Sep 202004
 
Authors: Steven Shulman professor of economics

President Penley’s recent Fall Address was notable for what it

ignored: teaching and learning.

Aside from his vague promise to “continue our excellent

undergraduate programs with a commitment to improve even further,”

Penley said nothing about our educational mission.

This is an astonishing omission. President Penley wants the

taxpayers to restore CSU’s funding, yet he ignores their major

interest in CSU. Instead he criticizes them for their “failure …

to recognize and value the richness of the resource that is a great

public research university — Colorado State University.”

Too bad for the taxpayers if what they want is a “great public

teaching university.” Since the taxpayers send their children to

college, it is hardly surprising that survey after survey shows

that they value teaching far more than research. Criticizing them

for the priority they place on teaching is not only foolish, it is

bad politics.

In light of the budget cuts, the taxpayers might well have

wanted to hear how Penley plans to protect our teaching programs.

But they would have been disappointed.

The priorities governing the budget cuts are clear in practice

even if Penley refuses to discuss them. The burden is being placed

almost entirely on students and faculty. The number of faculty

positions has been sharply reduced, courses are being cut,

student-faculty ratios are rising, class sizes are increasing and

resources like the Center for Teaching and Learning and the

Professional Development Institute have been eliminated.

At a recent Faculty Council meeting, I asked Penley about his

plans for corresponding cuts in administration. His answer: He has

none. Apparently he thinks the administration should be exempt from

the demands to do more with less that are affecting every academic

unit on campus.

Perhaps that explains Penley’s decision to increase the number

of highly paid administrators, in part by creating jobs for some of

his old friends from Arizona. Choices like these make it quite

clear that our teaching mission is not among his top

priorities.

That much was obvious from his Fall Address. Instead of talking

about teaching and learning, almost all his comments focused on

funded research. He even promised to channel future resources

(should there be any) into “super clusters of research.”

This will only make the problem worse. Funded research does not

add to the resources that the university has available for

teaching. The dollars that it brings into the university are

entirely used to finance itself.

The distinguished economist Ronald Ehrenberg, who specializes in

the study of higher education, has shown that the percentage of

university research that is funded internally has been increasing

as the cost of research has risen faster than external sources of

funds. Universities that invest the most in research have the

highest student-faculty ratios, the largest class sizes and the

fewest full-time faculty members.

The faculty members engaged in funded research teach fewer

classes and receive higher pay. Their research is valuable

(hopefully) and the university should do what it can to sustain it,

but it is a fantasy to think that the revenues it generates will

offset cuts in teaching resources.

Instead of putting more of its shrinking budget into promoting

research, the university should be doing whatever it can to protect

its teaching mission. For a start, it should reverse its penny-wise

and pound-foolish decision to eliminate the Center for Teaching and

Learning. A small fraction of one of those administrator’s salaries

would bring it back to life.

I’d like to hear more from Penley about the value of teaching

and learning, and the strenuous, creative efforts we are making to

protect and even expand our teaching programs in the context of the

budget cuts. I’d like to see some leadership by example, such as

cutting administration before (or at least with) cutting teaching,

and listening rather than preaching to the public.

From what I can gather, so would the taxpayers and the

politicians who represent them. Maybe if we worked with them

instead of against them we would get somewhere.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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