Monday, March 29, 2010

The Decline and Fall of a State University, or, Another Flurry of Administrative Memos

As Spring Break ends, faculty and students at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa find ourselves caught in a stiff trade wind of memo-speak from our administration. I don't usually use the blog as a bulletin-board, but in the interest of forensics, I will copy in the two memos from President M.R.C. Greenwood and Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw. (I have blogged here and here on previous memos by these two administrators.) The bottom line: UH faces another round of deep cuts to its budget, cuts it cannot possibly sustain without there being permanent damage to the institution. Note that enrollments are soaring as UHM gets decimated with cuts and retirements (my department is losing nine faculty members to retirement this year alone, with no replacements lined up).

The first memo is from Pres. Greenwood. I have made comments in brackets throughout, comments that are rather more bitter than at first intended. My bitterness toward the administration hardly matches the ire I feel at the state. The short-sighted view of public education, at all levels, approaches the criminal--no matter how much money needs to be "saved."

Dear university colleagues,

As we approach the last part of this semester, we look forward to the success of our students. We will soon be facing one of the best parts of our academic year: the graduation of thousands of undergraduates, graduates and professional students from all of our campuses. We are proud of our students' hard work and of the work of our faculty and staff who enable our students to accomplish these milestones.

I wish I could deliver only a positive message to you today. But these are difficult times. And as you know, we are in the middle of a severe state budget crisis. Across the nation and in Hawai'i, publicly funded institutions have been facing budget cuts and downsizing to help balance state budgets. Here at the University of Hawai'i, we have done our very best to cope with these budget challenges. The university's budget has been reduced this year by $98 million and the executive budget proposal for the supplemental year beginning July 1, 2010 calls for a $100 million reduction, which is more than 20 percent of our previous general funds. This has already resulted in painful workforce reductions, fewer classes, and cuts in pay and programs.

The state House has proposed an additional $10 million reduction in the university's general funds (HB 2200, HD1), plus another $59 million cut in special and revolving funds. We are working hard to ensure that this does not happen. We are also calling on our community partners and supporters to help us impress upon legislators the vital role the university plays in our state. The House Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the $59 million in additional cuts (SB2695, proposed HD1) Monday, March 29 at 7p.m. in room 308.

The additional $59 million in proposed cuts include:
* $20 million from the Tuition and Fees Special Fund
* $15 million from the Cancer Research Special Fund
* $11 million from the Revenue-Undertakings Fund
* $10 million from the Research and Training Revolving Fund
* $2 million from the Housing Assistance Revolving Fund
* $750,000 from the Information Technology and Services Special Fund

The net effect of diverting such funds to the state general fund is a direct impact on our operating budget. Many of these funds are already being used to defray the $100 million cut and/or to retain and support critical projects and programs.

[Tinfish ed: This is a starvation economy, where the body begins to consume itself in the interest of simple survival.]

We understand that the Legislature is dealing with the extremely difficult task of finding a way to bridge the budget gap and that they recognize the importance of investing precious resources wisely. We are doing all that we can to encourage continued investment in the university and to illustrate how vital UH is to Hawai'i's preferred future.

[Tinfish ed.: it's time to cut the language of "understanding" from these memos. Of course "we" (whoever we are) understand that there's a crisis, but we need to fight for public education as a right). The verb "to illustrate" also does not pass muster here. Nor does the awful notion of a "preferred future."]

Since the beginning of the legislative session, members of the university community, including the administration, have delivered more than 130 testimonies, provided all requested information and have visited almost daily with members of the Legislature. It is our hope that our voices will be heard.

["It is our HOPE that our voices will be heard"!! My god, do more than offer testimony and hope someone's listening!]

Despite the difficult economy, the University of Hawai'i is performing well as we focus on our strong strategic plan designed to meet the needs of the state and our communities. Thanks to the strength of our faculty, the University of Hawai'i now ranks among the nation's top research universities in its ability to generate research and training revenue. We have managed to navigate through this economic storm by working together and making a number of painful sacrifices. Thus far, we have managed to do this without interruption of instructional days for students.

[Ah yes, the economic argument. We bring in money, therefore we are valuable to the state. As a poet who lives in an altogether different economy, I abhor this argument, at least in the way it gets used in these debates. Let's talk moral value, ethical value, inherent value, the value of engaging our students in crucial conversations--like this one. As for the lost instructional days, my eight year old daughter can testify to the loss of numerous Furlough Fridays from her education.]

Students attending our campuses understand that higher education is important as they build their careers or start new ones. Enrollment is at an all-time high with 58,000 students--including 8,000 additional students in the last two years alone. These students include people who have been hit hard by the economic downturn and are going back to school to re-tool for new careers. Students are relying on the university to help them prepare for jobs and compete in today's global job market, making the university an essential resource for Hawai'i. Our students are counting on us--and it will take our collective efforts to deliver.

[Again, fall back on the economic argument. Education leads to jobs. Not even sure this is true at the moment. But the real point here is that enrollments are surging while the university's labor force is being destroyed, to say nothing of its facilities, including buildings and library resources.]

Many of you have heard me say repeatedly that investing in the university makes sense for the state's economic future and that we should be viewed as part of the solution to the state's economic challenges. The university, with the Manoa faculty leading the charge, pulled in more than $400 million in external research and training funds last year, creating jobs and fueling the economy. Further cuts would drastically hamper that ability. With your help, we will continue to highlight the importance of maintaining the state’s investment in higher education.

[Ah yes, more on those grants that bring in money. Try to change the argument, Pres. Greenwood, rather than subscribe relentlessly to the terms demanded by the government and its "free enterprise" minions!]

We are not resting on our laurels. Through our newly launched Hawai'i Graduation Initiative, we have committed to increasing our number of graduates by 25 percent by 2015. Developing an educated workforce--particularly in critical areas such as health care, teaching and engineering--is in Hawai'i's best interest.

[More on the workforce that we are creating. But we wouldn't stand on our laurels, would we?]

We also understand that as the state's sole public university, we have the responsibility to do more. We are expanding our outreach to Native Hawaiian students and working hard to improve access, particularly for those in underserved areas and underrepresented communities. We are increasing our efforts to eliminate barriers to higher education, including cost. With the costs of higher education on the rise, we have quadrupled our amount of available financial aid. And we continue to work to improve our efficiency, to achieve more with every dollar available to us.

[The word "efficiency" is telling. Of course Native Hawaiian students are important, but this gesture, which is all it is, is too typical of a rhetoric that excludes other students, for whom a public education is also crucial.]

Of course there's much work to do. It's hard not to notice the poor condition of our facilities. The backlog of deferred maintenance is big--more than $300 million worth of work lies ahead. While the bleak budget offers numerous challenges, it also offers opportunity. You may have heard about Project Renovate to Innovate. Using General Obligations bonds issued by the state, if appropriated by the legislature and approved by the governor, we would be able to create jobs with our shovel-ready projects and take advantage of the current climate of lower construction costs to complete long-overdue repairs and improvements on our campuses. It's time that university facilities on all our campuses reflect our mission as a 21st century institution of higher education built on excellence. With steady progress, we will get there.

[It certainly IS hard to notice that my building is in a state of disrepair, that the classrooms are moldy, that I just bought my own office computer, that the elevator only mostly works, that there is no consistent wifi in the classrooms, but I'm sure that "Project Renovate to Innovate" will cure that by force of its cute name alone.]

With your help, we are committed to charting the right course for the university, particularly in these critical economic times. We will continue to advocate strongly for our future and we invite you to join us in that effort. Letters of support to state legislators and simply sharing your personal stories of what the university means to you will go a long way. Working together, we will make it through this budget crisis and continue our journey of success for the benefit of Hawaii and its people.

[Letters of support! Letters we can HOPE will be heard? Surely the time has come for something a bit more dramatic?!]

M.R.C. Greenwood


This message was sent on behalf of President MRC Greenwood.
Please do not reply to this message.
It was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming email.

[Of course not.]

Announcement ID number: 1269841776-17363
Announcement distribution:
- All faculty, staff, and students at all campuses

The second memo came under the title of "Budget Alert." Alerts via email to the university community usually denote a theft or attack on a student, a petty crime, or a tsunami. I suspect that the memo that follows, from our Chancellor, incorporates aspects of all these categories, from attack to crime to metaphorical tsunami. It begins with the almost obligatory Hawaiian word of greeting (obligatory among administrators new to our shores):

Aloha! I want to keep you updated on the news regarding the budget. You may have heard earlier that the State House had unfortunately proposed additional cuts of $10 million for UH. Over the weekend, we learned of another bill SB 2695 ( which proposes additional cuts of almost $59M to UH.

[I like the casual, "you may have heard." Would that be in the preceding administrative memo of last night?]

The proposed cuts to the UH budget include: Tuition and Fees Special Fund - $20 million; Research and Training Revolving Fund - $10 million; Revenue Undertakings Fund - $11 million; Cancer Research Center Special Fund - $15 million; Housing Assistance Revolving Fund - $2 million; IT Special Fund - $750K. Mânoa’s share of the $59M reduction would be in addition to the “hit” taken by UH Mânoa this year of $66 million, or 26% of our State general funds.

All of these proposed cuts would impact tremendously on UH as a whole, but certainly most heavily on UH Mânoa. These proposed cuts are all extremely damaging – for example, the State proposes to take fees and tuition funds that students have paid for specific purposes and for which we have provided financial aid including scholarships, federal grants, and loans, to pay the costs for other agencies. Such actions would truly endanger Mânoa’s ability to serve Hawai'i as a research 1 university now and into the future – in essence, this would push Mânoa past the “tipping point”.

["In essence" and in deed. The starvation economy in full effect. Now they're going after muscle and bone.]

There is still about a month left of legislative decision-making, so the process is not yet done, but we must be active in educating government and community decision-makers about UH Mânoa. We empathize with the difficult decisions the legislature has to make, but, with this additional budget reduction, they would be making the decision that the State of Hawai‘i cannot support its only research 1 university, UH Mânoa, for our citizens. That is a chilling message for higher education in Hawai'i.

[Here we don't have "understanding" but "empathy" for the legislature. Cut it out.]

It’s critically important for UH Mânoa students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends to let our legislators hear about the value UH Mânoa provides as a major generator of educated citizens, new knowledge, jobs and resources for Hawai'i and also about how damaging these proposed reductions would be. We have already had to take many impacting actions to meet the current financial reductions:

[It's the language of "talking" and "hearing" again, which sounds terribly passive, considering the stakes of the matter. Let's talk action. Even the word "education," though we know it to be an active process, seems hollow at this point. Call out the picketers. Organize rallies. Make some stink lidat.]

• We’ve already reduced the number of UH Mânoa faculty, staff and administrators by nearly 6%, or 370 positions. Deeper cuts mean more such losses, resulting in more reductions in services for faculty, staff, students and the community.

• With the current cuts, we are already struggling to provide students with the learning experience and services, such as counseling and advising, that they need and deserve. Additional cuts will also require us to further reduce class offerings and enlarge class enrollment.

[Please enumerate the value of counseling and advising at at university where students often take 5, 6, 7 years to graduate because they cannot get into classes. Talk to us about the need for mental health resources at a university with a suicide problem. Talk to us about the value of small classes, the loss in value of teaching only by large lecture!]

• Our campus has made significant progress in reducing energy usage through Mânoa Green Days and faclities upgrades – our campus has stepped forward in many ways to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

[Closing the library over Spring Break doubtless saved money; probably also saved students from doing research; we all know that Spring Break is a time to prepare for the semester's final push, which includes research papers.]

• Some legislators suggest we can easily accommodate the cuts through higher tuition. We recognize that relying on higher tuition alone to meet budget reductions places a heavier financial burden on Hawai'i students and their families. There are already more requests for financial aid than our resources can fill.

["Some legislators"--that's Fox-speak. Name them. Tell us to write directly to them. Tell us about places like the University of Virginia, which is a de facto private school that rejects a lot of in-state students, but offers a wonderful education to kids from New Jersey.]

• Our UH Mânoa libraries, truly a resource for the campus and the community, have reduced their annual budget to purchase new books by more than two-thirds - from $1.1 million to $300,000.

[That is criminal. I remember in the mid-1990s the university stopped buying books, so that the collection resembles nothing so much as the Soviet Encyclopedia.]

What can we do? We all need to inform our decision-makers about the value UH Mânoa provides and the harmful impact of these budget cuts – and encourage our colleagues across Hawai'i to do the same.

["Inform to transform" would be a better slogan, perhaps. But really we need to do more than "inform" and "encourage" at this point.]

Here are some suggested points of emphasis:

[This is promising, but to whom do we address these points? Parents, legislators, students? And how do we disseminate our points?]

1. UH Mânoa is doing its part in these tough economic times to cuts costs – but the size of these proposed budget cuts will damage our ability to educate people, serve the community and conduct research–all essential activities for creating a stronger future for Hawai'i.

[Let's forget "the stronger--or preferred--future" for now, and concentrate on the devastations of the present.]

2. We’re enrolling more students with fewer resources. Many students are transitioning from UH Community Colleges to Mânoa - utilizing our strong partnership with Community Colleges through improved articulation and recruitment efforts. Record enrollments in UH Community Colleges means UH Mânoa must also be well prepared to meet those students’ needs. Many more Hawai'i students and families are becoming aware of the top-notch academic opportunities we offer at UH Mânoa and choosing to pursue higher learning here instead of leaving Hawai'i.

[Yes, because they can't afford to leave Hawai`i; that's not so much a choice as the mandate of a bad economy.]

3. UH Mânoa is an economic generator. Every dollar invested in UH Mânoa generates $5.34 in spending in Hawai'i, ranging from student expenditures to research purchases—few enterprises offer that type of return. Cutting dollars to Mânoa reduces our "generator" effect.

[OK, make the economic argument once again. Where is the ethical, moral argument? The argument that citizens of a democracy are OWED an education?]

4. Research at UH Mânoa attracts an average of $1.2 million a day - more than $400 million a year - in research and training grants, most of them from outside Hawai'i. These funds improve our economy, create jobs and produce advancements in a wide range of areas, from health to technology to cultural understanding – such research improves all of our lives.

[Research improves our lives--HOW? Spell it out!]

All of us should be tremendously proud of what UH Mânoa contributes to Hawai'i. Now is the time to share that message with decision-makers ( who are determining our future ability to sustain and build on those contributions.

Mahalo for being part of the Mânoa 'ohana.

[More Hawaiian words in closing.]

Virginia Hinshaw
University of Hawai'i at Mânoa


This message was sent on behalf of Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw.
Please do not reply to this message.
It was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming email.

Announcement ID number: 1269879657-3681
Announcement distribution:
- Faculty, staff, and all students at the UH Manoa campus(es)
- Faculty and staff at the UH System Administrative Offices

I will cut my own prose a bit short here, as I need to prepare for a committee meeting later today, which is followed by a graduate seminar.

[Appendix one can be found here: "The legislature finds that due to the extraordinary fiscal circumstances the State is facing, non-general funds must be reviewed and scrutinized to determine if there are excess balances available to be transferred to the general fund." .]

[Appendix two: a couple of readers have pointed out that I have not made any positive proposals, nor have I distinguished between the two memos, the second of which advocated a push-back against the legislature. Please put proposals and corrections in the comment stream. Maybe we can come up with something.]


Andy Godefroy said...

The thing that struck me was the disparity between the Chancellor and the President's message. Why isn't the President, who should be the lead advocate for the University system, also advising us to fight the budget cuts? I agree that the Chancellor lacked fire but at least she wasn't just toeing the company line. I guess it is sad but I was both happy and surprised to see anyone for the UH system admin calling for action against budget cuts. I was pretty much resigned to the fact that it was up to the students and faculty to fight for the survival of the University.

Oh and on the library I think we are past the point of counting on funds from the University, the State, or the Feds. We need a public movement to SOL (Save Our Libraries). Donations of both money and books would go a long way towards revitalizing our ability to research and succeed. Also strong support could help convince the powers that be that the library really is a critical institution for success at a RESEARCH university.

mark wallace said...

Thanks for these notes about such an obnoxious situation, Susan. Parallels in California and elsewhere are obvious.

While I hear you about the ethical/moral value of education, I'm not sure we should give up making the key point that, at least in California and probably in Hawaii, public universities are in fact also good financial investments. Students who graduate from public universities end up generating large revenues for the states that they often continue to live in, and perform many important jobs. They cost states money at the moment of education, but in the long run that money is made back and more. So gutting state universities does not help the state's finances over any period of time other than the immediate.

So yes, let's insist on the ethical and social value of public education, but let's also not give in to the idea that public higher education is in any way a tradeoff of cultural value for financial. Public universities serve their states in both ways.

The fiction that they don't is of course politically motivated: many people want everyone to believe that public universities don't make money, because they want to eliminate those universities because of what they stand for, rather than for what they cost.

susan said...

Point well taken, Mark. I mostly object to the way in which the economic argument becomes the _only_ argument; probably overstated my case.

Lyz Soto said...

I agree, Susan...or politicians always refer to the rhetoric of responsibility...I want names! Who is analyzing these budgets? Who is sponsoring this legislation? What do they want to use this money for? They push the free-market system? Fine, I'll cut my taxes down to a price I'm willing to pay and place limitations on where it should be spent...that's what any good consumer would do, isn't it!

Jill said...

Every time I get an email from Greenwood, I come to your blog. My favorite part of her emails come at the end:

Please do not reply to this message.
It was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming email.

I like how you do reply to it without sending her an email.