March 2000 aaUPBEAT
Higher Education Trends & Issues
In last month's newsletter, we countered attacks on higher education faculty by highlighting areas like decreases in tenure track positions and mounting faculty workloads that have undermined faculties and, in some instances, degraded the quality of education offered to students. When these realities are coupled with rising tuitions that are traceable to expanding administrative, technological and maintenance costs, it is appropriate to ask, "Why are faculty scapegoated for higher education's problems, when faculty, along with students and their families, are themselves being victimized by these problems?"
Take the changing ratio of part-time to full-time faculty that we touched upon briefly in our last issue. In a thirty year period, the number of part-time faculty nationally has increased from 22 percent to 42.5 percent. The percent (65) for two-year colleges is of course higher than the percent for four-year institutions (31 percent); still, the combined numbers are disturbing. Richard Moser, an AAUP field representative who is an expert on the changing character of U.S. higher education faculty, says about the growing shift to part-time faculty: "We're not looking at episodic changes; we're not looking at short-term changes; we're looking at historical changes... If left unchecked and unreformed, these changes threaten the university as a place of higher learning."
Moser's comments are not based on the assumption that part-time faculty are by definition bad for higher education. The problem is that part-timers are often not hired for education-related reasons, but rather for economic reasons. Under the guise of saving money, administrations pressure departments to alter the ratio of part-time faculty to full-time faculty, so less money will be spent on salaries, benefits and other tenure-connected expenses. Such a use of part-timers is the opposite of how they should be used. They should be used strategically - to enhance a department's ability to service a wider range of students; to offset heavy workloads; to allow qualified teachers or researchers, who have limited time options because of other jobs or family obligations, to join a faculty.
In the same Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 28, 2000) article in which Moser was quoted, Charles Reed, the chancellor of the California State University System, stated that he saw no reason to reverse the current part-timer hiring trends and that, in fact, the trend should be strengthened. "In the future," he remarked, "we're going to need more flexibility in our personnel policies, rather than less."
The question, of course, is how such a trend will affect higher education in the long run. Placing ever greater percentages of higher education faculty work into the hands of part-timers who receive no benefits, and who are often treated as "inferior faculty," does not bode well for higher education's future performance. Nor does it bode well for diversifying college and university faculties so they reflect the students they serve. Already, according to the U.S. Education Department, this is a problem area. In a report issued in 1999, the Department revealed that 84 percent of all full-time U.S. professors were white, whereas only 4.9 percent were African American. With regard to women, 36 percent of full-time faculty were females, although women made up a dramatically higher percentage, almost one-half, of part-time faculty.
Neither the numbers for women or African Americans are likely to be improved by increasing the percentage of part-time positions in relation to full-time positions.
If UD faculty members, along with faculty members elsewhere, do not take stock of current higher education trends, we sacrifice the power to influence higher education's future.
New Twists on Old Themes
According to Newsweek (Feb. 28, 2000), Columbia University is pioneering a way to increase higher education's financial gain from research performed by faculty members. Whereas research already plays an income-generation role at universities - in 1998, for instance, 137 universities earned a combined $576 million from royalties on patents - Columbia, which already has a lucrative relationship to high-tech and pharmaceutical firms, apparently wants to transfer its business acumen to a higher level, the world of e-commerce.
According to Newsweek, the university plans to do this by offering "the expertise of its faculty on a new for-profit website that will be spun off as an independent company." Through this website, interested corporate parties will be able to access research and educational summaries of importance to them. The idea is that hopefully such access will be the prelude to the development of a series of commercial relationships between Columbia and a variety of firms. Profits generated by the website would be divided between the researcher(s), department and university. Unfortunately, the nature of this whole endeavor isn't without its complications. As universities pursue an ever more business-like agenda, will they tend to prioritize (and fund) the research in more "commercially viable" departments, while neglecting those that don't seem as viable from a Wall St. perspective? Maybe not. But given the current situation in higher education, it is not surprising that faculty members around the nation have been raising such concerns.
On the brighter side, the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) believes that, far from being a problem, higher education can only increase its stature by living up to its potential as an engine of the U.S. economy. According to AUTM, "More than $33.5 billion in economic activity and 280,000 jobs are directly attributable to the commercialization of academic research in 1998," the last year for which the group has data. During that same year, "there was an outpouring from faculty of 11,784 technology disclosures" that helped business, drove the economy and established the corporate-university link as a growing power for the good in U.S. life. Among the wide variety of products flowing from this link were Panretin, a new treatment for Kaposi's sarcoma, a skin cancer prevalent among AIDS patients; and also StormVision, a weather prediction software used by airport personnel to track and predict the paths of storms. Of the 364 companies that were created in 1998 as the result of academic discoveries, 79 percent set up their business operations in the vicinity of the academic institution that performed the research. This means that the towns or cities which house such universities benefit through increased tax revenues and job creation.
Or at least that's what we hope to be the case. Yet even if it is, the challenge posed by the commercialization of academic research can't be measured solely in terms of economics. That's one measure, but not the whole measure. Take the contemporary relationship of Delaware's most famous company, DuPont, to the state's higher educational system as an example.
DuPont is the world's largest chemical maker. But because of scientific advances and changes in the global market, DuPont, like many other companies, has had to rethink some of its old strategies and priorities. This rethinking came to a head during the 1990s as the firm contemplated shifting its emphasis to life sciences and biotechnology. A first step in pursuing this goal was the 1997 purchase, for $1.7 billion, of 20 percent of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, an Iowa firm known for the production of hybrid seeds, some of which are genetically altered. Two years later, in fall 1999, DuPont shelled out another $7.7 billion and purchased Pioneer outright, thereby catapulting DuPont into direct competition with Monsanto in the area of genetically engineered foods.
DuPont's shift toward biotechnology has impacted not only the state's economy, but also its higher education goals. At a Dover budget hearing in late 1999, UD President David Roselle informed legislators that UD would need additional funds to provide the proper leadership for developing the state's biotechnology resources.
"Biotechnology developments," President Roselle stated, "can be expected to bring significant new revenue and employment to the state. The University of Delaware . . . must assume the leadership role in developing and maintaining biotechnology if we are to exploit these new opportunities."
Representatives from Del. Tech and DSU also attended the hearing. Along with Roselle, they emphasized the role that the state's higher education system must play in providing the biotech industry with "the research and the technicians it needs to survive."
Clearly, the DuPont Co.'s new commitment to life sciences has influenced how higher education administrators articulate the relationship between their institutions, the state economy and the purpose of higher education. This in itself is not bad, since an educational system that is attuned to changes in local economic and sociological conditions is doing what it should do: staying alert to the community of which it is a part. Still, many academics remain wary of the trend that the DuPont example represents: the growth of an increasingly close connection between business and higher educational interests throughout the U.S. The issue is not whether higher education and the business world should develop ties; of course they should. The issue is instead this: should those ties be unsupervised, or do they require parameters? A related question is: How good is it for higher education if business interests, which view colleges and universities not as deliverers of a well-rounded education, but merely as the source of discoveries and ideas that can increase their profit ratios, gain increasing power over educational policy?
Such questions will be a pivotal part of federal and state debates concerning higher education in the coming years. It is in our interest to be familiar with the complexities that such questions hint at.
Education-Related Tax Cuts
One part of the White House's recent budget proposals was a new College Opportunity Tax Cut. The proposed tax break is the equivalent of a 28 percent tax write-off for $10,000 of a family's college expenses for tuition and fees. Families would be allowed to choose either a tax deduction or a tax credit worth up to $2,800. The deduction/credit covers any post-secondary education, including training courses, graduate work and college studies. In order to make sure the tax cut is available to the widest array of needy families, the cut gradually would be phased out for married couples with incomes above $100,000 and for individuals with incomes above $50,000. The College Opportunity Tax Cut would not abolish the Hope Scholarship Credit, which would still be available to students for their first two years of college. If passed by Congress, the legislation will be fully implemented by 2003.
Both the local AAUP and the union's national office support this legislation, since it will help counter the pressure of rising higher education costs. According to the U.S. Department of Education, yearly costs for undergraduate tuition, room and board average about $6,800 at public colleges and $18,700 at private institutions. Since the latter 1980s, public college student costs have risen by 20 percent, whereas at private college the increase is estimated at 28 percent. During this same time period, institutions of higher education have increased their spending per student, but not at the same rate at which student costs have risen. After adjustment for inflation, college and university expenditures per student rose about 5 percent between 1985-86 and 1990-91, and another 7 percent between 1990-91 and 1995-96.
At the same time that higher education costs are escalating, making it more difficult for parents to send their children to college, the economic advantages of completing undergraduate and graduate degrees are on the rise. The income gulf between college graduates and non-college wage earners has steadily widened over recent decades. Between 1980 and the late 1990s, the income gap between male wage earners ages 25-34 holding a bachelor's degree and male wage earners who had only completed high school expanded from 19 percent to 50 percent, an increase of approximately 260 percent. Similar earnings disparities are also found among females. Since 1970 the earnings differentials between female high school graduates and female college graduates in the 25-34 age bracket have been even higher than for males.
Given these realities, it is necessary that higher education be made more financially accessible to a wider range of qualified students from different economic classes. Without measures to accomplish this, the nation's widening gap between the haves and have-nots, which is already the most extreme in the industrialized world, will grow even worse. This is why the AAUP supports the College Opportunity Tax Cut.
The Congressional schedule for debate on the tax break and related issues is as follows. The first round of discussions continues until April 15, when Congress is mandated to complete its version of the White House's budget proposals. This version will be only a broad outline of the final budget. Between April 15 and next fall, the details of this broad outline - i.e., the specifics of government spending and taxes - will be filled in as Congressional appropriations committees hold hearings on the different areas affected by the budget, including higher education.
AAUP members are encouraged to support the College Opportunity Tax Cut. Contact your Washington representatives and let them know of your feelings on the matter.