The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"The quality of an organization can never exceed the quality of the minds that make it up."... ...Harold R. McAlindon.

Commentary of the Day - February 6, 2003:  Something's Not Computing Here.

Eleanor Yang, staff writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune published a story on Wednesday, January 29, 2003 that is deserving of much more attention than it appears to have received.

According to Yang's report on a news conference recently held by California State University System Chancellor Charles Reed:

....Reed has announced a bold plan to accommodate 25,000 new students next year while cutting 10% from Cal State's proposed budget.

...Under the plan, enrollment on the 23 campuses (of the CSU) would grow by 5%, while services would be diluted and academic excellence possibly compromised.

For example, Reed said, the student-to-faculty ratio will likely increase.

Library equipment and technology would not be updated or replaced as quickly.  Maintenance and repairs would be put off.  Travel budgets and administrative positions would be frozen.

"This is a high-risk plan," Reed said.  "We're going to rely on part-time faculty.  Students won't get every class they're looking for ...but we can maintain access."

The impetus for Reed's "bold plan" to boost enrollment in the face of sharp declines in state support for the largest system of public higher education in the world appears to be a desire to avoid the wrath of parents and politicians as the CSU attempts to cope with "Tidal Wave II" -- the rapid growth in the number of high school graduates that appears to be affecting mainly the urban areas of the state.

About 90% of the costs of operating the California State University System comes from state general funds.  The remainder comes from student fees, federal grants, and similar sources.  At present California is facing a budget deficit of gargantuan proportions.  By Governor Davis's own estimate the deficit likely will run as high as $35 billion.  The reasons for this deficit are manifold.  They include the effects of the general economic slowdowns that seem to dog newly elected Republican administrations at the national level, economic problems that are specific to California's high technology industrial base, the hangover from the "electric power crisis" that was manufactured by Enron and other discredited energy traders who persuaded the California legislature to adopt an energy deregulation bill that played into the hands of these bandits, and the free spending ways of a state legislature that had lost most of its more experienced hands to term limits.  (Even if the old-time legislators had not been termed out, it is not clear that California could have escaped the budget crisis -- state-level politicians in the Golden State clearly are not the brightest stars in the firmament!)

The extent of the budget damage to the CSU system, while not as bad as is predicted for some other parts of state government; nevertheless, is substantial.  The Governor is proposing actual cuts for the system's 2003-04 budget of $326 million, and he is not including funds in the budget to cover increased costs of health care benefits, increased worker's compensation costs, and salary and wage increases that already have been contracted for.  The total effect will be a reduction of about $448 million in the system budget.  Part of this deficit will be offset by a projected 25% increase in student fees for next year (2003-04) that would raise about $121 million.  That leaves about $327 million to be accounted for.  With no increase in enrollment that would imply a reduction of $800 per student (actually per full-time equivalent student in the jargon of the system), or in round numbers about an 8% reduction.

If -- as Chancellor Reed proposes -- the system accepts 25,000 additional unfunded students, the effective loss to the system budget is approximately another $240 million (the funds from the state that the system is not receiving for these students less the additional fees of about $7.4 million that will be collected over the present fees), which raises the effective reduction per student to about $1,300.  In round numbers, this represents a reduction of about 13% in state support for each student in the system.

Now Charlie Reed, who hasn't been in a classroom for some 30 years and who has never taught a course in the California State University System, thinks that all of this can be taken care of by teaching larger classes with more part-time instructors, to whom he will pay starvation wages.

Unfortunately, Charlie remains clueless about how the campuses actually cope with budget reductions.  Since the effects of Tidal Wave II have been with us for a few years now, most of the urban campuses already are teaching sections that are jam packed.  Here at Krispy Kreme U. the students are "hanging from the chandeliers" so to speak in the introductory courses.  More than half of these students now are taught by part-time faculty.  Department Chairs at campuses up and down the state already have been told by their deans to reduce the number of sections that will be taught next year to cope with the budget cuts.

Guess whose not going to be rehired next fall?  You betcha!  It's all those part-time faculty who were hired in the last two years to cope with Tidal Wave II.  Some of the slack will be taken up by full-time faculty teaching larger classes where possible, but the net effect likely will be at least a 10% reduction in available class sections.

Yang closed her article with a quote from executive vice chancellor Richard West, who said: "We think it's better to have access.  We already know the quality will suffer."  In reality, quality has been suffering for a long time in the CSU -- at least as long as Reed has held the position of Chancellor.

But this time Reed, West and the rest of the clowns at Golden Shores (the system headquarters in Long Beach) may well find themselves surprised at the reaction of both students and parents to a system that admits students, but offers them only the empty shell of an education.


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© 2003 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.