Rational RetrenchmentAre there productive ways to approach budget cutting?
Retrenching, reorganizing, reallocating, reinvesting—no matter what you call it, budget cutting has reached the stage of gut-wrenching. Dealt a cavalcade of ever-deeper cuts in state appropriations, universities now confront the need to prune courses, programs—and people. With such painful decisions now a reality, campus tensions are high, morale is down, and a black cloud of uncertainty hangs low on the horizon.
Hardly immune from the human pain that they know that program cuts cause, administrators talk of having to make impossible decisions when the only options are mostly awful. But they also know that difficult choices now can strengthen an institution, help it reconnect with its core mission and position it competitively for the future.
H wever painful it can be, retrenchment can also be productive. It turns out that there are indeed rational approaches to budget cutting.
The Full Story
“Florida universities consider eliminating several degree programs.”
“Missouri colleges to cut 116 degree programs.”
“Penn State eyes $10 million in program cuts.”
While the specter of program cuts at public universities regularly makes headlines, the media typically does not tell the full story about the complex— and agonizing—process that informs any decision to close an academic program.
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) faces typical fiscal challenges. On top of a 6.5 percent budget hit last year, UNCG is looking at projected cuts on the order of another 15 percent for the coming year.
More than Good MannersCultivating a Spirit of Open Dialogue and Civility on Campus
As tens of thousands of people gathered in Madison, Wis. in February to protest Governor Scott Walker’s proposed legislation to eliminate public employee’s collective bargaining rights, the campus community at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh was engaged in conversation on how to foster and maintain civility on college and university campuses. The Oshkosh gathering—with a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect that included representatives from throughout the UW system—was a stark contrast to the tense scene taking place nearly 100 miles away at the state’s capitol.
The main goal of the workshop, “Civility in Everyday Life,” held on Feb. 24-25, was to discuss ways the UW System campuses could develop and support initiatives that would promote academic freedom and free speech in open environments that honor diversity. While etiquette and good manners are essential components of civility, says UW Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells, the primary concern on college campuses relates to respect for people and for their ideas.
“It is clear that we need to put student learning about democracy and the public good at the center of academic inquiry,” Wells told the group gathered for the workshop. “We need to gain deeper institutional understanding about how to educate students for democracy, how liberal education can foster civic engagement, what stands in the way of these efforts, and what new directions institutions might take in making civic learning a core component of every graduate’s education.”
The UW workshop—which brought together administrators, faculty, staff and students to discuss the meaning of civility and glean ideas from nationally recognized campus-based civility programs—is one of many emerging, deliberate efforts across the country to foster civility on college and university campuses. As the rhetoric of U.S. politicians becomes more caustic and polarizing, university leaders throughout the country are taking up the cause of guiding students to become not only more tolerant of diversity, but willing to engage in dialogue with people whose viewpoints are different.
Ethics for Presidents
University presidents, in their sphere of authority, are empowered to make a range of specific decisions with ethical implications on behalf of the university. For example, at times the president must decide if a reprimand by the supervisor of an employee is a matter of imposing a high standard of work expectations or an act of harassment. Or the president may be the last line of appeal to determine whether an employee is being laid off for stated financial reasons or as punishment for speaking out against departmental practices. Similarly, did a promotion committee turn down a candidate for legitimate reasons or because of personality clashes? Should budget cuts disproportionately protect instructional funds? Can there be circumstances that might lead a president to intervene and countermand a penalty against a student found guilty of plagiarism?
For most people in leadership positions, knowing how to treat other people is, fundamentally, a matter of common sense. We learn and understand what is right, good, just, fair and honorable from our families, social groups, religious affiliations, schools, culture and society. These understandings generally converge, and we enter adult life with a developed sense of morality. Our ethics—the articulation of the moral principles we live by—are hardly mysterious by the time we assume positions of leadership such as a university presidency. We must ask, however, is common sense sufficient to help a president make the range of decisions he or she is likely to encounter?
While common sense can certainly take a president a long way into the ethical decision making process, this role also carries with it some special obligations that go above and beyond the morality that is the foundation for most of our interactions with one another. I would like to explain briefly why university presidents have special ethical obligations, and also outline what they are.
Beyond the Numbers – Dreams & ValuesWithin the broad framework of accountability, postsecondary education is being asked to demonstrate more clearly how students are learning. Here’s a scan of today’s landscape for assessing student outcomes
The Value of Dreams
Pick up almost any newspaper across America, and one gets the sense of our being at a pivotal point. A recent Washington Post article commented, “This is a critical moment for the country. From the faltering economy to the burdensome deficit to our foreign policy struggles, America is suffering a widespread sense of crisis and anxiety about the future.” It is clear that we are in a defining period, nationally and globally. On the one hand, we see more Americans and others thriving, more scientific breakthroughs, and more indices of human progress than ever before; on the other hand, Americans and others throughout the world are living through a period of enormous uncertainty. Never has it been more apparent that our colleges and universities have a great responsibility and vital role to play in educating Americans to think critically, in shaping their values and developing their skills, and in helping growing numbers of Americans move out of poverty. We also are responsible for helping Americans put their immediate fears in perspective and to focus on those values that are most important to us as a society and as individuals. Our efforts will contribute substantially to determining the future of humankind.
Education’s Transformational Power
During critical periods of the 20th century, America experienced social, political and economic developments that led to public policies and legislation that reflected much about our values. In 1944, for example, President Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, better known as the G.I. Bill, which by the mid-1950s had extended educational and training opportunities to nearly eight million World War II veterans. And the tumultuous 1960s produced sweeping civil rights legislation guaranteeing access for all Americans to public accommodations, voting booths and housing; this decade was also responsible for the Higher Education Act of 1965, which increased substantially the numbers of Americans from all backgrounds who earned college degrees. In fact, over the past six decades, the percentage of whites 25 years old and over with college degrees increased from six to 28 percent, while the percentage of African-Americans the same age with college degrees rose from only three percent to 18 percent. Over the past three decades, the percentage of Hispanic-Americans with college degrees increased from six to 12 percent, and more than 50 percent of Asian-Americans 25 years old and over hold college degrees. (Data on Native Americans have not been reported by the Census Bureau because the samples have been too small.
Keeping Students Safe Abroad
For higher education leaders who work hard to create global learning experiences for students, the recent instability in Egypt is a reminder of the many dangers inherent in this endeavor. At Salisbury University (Md.), we have been able to sit this one out, with no students studying abroad in Egypt and no programs immediately planned.
We have not been so lucky in the past. The blizzard in London (2010), the coup in Honduras (2009), the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (2008), the postelection violence in Kenya (2007) and the ongoing narco-violence in Mexico all have affected study abroad programs offered by my campus.
There are, of course, specific individual incidents, such as the student who needed an emergency appendectomy in Ecuador, one who was hit by a motorcycle in Spain, and another who suffered mental health problems in China. With so many risks, what can university presidents do to help keep our students safe when they are abroad? Many organizations offer support, such as NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the Forum on Education Abroad, the Overseas Security Affairs Council of the U.S. State Department, and the SAFETI Clearinghouse, to name a few. All campus presidents and chancellors should be certain that staff members know about these valuable resources.