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Teachers College Student Reply to Fuhrman

Teachers College Student Reply to Fuhrman

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A group of students drafted a letter in which they demand Fuhrman's resignation in light of her association with Pearson Education, denounce the "corporatization" of Teachers College, and criticize the school's lack of transparency in the face of higher tuition costs and expenditures.
A group of students drafted a letter in which they demand Fuhrman's resignation in light of her association with Pearson Education, denounce the "corporatization" of Teachers College, and criticize the school's lack of transparency in the face of higher tuition costs and expenditures.

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Published by: Columbia Daily Spectator on Jun 13, 2013
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06/13/2013

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Dear Teachers College Community Members:
We are the proud students of Teachers College who have come together to reexamine
 
the state of our institution. We are masters and doctoral students. Some of us are fully funded.
 
Some of us are six figures in debt. We are women, men, residents of the United States and from
 
countries across the globe. We come to Teachers College as first generation college students
 
and as children of academics. Within Teachers College we are an independent group,
 
unaffiliated with student organizations such as the student senate. Yet, members of the student
 
senate are part of our work. Our group is comprised of students from across many departments
 
and programs. What brings us together now is our concern for our College and its ideals.
We respond recognizing this vast diversity, speaking not as a single voice but as
 
dynamic voices unified in our concern for Teachers College. We want TC to be an independent
 
institution with a strong, coherent presence that engages with the toughest issues in education.
 As a dynamic voice, we wish to respond to theletter that President Fuhrman released on
 
May 15th and take up her offer to begin a dialogue regarding our comments, criticisms and
 
concerns. In this letter we also wish to acknowledge and consider concerns of those membersof our community beyond Teachers College - teachers, families, and children who are directly
 
impacted by the education policies TC generates - as well as the educators themselves who
 
develop and hone their skills at TC.
 As caring and responsible scholars and educators
,
we believe that TC should stand
 
for what is ethically just and educationally sound. The specifics of President Fuhrman's letter 
 
deeply concern us. They bring to light troubling issues of governance and transparency within
 
our institution, and they neglect to address certain questionable aspects of our institution's
 
influence in the greater educational community. We believe the questions posed recently by TC
 
faculty in their letter on the State of the College are timely ones that should be discussed anddebated by the entire TC community: What is the role of the university in a society dominated by
 
corporate power? Can Teachers College, as a not-for-profit institution of higher education,
 
provide an independent, respected voice on important issues of education for policymakers and
 
parents?
President Fuhrman mentions in the beginning of her letter that Teachers College is
 
uniquely poised to lead the world of education in the 21st century. However, throughout the body
 
of the letter she frequently relies on ambiguous references to the practices of other institutions, a
 
bad economy, and the Board of Trustees’ ultimate authority in order to justify the administration’s
 
policies and decisions. If TC is poised to be a leader in higher education, then we ask that
 
Teachers College not merely follow other institutions, but rather lead by example.We are calling
 
for a substantive debate about the political implications of our institution's policies, which would
 
engage those occupying positions of leadership at Teachers College with representatives from
 
the many other stakeholders who are invested in the future of education, at Teachers College
 
and beyond. We believe that TC's leaders should make their beliefs and intentions more clear to 
 
those comprising the constituencies that they claim to serve. 
 At Teachers College particularly, and many other educational institutions generally, we
 
are alarmed at corporate or business-like management practices which have undue influence on
 
research and pedagogical performance. A corporate business mentality towards education has
 
led some individuals to become brazen in their attempts to profit privately from the public good of 
 
education. A bottom-line, profit-first style of governance is evident everywhere in Teachers
 
College and delegitimizes many of the responses President Fuhrman has given to sundryissues of concern. The corporatization of Teachers College affects both the interior governance
 
of the institution and its influence on citizens beyond its walls. We hope this letter will address
 
this corporate style of governance directly by pointing to its particular manifestations at Teachers
 
College.
FY ‘14 BUDGET
 
With respect to the FY Budget for 2014, after invoking the fear of "economic uncertainty"
 
(a common tactic used to justify “austerity” measures), President Fuhrman says that the
 
administration’s "reading" of the available resources at Teachers College limits their ability to
 
allocate funding in ways the faculty and students have asked. She also notes that transparency
 
has increased in budgetary issues for the "relevant" individuals and that she looks forward to
 
continuing discussions with faculty members by department.
Charity Navigator reports the opposite.Teachers College gets a fairly low score for an
 
institution of its 'calibre'; receiving 2 of 4 stars in its “financial” section. This low ranking takes into
 
account, among other things, the unavailability of certain tax documents for public examination.
 
 Aside from TC’s place in rankings, President Fuhrman’s insistence on transparency for the
 
“relevant” individuals invites a question: who decides who is “relevant”? If everyone at TC--and
 
even those outside of TC--are affected by its budget decisions, then every single member of the
 
TC community is a relevant individual with respect to budgetary decisions. But in an institution
 
with corporate governance, a small group of exorbitantly-compensated individuals decide who is
 
relevant with respect to budgetary information.
 A similar question arises again when President Fuhrman mentions the administration’s
 
“reading” of TC’s available resources. Her phrasing invites the question: whose reading is the
 
legitimate reading? Perhaps if the community itself, through an open and shared process, were
 
to interpret the status of TC’s resources our conclusions about their proper distribution would be
 
different. Again, here we have evidence of corporate governance where only those who are
 
highly paid decide how we must interpret revenues, deficits, and surpluses. For instance, the
 
2014-2018 Financial Aid Plan will deepen inequity at the College and won't begin to address the
 
striking lack of funding that makes TC students an exception in the Ivy League.
INCENTIVE PAY/BONUS
 
 
President Fuhrmanwrites that financial expectations are not being met; enrollments are
 
falling, and expense/revenue projections are conservative. But senior administrators in the last
 
several years have been nonetheless awarded significant performance bonuses. The question
 
must be asked: what constitutes ‘successful’ performance in the eyes of the Trustees? Again,
 
who decides what counts as a successful performance? Once more, it seems that only a very
 
small group of extremely well-off individuals make this decision behind closed doors.
President Fuhrman, as she does throughout the letter, places undue authority on the
 
Board of Trustees. She says she will recommend that they not give the administration
 
“performance-based” bonuses. We cannot guarantee that the Board will refuse, however. The
 
implication is that, if the Board chooses to reward the administration for its “successful”
 
performance, then administrators have no choice but to accept the gift.
But even if the Board were to take President Fuhrman’s recommendation, can we be
 
given a guarantee that the bonuses won’t then be awarded in another form (e.g. stock in
 
Pearson, increased expense account limits, etc.), as often happens for corporate executives
 
who publicly pretend to forego bonuses, but in fact only forego them as a part of salary
 
payments?
This issue, however, goes beyond the confusing relationship between the Board and the
 
administration to which Fuhrman alludes. We are concerned that decisions have been made
 
about surpluses that did not consider the voices of those directly affected by those decisions. To
 
take just one example, is it right that a surplus is used to pay for administrator bonuses even
 
while most MA and PhD students struggle mightily to survive as students in New York City?
 
Given the already high salaries of the administrators we find this decision to award
 
administrators rather than help out students to be quite distasteful. Perhaps decisions about how
 
to use the institution's surplus would be more justly made if every member of the institution was
 
invited to participate in decision-making processes.
Here is a list of TC's 10 highest-paid administrators (total compensation including
 
bonuses from FY 2010): 
Susan Fuhrman (President) $625,231
 
Thomas James (Provost and Dean) $464,343Suzanne Murphy (VP for Development & External Affairs) $435,882Harvey Spector (VP for Finance and Administration)$369,444
 
Sharon Lynn Kagan (Assoc. Dean for Policy) $347,352Scott Fahey (Secretary to the College, Chief of Staff) $300,294Nancy Streim (Assoc. VP for School & Community Partnerships) $288,193Lori Fox (General Counsel)$282,109
 
Janice Robinson (VP for Diversity & Community Affairs) $279,942William Baldwin (Vice Provost)$252,223
 
In light of the above we would like to note that there has still been no coherent explanation
 
as to why tuition is slated for another 4.5-5% increase; an increase which exceeds current

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