The relentless shabbiness of CUNY: What is to be done?

by Corey Robin on May 29, 2016

The lead story in today’s New York Times is a devastating attack on CUNY, where I’ve been teaching for nearly two decades, and the state’s criminal under-funding of a once-great institution. An above-the-fold photograph of a library at one of CUNY’s senior colleges features students studying at tables, surrounded by buckets strategically placed to catch the gallons of water dripping down from the ceiling. It’s a near perfect tableau of what it’s like to teach at CUNY today: excellent, hard-working students, encircled by shabbiness, disrepair, and neglect.

Though you should read the entire piece, here are some of the highlights.

The infrastructure is collapsing

The piece begins thus—

On the City College of New York’s handsome Gothic campus, leaking ceilings have turned hallways into obstacle courses of buckets. The bathrooms sometimes run out of toilet paper. The lectures are becoming uncomfortably overcrowded, and course selections are dwindling, because of steep budget cuts….

—and it doesn’t let up, across 50 paragraphs and seven columns, relentlessly documenting an institution facing near collapse.

It reports on a college library with an entire annual book budget of $13,000—that’s less than the individual research budgets of many professors at elite universities—and books covered in tarps to protect them from rainstorms and leaky roofs. At another college, a biology professor is stalked across the stage of her genetics lecture by giant water bugs. There are computers that still use floppy disks, Wi-Fi that doesn’t work, elevators and copy machines out of commission, and more.

The piece makes a brief nod to my campus, Brooklyn College, whose “rapidly deteriorating campus” has earned it the moniker “Brokelyn College.”

I can personally attest to that. On Thursday, as I left campus, I stopped in the men’s room of our wing of James Hall. One of the two urinals was out of business, covered by a plastic sheet. I sighed, and thought back to the time, about a year ago, that that urinal was so covered for about six months. The clock in my office has been stopped for over a year. Our department administrator tried to get it fixed: it worked for two days, and broke again.

Last fall, our union launched a hashtag campaign #BroklynCollege. Go on Twitter, and you’ll see photographs like this:


And this:


And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

That last one is a personal favorite: that’s the sight that greeted me for weeks on end as I walked into James Hall last fall.

Last year, the Washington Post ran an oped by a Columbia philosophy professor about her experiences teaching at a prison in upstate New York. While the piece was a thoughtful exploration of the relationship between incarceration and education, I was struck by these passages—

My incarcerated students differ radically from the ones at Columbia. When I walk into a tidy, well-equipped classroom on Morningside campus, I know my undergrads have spent years preparing for academic achievement, supported by family and teachers. Trained to ask hard questions, they consider diverse perspectives and then expect to get to the bottom of things.

When a correctional officer escorts me into a prison room equipped with rickety tables, tangled Venetian blinds, and no chalk, I know my incarcerated students have been locked away for years – sometimes for decades — with virtually no opportunity for intellectual stimulation.

My main goal as a teacher in prison has been to create a space comfortable enough for exploration and insight. The circumstance does not make that easy. With a heating system so loud we can barely hear ourselves think


—and the explicit contrast they draw between this professor’s experience of her physical environment at Columbia and at this prison. As I wrote in a blog post at the time:
As any professor at CUNY will tell you, the telltale signs that the author of this piece attributes to prison—rickety tables, tangled blinds, no chalk, loud heating systems—are ubiquitous features on our campuses. I have a very strict no-gifts policy for my students: at the end of the semester, I only accept emails or cards of thanks. But one day a student gave me a gift, and as I protested to her that I don’t accept them, she gently pressed it into my hand and said, “Just open it.” It was a box of chalk: I gratefully accepted it. That’s how bad things can get at CUNY.

It’s difficult to explain to people who teach on tonier campuses how wearying and dispiriting this relentless shabbiness can be. While you’re striving to inculcate excellence in your students, to get them to focus on the lyrical beauty of a passage in Plato or the epigrammatic power of a line from Machiavelli, you have to literally shut your eyes to the space around you, lest its pervasive message of “What’s the point? Give up!” get inside your head. Or the students’.

Which brings me to a second element in the article.

Scrimping on our students

While there are periodic articles in the media about the challenges of teaching at cash-starved campuses like CUNY, this is one of the very few that gets into the nitty gritty of what that means. For both students and teachers.


The bigger class sizes have made it harder to grade papers. Three-page papers are now more common, students and instructors said, versus the once-standard five or six pages. Classes, overstuffed, have become more impersonal.


Michael Batson, an adjunct lecturer who has taught history at the College of Staten Island since 2000, said that he traditionally gave his freshmen, many from immigrant families, “low-risk assignments” at first, in order to offer intensive instruction.


But his classes have steadily increased in size, while staying in the same cramped classrooms. Group projects — which he favors, as a way to get small clusters of students to work together — have also become impossible.



As both a professor and chair of my department, I can’t tell you how much this issue of class size speaks to me. In political science, we’ve been monomaniacal about keeping our class sizes small. I’ve written about the benefits of that class size, particularly this semester, when I am teaching our department’s capstone seminar. It has allowed me to focus on the writing of our students to an unparalleled degree. As I said earlier this month:
It’s an intense process for the students. We start with a one- to two-page précis. The students then write a detailed outline of the paper. Then they submit a rough draft (I just got the rough drafts yesterday and have begun reading them today). And then the final draft, which is due in a few weeks.

My goal is twofold: first, to get the students to really dig into a topic (I’ve written about that here); second, to teach the students that old truism that all writing is just rewriting. I think the fancy ed folks like to call that “iterative writing” (google that phrase and you get 16.2 million results). But to me, it’s just writing. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you snake oil.

This kind of teaching, that kind of intensive feedback, of going over sentence after sentence, is a lot of work. It can be grueling and challenging for the student.


And just this past week, as my students handed in their final papers, I got the following email from a student:

I would like to thank you for an excellent semester and for the critiques of my paper. I have never had a professor pay such close attention to a paper that I have written and give such thorough edits and suggestions. Although it was tough, I appreciate it because it helped a great deal.



There’s a reason this student has never gotten this kind of attention from a professor: she’s in classes that are too big taught by instructors (permanent and adjunct) who are teaching anywhere from three to five classes per term, responsible for anywhere from 100 to 200 students. At Brooklyn College, our teaching load is 4/3: four courses one term, three courses another. At the community colleges, it’s 5/4. And our adjuncts have even greater challenges of racing across the city’s five boroughs, hoping to catch one class at the College of Staten Island, another at City Tech, and a third at Lehman, just to make a paltry $9,000, if they’re lucky, a term. (Most adjuncts get paid roughly $3000 per class.)

Ever since I became chair, I’ve struggle to protect our department’s small class sizes from the administration, which wants us to pack more students into each classroom. It has made my relationship with the administration contentious, and I’ve often gotten into heated exchanges in person, on the phone, and email. But as much as I push back against the administration, I recognize that they are only responding to financial constraints of their own. We’re not Harvard, they’ll tell us—even though there was a time, as the Times poignantly reports, when City College (Brooklyn College, too), was proudly known as the “the poor man’s Harvard”—and they’re just doing the math.

But doing the math has long-term corrosive effects on the students. As we see in those passages from the Times piece above. It also has long-term corrosive effects on the faculty and administration. As this passage from the same piece shows:

Last fall, with Albany’s budget uncertain, the CUNY administration asked its colleges to cut their budgets by at least 3 percent. City College, citing increased personnel costs and declining enrollment, particularly in graduate programs, imposed a 10 percent cut, or $14.6 million. Programs with the steepest enrollment declines suffered the most, with the humanities and education departments cut by more than 40 percent each.

“It is a good budget model, and it’s better than the way we used to do it for the past 40 years, which was arbitrary, very political and you had to go and beg for everything,” said Gordon A. Gebert, the interim dean of the architecture school.


When you operate in an environment of austerity, educational questions ineluctably become, wholly and entirely, financial questions. And suddenly educators talk like accountants. As this interim dean quoted by the Times inadvertently reveals. How do we decide where to devote scarce resources? Not by thinking about what we as educators deem to be of paramount educational value. No, just follow the students. If they’re registering for business classes because that’s where they think the money and career are to be found, long-term, then we should cut English, history, and philosophy. The Sixties were supposed to be the high-water mark of student-led education, but never have educators so slavishly followed the preferences (really, perceived preferences) of students as they do today. Not because these educators are trying to give students what they need but because they’re trying to maximize their returns, to get the greatest bang for their back.

I’ll never forget a meeting I was in earlier this year between the department chairs and the college’s administrators. One administrator said, point blank, the money goes where the students go; we have to maximize each dollar we spend on teaching. Not a single person in the room objected, so unremarkable did that kind of talk seem. It’s as if we were the board of General Motors. But with no money.

Administrators run amok

I always say that at CUNY, 95% of our problems are structural: we’re getting screwed by the state; we don’t have enough money. But there’s that last 5% of shittiness that we do to ourselves.

The Times piece demonstrates this perfectly. Until 1976, CUNY was free. It provided an amazing education to generations of immigrants and working-class students. Then it began to retrench. Tuition began to creep up: it’s now $6600 a year for undergraduates, says the Times, ”more than half of whom report family incomes below $30,000.” Student tuition has increased because it must now cover nearly half of CUNY’s operating budget. Thanks to New York’s annual decreases in funding: according to one estimate, while enrollment has jumped by more than 12% since 2008, New York’s funding has dropped by 17%.

The upshot of this disinvestment, and its effects on morale, is obvious:

“We have gone backwards,” said Frederick R. Brodzinski, a senior administrator and adjunct professor in computer science who plans to retire in September after 30 years at the university. “Morale is horrible on campus. There are too many highly paid administrators, and there’s a lack of clear leadership. We have stepped down on the ladder that we were climbing for about 10 years.”

It’s true: I’ve been at CUNY since 1999, and thanks to what the state has done, I don’t think there’s ever been a worse time to be a professor here.

But Brodzinski also points to that last 5% of shittiness that CUNY has inflicted on itself. Thanks to the upsurge in administration hiring. Now this is a complicated question, I know. Bashing administrative bloat is an easy thing to do, particularly for people like Governor Cuomo, and particularly at institutions like CUNY, where even if we dealt with that bloat, there’d be a vast budgetary shortfall that we’d still have to confront in order to make the place as excellent as its students.

As the Times reports, however, the problem of administrative bloat—even corruption—is real. At City College, where the administration instituted a 10% cut last year—we at Brooklyn College had to suffer a $5 million cut last year (roughly 2% of the operating budget, I believe, though my numbers could be off)—the administration has been binge-hiring and rewarding its own kind:


According to public data analyzed by The Times, the college paid administrators classified as “executives” a total of $7.25 million in the last year, up 45 percent from 2009. Eleven of the 18 biggest salary increases, by percentage, came in 2015, even as the college was slashing its budget. The provost’s office and government relations operations, in particular, have expanded.


When asked about the personnel moves, the college, in a statement, said it had “invested in hiring new faculty and staff as well as moving existing staff to the executive level consistent with increased responsibilities for these areas.”


The school’s use of foundation money has also been questioned. Documents obtained by The Times indicated that the college’s 21st Century Foundation paid for some of Ms. Coico’s personal expenses, such as fruit baskets, housekeeping services and rugs, when she took office in 2010. The foundation was then reimbursed for more than $150,000 from CUNY’s Research Foundation. That has raised eyebrows among governance experts, because such funds are typically earmarked for research.



The administrative bloat and corruption are horrifying enough. But that CUNY’s Research Foundation—which provides the tiny bit of research money faculty are eligible for (on a competitive and increasingly scarce basis)—bailed the City College administration out like this: well, that’s that last 5% of extra-special bullshit we heap on ourselves.


It’s not that we have incompetent, untalented administrators running CUNY, though we certainly have plenty of those. It’s that they’ve succumbed to what I was talking about above. In the same way that it’s hard to demand excellence from your students when you and they are surrounded by so much evidence of how little the state and society think of you, so it is hard, I suspect, for these administrators not to succumb to the shabbiness around them. This is not to excuse them: they are inexcusable and ought to face the consequences of their actions. It’s just that this low-grade corruption and everyday shabbiness thrive in a neoliberal environment of scarcity. That last 5% that we do to ourselves? It’s because of the 95% that’s done to us.


What is to be done?

I couldn’t help being reminded, as I read the piece, of a similar moment of crisis for CUNY, about 20 years ago. It was 1995, and James Traub, the veteran journalist, had just published his City on a Hill. Focused on City College, it was a devastating attack on CUNY, particularly the students who were not quite prepared for college but who had been accepted through Open Admissions.

The book both reflected and spawned a nasty campaign of racist innuendo and racially coded talk of standards. Because CUNY was now serving the needs of the city’s black and brown populations, Open Admissions was taken to be the cause of a massive decline in the institution’s greatness. What was once, well, a city on the hill, had slid down the precipice of race-conscious mediocrity.

This blurb from Publishers Weekly caught the ugly tenor of the discussion:

From 1847 through the 1960s, City College in Manhattan was renowned for the excellent education it provided free of charge (tuition was not imposed until 1976) to poor and middle-class urban students. Responding to student protests against the low number of African Americans and Puerto Ricans it enrolled, City College, in 1970, began a policy of open admissions. Traub (Too Good to Be True) recently spent a year on campus, interviewing students and faculty and attending classes. Although his detailed evaluation of the open-admissions experiment contains inspiring descriptions of idealistic teachers and hardworking students struggling to overcome poverty, racism and inadequate English-language skills, he concludes that open admissions shortchanges students. Because inner-city high school graduates often can barely read, City College has been forced, according to Traub, to provide remedial classes at the expense of academic excellence. A lively and compelling report.

What got lost in that discussion was that Open Admissions also dovetailed with New York City’s 1975 Fiscal Crisis, which as Josh Freeman has argued, launched a decades-long experiment in neoliberalism, with New York City (previously the closest thing to social democracy that the United States had had, Gotham’s version of Red Vienna) providing a terrible demonstration effect—much like Pinochet’s Chile—of what neoliberalism could do. The state took over the city’s budget and institutions like CUNY went from being a paragon of free, excellent public education to the increasingly tuition-dependent institution of public shabbiness that it is today.

The culmination of these two developments—neoliberalism and attacks on Open Admissions—came in the late 1990s when, at the behest of a task force appointed by Rudy Guiliani, CUNY ended open admissions and remedial education, while doing little to reverse the decades-long decline in public investment.

It’s amazing to me, as I look back on the time, to compare the moral panic of the 1990s—the sense that something had to be done about this institution—with the criminal indifference that we at CUNY are faced with today. When the issue was allegedly uneducated and uneducable black and brown students, the state jumped to act. When the issue is chronic disinvestment, leaky ceilings, clogged toilets, stagnant salaries, and ballooning class sizes, the state yawns.

I remember that moment all too well because my grad school roommate at the time, the prize-winning historian Greg Grandin, who graduated from Brooklyn College, made the trip to New York City to testify against CUNY’s proposed changes at a public hearing. Greg was the product of Open Admissions. In his first year at Brooklyn College, he took the remedial writing courses that helped get students prepared to do college-level work. Greg is Exhibit A of Open Admission’s success: a working-class kid from Brooklyn, he got radicalized in college and interested in Latin American history (thanks to excellent teachers like Hoby Spaulding), went onto Yale to do graduate work, and is now, at NYU, one of the preeminent historians of Latin America, with multiple literary and academic prizes under his belt, including the history’s profession top prize, the Bancroft Prize.

That’s the kind of thing CUNY used to do for students. It still does, often against the odds. Zujaja Tauqeer, the child of Ahmadi refugees from Pakistan, was a student in my modern political thought class in the spring of 2010. She was an excellent student, determined to go to SUNY Downstate College of Medicine after she graduated. Brooklyn College’s history faculty were so inspiring, she decided to major in history rather than biology. At the end of her semester with me, I urged her to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship. She took a lot of convincing: like a lot of CUNY students, Zujaja didn’t know how good she was. But she applied, and got the Rhodes. Having gotten her doctorate at Oxford, she’s now at Harvard Medical School.

Zujaja’s class with me was small: I think we had 21 students in all. Students had to write rough drafts of the class’s three papers. Zujaja was a great student, but she had to work hard. And it was out of that and similar experiences at Brooklyn College that she wound up a Rhodes Scholar.

I want to be clear: Stories like this aren’t magic. It’s not Dead Poets Society. It’s not Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It’s not To Sir, With Love. It’s about hard work—and hard cash. Successes like Greg’s or Zujaja’s—and there are thousands more, every year, at CUNY—require public investment. Excellence doesn’t come cheap. Just ask Harvard.

But excellence also doesn’t come without a fight. The generations that built CUNY came out of the struggles of the New Deal (Brooklyn College was established in 1935). It was working class people, black people, immigrants, Latinos and Latinas, men, women: through collective action, through strikes and demands, as Freeman documents in his book, an institution of both excellence and equity was created.

Earlier this month, I voted to authorize my union to call a strike if CUNY doesn’t come to a reasonable settlement with us about our teaching conditions. Uppermost on my list is our teaching load, which is too damn high, but we also have salaries that are too damn low. And a host of other problems that have made it difficult for us to recruit and retain faculty, as Kevin Foster, the chair of the economics department at City College, recently noted:

In my department, of the 11 untenured faculty hired in the last ten years, seven left before a tenure vote, driven off by low pay, poor working conditions, crumbling buildings, heavy teaching loads, and lack of support for research.

Striking in New York is illegal for public employees like me. If we have to strike, I could be facing fines, and our leadership could be facing jail time. But it should tell you something that so many of my colleagues who voted the authorization—92% in total, nearly 10,000 men and women—have chosen to send this signal to CUNY and the State of New York. Despite the real consequences we could be facing if we strike, we feel like we have no other choice.

It’s my hope that Governor Cuomo, the State Legislature, and the CUNY administration take this Times piece as an opportunity: to reverse decades of defunding, to make CUNY once again a city on a hill. But if they don’t, we’re going to make them.

{ 120 comments }

1

Phil 05.29.16 at 6:05 pm

Striking in New York is illegal for public employees like me.

How long has that been the case? Is this common in the US?

2

LFC 05.29.16 at 6:07 pm

Depressing (for the most part) post.

What got lost in that discussion was that Open Admissions also dovetailed with New York City’s 1975 Fiscal Crisis…. The state took over the city’s budget and institutions like CUNY went from being a paragon of free, excellent public education to the increasingly tuition-dependent institution of public shabbiness that it is today.

So at some point NY state then gave back to NY city control of its budget, but the state kept control of CUNY, which had previously been paid for from the city budget, not the state’s? (Sorry for the basic question; not a New Yorker, don’t know the details of the history.)

p.s. small typo:
while doing little to reverse the decades-long decline in public disinvestment.
(s/b “investment” obvs.)

3

Corey Robin 05.29.16 at 6:16 pm

Phil at 1: The Taylor Law made it illegal. It was passed in the late 1960s. I’m unclear whether public employees could strike before, but the idea of the law was to create some semblance of rational bargaining and union representation in return for public employees being prohibited from striking. Various unions over the years have broken that law.

LFC at 2: NYS still controls parts of NYC’s budget. For instance, decisions about property taxes — I believe — have to be approved by NYS. There are other decisions as well. In terms of CUNY, the city funds all the community colleges (of which there are about 12 or so?) The state funds the senior colleges.

There are a lot of typos. I’ve fixed them on my blog, am just trying to gather the energy to go through this post.

4

RNB 05.29.16 at 6:27 pm

What is the status of remedial education today in the CUNY system? I think the OP gives the impression that it has been eliminated? I thought that part of the problem is that a great number of students have to pay for remedial CUNY courses in writing and especially math but those courses don’t count towards graduation and thus extend the number of terms that have to be paid for, which makes the total bill even more onerous for poor kids and increases the likelihood that they’ll run out of money before they have earned enough units for the degree. Don’t know about big a problem this is; I had a student who looked into this and thought it was a non-negligible problem, including for students who pay for but never get through the remedial course.

The treatment of the great faculty at CUNY is an outrage and the fact that the CUNY faculty are able to provide students with the high quality of education that they do shows how civic-minded they are.

5

Lowhim 05.29.16 at 6:55 pm

Really sad, but very informative (and more or less in line with neo-liberalism’s effects elsewhere. I’m glad to that you’re taking the steps needed to change that. It’s hard, but someone has to do it. Best of luck!

6

Theophylact 05.29.16 at 7:30 pm

Phil @ 1: In the aftermath of the Boston Police Strike of 1919 came a push to make strikes by public employees illegal. In only eleven states do they now have such a right.

Federal workers can’t legally strike here, and the strike in 1981 by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), which had supported the election of Ronald Reagan, was the lever Reagan used to begin to crush the Union movement in the US. As a former Federal worker, I’m always a bit surprised and envious that public employees in so many civilized countries have rights that they don’t have here. Not only can’t we strike, we can’t bargain collectively for wages.

7

Rich Puchalsky 05.29.16 at 9:25 pm

This kind of thing is why, in the other thread, I suggested that it really would be better if the Federal government just paid every student’s tuition and essentially became the single payer for colleges and universities. Including private universities, because at this point in the U.S., there is very little remaining difference between them and public ones in any case: state support for public universities is down to something like 25% overall. Having the Federal government pay would reduce the unevenness of state / local funding and would tend to bring down private university tuition and increase the stability of public university tuition. Of course the money would have to come from somewhere, but the money has to come from somewhere now, and it’s only a subsidy to the middle class if you assume that a) it’s not effectively subsidized now, and b) a poor person who goes to university and becomes middle class has been subsidized as a member of the middle class.

8

Rich Puchalsky 05.29.16 at 9:37 pm

I’ll add that both of my parents went to CUNY Brooklyn: my dad graduated in 1952 (if I remember rightly). From being a penniless immigrant kid he became a scientist, and that put my whole family into the middle class.

9

harry b 05.29.16 at 10:02 pm

Rich — do you really want to include all private universities in that? Including for-profits many of which are funded, even as things stand, 95-100% by the government, and have graduation rates of 10%, 15%? This isn’t off-topic — the for-profits drain resources from the (less irresponsible) public institutions.

10

Rich Puchalsky 05.29.16 at 10:12 pm

If they are already funded 95-100% by the government, what are we losing, exactly? What we’d be gaining is the negotiating power of the government to bring down tuition for the most expensive places — as it is, they basically charge whatever they like, and the government ends up paying for most of it without having any real way to control how much it is.

If a particular place is charging a lot, graduating very few people, and not really teaching people, it should be discaccredited. I don’t see why this would get more difficult to do under single payer.

11

Asteele 05.29.16 at 10:14 pm

Free collage might be a subsidy for middle class, but unless the taxes are structured very strangely it will be paid for by the rich.

12

Corey Robin 05.29.16 at 10:45 pm

harry b: The flip side of your question, for me, is this: At what point do public institutions stop being public institutions? I don’t know the exact figures, but I’ve seen estimates that say that only 11% of the University of California’s operating budget comes directly from the state (see link below). The rest comes from tuition, federal grants and contracts, private donors, and so on. In other words, this doesn’t look that different from private universities. So what precisely is the moral or political weight of the public v. private distinction that we’re holding onto here?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_California_finances#cite_note-3

Likewise, the for-profit versus nonprofit distinction among private universities. Given how little of their endowments wealthy private universities spend, that they’re increasingly characterized as investment funds with an educational operation on the side, is the nonprofit/profit distinction all that tenable or relevant? I understand that the quality of these for-profits might be quite low, but that’s a different issue, or at least not germane to the for-profit v. nonprofit. If the issue is quality control or graduation rates (which incidentally was a huge problem at CUNY several decades ago), then that could be addressed through other regulations and conditions, no?

13

Rich Puchalsky 05.29.16 at 10:53 pm

The principle that I think is relevant here is that according to general left ideas (I’m not even going to get into anarchism vs statism: that would just derail the thread), public goods are not well produced by the market and therefore have to be paid for by the government. Universities and colleges, public or private, are producers of public goods. Saying that the benefit of an education goes only or mainly to the person who got the education is neoliberalism.

The current painstaking distinctions between public, private non-profit, private for-profit are increasingly distinctions without a difference as funding for public universities declines. As such, they are there to legitimate control of private institutions by the wealthy and for the wealthy.

14

kidneystones 05.29.16 at 10:56 pm

Great post. Can 50% of administrators, 75% of student ‘services’, end free remedial training, raise admission standards, set a target of failing 15 % of students to reduce grade inflation, stop treating grad students as slave labor.

That is all.

15

Lynne 05.29.16 at 11:10 pm

Wonderful post, Corey. Enraging and sad. I admire your resolve and that of your colleagues, and hope it doesn’t come to a strike.

Rich @ 8 Thanks for that; a nice, personal example of what Corey is talking about. And doesn’t it show how our lives are shot through with luck because if your father hadn’t had access to CUNY Brooklyn, if he’d had no access to higher education at all, then what?

16

Alan White 05.29.16 at 11:22 pm

Thanks so much for this; I had no idea things were this bad at CUNY. As harry knows–and I certainly know well–chronic underfunding plus tuition freezes at U of Wisconsin System have increasingly made things tougher (more so at my multi-campus transfer institution, where now, e.g., the ratio of students-to-advisor is 500:1) . Not to mention the successful attack on tenure–which I know very well, having served on the System Tenure Task Farce.

Utterly depressing stories such as yours make me worry about the use of the politics of resentment to further marginalize higher ed, especially the liberal arts. I could see, for example, that my governor could use CUNY’s horror stories to justify the status quo here in Cheeseheadland–or even more cuts.

Anyway, this pictures alone are just shocking. Again, thanks–and best of luck.

17

oldster 05.29.16 at 11:54 pm

I just want to thank you for your description of the hard work and rewards of teaching. Of course no one can set every one of their students on the path to a Rhodes or a Bancroft, but I am sure that the time and effort you put into your classes means a great deal to every one of your students, and helps to bend their life-paths in the right direction.

Back when I used to teach, that was the kind of teacher I aspired to be. Thanks for doing it now.

18

Tabasco 05.30.16 at 12:01 am

Given how little of their endowments wealthy private universities spend

The rule of thumb is they spend 5% of their capital every year, which not coincidentally is about the long run rate of return of that capital. Spend more than that, and eventually you run out of capital.

(The really wealthy private universities get a better return, more like 10%, which provides them with money to spend on buildings, nor just operating expenses.)

Good luck with the campaign, but the chances of it succeeding, except, maybe, at the margins of the margins has to be vanishingly small. Where is NY state going to get the money needed to undo decades of neglect? And even if it had the money, or the will to get it, is it really politically possible to give it to CUNY without giving equally huge sums to the SUNY campuses? This is highly unlikely raised to the power impossible.

The long term *solution*, extremely unpalatable, is university education by internet. No crumbling infrastructure to fix, because the classroom will be the students’ bedroom, and they will provide their own bathroom and printing. The quality of the educational experience will suffer but you can’t have everything (unless of course you are at Harvard or Amherst.)

19

F. Foundling 05.30.16 at 12:11 am

The state should fund private institutions only if it is allowed to control the use of these funds in the exact same way as it is allowed to control their use in public institutions – in other words, if they are nationalised, which evil statist me would welcome. Calling for the state to fund all institutions (inevitably only in part) and to somewhat decrease (but inevitably not eliminate) tuition everywhere means capitulating to the status quo. Public institutions should be funded at 100% and education should be free there. Just because even they aren’t so at present doesn’t mean one should perpetually resign oneself to that and, yes, essentially subsidise the rich and the upper middle class.

@kidneystones 05.29.16 at 10:56 pm
>set a target of failing 15 % of students to reduce grade inflation

What a remarkably sick way of thinking. You know, maybe, just maybe, the righteous in Sodom will happen to be 90% and not 85% in some year. God will sort his own, eh?

20

cassander 05.30.16 at 12:21 am

CUNY has a budget of nearly 3.2 billion dollars a year:

http://www.cuny.edu/about/administration/offices/bf/FY2016BudgetRequest.pdf

That’s more than double the budget from 99, or about double if you adjust for inflation.

https://portal.cuny.edu/cms/id/cuny/documents/informationpage/request.pdf

I don’t have budgets going back much further than that, but I humbly suggest that if you can’t serve a student body population 30% larger with twice as much money, the problem is most certainly not lack of funds, but mismanagement of the funds you do have. Granted, everyone believes that his particular department or institution is desperately starved for funds, but in this case, it’s demonstrably not true.

21

kidneystones 05.30.16 at 12:28 am

@19 Thanks for the biblical references. I teach my own students about reality, not fantasies. At most of the better institutions and businesses I’ve been affiliated with a significant attrition rate of, say 15%, is one of the most reliable metrics that standards are being maintained.

You evidently live in a different reality where all succeed at everything all the time.

Sounds like the Detroit schools system where something like 90% of the high-school graduates are unable to compete with their peers in higher education and in life. Failure is an essential part of success, at least in my own experience.

Have a nice day!

22

LFC 05.30.16 at 12:35 am

R. Puchalsky @7
This kind of thing is why, in the other thread, I suggested that it really would be better if the Federal government just paid every student’s tuition and essentially became the single payer for colleges and universities.

I may be missing the point here, but I don’t see how this would solve e.g. the crumbling infrastructure problem at CUNY/Brooklyn College, unless it set tuition high enough to cover *all* or nearly all expenses associated w running the institution. At which pt questions of taxation and where the revenues come from wd become more prominent and politically charged, I would think.

And while I understand the logic behind means-tested vs. universal programs, I really can’t say I would feel great knowing that a tiny slice of my federal tax check is going to enable the fed govt to pay the full Yale/Princeton/Stanford/Harvard/Amherst/Wesleyan/Cornell/Swarthmore/Haverford/Oberlin/Kenyon/Williams/Middlebury/Dartmouth/fill-in-the-blank tuition for Johnny, whose family lives, e.g., in a gigantic penthouse apt overlooking Central Park (w a vacation home in some fashionable spot, of course, maybe Jackson Hole or wherever) and prob. could afford singlehanded, if need be, to pay half the faculty salaries of a liberal arts college for an entire year, let alone Johnny’s tuition. (Of course I also don’t like some other things that slices of my federal tax check go to support, but that’s neither here nor there for these purposes.)

[Note: details of above example purely illustrative and any direct resemblance to actual persons etc etc.]

23

Rich Puchalsky 05.30.16 at 12:44 am

LFC: “I really can’t say I would feel great knowing that a tiny slice of my federal tax check is going to enable the fed govt to pay the full [etc]”

The politics of resentment. Somehow people think that they can start it and stop it on command. “Why should we support those rich accounting majors? But of course my department is deserving.” “Why should we pay for people to go to Yale if we can’t means-test it and make sure that we’re only paying for poor people?”

If rich people and poor people are brought within the same system, it predictably gets better for poor people. That’s why it would make a difference for CUNY.

24

LFC 05.30.16 at 12:46 am

kidneystones:
set a target of failing 15 % of students to reduce grade inflation

This is laughable to anyone even slightly familiar w trends in U.S. higher ed. and undergrad grade inflation specifically. “Setting a target” of giving 25 % of big classes Cs (never mind Fs) would probably cause riots. Setting a target of failing 15 % of students is outside the realm of reality, except maybe in some hard-core nat sci / pre-med courses like organic chemistry, which may already have strict grading curves and therefore are the least in need of reducing grade inflation.

25

LFC 05.30.16 at 12:52 am

R. Puchalsky:
If rich people and poor people are brought within the same system, it predictably gets better for poor people. That’s why it would make a difference for CUNY.

Ok, I see the argument, I guess — maybe that’s so. But my objection does not stem from “resentment” (I attended one of the institutions I listed, albeit decades ago when tuition etc was *much* lower than today, so it’s not so much that I wd “resent” the feds paying for Johnny in my example — it just doesn’t seem *right* to me. Sorry, that’s primitive, but… I guess I wd swallow it if I were reasonably sure it wd benefit everyone in the end — in that case it would be worth it).

26

LFC 05.30.16 at 12:55 am

“Setting a target” of giving 25 % of big classes Cs (never mind Fs) would probably cause riots.

On second thought I’m not sure about that, not close enough to the situation. I will defer to the professors here on this.

27

J-D 05.30.16 at 1:09 am

Let’s make it our goal to ensure that 15% of pupils leave school without having learned to read and write. Let’s make it our goal to ensure that 15% of people admitted to hospital are discharged still unwell. Let’s make it our goal to ensure that 15% of clothes collected from the dry-cleaners are still dirty.

Have a nice day!

28

ZM 05.30.16 at 1:55 am

The NYT article says Michelle Obama is delivering a commencement address on Friday , is that this coming Friday?

Maybe the person from CUNY who introduces her or thanks her includes something about the Obama administration wanting to link Pell Grants to inflation, and how that would be important for institutions like CUNY.

I think Obama has submitted this to Congress to approve, but they knocked it back another time he tried. As far as I can tell Congress are still deciding on it at the moment, but appear reluctant.

Pell Grants are the major source of Federal funding of higher education in the USA and now Federal expenditure is about the same or has just outpaced State expenditure on higher education, as far as I can tell mainly through Pell Grants to students.

“Although their funding streams for higher education are now comparable in size and have some overlapping policy goals, such as increasing access for students and supporting research, federal and state governments channel resources into the system in different ways. The federal government mainly provides financial assistance to individual students and specific research projects, while state funds primarily pay for the general operations of public institutions.

Policymakers across the nation face difficult decisions about higher education funding. Federal leaders, for example, are debating the future of the Pell Grant program. The Obama administration has proposed increasing the maximum Pell Grant award to keep pace with inflation in the coming years, while members of Congress have recommended freezing it at its current level. State policymakers, meanwhile, are deciding whether to restore funding after years of recession-driven cuts.”

Federal funding of all universities is what happens in Australia. Part of the funding is tied to loans students take out from the government for their courses. Students repay higher educational loans out of their taxes once their income reaches a certain point after graduation. Where students incomes do not reach that point, they do not have to repay their loans with the taxation.

http://www.affordablecollege.org/post/community-college-revenue-sources-are-shifting-as-pew-charts-show

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2015/06/federal-and-state-funding-of-higher-education

29

ZM 05.30.16 at 2:14 am

Also New York has a lot of wealthy companies. I know Corey says there is an issue about what the line is between public and private education, but in Australia all universities are publicly funded, but they can have partnerships with companies too, as well as bequests.

I think CUNY could try to get companies to fund renovations of the campus. Maybe CUNY could talk to the State Governor and come up with a plan for approaching companies, and then the State will also provide funds.

You would keep this funding separate from running costs, and it is just to fix up the campus and do needed renovations.

The companies can get publicity, they can get their names put on things, and they can get credited with helping to restore CUNY which is New York’s equivalent of UCLA I guess from what Corey Robin says above about UCLA’s sources of funding.

This is also a way to make longer lasting connections with companies for departments which might want to connect students with companies, like the article mentions the engineering department.

Once there is some interest in funding campus renovations, then CUNY would need to get an urban design team to work out the basic ideas and also a time line. Then they employ architects for the first bit, and get that started.

University renovations take a long time. It is hard to know from the article how much renovations need to be done. RMIT in Melbourne had an urban design do remodelling of the campus, and it has taken about 15 years and isn’t finished.

It is a bit different from Australia as it is a much bigger University system than any in Australia.

Also doing pop up things right now would possibly improve morale and also get companies interested in the potential of helping to renovate the CUNY campuses.

Like having food trucks, or small coffee shops, and little pop up parks with plant boxes and crates for seating. This is all inexpensive and the students can be engaged in it and it would improve morale and the look of the campus.

New York should have a great state university system like California, so business should help renovate the campus. You need some good well connected people like the governor and the mayor advocating for businesses to help fund the renovation of the campus.

The state and city are not going to be able to fund all the renovations themselves, so CUNY needs some businesses to provide funding as well in my opinion, but also do pop up parks and things on campus right now to keep up morale.

CUNY can also tie asking for funds for the renovations to the CUNY campus and physical works needing to be more physically sustainable, and the indicative urban design can reflect this.

30

ZM 05.30.16 at 2:36 am

Also, looking at CUNY’s website, there is a Master of Urban Planning course, so there could be studio subjects running for a couple of years where the urban design and strategic design work is focussed on CUNY’s campuses. This would produce work that could be used to engage companies, and small scale inexpensive designs like pop up parks and coffee carts and community gardens could be implemented on campus right away from student designs.

And CUNY could reach out to alumni as well, like the President of the IFC network which makes Portlandia is Jennifer Caserta who got her BA from Hunter College, so perhaps IFC or its parent network AMC could be approached for funding for CUNY.

There must be other alumni working in notable companies who could be approached. It is a disgrace that CUNY’s students have a campus which has been allowed to deteriorate, but it is a good opportunity to improve the campus network and make them more environmentally sustainable.

31

Peter T 05.30.16 at 2:52 am

cassander has a point, in an odd way. Every time someone points out that the privatised version is run-down, under-staffed, costs more etc, some talking head appears to say that more money is going to the railways or universities or whatever than ever before. So where is the money going?

32

harry b 05.30.16 at 3:36 am

Corey @12:

I’ve got a whole long answer to the moral/political significance of the private/public divide, which I’ll try out on you later, when I have time to write it up properly. But, yes — some non-profit and some public institutions are equally bad actors as many of the for-profits, and I was only singling out for-profits as a proxy for bad institutions that very clearly are not serving any public purpose. AS for regulation fixing things — sure, if you can figure out what regulations to use, but higher ed is extremely diverse and complex, and many legislators are under the sway of diverse interests within the industry. Its a really hard problem.

Rich: I broadly agree that public goods should be paid for out of public funds, most of the time. But a lot of what elite higher education creates is not public good, and many non-elite institutions (eg many non-profits) obviously do not promote the public good. Early childhood and k-8 education is where the good of education is most clearly public. What you’re proposing (as Leo Casey noted in the previous thread) is an unregulated voucher system for HE. Would you propose the same for k-8? Most left-of-center people I know oppose that pretty vehemently. And that’s despite the fact that most proposed voucher programs are either flat-rate, or progressive, and either genuinely universal, or designed primarily for the disadvantaged (whereas, at best, an HE voucher program would exclude everyone who did not graduate high school — ie, the most disadvantaged). Why should we support this for HE when the balance of public/private benefit from HE is tilted to the private, but not for k-8, when the balance of benefit from k-8 is tilted to the public (and when we have very good evidence that diocesan Catholic schools have been particularly effective at producing public goods)? That’s a serious question, not a rhetorical question. Anyway, I’ll try to address all this in a forthcoming post or two…

33

Philip 05.30.16 at 8:12 am

Rich, education isn’t a public good in the technical economic sense of being non-rival and non-excludable, except maybe for MOOCs where they only exclude people by internet access. However education does create positive externalities which aren’t captured by the market which means a totally private system would be overpriced and under supplied.

I don’t know enough about the intricacies of US HE but my general preference would be for private and for-profit universities to either be nationalised or not receive any public funding, except maybe for applying for grants for specific projects. Obviously this isn’t politically feasible any time soon so I’m interested in Harry’s follow up to see what a second best option might look like.

34

Tim Worstall 05.30.16 at 8:33 am

Cassander @ 20. I just looked up the same numbers. There seems to be more money than formerly while things are getting worse. Thus the problem would seem to be what the money is being spent upon, not the amount of it.

And no, Baumol’s Cost Disease isn’t going to explain this over 17 budget years.

35

David 05.30.16 at 8:40 am

I’ve watched this kind of thing happening progressively all over the world for more than twenty years now in universities I’ve been associated with, trying to fathom what kind of perverse logic could be behind it. After all, consider that your objective was to destroy university education in a given country. What would you do? You would make it expensive when once it was free, to put students in debt, you would under-pay and casualise teachers and encourage them to develop commercial links, increase students without increasing resources, overload teachers with useless administration, establish so-called quality control mechanisms, turn students into customers and undermine academic integrity by making it hard to fail people who have paid you money, set up powerful and unaccountable “administrative” departments, where people who can’t teach go to make your life a misery …. and so on. In other words what Corey is describing is not an accident, or stupidity by a single organisation, but part of a world-wide trend. The answer, I’m convinced, comes from the observation that there’s still quite a lot of money in the university system. The problem is that in the past it went to the wrong people – teachers and students. Now, if you see the whole of the state-funded sector as a vast commercial opportunity for looting, all this makes perfect sense. The pirate ship crew of banks, useless administrators, private sector providers and a few star academics systematically loot the universities and leave the bits behind. There will, after all, still be a few well-funded universities where their own children can go.
And don’t forget either the very real ideological threat that universities pose to neoliberalism – here are places which try to hang on to the shreds of intellectual decency and integrity, where underpaid people do something they enjoy and think valuable for the greater good; can’t allow that.

36

ZM 05.30.16 at 9:41 am

cassander,

“CUNY has a budget of nearly US$3.2 billion dollars a year:”

CUNY has 204,418 full time equivalent students (516,000 students including part time students). This operating budget of about US$3.2 billion is just over about US$15,000 per full time equivalent student.

The Australian Catholic University where I did my undergraduate BA has around 32,000 students, or 21,562 full time equivalent students, and a operating budget of around AU$413 million, which is about AU$19,154 per full time equivalent student.

If you exchange the currency, these figures are quite similar per full time equivalent student. But CUNY has many more students and campuses than ACU and CUNY is also an older institution, and it seems like the buildings have not been adequately maintained and renovated with the current funding levels.

CUNY needs additional funding to fix up the buildings and update the campus judging by the photos. Looking at image search CUNY does have some really nice old buildings and lots of green spaces with trees. It is hard to judge how much maintenance and renovations need to be done, or what the budget would be.

My current university is funded to around AU$47,619 per full time equivalent student, and looking at Harvard they are funded to around US$216,748 per full time equivalent student. So CUNY is actually very resourceful with its operating budget comparatively speaking.

37

ZM 05.30.16 at 9:56 am

harry b,

“What you’re proposing (as Leo Casey noted in the previous thread) is an unregulated voucher system for HE. Would you propose the same for k-8? Most left-of-center people I know oppose that pretty vehemently.”

The federal government funds all higher education in Australia, with students taking out loans from the government which are repaid by graduates once their income reaches a certain level.

In my previous comment you can see the difference between CUNY’s and Harvard’s funding per FTE student.

If the government is the major funder, what the government can do is cap fees.

We are actually having a debate in Australia at the moment since there is discussion about uncapping fees universities can charge, but you can see the difference in funding per FTE student between ACU and the University of Melbourne is much smaller than the difference between CUNY and Harvard.

So having the government fund all higher education can reduce inequality between institutions, although since Harvard has such high a budget per FTE student now, I don’t know how the USA government would convince Harvard to accept government funding with a cap on fees that lowered its budget to decrease overall inequality…

38

ZM 05.30.16 at 10:05 am

harry b,

“(whereas, at best, an HE voucher program would exclude everyone who did not graduate high school — ie, the most disadvantaged). “

In Australia people who do not graduate high school can access loans to go to university as mature age students, showing other educational or vocational experience, or maybe doing a test. Also there is government funded vocational tertiary education in the TAFE system. Apprentices generally have to do a TAFE course, so chefs have to do 4 years of TAFE during their 4 year apprentice, this might be 1 day a week on campus, homework, and the employee has to provide training in order to employ someone as an apprentice, so if it is the week they learn about croissants at TAFE then one of the fully qualified chefs has to teach the apprentice how to make croissants.

39

ZM 05.30.16 at 10:06 am

“the employee has to provide training”

the *employer* has to provide training

40

Rich Puchalsky 05.30.16 at 11:49 am

“an unregulated voucher system for HE. Would you propose the same for k-8?”

Any system could be implemented well or implemented badly. I don’t think that “unregulated” is really a good description: HE is regulated via accreditation. But in any case the primary problem with K-12 education in the U.S. is the school district system, which allows wealthy communities to create wealthy schools and leaves poor communities with poor schools. The only real way that I see of fixing that within current society is to pool resources over a wider geographic area, and if we’re doing that then the Federal level seems best.

The problem with vouchers isn’t the vouchers per se, it’s that if you preserve a public vs private school system and use vouchers as a way of transferring public money from one to the other, then of course the public system suffers. That’s exactly why I don’t think that we should preserve a public vs private school system. If we’re funding it all with public money anyways (as those for-profits that get 95-100% of their funding from government are) then they should all be public schools.

If a particular school really wants to not be part of the system then they can be, I’d say, but in that case they and their students should get no government support at all — no Pell grants, Federal student loans, research funds, or any of the other devices by which the Federal government essentially pays for most of “private” school budgets now in any case.

41

Collin Street 05.30.16 at 12:17 pm

The problem with vouchers isn’t the vouchers per se, it’s that if you preserve a public vs private school system and use vouchers as a way of transferring public money from one to the other, then of course the public system suffers.

You can pretty easilly fix or at least ameliorate this by having the value of the vouchers taper off like welfare payments at some fraction of the top-up fees charged or the fundraising capacity of the school or the endowment what-have-you etc.

But they don’t, because currently the reason for pushing vouchers is to loot the state system. Same with US social-security privatisation; they could have proposed something akin to australian superannuation, which has worked… OK-ish… but they didn’t.

Virtually no ideas are innately terrible; it all really boils down to implementation. And that… I hate to get all donatist on you all, but in terms of real-world outcome the who is far, far more important than all but the most abtruse technical detail of the what. And, sure, you can dig into the fine technical detail of the what before passing judgement… but since the outcomes from examining the fine technical detail can be predicted pretty well from the who, anyway… why bother?

Just… don’t vote for selfish arseholes, or for people who have difficulty working with others.

42

kate 05.30.16 at 1:58 pm

cassander – I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that CUNY was adequately funded in the late 90’s. I taught at City College for a term in the mid-late 90’s and basic supplies, like chalk, were already real issues. There were not adequate funds for basic building maintenance then – and twenty years of leaky roofs can do a lot of damage, which costs a lot more than just patching a roof in the first place would.

43

harry b 05.30.16 at 2:06 pm

Collin — vouchers in the US are actually very much as you think they should be — almost all vouchers systems in the US target either low income kids or kids who attend ‘failing’ schools — even in WI, even since our Governor loosened the conditions. And even charter schools, which operate with public money, all have to use lotteries for admissions.

Thanks Rich, that makes sense to me. I don’t think the accreditation system is at all an effective mechanism of regulation (but I don’t really think we have something better for k-12). And I don’t think I agree with you about how the system should look, but then its not as if I have some well-thought-out alternative. I think we largely agree about the k-12 system!

44

harry b 05.30.16 at 2:14 pm

ZM– yes, I know all that about Australia (though not the funding numbers). In the US the numerous Federal programs that subsidize higher education turn on you having graduated high school — something for which Australia and the UK (the other system I know) don’t have an obvious equivalent. That said, there is a sort of job retraining system: the Pell Grant program, which is very large, and was designed to support low income children attending 2 or 4 year colleges, now funds job retraining in an essentially unregulated market plagued with informational asymmetries and bad actors.

45

ZM 05.30.16 at 3:02 pm

harry b,

Yes, the requirement for high school graduation is a pretty significant difference between the USA and Australia. Is the Pell Grant program for retraining the same Pell Grant program that Obama wants to link to inflation?

I also forgot to mention how in Australia students pay different fees depending on the course, with humanities being able to set fees to a maximum of AU$6256 per year full time, math and science etc being able to set fees to a maximum of AU$8917 per year full time, and law, medicine and commerce being able to set fees to a maximum of AU$10440 per year full time.

CUNY provides a wider variety of courses than ACU, since CUNY is a much bigger university, so even though the budget per student is similar, the costs may be higher due to the greater variety of courses offered at CUNY, as well as the bigger and older campus network.

46

Rich Puchalsky 05.30.16 at 3:03 pm

Collin Street: “in terms of real-world outcome the who is far, far more important than all but the most abtruse technical detail of the what”

In a system with two main parties (as the mechanics of U.S. elections pretty much guarantees) it’s inevitable that each of the parties is going to be in power some of the time. So always controlling the “who” is impossible. That’s way I think that the important thing is to put private and public schools within the same system: then if people want to defund it, they have to defund the schools for rich people as well.

Someone could object that all of this is irrelevant because it’s so outside the bounds of possibility in U.S. politics in any case, but the Sanders campaign really did come pretty close to this. Just as with medical care, the higher ed system is creaking at the seams and is heavily subsidized now without those subsidies being acknowledged as buying government control over pricing. People should start thinking about how, when the break comes, we avoid a solution like ACA that preserves the intermediary of “private” school administration setting prices.

47

SamChevre 05.30.16 at 3:05 pm

harry b @ 43

I must note that the numerous Federal programs that subsidize higher education turn on you having graduated high school is not quite true. A GED, which you can get by passing a test at any age, also qualifies you.

I am one of the people who benefited from that. I quit school at age 14, got a GED at 22, and went to college–and I was able to get the same student loans as if I’d graduated from high school.

48

harry b 05.30.16 at 3:51 pm

ZM – yes, its the same program — but it was never designed to be a job retraining program, and has never been adjusted to reflect its de facto role as such. Lots of problems.

SamChevre — yes, sorry, I was counting the GED as graduation in my head.

49

RNB 05.30.16 at 4:37 pm

on my own @4. It could be that remedial courses are not costing students much but extending the time that they have to be in school to finish their degrees; some may not be able to forgo income for the time that they would need to finish the degree. If the costs of remedial education is being subsidized by CUNY that would seem to be a heavy burden on an already over-burdened system, and this would connect the crisis in the CUNY system to the crisis in the secondary schools as many people would seem to be graduating HS or earning an GED without basic skills. So I would be interested in any discussion of how remedial education is contributing to the problems in the CUNY system.

50

Corey Robin 05.30.16 at 5:03 pm

RNB: Remedial education was eliminated at the senior colleges back in the late 1990s. Students who need it are now required to start the community colleges. (This is all in the links to the piece.) And there is now a streamlined process for students to move from the community colleges to the senior colleges. No one I know who’s seriously looked at the budgetary issues at CUNY thinks remedial education has anything to do with it; indeed, during the 1990s, when remedial education was a major source of criticism of CUNY, no one ever suggested that the problems it presented were budgetary in nature. The real problem for students finishing their undergraduate degrees, today, is, as the Times article shows, the inability of departments to offer the courses they need to graduate in time.

51

RNB 05.30.16 at 5:12 pm

Thank you for the clarification. So this seems to be different from the remediation policy in the CSU system where students (I think!) are required to finish it in their first year or face dismissal. I guess then one question is what effect outsourcing remediation to the community colleges has had on the CUNY system. Does this mean as many students don’t make their way to the CUNY system? Has this had an exclusionary effect on poorer and minority (Black and Latino students)?

52

The Temporary Name 05.30.16 at 5:14 pm

Wishing for the best for you and your union.

53

RNB 05.30.16 at 5:17 pm

Also what % of CUNY admits had to first go through remedial courses?

54

RNB 05.30.16 at 5:24 pm

At any rate, if such a great number of people have to go to community college to acquire the skills that they should have learned in HS, then I cannot see how community college should not be free for everyone. And here HRC and BS seem to agree.

55

The Temporary Name 05.30.16 at 5:44 pm

When I went to a big midwest state university (which had a great reputation at the time) I was very much annoyed to have to take “rhetoric” which seemed to me to be a remedial class in writing essays and giving presentations. Couldn’t blame that on the city kids.

56

RNB 05.30.16 at 5:52 pm

So the “remedial” course was at the State U. Just quickly searching around, I find that perhaps more than 70% of CUNY admits had to take remedial courses at the community colleges. Corey R clarifies that CUNY is not subsidizing these courses. It seems that a community college education is now required for students to have the skills that they should have acquired in HS. Given this, community college should be affordable to everyone. Whether Clinton’s plan would achieve that, I do not know.

57

RNB 05.30.16 at 5:53 pm

It seems that a community college education is now required for MANY students to have the skills that they should have acquired in HS.

58

Corey Robin 05.30.16 at 6:05 pm

A freshman at City College commented on my post over at my blog:

“It is the little things which really get to me. the flickering lightbulb next to the elevator bank on the 4th floor of the NAC library, which stayed that way for an entire semester. I was pleased when i noticed that it was finally no longer flickering, until i realized that it had simply been removed, and not replaced.”

http://coreyrobin.com/2016/05/29/the-relentless-shabbiness-of-cuny-what-is-to-be-done/#comment-115073

59

LFC 05.30.16 at 6:39 pm

@The Temp Name
When I went to a big midwest state university (which had a great reputation at the time) I was very much annoyed to have to take “rhetoric” which seemed to me to be a remedial class in writing essays and giving presentations. Couldn’t blame that on the city kids.

Was this the equivalent of a freshman composition/writing (and, in this case, speaking) course required of all students, or did only some students have to take it?

60

The Temporary Name 05.30.16 at 6:58 pm

Was this the equivalent of a freshman composition/writing (and, in this case, speaking) course required of all students, or did only some students have to take it?

Required of everyone.

61

LFC 05.30.16 at 6:59 pm

Re the comment of the freshman at City College (linked by CR @58):

This entire thing (i.e. the condition of the whole system) is scandalous, but esp. in view of the storied history of City College the conditions described by that student strike me as a hyper-scandal. What if physical conditions at CCNY in the 1930s had been like this? One imagines Howe, Kristol, Glazer et al. fiercely debating left-wing politics while the cafeteria and the entire physical plant were collapsing around them. Somehow I don’t think they would have been able to focus all their attention on what Trotsky said to whomever about such-and-such.

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LFC 05.30.16 at 7:01 pm

Required of everyone.

Ok, so it felt remedial to you but was not viewed as remedial by the univ. My guess is that such courses are reasonably widespread across institutions, though not universal.

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The Temporary Name 05.30.16 at 7:03 pm

Ok, so it felt remedial to you but was not viewed as remedial by the univ. My guess is that such courses are reasonably widespread across institutions, though not universal.

I guess the same.

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Chris Grant 05.30.16 at 8:47 pm

You think you have things bad: Our hall clocks have white hands on a white face.

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Art Deco 05.30.16 at 10:39 pm

You’re not criminally underfunded. Your consolidated financial statements indicate that your expenditure per corporal student are $17,000 per annum. The national mean is…$17,000 per annum. But the answer just has to be mo’ money for me and mine (and more patronage for Corey’s preferred clientele).

Here’s a suggestion: you’re overbuilt and admit a mess of students who are not college material. Close Medgar Evers College, York College, the School of Professional Studies, and the School of Journalism; return the College of Technology to its former status as an associate’s granting institution; and rank-order students for admission according to a composite score generated by their high school GPA, their community college GPA, their SAT verbal and math scores, and their achievement test scores.

Any admitted student would have a contingent claim on a general education voucher and (if they’re under 25) on a room-and-board voucher. They can claim the voucher by paying a receipt fee. The receipt fee will be in turn calculated based on the number of year’s worth of tax returns they and their parents have filed in New York City over the course of their natural life (and whether or not they had an liability would be immaterial). The fee can range from zero to the full redemption value depending on the number of years they’ve been paying NYC taxes. They take out loans and apply for scholarships to pay the fee. The fee goes to the NYC general treasury. As for the vouchers, they are turned in to a dedicated fund for redemption to the institution. The fund could be financed by income surtaxes wherein each taxpayer pays a flat rate over a fairly high (annually adjusted) per-person exemption. You fix the rates (say 2-2.5) and set the per-person exemption high enough to exclude about 65% of NYC taxpayers for a fund financing baccalaureate education and exclude about 85% for a fund financing graduate and professional education. CUNY would receive nothing from the state and receive no tuition payments. The public committment to baccalaureate and graduate education as a share of total personal income of NYC residents would remain fixed over time.

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mdc 05.30.16 at 10:43 pm

Greater involvement from the Department of Education (aka, an arm of the managing committee of the whole bourgeoisie) would intensify and accelerate ‘neoliberalisation’ at many colleges.

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The Temporary Name 05.30.16 at 10:44 pm

The national mean is…$17,000 per annum.

Was it not mentioned that the City University of New York is in New York?

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cassander 05.30.16 at 11:34 pm

@ rich

>The problem with vouchers isn’t the vouchers per se, it’s that if you preserve a public vs private school system and use vouchers as a way of transferring public money from one to the other, then of course the public system suffers

so, in other words, you prize ideological purity over results? And will inflict bad results on dis-advantaged children in order to uphold your ideal of how the polity should be organized? I cannot think of a more selfish motive.

If the public system under performs, it SHOULD suffer and diminish. Letting people take their kids, and the money used to educate them out of shitty public school systems should be championed by the left, not smothered by it because of a puritanical distaste for markets.

>That’s way I think that the important thing is to put private and public schools within the same system: then if people want to defund it, they have to defund the schools for rich people as well.

there’s an easy way to do that, vouchers. Of course, the idea that schools have less funding than in the past is utterly absurd, but if that’s what you fear then you should want a universal voucher system.

@kate

the older budgets aren’t online, but I have no doubt that, as you go back in time, the budget situation remains similar. That is, budgets continually growing faster than student population yet endless carping about not enough money for basic tasks. at 16,000 a student, there should be zero trouble buying chalk and fixing the plumbing. that they are failing at these basic tasks is proof that money is being spent poorly, not that there’s not enough money.

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cassander 05.30.16 at 11:41 pm

@ rich

>This kind of thing is why, in the other thread, I suggested that it really would be better if the Federal government just paid every student’s tuition and essentially became the single payer for colleges and universities. Including private universities, because at this point in the U.S., there is very little remaining difference between them and public ones in any case:

with federal student loans , the US government is already doing this, more or less. the result is predictable, massive explosions in the cost of education and schools compete on everything other than price.

>Having the Federal government pay would reduce the unevenness of state / local funding and would tend to bring down private university tuition and increase the stability of public university tuition.

First, universities have never been creatures of local government, so there is no intra-state unevenness. Second, in k-12 education, where such unevenness did exist, it’s largely been eliminated in the last 20-30 years. Third, how on earth would such a leveling out lower costs?

>and it’s only a subsidy to the middle class if you assume that a) it’s not effectively subsidized now, and b) a poor person who goes to university and becomes middle class has been subsidized as a member of the middle class.

the poor person who becomes a member of the middle class (ignoring the inherent absurdities of such labels) is a decided minority among poor people. The vast majority of people don’t go to college, taxing them, even at highly progressive US rates, to pay for college for other people is unquestionably a subsidy of the middle class by the poor.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.31.16 at 12:16 am

The bottom 20% of people by income basically pay negative total Federal taxes, so they aren’t subsidizing anything like this. The percentage of people in the U.S. who graduate from high school is something like 80%, and about 70% of high school graduates enroll in college. That’s a bit over half. Even if you assumed that all poor people didn’t go to college and that all of the people who did go were from the top half of the income distribution (which isn’t true), for it to be a subsidy from the poor to the better off you’d be having the 30% above the bottom 20% supposedly subsidizing the top 50%. And that isn’t how it works.

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Matt 05.31.16 at 1:34 am

The receipt fee will be in turn calculated based on the number of year’s worth of tax returns they and their parents have filed in New York City over the course of their natural life

Even assuming this idea is desirable (I have no clear opinion at this time) I’m somewhat skeptical that it’s legal. There are a large number of Supreme Court cases that put significant limits on term of residency requirements on access to state funded benefits, and I suspect that this would apply for city funded ones, too. (Perhaps there is case law on this, but I don’t know off the top of my head.) There is a smallish exception for in-state tuition for universities, with something like this in mind (that the benefit comes to residents out of their paid taxes) but normally the residency requirement can’t be more than one year, and doesn’t apply to minors at all. The idea is that if you can show that you didn’t move just to take advantage of in-state tuition, then you get the benefit. The proposal here is different from in-statue tuition, but I’m still pretty skeptical that it would stand up to judicial review.

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RNB 05.31.16 at 1:48 am

So while harry b and others are raising questions about whether college education is a public good or has net positive externalities, I think the case for community college as a public good and as something that should be subsidized is stronger, even if those who do not graduate from HS or achieve a GED would not qualify for it. I say this because it seems that community college is required for many young people to acquire what are really basic writing and mathematical competence.

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RNB 05.31.16 at 1:50 am

writing and mathematical competencies.

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Matt 05.31.16 at 2:08 am

to acquire what are really basic writing and mathematical competence. …

writing and mathematical competencies.

Back to community college with you, RNB! But really, if this is true, doesn’t it mean that, 1) we area really mis-deploying our resources and 2) we’re telling those who don’t go to community college that they are screwed? Is there some reason that, if we want to fix this problem (as we should) that we can’t or should not just focus on fixing it in education up to and including high school? Surely that’s not impossible.

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RNB 05.31.16 at 5:19 am

Yes, I agree that we have to fix high school, but until that happens, many people seem to need access to community college to acquire basic skills. Or it could be that even in good high schools, many students can’t acquire the skills that we think they need in a modern economy without a year or two of community college. There is discussion here whether a four-year college education is a public good, or has positive externalities; I think that a stronger case can be made for community or junior colleges having these effects than can be made for four-year colleges.
It may be that the differences between Sander’s and Clinton’s college plans are often exaggerated, but I think they are both agreed in thinking that community college should be free and in proposing policies that would make the non-tuition costs of community college manageable. I am hoping that this shared goal can help to bring together the Democrats behind their nominee Hillary Clinton.

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harry b 05.31.16 at 1:04 pm

On education as a public good: education is, usually, partly a public good and partly a private good, and the balance depends on how the person uses their education, as well as the economic structure (someone can use their education completely self-interestedly, doing a socially valueless but highly paid job, and yet a public good is produced if we have high taxes on high incomes and spend those taxes well). A very rough rule of thumb, in the US at least, is that the balance shifts from ‘more public’ to ‘more private’ as the person being educated ages. But, also, it seems to me that CUNY has a much better claim to be producing public goods than, say, Harvard, does, because I would guess that on average CUNY graduates do more valuable things than Harvard graduates do, and considerably less money is spent on them. If we had a considerably more progressive taxation and governmental spending regime, that might not be true. But we don’t.

(Complication: a lot of the resources being spent on Harvard students are privately held, so if they weren’t being spent on educating those people, we have no control over how it would be spent, so no guarantee it would be spent in a more socially valuable way).

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Layman 05.31.16 at 1:21 pm

“with federal student loans , the US government is already doing this, more or less”

Rather less than more. Federal student loans are effectively subsidies to for-profit lenders and both public and private institutions.

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Layman 05.31.16 at 1:26 pm

@RNB, I can’t speak to every industry or occupation, but in my long experience in the tech industry, the value of a community college education to a prospective employer has fallen zero over the past 30 years. This is why I don’t get HRC’s tactic of highlighting community college in her campaign. What employment and career opportunities are opened up by community colleges? What are the target industries and occupations, and who is the target audience? I have no idea.

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RNB 05.31.16 at 2:27 pm

Layman, can’t we think of several jobs outside of the tech sector for which one must have basic skills in written communication? Isn’t it easy to see why adults couldn’t manage their own finances without basic quantitative skills? It seems that several people are leaving high school without those skills.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.31.16 at 2:28 pm

harry b: “On education as a public good: education is, usually, partly a public good and partly a private good, and the balance depends on how the person uses their education […]”

The military is generally considered to be a public good (defense being something that a single person can’t buy, can’t be excluded from etc.) When it is considered to be one there generally isn’t an extended examination of whether our military is really being used for good purposes or not. I think that you’re being a lot more picky about this then just about any other “public good” case I’ve heard of.

But fundamentally I think it misses the point to ask how individuals are using their educations. Having a university predictably leads to a certain kind of economic development and a certain kind of social development that is not really the sum of individual choices.

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Trader Joe 05.31.16 at 2:57 pm

Isn’t the point here a good bit more straightforward than public good vs. not or whether $17,000/student is enough?

CUNY exists and has a mission, which it is managing (I presume) to fullfill despite decades of chronic and systematic underfunding. The buildings ARE in disrepair, the Info tech systems ARE nearly obsolete, the classrooms ARE over crowded…these are status quo problems that need to be addressed simply to allow the school to continue to effectively function at its current level.

If the army didn’t have enough bullets or smart bombs they would be appropriated.
If the lights in the operating theater were flickering they’d be changed.
The fact that these situations are allowed to persist at CUNY are either gross mis-management (which professor Robin conceeds is an element, but not the sole one) or obvious lack of adequate commitment to an institution which has done tremendous work educating its target audience for decades.

I think its a different decision tree is if we should have places like CUNY at all and if so how they are best funded…give a governor or President 20 years and maybe this can be tweaked (probably for the worse). These sound more like “To do today” problems that should be addressed as such by both CUNY management, and the city/state.

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TM 05.31.16 at 4:02 pm

Comments disappear?

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Layman 05.31.16 at 4:04 pm

@RNB, if people are leaving high school unable to read or write or balance a check book, high school is broken. Another school to correct that isn’t the solution.

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RNB 05.31.16 at 4:05 pm

harry b,
one argument for the positive externalities of higher education comes from Ha-Joon Chang as he figures out why the wages of unskilled workers are so unequal on a global scale. He says their differential marginal productivity cannot explain it. He says that wages for the unskilled are raised by working in advanced industries which enjoy some kind of rent or transient Schumpeterian monopoly profit and that success in these industries depends crucially on the skill development of technical workers and managerial elites which in turn depend on the quality of higher education institutions. So there is an argument for greater positive externalities from higher education.

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TM 05.31.16 at 4:06 pm

Yes, comments disappear (haven’t seen this happen in a long time).

harry 76: “education is, usually, partly a public good and partly a private good”

Care to explain the term “usually”? You mean, “usually, in the US, …”?

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RNB 05.31.16 at 4:07 pm

@83 you may be right unless it’s just that it takes an additional year or two for many students to acquire the skills that they will need and that others will need them to have in a modern economy.

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bruce wilder 05.31.16 at 4:17 pm

When you see an economist explaining wages by reference to “skills”, please cover him with a tarp.

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RNB 05.31.16 at 4:20 pm

Well that’s exactly what Ha-Joon Chang was not saying. He is claiming that international wage differences can’t be explained by differences in skill levels or in terms of marginal productivity but in terms of a mixture of the global distribution of advanced industries and tight borders. Otherwise we can’t explain why the wages of unskilled workers are so much higher in the wealthy countries than in the poor countries. I am referring to his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell you About Capitalism.

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casssander 05.31.16 at 7:54 pm

@Rich Puchalsky 05.31.16 at 12:16 am

>The bottom 20% of people by income basically pay negative total Federal taxes, so they aren’t subsidizing anything like this.

Overall, yes, but they would be even more tax negative if they got the same benefits and taxes were lower.

>The percentage of people in the U.S. who graduate from high school is something like 80%, and about 70% of high school graduates enroll in college.

People who enroll in college don’t benefit from it as much as people who graduate college. people who enroll and don’t graduate, and those are disproportionately from poor backgrounds, are hurt the most. they subsidize everyone else, waste years of their life, and leave with large bills.

@harry b

the cost spent on public goods has nothing to do with whether or not they are public goods. A public good is not just something lots of people enjoy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_good

@Trader Joe

>Isn’t the point here a good bit more straightforward than public good vs. not or whether $17,000/student is enough?

Yes, but whether 17,000 is enough is relevant to the discussion. If it is, then the problem isn’t lack of money but bad management.

> The buildings ARE in disrepair, the Info tech systems ARE nearly obsolete, the classrooms ARE over crowded…these are status quo problems that need to be addressed simply to allow the school to continue to effectively function at its current level.

CUNY sits on some of the most valuable land in the world. I’m certain they could lease some of it as office space for a while, open up a satellite office somewhere nearby, and make more than enough. But somehow, such options never seem to be on the table. “addressing the problem” always seems to involve appropriating more money today in exchange for promises to reform tomorrow.

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Alex 06.01.16 at 11:38 am

“addressing the problem” always seems to involve appropriating more money today in exchange for promises to reform tomorrow.

Similarly, “reform” always seems to mean “closures and sell-offs today in exchange for handwaving”.

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casssander 06.01.16 at 8:56 pm

>Similarly, “reform” always seems to mean “closures and sell-offs today in exchange for handwaving”

When was the last time this was done to an american public institution of any significant size? The Civil Aeronautics Board?

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Collin Street 06.01.16 at 9:32 pm

> But somehow, such options never seem to be on the table.

Buildings are capital, maintenance is current.

The money you get to dedicate to increased maintenance and wages isn’t the money you get from selling the buildings, or even the difference between that and the money you spend on acquiring and setting up new buildings [even the moving expenses are pretty big, you know, still less the signage, the minor adaptions, etc etc etc].

The money you can spend on recurrent expenditure is the return on the difference. And, y’know: setting up new buildings is Not Cheap, not least because — as Trader Joe alluded to — the role of being the city university requires that the buildings be in the city ffs and so it’s not going to be saving any money. Even the moving expenses for an organisation as big as a uni are large, even the signage is pretty significant, plus there’s the minor adaptions etc. Past experience from a wide range of organisations says that the savings from relocations are pretty tiny and not worth it per se.

Looks like Dunning-Kruger to me, Cass. Run some numbers and show me if you want me to come to any other conclusion, or at least back down.

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Collin Street 06.01.16 at 9:33 pm

That is, if you back down on your claim that moving is a possibly-sensible idea, or if you produce outline numbers showing that moving is a possibly-sensible idea, I will continue to treat you as a person with credibility.

Otherwise… yeah.

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Chuck Haberl 06.01.16 at 11:55 pm

Cassandre @ 20 and those who followed:

The largest single expense in the budget of a college or a university is Personnel. That is how it should be. A university is nothing without its labor force. Of course, there’s a hierarchy, and those who generate most of the income for the university (teaching the majority of the classes for which the students pay tuition and the state supports through its line) are at the bottom of the hierarchy, and the senior administrators, who do not directly generate any of the institution’s income, are at the very top. Our universities have unfortunately become very top-heavy of late.

That is NOT the primary problem, though. The primary problem universities face in making a budget is that, in addition to paying these employees salaries, which have more or less been stagnant for decades, they also have to offer them benefits, as is typically expected of full time employment in this country.

These “indirect costs,” as they are known in budget speak, are currently equivalent to about 46.5% of an employee’s salary at a large public university like CUNY. One source I read indicated that they increased 196% between 1999 and 2013. You get one, and only one guess, as to what is driving that insane increase and where all that money is going.

(If you guessed the HMOs, you are correct).

Demonstrably, that money is not going to classrooms or departments or even the new Executive Vice Provost for Excellence in Academic Assessment. It’s going straight from the taxpayers to the insurance companies.

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cassander 06.02.16 at 1:33 am

>The money you get to dedicate to increased maintenance and wages isn’t the money you get from selling the buildings, or even the difference between that and the money you spend on acquiring and setting up new buildings [even the moving expenses are pretty big, you know, still less the signage, the minor adaptions, etc etc etc].

there’s no reason you can’t. There are reasons not to do that in the long run, sure, but absolutely nothing prevents this sort of belt-tightening in the short run. Nothing, of course, except distaste. Your average big state university probably couldn’t benefit by such an arrangement, but that’s because they aren’t located in Manhattan. CUNY is. Their valuable capital is not buildings, but land that they occupy own tax free.

> the role of being the city university requires that the buildings be in the city

I didn’t say move the whole university, I said move a part of it. The administration building, perhaps.

>Past experience from a wide range of organisations says that the savings from relocations are pretty tiny and not worth it per se.

How many of those institutions relocated from Manhattan?

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cassander 06.02.16 at 1:34 am

>The money you get to dedicate to increased maintenance and wages isn’t the money you get from selling the buildings, or even the difference between that and the money you spend on acquiring and setting up new buildings [even the moving expenses are pretty big, you know, still less the signage, the minor adaptions, etc etc etc].

there’s no reason you can’t. There are reasons not to do that in the long run, sure, but absolutely nothing prevents this sort of belt-tightening in the short run. Nothing, of course, except distaste. Your average big state university probably couldn’t benefit by such an arrangement, but that’s because they aren’t located in Manhattan. CUNY is. Their valuable capital is not buildings, but land that they occupy tax free. They should leverage a little of it.

> the role of being the city university requires that the buildings be in the city

I didn’t say move the whole university, I said move a part of it. The administration building, perhaps.

>Past experience from a wide range of organisations says that the savings from relocations are pretty tiny and not worth it per se.

How many of those institutions relocated from Manhattan?

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Alan White 06.02.16 at 2:06 am

Just one comment about vouchers (I’ve not scoured the thread if this has been said)–using my tax dollars to send students to blatantly religious schools–teaching anti-evolution, climate-change-denial, sexism, etc.–seems to me to be a violent violation of the separation of church and state. And don’t even start with some justifying principle about not favoring one religion over another. I don’t care: if my taxes go to advocating any religion–that breaches the so-called separation.

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LFC 06.02.16 at 3:28 am

Trader Joe @81:

Isn’t the point here a good bit more straightforward than public good vs. not or whether $17,000/student is enough?

CUNY exists and has a mission, which it is managing (I presume) to fullfill despite decades of chronic and systematic underfunding. The buildings ARE in disrepair, the Info tech systems ARE nearly obsolete, the classrooms ARE over crowded…these are status quo problems that need to be addressed simply to allow the school to continue to effectively function at its current level.

This. Find some emergency fund somewhere — I’d be surprised if one doesn’t exist — and replace the damn light bulbs, fix the holes in the ceilings, fix the non-functioning toilets, etc. The place is, on the evidence here, falling apart.

This is not rocket science, and making urgent fixes to the physical plant has little or nothing to do with the issues of faculty salaries (though I’ve no doubt they shd be better), whether univ education is a public good or not, whether the govt shd pay tuition for all college students or not, or whether — per harry b’s comment @76 — “CUNY has a much better claim to be producing public goods than, say, Harvard, does, because I would guess that on average CUNY graduates do more valuable things than Harvard graduates do….” Even if substantial numbers of CUNY grads went to Wall St. or whatever, they really shd not have to contend as students w a crumbling physical plant, tangled and/or obsolete electronic wiring making for intermittent internet access, etc. etc.

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LFC 06.02.16 at 3:32 am

correction:
“electronic” shd prob read “electrical.” whatever.

100

Collin Street 06.02.16 at 9:10 am

There are reasons not to do that in the long run, sure, but absolutely nothing prevents this sort of belt-tightening in the short run. Nothing, of course, except distaste.

Your average big state university probably couldn’t benefit by such an arrangement, but that’s because they aren’t located in Manhattan. CUNY is. Their valuable capital is not buildings, but land that they occupy tax free. They should leverage a little of it.

Yes, I get that you think that.
Cas: CUNY can save money by relocating [things]
Col: Relocation generates once-off money, not ongoing money, and once-off money has a limited impact on ongoing costs. Also, relocation costs a non-trivial amount.
Cas: CUNY can save money by relocating [things]
Col: …

See, this is not a normal flow of discourse, Cassander. Normally a person in your position would be responding to points I’d raised. “Responding” might include, say, “No, you’re right, relocation expenses are a significant issue; I’ll have to look at it” or “they own such-and-so land, and they can acquire the same area

[I mean, you do know this shit, right? I don’t, but I’m not the one arguing that relocation’s a good idea; if you believe it for good reasons, then you should be able to provide us with those good reasons. “Prove me wrong” is just a bullshit way of saying “I have no idea”.]

Your “how many come from manhattan?”? You shouldn’t be asking; telling us that is your job, or if not that then something else. Ante up, if you like; provide something to the conversation pot to keep your place at the table. [ultimately… “they should relocate” is your idea; if you believe it for good reasons, you should be able to provide those reasons to us. If you can’t provide us with good reasons… maybe you don’t have good reasons to believe it?]

Backwards-and-forwards; my comments affect your choices, just as your comments affect my choices. That’s what we expect, that’s what normal conversation looks like. Or, as I put forward explicitly:
That is, if you back down on your claim that moving is a possibly-sensible idea, or if you produce outline numbers showing that moving is a possibly-sensible idea, I will continue to treat you as a person with credibility.

But you didn’t do that, did you? You wrote what you wrote, I wrote what I wrote, informed by what you wrote before… and you just went and wrote the same thing as the first time, as if I’d never said anything. It’s not normal conversation, it’s not normal behaviour.

Why are you even here? What do you need other people for if you’re not actually engaging with them? What are you trying to achieve, by posting? How do you think you’ve been going in achieving that aim?

[but seriously? “relocate administration”? Administration has to be accessible to students and staff, and is as such under basically the same location constraints as the teaching spaces. Did you even go to university? Like I said, you’re not giving me reasons to consider your conclusions as worth the electrons they’re written on]

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Rich Puchalsky 06.02.16 at 10:28 am

LFC: “Find some emergency fund somewhere — I’d be surprised if one doesn’t exist — and replace the damn light bulbs, fix the holes in the ceilings, fix the non-functioning toilets, etc. “

I haven’t gotten into this part of it, because I know so little about the particulars of CUNY. But just speaking in general, this could be “mismanagement”, or it could be a symptom of something much more difficult to address. If maintenance people aren’t apparently maintaining things it could be because critical, hidden things are taking all their time.

That’s how it is at a local university that I’m more familiar with. It was explained at a talk that I went to (see, this is how little I know about this) that the campus as a whole has a huge maintenance debt, and some buildings have accumulated many person-years of work. In practice this debt only gets largely reduced when they tear down a building to put up another one and the accumulated maintenance debt on the torn-down building goes away.

So spending money from an emergency fund — to do what? Put on a metaphorical layer of cosmetics? I’ve noticed that most of the problems mentioned aren’t life-threatening. If old electrical wiring is a danger for sending a building up in flames, and the emergency fund is used to put a new coat of paint on, maybe that’s not the best idea. Seriously addressing this stuff involves hiring more staff, and hiring more staff means that you need to pay people enough to live in NYC.

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LFC 06.02.16 at 2:20 pm

RP:
I know so little about the particulars of CUNY.

Same here, so I probably shouldn’t have said anything on this point.

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Chuck Haberl 06.02.16 at 2:26 pm

As a New Yorker, and one that benefits from the presence of CUNY in my community, I can’t endorse selling off its physical plant and relocating “elsewhere.” Why?

1. The university doesn’t actually have the authority to do so, so this argument is a non-starter.

2. Even if Albany were to approve the sale, real estate in NYC is a blood sport. How do I know the taxpayers aren’t going to be seriously ripped off when we sell our university’s physical plant off to some local developer, like Mr. Trump? (Answer: we’re totally going to get ripped off.)

3. The buildings themselves aren’t particularly valuable, not in their present condition. Maybe the land is worth something, BUT

4. There is literally nowhere cost effective to go within 50 miles, unless you propose relocating CUNY to Newark. It’s definitely a seller’s market here.

5. A yard sale, such as Cassander is proposing, is a one shot attempt to address a longstanding structural problem. That is, it is an imaginary solution, not a real one.

6. The presence of a university in my community benefits us. It generates doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals who either have roots here or put them down. It brings world renowned speakers to our community to talk about fascinating things. It generates tens of thousands of jobs for locals, pumping millions back into the local economy. It offers courses that seniors can audit for free. Can Mr. Trump or another developer promise the same, when he converts the university into apartments and lofts? I don’t think so.

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Trader Joe 06.02.16 at 3:28 pm

@98LFC and @101 RP
I also don’t know the particulars beyond the article, it could well be that the CUNY maintenance staff is nothing but a bunch of lazy, has been Bob the builders or the they could be Scotty on the Enterprise holding the whole thing together with bubble-gum and bailing wire, roof leaks and light bulbs be damned.

My point is/was, there is a short term problem and a long-term problem. The short-term problem can be addressed with some amount of resource and the long-term one will require some combination of resource and structural change.

I think the short-term problem is of importance because it reflects on attitudes about addressing the long-term one. When people walk into a place that is falling apart, missing light bulbs and has no chalk – the attitude is “what dump” tear it down and start over (which is essentially what several above in comments have said).

Equally, student don’t want to hang out there – they meet off campus, they don’t network their peers or professors. It adds one more reason not to stick around for a guest speaker or any of the other multitude of on campus events that are part of what change a place from a collection of buildings where things get taught to a capital U, University.

CUNY does an F-ing excellent job in addressing its market and providing the opportunities it does – considering its location however – It can be far, far more. A starting point is having it be the kind of place that people look and believe that it can be more – it starts with light bulbs and no buckets in the library. Then we can discuss vision and public goods and transformative leadership etc.

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cassander 06.03.16 at 12:23 am

@colin

>. “Responding” might include, say, “No, you’re right, relocation expenses are a significant issue; I’ll have to look at it” or “they own such-and-so land, and they can acquire the same area

So, in your world, “responding” means “dropping my point completely”? I did respond. You said “relocation doesn’t usually save money” I responded “we aren’t talking about usually we’re talking about relocating out of Manhattan”. Failing to respond would be ignoring a point, which is what you have done to me, by ignoring the fact that we aren’t talking about a normal situation, but a place where rents drop by half a mile or two away, and by half again a couple miles past that.

>[but seriously? “relocate administration”? Administration has to be accessible to students and staff, and is as such under basically the same location constraints as the teaching spaces. Did you even go to university? Like I said, you’re not giving me reasons to consider your conclusions as worth the electrons they’re written on]

First of all, the vast majority of the executive apparatus, as in any large organization, is not on the front line meeting with students any more than the average executive in a car company spends time on the factory floor. There are vast swathes of administration, admissions, online education, marketing, alumni relations, even billing, that would not suffer egregiously if students had to take a subway to go to their office once a year. Would it be nice to keep everything together? Sure, but it would also be nice if the roof didn’t leak. We all face choices. My priority is preserving the level of service provided per dollar spent, and if that can be moving some middle managers to queens, that sounds like a good deal to me. What are your priorities?

@chuck

>As a New Yorker, and one that benefits from the presence of CUNY in my community, I can’t endorse selling off its physical plant and relocating “elsewhere.” Why?

Neither did I. I suggested temporarily relocating some of the administration and using the money “saved” to fix the physical plant.

>2. Even if Albany were to approve the sale, real estate in NYC is a blood sport. How do I know the taxpayers aren’t going to be seriously ripped off when we sell our university’s physical plant off to some local developer, like Mr. Trump? (Answer: we’re totally going to get ripped off.)

So, in other words, the university is incompetent;y run so it should be given even more money? You think that will improve things?

>3. The buildings themselves aren’t particularly valuable, not in their present condition. Maybe the land is worth something, BUT

Maybe land in Manhattan is worth something? Now you’re just trolling.

>4. There is literally nowhere cost effective to go within 50 miles, unless you propose relocating CUNY to Newark. It’s definitely a seller’s market here.

Again, I did not suggest relocating.

>5. A yard sale, such as Cassander is proposing, is a one shot attempt to address a longstanding structural problem. That is, it is an imaginary solution, not a real one.

The longstanding problem is that the university is poorly run and does not make best use of its resources. I suggested one small area where better use could be found for some of the university’s assets in a way that could pay for fixing one problem. I did not propose to fix the entire university overnight by selling something.

Every single one of your arguments was either a straw man or a misstatement of what I’ve said. In future, please keep your arguments directed at me towards things I have actually said.

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Charles Haberl 06.03.16 at 12:43 am

@Cassander

I’m only trying to make sense of your proposal, which, on the face of it, is a non-starter.

Where do you propose “relocating” the administration? The term “administration” covers a whole host of sins. In addition to the Executive Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Research Excellence, there are also hordes of deans whose sole responsibility is to meet with students or serve as a 24/7 email concierge service (they’re usually called Academic Services or Student Support). They can’t be moved offsite, easily. Then there’s Personnel, Payroll, Human Resources, General Counsel, etc. etc. etc. You cannot run a modern university without these offices, unfortunately, and they need to be accessible to faculty and staff.

Unfortunately, I just don’t see moving these offices anywhere within 50 miles of NYC to be a cost-saving measure. In addition to the cost of the move itself (which would be astronomical), office/commercial space doesn’t exactly come cheap in NYC.

You unfortunately missed my post further up addressed to you. I shall repeat myself.

The largest single expense in the budget of a college or a university is Personnel. That is how it should be. A university is nothing without its labor force. Of course, there’s a hierarchy, and those who generate most of the income for the university (teaching the majority of the classes for which the students pay tuition and the state supports through its line) are at the bottom of the hierarchy, and the senior administrators, who do not directly generate any of the institution’s income, are at the very top. Our universities have unfortunately become very top-heavy of late.

That is NOT the primary problem, though. The primary problem universities face in making a budget is that, in addition to paying these employees salaries, which have more or less been stagnant for decades, they also have to offer them benefits, as is typically expected of full time employment in this country.

These “indirect costs,” as they are known in budget speak, are currently equivalent to about 46.5% of an employee’s salary at a large public university like CUNY. One source I read indicated that they increased 196% between 1999 and 2013. You get one, and only one guess, as to what is driving that insane increase and where all that money is going.

Demonstrably, that money is not going to classrooms or departments or even the new Executive Vice Provost for Excellence in Academic Assessment. It’s not really going anywhere on campus. It’s going straight from the taxpayers to the insurance companies, and it’s one of the costs of doing business in America today.

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ZM 06.03.16 at 7:57 am

Looking at the 2014 financial report from CUNY, they are spending some on buildings and maintenance.

The capital assets including land and buildings are their highest asset, with US$5,213,175,000. All the other assets categories are lower than US$0.8 billion. The total assets are US$7,425,380,000. The assets increased by US$533 million, mostly due to new science buildings —

“Two new science research buildings- one for The City College of New York science research program and a CUNY-wide Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) that will serve scientists from throughout the City University system- called the Matthew Goldstein Science Complex at the City College of New York, will yield nearly 400,000 square feet for state-of-the-art laboratories and offices, imaging facilities, Electron Microscopy vivarium, as well as a café and lecture hall. The buildings will form a research hub that will provide outstanding opportunities for faculty and science students, and is expected to open in fiscal year 2015.”

The operating revenue in 2014 was a bit over US$2 billion. Non-operating revenue was a bit over US$2 billion. So total revenue was a bit over US$4 billion in 2014. (p. 9)

Total operating expenses was a bit over US$4 billion, so that evens out pretty well.

Instruction costs (teaching) increased by 4.1% due to “210 new full time faculty positions hired by CUNY’s colleges and annual salary (i.e., step) increments as per contractual obligations and related fringe benefits.”

In terms of the capital works budget, actually CUNY does not administer most of the capital works budget, most of the budge is administered by the the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) on behalf of CUNY .

“The University’s capital program addresses the major new construction, rehabilitation, and capital equipment needs of its colleges and is developed in accordance with the University’s established priority system as articulated in its Master Plan. Funding is based upon a five-year capital plan, which is subject to final approval by the State. A complete list of project and construction costs is included in the Master Plan. ” p. 12

The capital works budget for 2014 was US$475,176,000

2011 was the best year for capital works in the last 5 years with US$693,550,000

CUNY has a significant long term debt – US$5,034,503,000. Debt has grown by about US$1billion since 2010, with the main jump from 2010 to 2011. p. 13

This is a lot of debt to have compared to assets and expenses in my opinion (people who actually have knowledge about finance might disagree, I have no idea really it just seems like a lot to me compared to the assets and annual budget).

CUNY has been working on raising money —

“The University is in the process of completing a $3 billion comprehensive capital campaign which is scheduled to end in fiscal year 2015. The total raised to-date is $2.7 billion.” p. 13

https://www.cuny.edu/about/administration/offices/bf/2014FinancialStatements.pdf

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casssander 06.03.16 at 6:04 pm

@Charles Haberl

I did respond to your comment as @chuck

>That is NOT the primary problem, though.

Mismanagement IS the primary problem. As I showed earlier from budget documents, inflation adjusted budgets have been growing considerably faster than the student body for at least two decades. Providing education has not gotten inherently more expensive in the last 20 years. If you have more money but can’t provide the same level of service, the problem is organizational, not financial. If there haven’t been raises, which I doubt, then it’s because they’re hiring more people instead of giving more money to the people already there. If they’re paying more in benefits, that’s because they’re choosing to give people raises that way rather than cash, which good decision or no, is still a choice they’re making.

@ZM

>Looking at the 2014 financial report from CUNY, they are spending some on buildings and maintenance.

No doubt they are, but building new buildings while your old ones are falling apart is textbook bad management. Granted it’s easier to raise money for a new building with a new person’s name on it than something boring like re-roofing old buildings, but if they’re building massive new facilities, the problem isn’t lack of money, it’s allocation.

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Chuck Haberl 06.03.16 at 6:33 pm

@casssander 108

“Mismanagement” isn’t a response. It’s a buzzword. You haven’t bothered to identify and assess the extent of any mismanagement, you’re just lobbing it into the conversation and expecting us to agree with you and move on.

“Providing education has not gotten inherently more expensive in the last 20 years. If you have more money but can’t provide the same level of service, the problem is organizational, not financial.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. WRONG. You note that tuition has increased much more rapidly than inflation. You know what else has increased much faster than inflation? The cost of healthcare. I have already pointed out that the cost of offering benefits to full-time employees has been the fastest growing expense in higher education. As I noted, they increased 196% between 1999 and 2013 for university employees. This flies directly in the face of your claim that providing education has not gotten inherently more expensive over the past 20 years.

At my university, we have managed to get the school’s share of the benefits down to about 40% of salary. This was possible only because a) we don’t offer pensions, b) the university caps its contributions to healthcare premiums to the state contribution, taking the rest directly out of employee paychecks, and c) increasingly not offering benefits to instructors by hiring them for “part-time” adjunct positions, which do not qualify for benefits.

I’m not happy with a) and b), but as a professional I can tell you that it is completely impossible to run a university on c). Adjuncts are over-worked, underpaid, and not generally available for the kind of administrative work that increasingly falls upon the shoulders of faculty (committee work, student advising, faculty governance such as department and program administration, etc.). They are often “here today, gone tomorrow,” which means that they can’t contribute to the institutional memory of a program, and they’re often not available to write recommendations, which are one of the most important resources for graduates. Plus, they aren’t compensated for research or publications, which are two of the most important factors in university rankings (and the only way for faculty to keep abreast, or even contribute to, developments in their field).

Plus, the current lack of employment prospects in the academy is already endangering the long-term survival of many fields and disciplines. Skilled professionals are increasing voting with their feet NOT to enter education.

I note that EVEN WITH ALL THESE CUTS, the share of benefits has gone from slightly less than 20% of salary to 40% over the course of 15 years. That is insane, and it’s one of the major things driving the cost of labor in higher education. You cannot watch one of the largest chunks of your budget double in size over such a short period of time without throwing everything else out of whack.

This is emphatically not an organizational problem. It is a financial problem that basically affects every worker and every employer in the country. I really don’t think I have to make a case that the cost of healthcare and retirement has been increasing for decades now, do I?

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Rich Puchalsky 06.03.16 at 7:09 pm

“I note that EVEN WITH ALL THESE CUTS, the share of benefits has gone from slightly less than 20% of salary to 40% over the course of 15 years. “

That is unpossible, the ACA was supposed to have fixed everything.

111

Chuck Haberl 06.03.16 at 7:14 pm

I also feel compelled to note that the cost of living has been on the rise, particularly in the New York metropolitan area respective to the rest of the country. To give you a real life anecdote about this, when I first moved to Brooklyn, I bought a two bedroom, one bathroom condo for only $550K. That was about seven years ago. That same condo was recently reappraised for a home equity loan, and it is now worth about $1.2M.

In order to hire full-timer laborers who can actually LIVE in the NY metro area (forget Manhattan or Brooklyn; I’m talking Staten Island or Jersey City), CUNY has at the very minimum to match the increase in the cost of living over that time, and that’s just to hire someone that’s fresh out of graduate school. If they want someone who has several years of experience, the cost of labor goes way up.

In any business, you have multiple expenses, including infrastructure, materials, and labor. In education, labor generates nearly all the revenue, and also generates the lion’s share of the expenses (although the cost of maintaining, powering, and heating or cooling ancient infrastructure is not trivial, and only grows respective to newer, more energy efficient construction, as time goes on). You CANNOT look at the dramatic hike in the cost of living in the NY metro area, in addition to the cost of offering fringe benefits, and tell us that “providing education has not gotten inherently more expensive in the last 20 years.”

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Chuck Haberl 06.03.16 at 7:22 pm

@Rich Puchalsky 110

The ACA didn’t fix shit.

Wait, I take that back. The one thing it did fix is the predatory behavior of university administrators. Some of them, including my own, would hire “part time” adjuncts, assign them the same teaching load as their full-time colleagues, and pay them peanuts (in my department, it comes to a minimum of $4,926 p.a. to an upper threshold of $19,704 p.a.) WITHOUT BENEFITS. IN THE NY METRO AREA.

We can no longer do that any more.

Since I’m responsible for maintaining a budget, this is a bit of a headache for me, but as someone who would like to consider himself a decent human being, I am secretly thrilled by this development. It means that I get to go to the deans and make the argument, “We don’t have enough instructors to go around to meet student demand for the sections that we’re offering, I need you to make so-and-so full time. What can you do? Thanks, Obama!”

Unfortunately for the universities, the ACA just means that the cost of labor keeps going up.

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cassander 06.04.16 at 1:09 am

@Chuck

>“Mismanagement” isn’t a response. It’s a buzzword. You haven’t bothered to identify and assess the extent of any mismanagement, you’re just lobbing it into the conversation and expecting us to agree with you and move on.

Yes, I have. explicitly. There is more money than ever in the history of the organization, and yet somehow it doesn’t seem to be enough to do what the organization used to be able to do.

>Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. WRONG. You note that tuition has increased much more rapidly than inflation.

Utterly irrelevant to the question at hand.

>As I noted, they increased 196% between 1999 and 2013 for university employees. This flies directly in the face of your claim that providing education has not gotten inherently more expensive over the past 20 years.

I fail to see how paying too much for gold plated benefits does not constitute mismanagement by the university.

>I note that EVEN WITH ALL THESE CUTS, the share of benefits has gone from slightly less than 20% of salary to 40% over the course of 15 years. That is insane, a

No, it isn’t. A similar story can be told of many industries. Yet somehow, GM manages to keep the roofs over their factories from leaking.

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Chuck Haberl 06.04.16 at 1:17 am

“Gold plated benefits”? Seriously, go fuck yourself.

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kidneystones 06.04.16 at 2:02 am

@114 Thanks, Chuck, for this sensible and informative series of comments. I’m very curious to learn what you think of the real costs of program administration. All the full-time tenured profs regard a lot of the committee work as a waste of time. The old adage, which I still embrace, is that all a good university needs is a good library – good faculty – and good students.

Treating instructors and students and others at the university as human beings seems to have become a ‘cost’ administrators can no longer justify, or support. I don’t frankly see any way forward until the shared humanity (crazy concept, I know) of all the people concerned is once again the baseline for decision making, not some idealized “pie in the sky” dream of unrealistic idealists.

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kidneystones 06.04.16 at 2:03 am

@115 should read “all the… I know regard a lot…

117

LFC 06.04.16 at 2:55 am

C. Haberle
The ACA didn’t fix shit.

As far as health care cost inflation is concerned, Obama’s claim (as made at a town hall he did recently in Indiana, and also stated elsewhere) is that, while health costs are still going up, they are rising more slowly since the ACA’s enactment. This wouldn’t have much affected the 15-year doubling in benefits’ share of salary that you cite; most of that (as far as health care costs go) is pre-ACA. This is not so much to tout the ACA, but to suggest that the situation in this respect might be worse w.o it. (However, this is not something I claim any specialized knowledge of at all.)

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F. Foundling 06.05.16 at 1:37 am

@kidneystones 05.30.16 at 12:28 am
>You evidently live in a different reality where all succeed at everything all the time.

No, I live in the reality where the mission of a teacher is to do his best so that as many of his students as possible succeed – succeed truly, not at the cost of lowering the bar – and that they truly earn the best marks possible. This is always the ideal to strive for, even though, of course, it is almost never achieved, just as the success rate of medical treatments can never be 100%. The actual percentage of success, assuming that the same standards are maintained, will vary a lot by class and year and simply can’t be predicted – it depends on the varying characteristics of the students and, obviously, on the quality of the teaching, which should be open to improvement. Therefore, setting preliminary targets for marks and for success or failure is bound to result in injustice, as well as discouraging teachers from improving their work. The very idea of making one’s own students’ failure a *target* is, IMO, completely unnatural for a teacher. This is my deeply held conviction as a teacher, and one who does fail students, sometimes far more than 15%, when the standards demand it.

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Chuck Haberl 06.05.16 at 3:52 am

@ F. Foundling 118

In my experience, teaching large lecture courses (150+ people each) and small seminars (~10), there’s a huge range for the distribution. I taught an honors seminar last semester, and it was everything teaching was supposed to be. It was a small size, the students did all the reading, attended every class, were present, gave thoughtful answers, and wrote beautiful papers. They all did well.

In my larger classes, you get more of a curve, with maybe 10-20% at the top, 10-20% failing, and a bunch in the middle. This is also true for language courses, even the smaller sized seminars, since the expectations are very, very clear—I almost never have students disputing their grades after a semester of Arabic. When I was in school, I took a seminar on Phoenician. No one received an A, but we all received the grade we deserved.

Automatically failing 15% in either situation just wouldn’t work. It’s one of those things that sounds like a good idea to people who have no idea what they’re talking about, but collides head-on with reality the moment you try to implement it.

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Chuck Haberl 06.05.16 at 4:25 am

@ kidneystones 115

I have to admit ignorance on the “real costs” of program administration. Part of the problem is that realities have changed. For example, the state contribution to our budget is now somewhere in the area of 21%. That means we somehow need to raise the other 79%, and we have absolutely no control over how much tuition we charge, since that is set by the state.

This means that raising soft money for programs, securing outside grants from private, federal, state, and local sources, building an endowment, and raising funds from alumni have suddenly become more critical than ever. As a consequence, we now have entire offices dedicated to each of these things (whereas, in the distant past, individual faculty did most of these things in their spare time when they weren’t teaching). Increasingly, we are relying on “foreign talent” to teach in certain fields, not only foreign languages and literatures, which is my area, but also the STEM fields, because education is not really considered a respectable profession in this country, and American students don’t seem to have an aptitude for or the desire to pursue these fields. Additionally, to bridge that budget gap, we are increasingly reliant upon affluent international students and their tuition dollars (at my university, 1 out of every 10 students is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China, and we apparently have the largest alumni association in that country of any American university). This means that we have now to have to do outreach to different countries, to keep those “revenue streams” flowing, and also dedicate staff to securing visas for and sponsoring faculty for permanent residency. All of this became much more complicated after 9/11.

Unfortunately, the truth is that you cannot run a university or any large organization in the 21st century, private or “public,” without this kind of administrative support.

When I went to college, the dorms were famously spartan, the food in the cafeterias consistently low-grade, and support services rudimentary. It was part of the culture. Then again, I was able to cover most of my expenses working a few part time jobs, and paid off my student debt shortly after graduation. These days, a college education, even a public one, is increasingly a “luxury good,” and the customers demand a higher level of service. So we have climbing walls, movie theaters, and that sort of thing. I don’t really see these things as contributing to our original mandate, but unfortunately they have become another one of the costs of doing business.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a steady and perceptible level in the degree of administrative bloat. After a generation or two of being told that we have to operate like businesses, colleges and universities have internalized that mentality, and we now have as many pointless vice-presidents as your average bank. I see this as another unfortunate side effect of the corporatization of higher education. We obviously need to turn the clock back on “Big Education,” but I’m not even sure where to begin. So many factors are completely outside of our control, such as the cost of living and basic benefits like health care.

Unlike GM, there will never be no federal bailout of CUNY. Unlike GM, we can’t simply close CUNY’s NYC campuses down and relocate them to China or Mexico. So we try to manage with what we have, and wait until the other shoe to drop.

In my opinion, corporate-style solutions are actually part of the problem, not the solution, but I’m really at the bottom of the food chain in this respect. I don’t mean to imply that I’m some kind of big-wig; I manage an office with fifteen full-timers and about 4 or 5 part-timers, depending on the student enrollments in a given semester. We have a budget of somewhat more than a million, almost all of which is personnel-related, and about $10K is for our non-instructional operating expenses (toner for the copying machine, space rental for a public lecture, that sort of thing).

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