Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesday roundup

The DE featured three rather different stories on issues of interest to readers of this blog.

1.  420 Days without a contract.

Commentary after the break.

The vacant enrollment position is John Nicklow's old position as Assistant Vice Chancellor of Enrollment (or Director of Enrollment Management--the story listed both titles). Nicklow explained that as enrollment is still Job #1 for him in his new job as provost, and as he had worked to give directors under him more autonomy, this position could be left unfilled for a while. If Nicklow is pulling this off--if our enrollment management is improving despite the unfilled position--then I think the proper response is praise.

The 420 days story probably contains little new to blog readers.  Cheng is (indirectly) cited saying that "without widespread unpaid days this year, she is hopeful that contracts for the unions can be signed".  Of course this one sentence summary may not reflect her entire thinking on the matter, but this sounds like an effort to argue that the whole brouhaha is about furlough days, which is far from the truth.

I'll say rather more on enrollment. If freshman enrollment is up, that is good news, though of course we need to wait for the ten day numbers to see how we're doing on all the other enrollment fronts, including transfers and returning (or not returning) students.

The Chancellor is fond of translating students into dollars. This raises some questions. I don't mean to imply that she has thought through none of them, or that translating students into dollars might not be a shorthand if crass way of characterizing a major problem we face, only that I haven't heard much in the way of discussion of these larger questions. As it turns out, I'll end up essentially agreeing with the campus consensus that increasing enrollment ought to be a very major priority here, but I hope that by asking these questions I'll further our thinking about why and how it should be a priority. And I want us to get beyond the crasser version of the corporate understanding of things: more is better; students are consumers; we are a business; more consumers make for more profit; more profit is better business.

1. Even if we do, for the moment, treat students solely as sources of revenue, would an increase in enrollment not come with increased expenses as well? As far as I can tell, the Chancellor's math implies that the new students would just happen to find open seats in all the classes they need. But this is obviously not the case. Additional students will require additional sections of speech, math, and freshman comp, among other things. They would need to be served by staff in financial aid, admissions, advising etc. That will require some additional spending. In short, even from a purely financial point of view, extra students (like extra sales) only bring in more money if they increase our profits, not just our revenue. Some fairly large number of additional students would increase our profit (since there is room in many classes, since we presumably have enough classrooms, etc.), but they would not increase profit in a one to one correspondence with increased revenue. Okay, enough of Business 101 (brought to you by an expert classicist).

2. Just what is the right number of students for this university?  "More than we have now" won't always be the answer.  This can of course be broken down into at least two questions . . .

a. How many students ought we be serving given our current capacity?

"Capacity" is hard to define.  By the student-Faculty ratio in the contract (and tentatively agreed to be in the next contract) we are already at our capacity, as there are already roughly 26 FTE students per Faculty member (tenured/tenure-track). That is, unless we are planning on hiring more faculty, we don't need more students (though we'd better not lose any, either).

But I suspect that capacity should probably be measured otherwise, perhaps by our mix of programs and majors--many of which are working below the critical mass of faculty they need to flourish. That is, we may well offer the same number of programs as we did when our enrollment was rather higher.  (If anything, given academic mission creep, we are probably offering more programs than we did when our enrollment was at its peak.)  Assuming that we were well and efficiently staffed back then (unlikely--but we probably were not radically overstaffed), our enrollment needs to grow--as do our faculty numbers--in order to support our mix of programs.

The alternative to an increase in enrollment would be painful: elimination of programs, which brings consequences none of us want to face. As the head of one of the smallest programs on campus (Classics), I of course am acutely aware of the possibility of program elimination.

b. How many students, ideally, should a university with our mission, our geographical location, and our competition, reasonably expect to serve?

This is a tough one, and I've gone on too long already.  But presumably our history is one guide, and this brings us to more or less the same "answer" I came to above.

To conclude.  Raising enrollment should not be our only goal. One way students aren't consumers is that we haven't fulfilled our mission simply by selling them credit hours, or even selling them degrees. That's a definition of a degree mill. Amidst all the talk about recruiting and retaining students we had better not lose sight of educating students.

It was interesting that in the story about freshmen enrollment, the freshmen interviewed all mentioned not marketing but hearing of others' positive experiences at SIUC as the most powerful factor in their decision to come to SIUC. I would like to think that "positive experiences" boil down, essentially, to quality education--though of course no doubt fun & friendship and other things also factor into students' positive views about SIUC.  But if quality education is the key, the best way to increase our enrollment is to provide a quality education.


  1. Two things about enrollment Cheng has been talking about all summer are: (1) higher summer enrollment and (2) higher freshmen enrollment. Both have no meaning. Summer enrollment depends on how many courses are offered; pump more money in offering summer classes, you will have more students. Higher freshmen enrollment has no meaning if the overall enrollment is down. I am predicting that the overall enrollment is going to be lower once again. That is why Cheng is not talking about the overall enrollment. I hope the DE will have a similar picture again showing the change in actual total enrollment.

    Now about enrollment management:
    Nicklow talked about enormous amount of changes he made in the enrollment management as if he is the enrollment management guru. He had no experience with enrollment management. In fact, he had no experience in anything. He has received favors all along during his tenure at SIUC. Stating that enrollment management person is not needed now clearly indicates the importance of this position. If the enrollment is down again, he should be treated the same way as the previous enrollment management person. I know he will not be treated the same way. If enrollment is up; Cheng and Nicklow gets all the credit. If it is down, there will be many excuses with praise for Cheng’s and Nicklow’s wonderful leadership.

    We are going nowhere until the administration start treating faculty and staff with respect; until there is transparency and truthfulness in the decision making process; until parents feel that they are sending their kids to a place where academics is given more importance than athletics….

  2. why do keep saying "so many days without a contract?" You are working under an extended contract. More misinformation. What are you guys, Fox News?

  3. The real error is the word "members". The SIU unions have no where near 3400 members! It would be interesting to see the membership numbers for the combined unions (the FA and NTT FA are already known and are less than 1/3 of potential members).

  4. 10:04: Yes, the unions have far fewer than 3400 members. Have we claimed to have 3400 members? We've claimed what is our legal responsibility, to represent 3400 employees. We bargain the contracts for 3400 members. You may not like that, and may not agree with the unions' positions, but we represent you (assuming you're TT, NTT, GA, or civil service) in that sense whether you like it or not, because at some point the majority of those in your unit voted to unionize.

    8:53: you're technically right up through the date of the imposed terms last spring, as even after the expiration of the previous contracts almost all of the provisions in those contracts were automatically extended during negotiations. It is still true to the spirit of things, and common enough, to say one is working "without a contract" if one is relying on a contract only designed to last for n years after year n. An outdated contract will fail to address any changes in the meantime--and there have been plenty of changes of late; as far as those changes go, the contract is silent, so there is no contract there. 

But the imposed terms changed the situation. A contract is an agreement. You know, something both sides sign? None of the unions agreed to the terms imposed. The administration has a legal obligation to follow the terms it has imposed, which is something, but when your boss can change the terms of your employment at his or her sole discretion, you're status is second rate. It's like enjoying the rule of law but having absolutely no ability to change the law: second class citizenship, at best. 

And of course those terms, whatever their status, ran out at the end of June, further complicating matters. And the unions never recognized those terms as legitimate. But as a matter of fact, unless and until they are overturned by a ILRB decision (as the result of the union unfair labor practice filing), or replaced by a genuine contract (which would be a successor to the genuine contract that ran out in 400+ days ago), those imposed terms are still the rules we're living under. They allow for furloughs and layoffs without the consent of the unions. They thus gut union power on campus.

    This all sounds rather legalistic, but the basic point is fundamental. Because the administration wants to dictate when there's a "financial emergency" and hence when furloughs and layoffs are necessary, they want to dictate terms at the bargaining table, rather than, say, bargaining. Calling the result a "contract" is an attempt to manipulate language in the service of legitimating the new status quo. It is consistent with the union-busting strategy of "impasse to implement", where bargaining is a intentional failure in order to allow the employer to impose and implement their own set of rules.

  5. Actually, Dave, you still have it wrong. You are bargaining for 3400 employees, not 3400 members, and its more than a fine distinction IMO. Please don't refer to people who have chosen not to join the union(s) as members, I don't think you have the right to do so.

    Also, there is some question as to whether or not a majority of faculty ever voted to certify the FA. There was a post a while ago quoting from the right to work folks that seems to imply that certification required only a 30% bar. I am not sure if that is true or not (or if it was true 15 years ago when that vote took place), but if so, it may be the case that certification of the FA required only a 30% positive vote?? Was the vote count ever published?? Does anyone know of any official records that could be consulted??

  6. You're right: I slipped up and typed "members" when I should have typed "employees". That is an important distinction--but I think it's clear enough that my mistake was a typo (if perhaps a slip of a Freudian sort).

    I was talking to one of the guys who helped get the union certified years ago (he's a libertarian, actually--so an interesting case), and he told me the initial vote was around 62-65% in favor. I don't know if that percentage is of those eligible to vote or those who actually bothered to vote. The vote must obviously be a matter of public record, but I'm not going to hit the archives this afternoon.

    This same guy also bemoaned the fact that they were never able to get more than roughly half of those 65% to become dues paying members. Membership was rather higher than that during the 2003 crisis, but then declined afterwards.

  7. OK, I'll give you the typo, but OMG, I do **NOT** want to get into a discussion of the Freudian implications of choosing the word "members" :-)

  8. It is perfectly acceptable to refer to the 3400 SIUC employees as "members". Under the terms of the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act (est. 1985). When the Unions were voted in by a majority of the votes (30% was the threshold needed to call a vote by the way) all 3,400 people became "members" of the bargaining unit(s).

  9. ... and speaking of the IELRA; that single provision of the Act is the one that makes union membership so critical. Regardless of whether you agree with the unions positions or become a member you are legally bound yourself by the provisions the union is able to negotiate into the labor agreement on your behalf. Further the union is legally bound and empowered to negotiate on your behalf whether you are a member or not.

    With that being the case it is unfathomable to me why someone would not become a member when it is in their own self interest to do so.

  10. I've been reading this blog off and on for a few weeks now and there seems to be one, maybe two people, both of whom are too afraid to include their names who continually badger Dave and others for their comments. I encourage this person(s) to stand up and be recognized or are you a shill for the administration and would be ashamed to be recognized?

  11. We allow anonymous comments, even from badgers. And anonymous was not badgering, at least by my definition. Supporters of the administration, or even administrators themselves, are welcome to argue things out in the comments, even if they do so anonymously, and especially if they also make jokes about my Freudian slips. That's what the comments are for (the arguments, that is). I am happy to have others respond to comments, of course, if they see something they don't like, and I naturally am glad to find comments from those sympathetic to the True Cause. But if you (or I) don't like comments, the way to respond is by refuting the arguments rather than impugning the character of those who have posted them. At any rate, to qualify as a "shill" you must put forward some phony identity. "Anonymous" doesn't qualify, I don't think. Anonymous may be coming from Anthony Hall. Good: I hope they are reading this blog over there.

    Ok, I'll get down off my high horse now. We all know that there is a sort of game in comment threads, where the strength of the opposing sides is measured more by volume than by content. My guess is that most readers of this blog will be able to distinguish between who's shouting the loudest (usually me!) and who's got the best arguments (always me).

    * I do have a largely silent partner, Namdar Mogharreban. I do consult Namdar when issues like comment moderation arise. And others have blogging privileges (though none have used them for some time). So this isn't simply "my blog". When I use "we", then, it is not simply royal.

  12. "I was talking to one of the guys who helped get the union certified years ago (he's a libertarian, actually--so an interesting case), and he told me the initial vote was around 62-65% in favor"

    Wait, they let libertarians join unions? I thought libertarians were all part of some vast (well, two billionaire brother) right-wing conspiracy to destroy unions. LOL

  13. But everyone already knew that you were an interesting case, Dr. Bean. Libertarians, in my limited experience, are likely to be rather more conservative and rather less into "solidarity", which can seem or even be that antithesis of individual liberty, than your average union activist.

    And of course the traditional left-right divide readily breaks down on many of these issues. I think the best defense of tenure is basically Burkean.

  14. Burke gets thrown around a lot and he did believe in the "little platoons of life" as the cement of society. BUT . . . Adam Smith hated tenure, guilds (teacher unions anyone?) and favored education of the masses with state support but NOT government-run schools. Here's what Smith had to say about Burke (and Burke said something similar in return):

    SMITH: Burke was "the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us"

    Is the FA, a branch unit of the NEA, a "little platoon"? Hmmm. I don't think so.

    But you are right: "solidarity" is groupthink. If the group is thinking and doing the right things, then an individual ought to join. If the group is off track, then the individual should not join. Solidarity for solidarity's sake is as idiotic as "my country right or wrong." IMHO

    I'll have to check. Burke agreed with Adam Smith on almost everything that Smith said (according to Burke himself!). And Smith, while advocated mass education, hated tenure and the government school "racket" (my word).

  15. That last paragraph was supposed to be deleted. I did check and included the quote I needed. Oops.

  16. Jon, I can't edit your comments but your meaning came through well enough. Academic tenure in its current form came into being well after Burke's day, of course. My point was more general: the tenure system has worked well for some time now, so attempts to overthrow it ought to be viewed sceptically. Some want to attempt to reinvent the university from scratch: this strikes me as rather dangerous. I suppose I am thinking of Burke's defense of seemingly old-fashioned and obsolete forms which have nonetheless stood the test of time.

    I am no expert on Burke, but he used the phrase "little platoon" of the second estate, while attacking renegade aristos who turned rabble rousers. That was a rather big & powerful group, even more powerful than the mighty NEA--at least until they lost their heads. There are of course all sorts of problems applying Burke to the present situation (my bad), but one way to do so would be to argue that he would call for solidarity among the faculty to protect their status and prerogatives. That's what the FA thinks it is doing, though of course there are many faculty who disagree.


I will review and post comments as quickly as I can. Comments that are substantive and not vicious will be posted promptly, including critical ones. "Substantive" here means that your comment needs to be more than a simple expression of approval or disapproval. "Vicious" refers to personal attacks, vile rhetoric, and anything else I end up deeming too nasty to post.