San Diego State University is running on a flawed system of public funding and private profits. In August 2010, an article in the Los Angeles Times by Carla Rivera exposed “…evidence that [CSU] officials are improperly depositing public funds into the accounts of nonprofit campus foundations and have failed to correct the problem despite warnings from auditors.” Is this simply a hiccup or a testament of how “state” universities do business?
SDSU has multiple layers of funding. In the 2011-12 SDSU budget of $768 million, only 17 percent is coming from state appropriations (while tuition fees comprise 24 percent.) Although state appropriations comprise an increasingly diminishing proportion of the total budget, these funds are the heart of higher education — because state funds exclusively pay for faculty.
When faculty bring money in for research or activities, that money is funneled through foundations as private funds — and for which the university takes a proportion, in some case more than 50 percent, as indirect costs (known as facilities and administration costs or F&A). These faculty--and administrators--are given time off to conduct their research or fundraising, using state funds. They are excused from teaching so that they can work full time--with public funds--to bringing in private profits to the university. With this public funding and private-profit model, it is clear that having more administrators and research faculty improves the university’s chances of getting more private money.
When state appropriations shrink it behooves administration to offset the loss of funding by attracting private contributions, increasing tuition costs and making classes cheaper. By maintaining a strong administrative core the university ensures a continuing supply of private funds. In order to maintain a large administrative core, SDSU had to cut teaching faculty which resulted in increasing class size, diminished enrollment, limiting offerings and increasing workload for teaching faculty.
The numbers of tenured professors within the CSU system have been on the decline since 1987, while part-time faculty (cheaper) are becoming an increasingly larger part of the CSU system. Part-timers rose nationally from 36 percent of the faculty in 1990 to 46 percent in 2003, but by 2008 half of all teaching at the CSU is done by part-timers (49 percent). While the CSU replaced tenured professors with part-time teachers, tenured administrators mushroomed.
Ralph D. Westfall crunched the numbers and while full-time faculty in the whole CSU system rose 3.5% between 1975 and 2008, administrators rose 221% If this trend continues, Westfall notes, there could be two administrators per full-time faculty in another generation. What Carla Rivera exposed was not just a hiccup but a culture of doing business within San Diego State University.
Some of that master plan just didn't sell with the students. Back in the 60's the community colleges lamented that whereas they were intended to have about 2/3 of their offerings in the purely vocational areas, before the ink was dry on the plan, 3/4 of the course attendance was in academic subjects that would transfer to four year colleges. But there is no doubt whatsoever that the then "state colleges" were supposed to provide bachelors degrees, some masters degrees, and to train teachers. Teaching was paramount there. Their fulfillment of that mission has been weakening steadily for decades. SDSU, for example, now has fewer than half the teachers-in-training that it had circa 1970, and operations like National University have come along to fill the gap. That is doubly galling because SDSU started out as a normal school, a teachers college, and did a great job of it for the first fifty to seventy years of its existence. Now that is an afterthought. Oh, there is so much more that can be examined and said about this whole pattern of status seeking.
The article really says it all, which might be why so few comments. It partially explains the proliferation of superflous administrative positions with resulting periodic "budget crises," and--believe me--administrators will administer empty classrooms before they'll eliminate one of their own positions.
The problem really is that every institution wants "status," and of course the money that comes with it. The original education plan for California, with its clear delineation between the roles of community colleges, the Cal State system, and the UC system, has been twisted beyond recognition.
It is absolutely amazing that the only comment posted so far is one from a SDSU professor. With the tens (actually hundreds) of thousands of SDSU grads and those who had connections to SDSU in the county, only he has made a comment.
While I get the point that Ginsberg is making, that these universities now seem to exist for the benefit of administrators, and very well-rewarded ones at that, the article seems to be two articles in one. The first one is about the educational mission of the CSU's and how undergraduates are getting short shrift. The second one is about the research activity, and there's little tie between the pieces, except that administrators are screwing both missions. So, based on the headline, I'd have appreciated seeing more about the shortfall by SDSU and other CDU's in the area of undergrad education, and perhaps the second part in another article.
SDSU has been inexplicably popular with in-state students for a long time. (My association goes back over 40 years.) And to a greater or lesser degree, when all those eager undergrads arrive on campus they have had to deal with a lack of space in the classes they need. That results in something I call "the San Diego State disease", wherein it is a rare undergrad who completes a bachelors degree in four years. (Let's remember that we call those a "four-year degree.") Recently SDSU claimed improvement in the metric of students earning degrees when it pushed up the number who complete their requirements in SIX years to something over half. So, six years to earn a BA/BS is the norm there. The reasons are many, and this phenomenon cannot be solely blamed on a shortage of classes. There's a laid-back, beach-style culture there that says, "What's the hurry?" And under-prepared students often really struggle to get through the curriculum.
In the 70's and 80's, the campus was overrun with those who wanted to major in business administration. That college was maxed out for many years, and may still be, for all I know. The university did nothing to restrict the numbers of such majors, and at the same time did not allow that area to grow to a point of meeting the demand. The always-arrogant Tom Day, longtime SDSU president, was quoted as saying that if the students arrived and could not get to study things they wanted to study, well then, they would study things that did have space in the classes! (One area that fell into disfavor was the foreign languages, especially after the requirement to study one as part of the bachelors degree was dropped.) This sort of thing happens almost everywhere to some degree, but SDSU has been getting away with it for decades, and now with state support steadily waning, is undoubtedly getting worse.
I think many of us would like to learn more about what is really happening at SDSU, and how all this research and participation in joint doctoral programs is negatively affecting the very things the CSU is supposed to be doing.
Nothing will change. Despite having some excellent teaching professors, published researchers and students with high GPA, SDSU remains stuck in a quagmire of autocratic administrative practices. With more budget cuts predicted, it is just as predictable that these administrative practices will become more evident. Last year’s settlement with the whistleblower David Ohton for $2.7million (Union Tribune, 2/2/2011) in which “…(Sally) Roush covered up the allegations” is the latest legal settlement where SDSU administrators’ concealment cost Californians money. By settling out of court and not having to admit any wrongdoing, the system protects the very same people that we need to examine. It is business as usual.
There remains at SDSU a culture of abuse, mismanagement, ineptitude and/or complacency. University administrators can flaunt federal law (Whistleblower Protection Act) with impunity since they have liability insurance to cover them and their chosen friends. Settlements mean nothing to SDSU that has insurance against such continuing practices.
A Kafkaesque travesty of punishing the whistleblowers, while at the same time rewarding other faculty who break university policy (and the law) plagues SDSU repeatedly. History reveals a university littered by such moral failures. In 2009, former Athletic Director Jeff Schemmel, after “improper use of state funds,” resigned and was rewarded by a $136,000 settlement. That same year an employee Courtney Bale was awarded $150,000 for sex discrimination charges that she brought against SDSU. In 2008, swim coach Deena Deardruff Schmidt settled for $1.45 million--again for sex discrimination. In 2005, Athletic Department equipment manager Steve Bartel settled (for $60,000)--a suit with seven allegations, including defamation, discrimination and emotional distress.
Most of the time administrators wear down out-of-favor faculty members. Professor Jim Burns, the mechanical engineering professor, experienced three years of harassment, retaliation and obstructionism perpetrated by administrators. He reports that he told SDSU’s Provost Nancy Marlin “You can't say you weren't informed.”
The sad part of this tragedy is not that these issues happen; it is that they happen everyday and that there is no one to stop them.
By settling out of court, the administrative failings remain hidden. There is no public outcry because there is no pointing finger. The CSU has bought a get-out-of-jail-free card. By having state-funded insurance that protect administrators and their friends from prosecution, they can act with impunity. However, whenever these administrative failings happen, we, as an institution, lose a little bit more integrity. With an ever-increasing administrative layer that are accountable to no one the priorities of an educational establishment changes.
Mario Garrett is a professor of gerontology at San Diego State University.
Dorian Hargrove 8:30 p.m., Dec. 12
Ken Harrison 6:41 p.m., Dec. 12
Don Bauder 4:30 p.m., Dec. 12
Walter Mencken 4:15 p.m., Dec. 12
Ian Pike 4 p.m., Dec. 12
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