Seeking High Ground Amidst the Bayous

At about the time I took my current position here in Mondoville, I was offered a job at a university in the University of Louisiana system. I took this job because the Mondo County Public Schools also offered a position to my wife, but I’ve thought kindly of the UL system since then.

Consequently, I was disappointed to see a story in the Chronicle today that announces that the UL system is considering weakening tenure, making it easier to cut tenured professors for financial reasons or simply to shrink a given program. Unsurprisingly, profs in the UL system are less than thrilled.

Now, things are tough all over, and in the world outside the academy, there’s no such thing as tenure (which I know well, having done a tour of duty in the corpoate world for six years between degrees), so attempting to defend the institution of tenure frequently looks like faculty declaring we ought to be immune from financial constraint. It’s an unsympathetic, and therefore weak, rhetorical position.

But there may be a stronger approach available, and again it goes to the issue of administrative metastasis. While no one will ever see faculty members as horny-handed sons and daughters of toil — nor should they — I would argue that when people think of their college experiences, they’re more likely to think of us than a deputy associate dean for student affairs. And if there’s a group the public likes less than faculty, it may be bureaucrats and middle managers. Consequently, it may be worthwhile to point out that there are places to save money besides the faculty.

Erin O’Connor makes the point nicely:

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette ranked 89th out of 196 surveyed schools in a recent study of administrative bloat. In recent years, the number of admins per 100 students has risen by 43.9 percent, while the number of faculty has only gone up 9 percent. Enrollment, during the same period, has gone down by 1.4 percent. If there’s a need to trim academic programs, surely there’s an even greater need to reduce the bureaucracy? Then there’s athletics. Louisiana-Lafayette heavily subsidizes its sports programs–and has increased those subsidies substantially in recent years. In 2008, more than half of the school’s $11 million athletics budget came from “allocated revenue,” or in-house subsidies.If Louisiana’s faculty members want to have a productive conversation with the administration, they need to engage with them on the level of economics, budget allocations, administrative spending, and sports subsidies. And there is plenty to discuss there. “Why are you funding football at the expense of academics?” is a much stronger question than “Why won’t you let me keep my tenure when the university is going broke?”

Admittedly, the State of Louisiana is not noted as a bastion of governmental efficiency, so the bloat there may be worse than elsewhere, but as we’ve previously seen, the actual faculty structure is considerably leaner than other sectors of higher ed across the nation. While it may be too late to call that to the public’s attention — as O’Connor observes, the UL situation has the whiff of endgame to it — such a move may be our best chance for claiming a rhetorical high ground.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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