Adventures in Ethics and Science

You knew the California budget shortfall was going to have an impact on higher education in the state. But maybe you didn’t know that the pain will not be distributed evenly. Last weekend, John Engell, a colleague of mine from San Jose State University (and currently chair of the Department of English & Comparative Literature), examined the pain that may be visited on our university in an opinion piece he wrote for the San Jose Mercury News:

Almost no one knows that this fall, San Jose State University will absorb one-third of all student enrollment cuts in the 23-campus California State University system. Enrollment will decrease systemwide by 10,000 students; San Jose State will account for 3,000 to 3,500 of that decrease — a shocking statistic. To do this, the university will drastically curtail admissions. Compared with fall 2008, it will accept 25 percent fewer freshmen, 33 percent fewer community college transfers and 20 percent fewer graduate students. No other CSU campus will incur enrollment cuts of this magnitude.

I don’t need to tell you, do I, that this state of affairs will not be helpful in achieving President Obama’s goal of increasing the proportion of college educated folks in the U.S.? Lower admissions mean fewer college educated folks. I’m guessing, too, that those people who won’t be enrolling in college as they planned to will be trying to find jobs.

How has this institutional disaster happened?

In the past two years, San Jose has exceeded its enrollment targets far more than other CSU campuses. This success has occurred because of new campus facilities, especially the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library and the Campus Village dormitory complex; the transformation of downtown San Jose; improved admissions outreach, processing and orientation; announcements of several major gifts to the university; and excellent academic programs. These have attracted thousands of students to make San Jose State the university of choice.

Enrollment targets are set by campus administrators in consultation with the CSU Chancellor’s Office. Unfortunately, San Jose State administrators significantly underestimated the number of qualified students wishing to matriculate in 2007 and 2008. The administrators therefore failed until too late to request from the Chancellor’s Office a dramatic increase in enrollment targets — a serious mistake. For their part, Chancellor Charles Reed and the CSU Board of Trustees have treated San Jose State’s unparalleled success in attracting qualified students as a reason to punish the university.

The enrollments target issue is a perpetual source of frustration at SJSU. On the one hand, you can’t go under your targets without exposing yourself to cuts (in your department or college within the university). Enrolling students in your major, teaching students in your classes, is how you make the case that your subject area is important and that you need the personnel and resources to teach it. On the other hand, since a significant chunk of the money that pays for the education of each enrolled student comes from the tax payers of the state of California, if you exceed enrollment targets you’re also exceeding the amount of money budgeted by the state for your campus.

Basically, this means you’re supposed to magically hit the enrollment targets on the nose, neither going over nor under. Given the fluctuations in enrollments for any given class during the add-drop period at the beginning of each semester, this is a pretty serious challenge even before one factors in market-driven changes in student demand for majors and classes.

There are other issues one might examine here, such as where that per-student pot of money from the state actually gets spent (and what proportion pays for faculty salaries, classrooms, and administrative stuff). You’d think, in the midst of a budget emergency, looking at ways to maximize that bang for the buck on that money might be a priority.

Of course, I think a lot of things.

Back to the opinion piece:

Because San Jose State budget cuts will be accomplished entirely through huge admission decreases, rather than by identifying areas for non-instructional savings, three groups will suffer most. First, thousands of applicants will be denied admission. Second, current students and those relatively few admitted next fall will face a large decline in the number of class sections offered, impeding their ability to graduate in a timely fashion. Third, perhaps hundreds of San Jose State lecturers will be denied fall 2009 contract renewals.

The university’s new president, Jon Whitmore, has stated that he hopes San Jose State can avoid layoffs; he is making a fine semantic distinction. Though lecturers number over half the faculty, and though many have taught at the university for 10, 20 or more years, the faculty contract defines them as “temporary” employees. This allows administrators to say they are “failing to renew lecturer contracts” rather than laying off lecturers, a distinction meaningless to both lecturers losing their jobs and students who have benefited from their teaching.

SJSU is not the only university that has taken advantage of the relative abundance of people with Ph.D.s looking for academic jobs. The vast majority of lecturers in my department have Ph.D.s and serious pedagogical chops. In an employment climate that didn’t try to extract cheap labor and to confer minimal benefits, these folks would be kicking butt on the tenure track. They do a disproportionate share of the teaching in the trenches. And, after having done so for years, they will be treated as completely expendable because of our budget shortfall.

Fired or laid off in all but name (and thus without unemployment benefits), this will be another cadre of people looking for jobs … or for help from the food banks. In the long term, this helps the budget crisis not at all. (Indeed, as little as lecturers are paid, they do pay tax on that income. Cutting their jobs is cutting the California tax base, resulting in less money available to pay for higher education in the state.)

There will also be a cost that’s less directly quantifiable in terms of the damage to morale in departments. The people who are facing lay-offs are our colleagues. They’re people we’ve worked with through years, even through previous budget crises. Hurting them makes the rest of us less likely to cheerfully shoulder our burdens to get the university or the CSU system through this rough patch.

If the university is not loyal, it will not inspire much loyalty in return.

The opinion piece also notes that such a drastic downsizing at SJSU cannot but impact the economic and cultural well-being of the city of San Jose, and the entire Silicon Valley region. In other words, it’s not just faculty and students who have a stake in what’s going on.

So, what to do?

Everyone in the Bay Area must speak up now: current and prospective students and their parents, faculty and administrators at local secondary schools and community colleges, and regional business, cultural, and media leaders. They must appeal to President Whitmore, to CSU Chancellor Reed and the CSU Board of Trustees, to their representatives in the California Assembly and Senate and to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, insisting that San Jose State be spared a grossly disproportionate cut in enrollment and budget.

If you’re so inclined, here’s some contact information to get you started:

President Jon Whitmore
Office of the President
San Jose State University
One Washington Square
San Jose, CA 95192-0002
Jon.Whitmore@sjsu.edu

Chancellor Charles B. Reed
401 Golden Shore, Suite 641
Long Beach, California 90802-4210
Phone (562) 951-4700
Fax (562) 951-4986

CSU Board of Trustees:

Ms. Roberta Achtenberg, Dr. Herbert Carter, Mrs. Carol R. Chandler, Dr. Kenneth Fong, Ms. Margaret Fortune, Dr. Peter Mehas, Henry Mendoza, Mr. Lou Monville, Dr. Glen Toney:

c/o Trustee Secretariat
401 Golden Shore, Suite 136
Long Beach, CA 90802
(562) 951-4020

Mr. Jeffrey L. Bleich
Partner
Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP
560 Mission Street, 27th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105-2907
(415) 512-4007

Dr. Debra S. Farar
914 Westwood Blvd. #809
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 435-5489

Mr. Curtis Grima (Non-Voting Student Trustee)
Associated Students Inc.
6000 J Street
Sacramento, CA 95819
(562) 951-4020

Dr. George G. Gowgani
3421 Studio Drive
Cayucos, CA 93430
(805) 995-2811

Ms. Melinda Guzman
Partner
Goldsberry, Freeman, Guzman & Ditora, LLP
777 12th Street, Suite 250
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 448-0448

Mr. William Hauck
California Business Roundtable
1215 K St., Suite 1570
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 553-4093

Mr. Raymond W. Holdsworth
President
AECOM Technology Corporation
555 South Flower Street, Suite 3700
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 593-8706

A. Robert Linscheid (Alumni Trustee)
President
The Linscheid Company
555 Main Street, #400
Chico, CA 95928
(562) 951-4020

Russel Statham (Non-Voting Student Trustee)
5200 North Barton Avenue, M/S ML52
Fresno, CA 93740-8014
(559) 485-8101 x 112

Mr. Kyriakos Tsakopoulos
KT Communities
2251 Douglas Blvd., Suite 110
Roseville, CA 95661
(916) 774-6622

Hon. Jack O’Connell, Ex Officio Trustee
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
1430 N Street, Suite 5602
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 319-0800

Hon. Karen Bass, Ex Officio Trustee
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 94249
(916) 319-2047

Hon. John Garamendi, Ex Officio Trustee
Lieutenant Governor
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ex Officio Trustee
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-445-2841
Fax: 916-558-3160
Email form here

Directory of members of the State Assembly, including contact information.
(You might need to know your assembly district number, if you don’t already know the name of your assembly person. The maps at the California Voter Foundation may help.)

Map of Bay Area California State Senate districts

Senator Mark Leno (Senate District 3)
Capitol Office
State Capitol, Room 4061
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 651-4003

San Rafael Office
Marin Civic Center
3501 Civic Center Drive Suite 425
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 479-6612

San Francisco Office
455 Golden Gate Avenue
Suite 14800
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 557-1300

Email form here

Senator Mark DeSaulnier (Senate District 7)
Capitol Office
State Capitol, Room 2054
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 651-4007

District Office
1350 Treat Blvd., Suite 240
Walnut Creek, CA 94597
(925) 942-6082

Email form here.

Senator Leland Yee (Senate District 8)
Capitol Office
State Capitol, Room 4074
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-4008

San Francisco Office
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 14200
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 557-7857

San Mateo Office
400 South El Camino Real, Suite 630
San Mateo, CA 94402
Phone: (650) 340-8840

Email form here.

Senator Loni Hancock (Senate District 9)
Capitol Office
State Capitol, Room 3092
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-4009
Fax: (916) 327-1997

District Office
1515 Clay Street
Suite 2202
Oakland, CA 94612
Phone: (510) 286-1333
Fax: (510) 286-3885

Email form here

Senator Ellen Corbett (Senate District 10)
Capitol Office
State Capitol, Room 5108
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone:(916) 651-4010
Fax: (916) 327-2433

San Leandro District Office
1057 MacArthur Blvd. Suite 206
San Leandro, CA 94577
Phone: (510) 577-2310
Phone: (408) 286-0329
Fax: (510) 577-2308

Fremont District Office
39155 Liberty St., #F610
Fremont, CA 94538
Phone: 510-794-3900
Fax: 510-794-3940

Email form here.

Senator Joe Simitian (Senate District 11)
Capitol Office
State Capitol, Room 2080
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-4011
Fax: (916) 323-4529

Palo Alto District Office
160 Town & Country Village
Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: (650) 688-6384
or (408) 277-9460
Fax: (650) 688-6370

Santa Cruz District Office
701 Ocean Street, Room 318A
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 425-0401
Fax: (831) 425-5124

Email form here.

Senator Elaine K. Alquist (Senate District 13)
Capitol Office
State Capitol, Room 5080 Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 651-4013
(916) 324-0283 (Fax)

San Jose Office
100 Paseo de San Antonio #209
San Jose, CA 95113
(408) 286-8318

Gilroy Office
7800 Arroyo Circle Ste. A
Gilroy, CA 95020
(408) 847-6101
(408) 847-6096 (fax)

senator.alquist@sen.ca.gov

My experience has been that dead-tree letters are taken somewhat more seriously than emails, and that being respectful while communicating your points is a good idea.

Comments

  1. #1 Anonymous
    February 28, 2009

    maybe a better solution is to seek to privatize SJSU thereby removing it from such arbitrary funding rules and let its admin & faculty be in charge of its destiny

  2. #2 Left_Wing_Fox
    February 28, 2009

    maybe a better solution is to seek to privatize SJSU thereby removing it from such arbitrary funding rules and let its admin & faculty shareholders seeking to earn a profit above and beyond operating expenses be in charge of its destiny.

    Fixed that for you, Anon.

  3. #3 Onkel Bob
    February 28, 2009

    I dunno… I’m starting to believe that attending SJSU was the worst mistake I ever made. The graduate research studies department has repeated misled and misinformed me causing me no end of trouble. Perhaps potential students would be better off not attending a school in the CSU.
    FWIW – a great deal of money was invested in an 802.11 infrastructure that was subsequently scrapped. The buildings on campus are in horrific shape, yet we have a nice pretty arch and fountain on the square. CSU, and SJSU in particular, has not proven to be a good steward of the funds provided to them.
    The school gives a transit pass to faculty, whom they are paying, for $25 and then turns around and charges students $80.00 for the same thing… well gee, doesn’t it appear their concern for the students is less than sincere? I don’t blame faculty for this situation, but it is hard to sympathize when students are treated as cash cows by the administration. As for the board of trustees, my opinion and designs for them is not fit for public dissemination.

  4. #4 Comrade PhysioProf
    March 1, 2009

    SG, do you think that at some point the finances of the CSU system will reach a point where tenured and tenure-track faculty will no longer give a shit about contract faculty renewals and just worry about the safety of their own jobs? As I understand the tenure system, universities can get rid of tenured faculty by shutting down entire programs.

  5. #5 Rugosa
    March 1, 2009

    I feel your pain. I am support staff at a public university that has been poorly funded since its inception – we’re not the flagship of the system. The faculty are terrific, deeply committed to seeing their students succeed. The school has chronically been trying to do more with less – that lovely catchphrase of the cutters and trimmers. Even before the current economic downturn, the department was having difficulty retaining good part-time lecturers because the salaries are not competitive with other institutions in the area. The administration says it is trying to avoid staff layoffs, but with the deep cuts being implemented, it’s hard to see how they can do that. Simply not re-hiring the part-time faculty will probably be a stealth way of doing that. Then, of course, who will be teaching the core classes students need?

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