Thursday, October 08, 2015

Fiscal Crisis at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

From an e-mail widely circulated among faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.  The author is anonymous, but our sources say the analysis resonates among the faculty of that institution.  Indeed, the UWM faculty is up in arms about what is happening.
Dear UWM Department Chairs,

At your discretion, please forward the message below to your departmental faculty and teaching staff. This message details the root causes of our institution’s current structural deficit.

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to you anonymously to relay some of the analyses that have been assembled in recent months through activity of the Natural Sciences Executive committee. This committee was formed to respond to the rapidly deteriorating state of the College of L&S [Letters and Sciences] and UWM budgets. The analyses were undertaken using the campus and system databases of expenditures particularly those data available from the office of institutional research and from IPEDS [Integrated Post Secondary Data System] data. Despite any counter argument that may be offered in response to this message, these data are objective and as accurate and telling as any available. While it is common to be selective and promote notions that most benefit those who undertook the analysis, this did not occur in this instance. These are trends and numbers that describe the causes of the current dire financial state of this institution.

The overall assessment is that UWM is poorly administered and has no galvanizing vision. Our administrators control the lines of funding and have distributed funds in a rather haphazard manner, largely within their own ranks, in response to numerous individual and group solicitations. These numerous relative small affirmative fiscal decisions attempt to appease the solicitor(s) without incorporating long-term enrollment and funding revenue considerations into any strategy. This has resulted in a large expansion of positions and unit costs that have greatly exceeded UWM’s revenue streams. If such an expansion had not occurred a large fraction of the current 38 million dollar structural deficit would not have accrued. It is important to remember that this deficit is independent of recent state reductions in funding.

Some fraction of the data for this analysis is available from Professor Kyle Swanson’s website: [here]. We all owe Kyle a debt for his relentless acquisition and analysis that has exposed the true costs at UWM. Trends many of us have long suspected to exist now have thorough objective analyses behind them.

Some of the dominant trends or conclusions are as follows (in no particular order):

1) Academic units consistently get handed budget cuts, yet overall expenditures on salary increased by $17.2m (7.3%; +85.2 FTE [Full Time Equivalent]) from 2011 to 2015.

2) Instructional FTE has increased by 116 (2080 to 2196; 5.6%) despite a 9.1% decrease in in the number of credit hours offered. Teaching academic staff FTE has increased 14.7% (589 to 676 FTE), while faculty numbers have fallen from 836 to 808 FTE.

3) Limited Employees (administrator types) are multiplying, as there are 27 more FTE in Fall 2015 compared to Fall 2011. The overall pay pool increased by $3.7m, or 23.4%.

4) Faculty and support staff in academic units are routinely ignored for salary equity considerations or simply told that no monies for raises or merit are available. However, it is starkly obvious that if you want a career path at UWM, it is best by some considerable margin to be in the administration. Average pay within the administration has increased by 11.2% over the prior four years (numerous administrators have received 30% or greater increases over this period). It appears that being able to set the budgets is a primary corrupting influence.

This is indelible, our administrators should no longer be seen as the stewards of our institution’s budgets. Whether they realize it or not (and I suspect they do not) they have become the primary drain on our threadbare resources at the expense of our core functions.

5) If you examine only non-instructional UWM employees earning greater than $80K per year, salaries have increased on average by a staggering 9.5% per annum since 2011. In addition the university has added 45 FTE in this salary category in the last four years.

6) Total expenditures on non-academic activities have expanded greatly since the 2010 Goldwater report that suggested UWM had a lean administration. This seems to have been a call-to-arms in terms of non-academic expenditures. During the last 5 years UWM has increased the percentage support spending from ~30% of the budget to almost 38%. This accounts for the bulk of our current $38 M structural deficit.

7) Despite the proliferation of support (and to a lesser extent instructional) positions and the rapid growth rate of administrative salaries none of the core issues facing the university have abated. Our student retention numbers have not changed and our average time to graduation is vastly too long. The reason for this is that only at the interface can these trends be influenced, yet all of the efforts (PASS, advising, the bloat in Student Affairs etc) and expenditures designed to correct these trends have been centralized, out of the instructional departments .

The Remedy

The remedy proposed by the Chancellor is almost beyond comprehension and indicates the depth of the problems we face. Yet another massive unruly committee manned by the very individuals benefiting from the current budgetary debacle; 18 of the 24 members of this committee report either to the Provost or to Robin van Harpen. These are hardly the people likely to make the only decision that can save this institution: Support activities (ie administration) must be confined to an unchanging percentage of total revenues (30% is a suggested healthy number), such that the only way these costs can expand is when the University as a whole prospers.

Instead what we hear (admittedly as rumor) is that teaching support positions are the primary initial target of budgetary cuts. The individuals that teach a large fraction of our high enrollment service courses (at very low cost). That is, the instructors who enable our campus scholarly activities by keeping faculty teaching at a level conducive to research. Eliminating a significant fraction of these positions will see research on this campus come to a precipitous halt as faculty fill the ranks at the expense of their research programs.

In an effort to rally a collective sense of outrage, I would like to remind you all that there are only two groups of employees at UWM that en masse add to the bottom line, these are faculty and teaching academic staff. They are the only individuals able to bring money to the institution, yet this group has been ignored and I would argue maligned by current administrative actions. Instead of being seen as the institution’s primary resource we are regarded as a difficult group of subordinates. I will submit that the apparently unending expansion of non-academic functions is highly unlikely to solve our current budgetary state. We exist at the whim of high-cost, short-sighted administrators that are for the most part inept at grasping the state of the institution or understanding that its prime functions are, education and research.

Our future is being decided in open meetings held in the regent’s room on Wednesdays from 3-5 - I suggest we all attend.
Those of us who prefer the private sector to public near monopolies, and who are associated with a private sector institution (like Marquette) might be tempted to feel a bit of schadenfreude.

That would be very badly misguided.

The simple fact is that the pathologies that afflict UWM can be found at Marquette.  An excellent piece of investigative journalism from the Marquette Tribune in 2014 discussed the issue.

Marquette, an older, better established and moderately prestigious institution can perhaps better tolerate their ill effects, but they make Marquette much inferior to what it ought to be.

Some key passages from the letter above:
The overall assessment is that UWM is poorly administered and has no galvanizing vision. Our administrators control the lines of funding and have distributed funds in a rather haphazard manner, largely within their own ranks, in response to numerous individual and group solicitations.
And then:
Average pay within the administration has increased by 11.2% over the prior four years (numerous administrators have received 30% or greater increases over this period). It appears that being able to set the budgets is a primary corrupting influence.
Further:
If you examine only non-instructional UWM employees earning greater than $80K per year, salaries have increased on average by a staggering 9.5% per annum since 2011. In addition the university has added 45 FTE in this salary category in the last four years.
And then:
During the last 5 years UWM has increased the percentage support spending from ~30% of the budget to almost 38%. This accounts for the bulk of our current $38 M structural deficit.
In sum: administrative bloat. And a lack of concern for the people who do teaching and research.  De facto, this is a lack of concern for students. Common in all academia.  And certainly at UWM, and at Marquette.

Note that the assessment that in 2010 that UWM had a lean administration.  We doubt this was true in an absolute sense, but may well have been true in a relative sense (compared to the bloat at other institutions).  But then the bloat ramped up.

Who was Chancellor of UWM from 2011 until 2014?  Michael Lovell.

Note:   Professor Kyle Swanson has not responded to our requests for comment.

Update

More information: one thing noted by Arts & Letters faculty at UWM is the plethora of “programs” that are often marginally viable, don’t serve the core mission of the institution, and drain away resources. This, unfortunately, is what one would expect from university administrators. There is a big incentive for them to have “initiatives” on their résumés. That sounds impressive, and by the time it becomes obvious that the initiatives did not work out so well, the administrator is probably gone, having moved on to another institution (probably to a more desirable position, due to the “initiatives” he or she had implemented).

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2 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

Typical of any large institution. At UWM the problem is and remains to much admin. And not enough teaching. This goes for staff as well as the secretariat.look at how many teaching assistant s you have!!! To much for the students to subsidize.
Ron

5:47 PM  
Blogger John Pack Lambert said...

My main undergrad alma mater Brigham Young University did a thorogh review of its structure from 2005 to 2010 or so. It elimanated one college (health and human performance) it disbaned, cut off or repurposed many institutes. It even got rid of its womens center. That caused outrage from feminist who said "we should have a women's center like all other colleges." They really needed to read Spencer W. Kimball's talk "a king like all other people."

12:06 AM  

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