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
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
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.