I would like to send out a hearty fck you to Erik, who is generally a lot more thoughtful in his commentary. By the way, if you are interested, we just called the first strike in our faculty unions history, in our ongoing fight to get raises promised to us 4 yrs ago and taken back 2yrs ago. We have a pretty strong record of success by lots of measures, at the flagship campuses (cal poly slo) but also at the smaller ones like mine, that serve a large minority and lot of poor and commuter students returning to school. We also do a lot of great research in spite of heavy teaching loads, for lower salaries (but good benefits, that the admin wants those back too). And we have a fair share of rich dumb kids too (as well as many smart, driven students)

    • Erik Loomis says:

      I think you miss the point. I am not attacking the Cal St. system. But as you point out, you are massively underfunded. So students who can avoid it, try to avoid it. What is so offensive about stating this truth?

      • Paul Orwin says:

        I know you weren’t attacking the CSU, it is the casual dismissal of it that ticks me off. I’m aware it wasn’t the point (I agree with your point, and wish we had administrators that would go to bat for us like that). But your claim about the influx of californians seems to include an assertion o the low quality of the cal state schools, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit. Why didn’t they go to USC, or one of the many other privates in Ca? I have had lots of students in my classes, as well as faculty colleagues from UC, who tell me that our education at CSUSB is as good as or better than the same at UCR, our nearest neighbor. This is largely because our faculty are teaching all of the classes, we still have lab classes in our biology major, things like that. I know folks in OR and WA love to complain about all the Californians moving up there, but meeting a guy at UO was,like, a total surfer dude is not really evidence.
        Actually the line about recruiting from CA makes sense, and fits with my experience (we recruit heavily from Asia for similar reasons), and pretty much obviates the need to bash the Cal State system. So it pissed me off, as unfounded evidence free bullshit often does.

        • BW says:

          As a post-baccalaureate student at a CSU school (I’m taking premed classes at SFSU) I’d be interested in seeing data on CSU funding vis-a-vis UC funding. Is the overcrowding, crazily “impacted” (aka full) classes, at UCR or UC Merced anywhere what it is at a typical CSU? It’s a shame to see truly excellent teaching faculty – I have a BA from an Ivy League institution and am constantly impressed by the instruction quality from CSU professors who are basically putting their research on the back burner to teach – hamstrung by shitty structural forces.

        • Furious Jorge says:

          But your claim about the influx of californians seems to include an assertion o the low quality of the cal state schools

          That’s how I interpreted it as well, from my vantage point on the complete opposite side of the continent and with no dog in the fight either way.

    • Mike says:

      Accurately describing the CSU isn’t slagging it. It’s a struggling institution; you admit as much in your post. The CSU system is a potentially great one that’s been crippled by a taxation and budgetary system that could kindly be described as among the most dysfunctional imaginable.

      • Paul Orwin says:

        Right, but that is not what he said. And of course I agree about the underfunding and the potential. And I don’t really want to derail the comment thread further, I was just venting (and it’s the end of the quarter)

  6. It’s a state school. The President should have realized that and acted accordingly.

  7. Abid says:

    I’ve seen in most of the countries of the world their are lots of problems with higher education, especially in the developing and under develop countries. I think there education is not the priority of government…

    • Taleem says:

      you are obviously right and its not only the problem of developing countries in most of the developed countries the educationist are not agree with the higher education facilities given by government.

  8. Anderson says:

    I should preface this post by saying that I rarely complement higher education administrators.

    Maybe you should try harder to dress in complementary colors to their usual attire.

    • Visitor says:

      That’s much more cleverly put that what I was gonna say… But yes, that’s a typo (for the perplexed: it should be compliment) that might be worth correcting, since this is a post that might draw a lot of new readers!

  9. witless chum says:

    People from Oregon tend to not be huge fans of California, correct?

    I remember going on vacation with parents up the coast from San Francisco to Coos Bay and then inland to Portland and my dad striking up various conversations with locals who were happy to hear that 1.) We just had California plates because it was a rental and 2.) we were going back to Michigan in about 10 days and not moving there.

    • Linnaeus says:

      When I lived in Oregon back in the late 1990s, I saw old 70s-era trucks and such that had “Don’t Californicate Oregon” bumper stickers on them. I think the anti-California feelings had attenuated quite a bit by the time I got there, although I was asked a few times if I had moved to Oregon from California. When I said no, that I had moved there from Michigan, I was definitely considered to be less threatening.

    • mpowell says:

      What is the problem with CA in the minds of Oregon folk? Or is this just the little brother syndrome?

      • Erik Loomis says:

        As an Oregonian, the problem comes basically down to a combination of an inherent conservatism that is uncomfortable with widespread change in our state and a specific dislike of California for the pollution, the sleazy Hollywood types, the high home prices, and for the attitude. I’m not saying any of this is more than stereotype, but that’s how a lot of people feel. You fucked up your state, now stay there. I don’t necessarily feel that way today of course.

        • Holden Pattern says:

          One might also note that Californians retire to Oregon, often cashing out their house to buy a house in Oregon, driving up housing prices in relatively poor areas, and then vote down any kind of taxes or other actions that might improve the lot of people who aren’t retirees.

  10. I think you’re missing a bit of the bigger picture — he wanted to turn UO into a private school, basically with a bit ol’ fuck you to the rest of the state while he was at it. We, the state, built the school. You want to take it private? Sure, just be sure to reimburse us all for the entire cost of the damn thing first. How very glibertarian of him to want to take the entire infrastructure that was built collectively and then profit from it.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      No, the legislature has basically chosen to privatize the school by not funding it. If the state wants full power over the institution, it should pay more than 6% of its costs.

      • By that logic none of our state schools is “public” — they all receive a small percentage of their budgets from the state.

        I’m really not defending the state though, the entire education system in this state is fucked. I think we should try to fix it all though, not just let UO take the money and run.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          UO isn’t taking the money and running, it’s dealing with the crisis by itself. Let the other schools do the same. UO is the flagship university after all and its future should not be tied to whatever is happening in LaGrande and Ashland.

          • Wow, really? That’s not how it works (or shouldn’t be) in a public system, but OK, at least I see where you’re coming from now.

          • I realize we’re not going to agree on this, but there’s one more thing I need to point out — pretending that he funded all those salary increases “creatively” and it’s not costing the state anything is disingenuous.

            These people are all state employees. He got funding for salary increases for this year. Starting next year, those increased salaries will be paid out of the normal budget. Further, retirement contributions are based on your salary, and the state’s matching contribution increases because of that. So while I’ll commend him for at least being creative in getting funding for their initial increases, pretending that they are somehow “free” for the state is just spin.

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