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Prof Watson to Yudof on Humanities in U Budgets

Prof Watson to Yudof on Humanities in U Budgets

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Published by Chris Newfield
Don't forget cross-subsidies and how damn cheap the humanities are
Don't forget cross-subsidies and how damn cheap the humanities are

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Published by: Chris Newfield on Jan 21, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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December 14, 2009Dear President Yudof:Philosophy, Art History, English Lit, Musicology – the whole Humanities family are just quaint, elderly relatives that the real, serious, modern university (consisting of technological researchers and the professional schools) subsidizes out of charitabletradition, but can hardly be expected to pamper during difficult times. You made thatclear on national television a few weeks ago: “Many of our, if I can put it this way,businesses are in good shape. We're doing very well there. Our hospitals are full, our medical business, our medical research, the patient care. So, we have this coreproblem: Who is going to pay the salary of the English department? We have to have it.Who's going to pay it in sociology, in the humanities? And that's where we're runninginto trouble.”Let’s leave aside for now the question of whether these core educational functionsare something other than an annoying peripheral obligation that a public university isstuck with. However wrongheaded I may believe your remarks are about educationalvalues, you – and many others – are just as wrong factually about economic value. According to the experts recently cited in the
New York Times
(September 4,2009), “An English student, however, is generally a profit center. ‘They’re paying for thechemistry major and the music major….The little ugly facts about cross-subsidies areinflammatory, so they get papered over.’”1
Papered over, for example, by counting what patients pay for treatment as incomeearned by a medical center, but not counting what students pay for literature courses asincome earned by the Humanities. Then of course the hospital looks like a much better business, and you will appoint those productive health-care administrators to a death-panel on lost causes such as the English major.If, however, you calculate by the latest UCLA student credit hours, fee levels, andtotal general fund expenditures (as on the attached spreadsheet), you will find theHumanities -- unlike the Physical Sciences, which come up several million dollars shortin this category -- generating over $59 million in student fee revenue, while spendingonly $53.5 million. The entire teaching staff of Writing Programs, which is absolutelyessential to the university’s educational mission, has been sent firing notices; yet thespreadsheet shows that program generating $4.3 million dollars in fee revenue, at acost of only $2.4 million.So the answer to “Who’s going to pay the salary of the English department?” isthat the English department earns its own salaries, and more, through the fees paid byits many loyal students. These profits will only increase as student fees increase; andthey would be even greater if we figured in a share of the over-enrollment subsidies duefrom the state.This isn’t an eccentric calculation. Of the twenty-one units at the University of Washington, the Humanities and (to a lesser degree) the Social Sciences are the onlyones that generate more tuition income than 100% of their total expenditure (see thechart below). The President of the AAUP recently cited a University of Illinois reportshowing that a large humanities department like English produces a substantial net2
profit, whereas units such as Engineering and Agriculture run at a loss (http://www.cary-nelson.org/nelson/corpuniv.html). The widely respected Delaware Study of InstructionalCosts and Productivity shows the same pattern, as does a 2005 volume from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences called
Tracking Changes in the Humanities:Essays on Finance and Education
.In fact, in the 1990s, UCLA invested huge amounts of money setting up the RCMsystem, used at many universities to evaluate all the real costs of different units and therevenue they actually produce, to improve the fairness and transparency of thebudgeting process. When the initial run of these intricate spreadsheets showed that theCollege of Letters and Science was the most efficient user and producer of money, andthe health sciences the least efficient, that accounting system was abandoned. I haveno illusions that the UC medical executives who evidently have your ear will be morereceptive to this inconvenient truth than they were then. However, you seem determinedto revive the worst aspect of RCM – making faculty feel they are competing with eachother in a zero-sum business model for education – without giving us its key benefit,which is a recognition of how valuable the College and its teaching actually are.We produce this profit despite the irreducibly labor-intensive aspects of muchwork in the Humanities, where instruction must engage actively and progressively withthe particular attributes of each developing voice and mind in a classroom or in anessay. Class-size therefore cannot swell in many of our departments without destroyingour essential pedagogical function, any more than the sciences could function withoutlaboratories.3

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