Ohio AAUP Reacts to Dispatch Attack on Faculty

On Sunday, January 16, an editorial by Ron Stolle, a former business executive and currently an assistant professor of Finance at Kent State University, appeared in The Columbus Dispatch. The editorial presented an attack on tenure that the OCAAUP Board felt was so egregiously inaccurate that it demanded a response. What follows is the response, which represents a truly collaborative effort among the members of the Board.

To the Editor, Columbus Dispatch:

In response to Ron Stolle’s guest editorial titled “Eliminating Tenure Would Save Money,” here are some actual facts that your readers should consider.

Right up front, the tenure system provides for faculty the protection to teach, conduct research, and participate in the shared governance of their institutions without fear of political or corporate intervention.  That’s its purpose in a nutshell.

Stolle’s editorial is full of the usual stereotypes alleging the wasteful evils of tenure and hackneyed caricatures of unproductive senior faculty who focus neither on teaching nor research but only on the petty politics of protecting their own narrow self-interest. It is surprising that a former business executive with 29 years of corporate experience could be so mistaken about the “bottom line”.

The editorial does a disservice to your readers by simplistically characterizing the tenure system as an avenue to a “lifelong guaranteed job, with pay and benefits”.  As is the case with most employees, tenured faculty can be, and are, fired for cause.  What tenure guarantees is that faculty members cannot be fired for the content of their lectures, research or opinions regarding the governance of the institution.  In fact, tenure comes with the expectation that faculty do just that.  The American Association of University Professors’ 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure says it pretty well:

Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition. Academic freedom is essential to these purposes … and in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights. Tenure is … indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.  (see http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/policydocs/contents/1940statement.htm)

If Ohio citizens would like to have a glimpse of a world without tenure, they need only compare the lives of our citizens to those of countries where the tenure process is absent in institutions of higher education.

Realistically, Ohio’s citizens should understand the years of preparation faculty members undertake before they seek tenure, as well as the degree of scrutiny the tenure process requires, and the continued evaluation of the quality of their work after tenure is granted.  Typically, after three academic degrees requiring 4-6 years of academic training beyond a bachelor’s degree, having to write at least one original, publishable manuscript (often more than one) to demonstrate disciplinary expertise, and passing final comprehensive examinations, an academic professional is ready to seek tenure-line employment in an Ohio college or university.  Here, the selection process will entail competing with many other recently educated professionals, where the odds of being chosen for employment may be as high as 50 to 1.

Once hired, the new tenure-line faculty member must show, for the next six years, annual progress towards teaching excellence, research productivity, and service to the university, profession, and community.  At any point along this six year probationary period, the tenure candidate may not be retained.  Should they work very hard, providing useful service to students, their institution and discipline, they must pass muster among their departmental colleagues, their college’s dean, university level committees, the institutions provost or senior vice-president, and finally gain the approval of the institution’s board of trustees.

After tenure is earned (not granted, but earned), tenure-line faculty continue to teach, do research, provide service to their institution and discipline in order to obtain promotions in rank, and thereafter for merit increases to their salaries.  The outcome of their efforts, in addition to providing a vibrant educational experience for their students and serving as mentors to the next generation of college instructors and researchers, is evident. Further, research that is done in American colleges and universities by tenured professors has improved the health, quality of life, and competitiveness of the republic. We would be remiss if we omitted the many partnerships faculty members have with business and industry, research and development firms, health and wellness centers, and creative and professional arts foundations.  It is precisely the tenure process, and the evaluation and scrutiny that it entails that lays the foundation for these profitable relationships.

What is saving Ohio students from even higher tuition increases is the increasing revenue being brought into Ohio by research at its universities. Research dollars are off-setting the nearly 50% reduction in state support that had occurred over the last quarter century. Most of that research is being produced by senior, tenured professors who have produced more, not less, as their careers have advanced. The stature that they have achieved results from the fact that higher education, at least on the faculty side, is still largely a meritocracy where tenure lines have been maintained.

This point should be further defined, however.  Nationally, the number of tenure-line faculty in American universities and colleges has consistently declined over the last 50 years.  In the mid-1960s, 75% of course offerings were taught by tenure-line faculty, with 25% of the offerings taught by part-time faculty and graduate students.  Today, those numbers have been almost completely reversed with only 25-30% of course offerings taught by full-time, tenure-line faculty.  This is a change reflecting the loss of tenure-lines, and not the massive relegation of large numbers of faculty to other activities.  If the trend continues, a tenured professor will become the quaint museum item professor Stolle is recommending.

In terms of compensation, Stolle should look elsewhere—actually anywhere would be nice—for some facts to support his assertions of overpaid, underworked employees in the academy. Adjusting for inflation over the last quarter century, the salaries of tenured faculty have declined right along with the incomes of other American middle class employees.

Stolle writes that “the reality is 85 percent of higher-education costs relate to salaries and benefits.”  As is true with most corporatized entities, one of the major costs of operation is salary and benefits of its workforce.  However, to lay the blame for rising tuition and operational costs on overpaid faculty is to fundamentally and patently misrepresent the facts.

The actual data, which is freely accessible to anyone, comes from the Ohio Faculty Salary Survey, published by Ohio State.

  • Average Salary and Benefits by institution and as a percent of operating costs, which includes all employees at Ohio’s universities and colleges is 59% , not 85%
  • Instruction (which includes salaries and benefits of teaching faculty, and virtually everything that goes into offering a class accounts for only 32% of operating expenses.
  • And finally, the compensation of Professors, Associate Professors and Assistant Professors (a proxy for tenure track faculty) accounts for an average of 14% of operating expenses and only 26% of total compensation for all employees.

See the data for yourself at http://hr.osu.edu/statistics/ohfacsal10.pdf

It might come as a surprise to your readers that of the total number of paychecks issued each month by our institutions of higher education, less than 25% are for tenure-line faculty.

Several years ago, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicated certain, rather surprisingly high, salaries for full professors at Ohio State University. In a follow-up letter to the editor several weeks later, an OSU faculty member pointed out that if former administrators were eliminated from the calculation, the average salary of full professors dropped by almost $30,000 or about 25%. No less a conservative enterprise than the Goldwater Institute, refers to this disparity as “administrative bloat”:

“Enrollment at America’s leading universities has been increasing dramatically, rising nearly 15 percent between 1993 and 2007. But unlike almost every other growing industry, higher education has not become more efficient. Instead, universities now have more administrative employees and spend more on administration to educate each student. In short, universities are suffering from “administrative bloat,” expanding the resources devoted to administration significantly faster than spending on instruction, research and service.

We base our conclusions on data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Higher education institutions report basic information about enrollment, employment and spending in various categories to IPEDS, which then makes this systematically collected information publicly available. In this report, we focus on the 198 leading universities in the United States. They are the ones in IPEDS identified as four year colleges that also grant doctorates and engage in a high or very high level of research. This set includes all state flagship public universities as well as elite private institutions.” (see the Goldwater Institute’s Report on Higher Education at http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/article/4941

The same widening gap in compensation that exists between business executives and production workers in American manufacturing exists as well between administrators and faculty in the academy.  Indeed, as more and more tenured professors have been replaced by full and part time faculty off the tenure track, the average faculty wage has continued to decline. In fact and practice, it is the proliferation of administrators and administrative staff that is responsible for much of the escalation of university costs, just as it is responsible for much of the escalation of K-12 costs.

The Delta Project issued a report, “Trends in College Spending: Where Does the Money Go from the Delta Project on Post-Secondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability”, which substantiates our claims.

“From 2002 to 2006, total spending on education and related services declined for all types of institutions except research universities. Additionally, the share of educational spending dedicated to classroom instruction declined at all types of institutions from 2002 to 2006. By contrast, spending on academic support, student services, administration, and maintenance increased as a share of total educational costs over the same period.”

And from the Delta Project’s “Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about Higher Ed Finance”:

Conventional Wisdom #1: Spending increases in higher education are inevitable, because there is no way to improve the productivity of teaching and learning without sacrificing quality.

“This myth equates institutional productivity with faculty labor productivity, as if all costs in higher education are driven by faculty workload and compensation.

It’s not true: spending on faculty is a minority of total spending in most institutions, a proportion that has been declining in all sectors for the last two decades. ” (See all their reports at http://www.deltacostproject.org/index.asp

One of the services provided by the AAUP is to do financial audit analyses for faculty groups seeking valid information about the financial health of their institution, and report precisely how their institution is spending its resources.  One of the findings that consistently surfaces in these analyses is a very slow growth in instructional expenditures of 1-2% in any given five year period, while expenditures on administration (including non-instructional staff) is between 15-17%.

In closing, the Ohio Conference of the AAUP is concerned about our state’s financial future and we intend to do everything within our power to contribute to solutions.  As faculty members ourselves, we understand the difficulty the citizens of Ohio, your readers, sometimes have in differentiating fact from fiction.  We are sometimes misdirected and confused ourselves.  Fundamentally, university and college faculty members are primarily interested in seeking the truth, no matter where the search leads us. Academic freedom and tenure provide the security we need to do our job.  Without these working principles, our product – educated students, community service, and sound research – we become corporatized workers reduced simply to increasing the company’s profit margin, and are removed ever further away from our pledge to serve the public good.

Communications Committee
Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors

Martin Kich, Professor of English, Wright State University – Lake Campus
David Witt, Professor of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Akron
John Cuppoletti, Professor of Physiology, University of Cincinnati

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