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SPOTLIGHT


Slippery Rock University is committed to fully informing its community regarding budget developments. This site has been created to provide faculty, students, staff and other visitors with timely updates, planning processes, and communication regarding the 2013/14 University budget. Please consult this page regularly for the latest information

 

 

Click on a date to see suggestions from that day.

 

August 28, 2013
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April 4, 2014




Budget suggestions: September 12, 2013


Is there any additional space on campus that could be rented out to provide additional income like I am assuming Quaker State and Starbucks must pay. It seems that would be a good source of revenue and provide more options for students on campus. It seems there needs to be more belt-tightening as difficult as that may be. What about reducing the SRU contribution for pensions? More and more companies are, unfortunately, having to go this route. Are there any professors nearing retirement that would not need to be replaced and their courses divided up among others?


Have we considered the potential for Marcellus shale revenue?


As you ask the University community to put forth ideas about cost cutting amidst the Commonwealth’s increasingly precarious financial state, here are several thoughts you may wish to consider. Whether they can be of any use to your office I leave to your judgment.

  1. In my years here, the relative quantity of administrators to faculty has steadily risen.  True, the legalities and general intricacies of running an institution of higher education have grown; with this complexity has come more and more administration.  Still, the numbers have been striking.  Not being in the administration, it is all too easy for someone in my position to call for administrative cuts in general.  It is also easy to make guesses as to where “fat” may lie.  I have to leave it to someone in your position to make careful judgments here.  I would only observe how it has seemed there are many offices where 3 people may be doing the work of 2, or 2 doing that of 1, etc.
  2. Considering matters which a faculty member can judge more cogently, I can ask why, for so long, has SRU had four colleges, with each, of course, necessitating deans and other staff.  There is a history here that need not be honoured, and which could be intelligently redressed:
    Years ago, SRU had three colleges.  One of the colleges involved Education and Professional Studies.  Their Dean was not respected by a sizable part of that college’s faculty.  Many points of dissatisfaction were voiced.  The SRU Pres. of the time, purely in service to Lilliputian identity politics (and corruption), responded irresponsibly, dividing that college in two parts, salvaging a job for the otherwise ousted Dean and creating another costly Dean’ship.  From such a frankly dumb, wasteful political basis, we have ever since maintained four colleges.  It has never made any sense.  In line with the organizational structures of most campuses, we need a College of Business, a College of Education and Professional Studies, and a College of Arts and Sciences.  As such a set-up works fine at so many universities, and as our more costly, oddly-gabled architecture reflects old politics whose indulgences should never have been permitted in the first place, this should change.  The current silly structure clashes with legitimate academics; its costs are no longer bearable (and never really were).  We need to scrap the old ways.
    Solution: Three Colleges, not Four.
  3. With the realignments that would/could come from a more intelligent three-college structure, various departments could be combined, some of which used to be joined anyway.  Years ago, for example, Phys. Ed., Health, and Dance were in the same department.  Now we have three departments, hence three dept. chairs, each with release time.  Considering a quarter- (or even half-) release time for chairs, on the basis of a full prof. pay, that’s as much as $100,000 a year spent to administer three departments which do not necessarily belong as separate entities.  As currently configured, existing links to “Humanities” and “Science” are hard to justify anyway.  Solution: especially while reconfiguring colleges, combine oddly configured departments where possible and save the money spent for extra budgets and for chairs’ release-times.
  4. Considering the general area of release time, this has been an area that has been exploited by some faculty who seem more interested in getting away from teaching, doing little to zero scholarship, and posturing intramural achievements.  Such “games-person-ship” actually impresses few legitimate academics, but in the context of current budget matters that’s not the primary point.  It is too expensive and often needless.  Work-load releases have often rewarded some faculty with rather marginal academic records.  If people do little to no meaningful scholarship, why give them release time for a given intramural initiative, especially when the content of what they are doing often appears to involve little more than the verbiage used to rationalize the initiative in the first place; hence: release time in order to have release time?  Just as troublesome here is the enabling element -- like the citizens of a small town with a corrupt mayor, too many other faculty have winked at present and past examples of waste, fraud, and abuse.  Even more dysfunctionally, many have raged at those who have sought to point out waste, fraud, and abuse, cynically attempting to justify it with such empty homilies as “well, that’s politics.”  That’s not politics; that’s what we’ve permitted to pass as politics, and that’s a major reason why the Commonwealth is in its current mess.  It obviously cannot go on.
    In further regard to the politically-infected issue of release time, could many releases set at levels greater than 25% be reduced to 25%?
    Additionally, all those who have one such work-load release, should not be allowed to have another.  A Dean can deny, as an unacceptable candidate, someone seeking a post of dept. chair if the latter already holds a release-time position.  There can be a conflict of interest arising from such two-release situations anyway.
    Summary: No more than one release time per faculty member, few/no release times of more than 25%, and an elimination of release times that are unnecessary.
  5. At many campuses, various ______ Studies programs of various foci (gender, racial, ethnic, religious, etc.) have come under scrutiny and pressure, as they cost valuable money; they spend often-exorbitant fees on things like ideologically-pleasing speakers; they reveal some embarrassing, academically marginal records; and they maintain needlessly politicized characters coupled with an illiberal intolerance of ideological diversity.  For years this politicization has revealed itself in the rhetoric many campuses’ ______ Studies supporters have raised against any critics, no matter (especially with) the cogency and sincerity of the criticism.  If any such program faculty can present students with advice on ways to structure a particular academic major or a minor in a chosen curriculum, that may be fine, but why must a university give such programs sizable budgets and release-time appointments?  Those who wish to give of their time serving relevant majors or minors can then have this work listed in the “service” areas of their records with regard to tenure/promotion matters.  But giving added funding to such work seems altogether unnecessary, coupled as it so often seems to be with very few genuine academic/scholarly accomplishments.  The expensive status-quo appears to be a product of political pressures and threats of name-calling, all matters we can no longer afford to indulge (and never should have).
  6. Considering needlessly expensive programs, we need to “bare bones” such programs as Elementary, Secondary, Special, and Music Education.  Granted there are various areas that outside accrediting agencies require, but this does not mean that an entire course(s) has to be created to cover each of these areas.  We have too often yielded to false postures here.  So many full-time faculty positions grow ensconced purely due to political pressures over such issues.  We can no longer afford to sustain this.  For decades students have attested unceasingly to the tedious, repetitive nature of so much of the alleged “content” (such as it may be) in many Ed. courses.  The programs need to be streamlined, and there could be lots of savings in the fewer full-time equivalencies on the faculty that would ensue.
  7. While there are faculty who teach over 300 students per year, we have many faculty who teach as few as 50.  Could such low-enrollment-load faculty be reduced to three-quarters time, or have their course load level be increased to five courses a term?  CBA issues are relevant here, of course.
  8. Also connected to matters of workloads:  Harrisburg-level pressures may seek to take faculty loads from 4-4 to 4-5/5-4 or even to 5-5.  (Release times of 25% would then become 20%.)  Understanding this, SRU may wish to consider ways to anticipate this and institute ideas that are a bit more fair.  Here, for example, non-tenured faculty should be kept at 4-4 as much as possible.  Tenured faculty who consistently show little to no productivity in the area of scholarly growth could have loads raised to 5-5.  Here standards could be employed that are fairly common at major universities and too seldom in evidence at SRU: A properly published book is the equivalent of 7 articles published in legit. journals or edited books.  (The publishing of an edited book of others’ writings is usually the equiv. of an article.)  A legitimately published article is the equivalent of 7 book reviews in legitimate journals and publications.  Seven conference presentations equal one book review.  Tenured professors can be expected to produce at a level of at least one legit. article per year, hence a book every seven years, with book reviews and conference papers (and campus-level performances/shows) worth very little, which at most universities is their usual tenure/promotion value anyway.  Details here would have to be worked out with union involvement, but the goal should involve making fuller use of already well-paid faculty who have consistently shown themselves to be academically unproductive.  A 5-5 work load may be in the near future for all, but we could strive for more nuanced innovation along these lines.
  9. Tenure and promotion are critical in regard to budgetary matters, for obvious reasons.  There are a number of ways that the current structure of tenure and promotion operations needs to be revised.  Upon request, many would be happy to present detailed points here, but these are not budgetary matters, per se, so that is for another day.  Meanwhile, the point is to restructure matters to avoid some of the absurdities that have passed with previous administrators -- blatantly faked scholarship, amateurish performances, and other forms of corruption successfully yielding tenure, promotions, and huge salaries.  This has demoralized many well-intentioned faculty and greatly enlivened the cynicism of others who increasingly to see matters like tenure and promotion at SRU more as political games than as an extension of legitimate academic work.  Among the petty gamers, all sorts of dysfunctional attempts have also come forth to shoot the messenger.  It has never led to any denials of the embarrassing facts raised (the facts cannot be denied).  The absurdities have also enabled several expensive civil law suits against SRU and PaSSHE.  It has never made educational or financial sense to indulge the many feeble political networks on this campus, especially as so many such connected people have shown little to no academic legitimacy or integrity in their records.  The indulgences have come largely because past administrators lazily indulged established networks and ways of doing things.  They have even joined in attacking messengers bringing forth uncomfortable facts.  The facts of past corruption remain, however, and there is now, ever more clearly, no reason to allow any such patterns to continue.
     
    The general point about the lion’s share of the university’s budget being devoted to salaries, benefits, and pensions is, of course, central to the picture.  Considering this as a central point, two other matters can be considered.  Some of the logical ways to address the salary and pension morass would indeed require action at the Harrisburg level.  We cannot do much about this as a campus.  Still, there is no reason not to raise several matters here, at least with the point that SRU and other institutions may be able to raise the issues and advocate and nudge people in Harrisburg to take some significant steps before it is too late.
  10. Take all state salaries, be they those of professors, administrators, highway workers, legislators, governors, toll booth operators, etc., and cut them on the following basis: 1% up to $50,000, 2% up to $60,000, 3% up to $70,000 ... 33% up to $370,000, and 33% on all salaries above that.  Do the same with all state pensions.  If/where salaries and pensions cannot be legally cut, they could be taxed off the top with a special state salary or state pension tax.  No one would like it, but it would be fair; it would be among the least painful ways to deal with matters, and it would go a long way to address the Harrisburg’s (and, with similar cuts applied federally, Washington’s) current state.  People making $50,000 would have $49,500; those living on a $100,000 annual salary or pension can live on $94,000; those on $110,000 would still have over $102,200.  It would be manageable.
  11. The Commonwealth could/should also address the fact that it funds over 40 state and state-related university campuses.  That’s significantly more than the number funded by any other state except California, and that includes states like Florida and Illinois which each have higher populations.  On a per capita basis, no state funds more campuses than Pennsylvania.  Given those figures, some elimination of some campuses seems in order, and there is no reason why people at SRU cannot raise such an issue with people in Harrisburg.  A basic formula of many university systems is to divide each campus’s annual budget by the total number of credit hours “sold” in the same year.  The resulting cost-per-credit-hour can thus lead to a ranking of the least and most expensively run campuses.  Some expensive Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and State System campuses could then be eliminated.  Considering how well Pa. serves its students, cutting some campuses makes more sense than cutting the budgets and damaging quality everywhere.
    Granted, again, these are not campus-based initiatives, and they are fraught with political problems.  But there is no reason not to voice them at the outset, with the hope that suggestions could go up/down the line.  It is noteworthy that the university budget problems to be faced are not unlike what the military-industrial complex faces when their wing of the political spectrum faces budgetary pressures.  Must the state educational complex behave like a massive Haliburton?  We’re loath to admit it, but we always have, all the way down to attacks upon any who raise uncomfortable ideas.  (“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” reads a bumper sticker of many educators; ‘what a wonderful way to mask and ignore waste, fraud, and abuse.  Haliburton employees may have mouthed: “If you think a strong national defense is expensive, try unpreparedness.”)   Such rhetorical, ad hominem castings of critics and criticisms contribute nothing.  The fact that both sides engage in such McCarthyism reveals both to be equally wrong, and it underscores the senses of entitlement that have helped plunge us into our current financial mess.

President Norton
 

September 30, 2013

Last Friday, the Slippery Rock University Council of Trustees officially approved the fiscal year 2013-14 budget.

As I shared with you earlier this year in my State of the University address, we started the fiscal year with a $5.2 million structural budget deficit.  Through the efforts of many people, we were able to present the trustees with a balanced budget.

So, how’d we do it?
 
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