Archive for Sunday, June 3, 2012

KU research shows budget pressure takes toll on higher education faculty

June 3, 2012


As budget cuts become a more frequent part of life for university leaders, decisions dealing with them are landing in the laps of people who haven’t been formally trained on how to handle those “financial tsunamis,” Kansas University research has shown.

And that has had an adverse effect on the leaders’ health, department morale and accomplishing the goals of higher education, according to the researchers, Rick Ginsberg, dean of KU’s School of Education, and Karen Multon, chairwoman and professor of research and psychology in education.

Multon said the researchers questioned 56 deans and 45 department chairs around the country as part of their research.

“The cuts created some very serious challenges in their work,” she said.

Leaders found themselves making decisions about what to cut and which positions to keep open after someone leaves.

While there are some books on how to be a better department chair, they mainly focus on conflict resolution and managing people, Multon said. Dealing with budgets isn’t typically covered.

Leaders reported they had to do “more with less” and with larger class sizes, fewer faculty and smaller travel budgets becoming “the new normal” after years of declining resources.

“You have very little training in that sort of thing,” Multon said. “I was trained as a faculty member: teaching, research, service.”

The researchers found that being transparent helps in dealing with difficult budgetary situations.

“The more transparent you are, the more understanding you get, the more buy-in that you have on any decisions that you do make,” Multon said.

Also, leaders have to take time to take care of themselves physically and mentally, as many of the leaders reported higher blood pressure, weight gain and loss of sleep as a result of decisions they had to make.

“Living through all of this and having to make the decisions you have to make, it’s really awful,” Ginsberg said.

Those kinds of difficulties had an impact on universities’ ability to innovate and reform, and led to what Ginsberg called “tornadoes of misunderstanding,” among faculty members in the departments and other groups of people.

In many cases, turning to other leaders, friends and spouses can help leaders work through difficult decisions.

“Leaders don’t have to do it alone,” Ginsberg said.

The existing literature in crisis management and what Ginsberg called “cutback management” makes one thing very apparent, Ginsberg said.

“What’s crystal clear is nobody’s prepared for dealing with this,” he said.

Their research has not yet been published, but it was presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association.


ArnoldKS 5 years, 11 months ago

This story is very telling. University department heads (and school administrators generally) have little or no financial acumen. They would do well to study economics and accounting, because those subjects are increasingly necessary for management of staff and department budgets.

It's easy to see why academic types are so opposed to fiscal responsibility. Their industry has been a prime driver of unsustainable KPERS costs, which are now burdening taxpayers and future generations with unconscionable debt. Kansas government must continue to take dramatic steps to reduce debt, reform KPERS and education finance, and insist that those with budget responsibility for public (taxpayer) dollars practice real frugality. They must learn to do more with less, because education costs have spiraled out of control and must be reset.

It's back to basics time, folks. Education leaders (including dept. heads) need to focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic, with a focus on arithmetic. Otherwise, the future of our students -- and institutions -- will look bleak as it's crushed under the weight of enormous state debt.

mdlund0 5 years, 11 months ago

Reading, writing, and arithmetic should be learned in primary school, not college. See this listed under "Reasons why 20% of KU students drop out after their first year" and "Reasons why only 60% of KU students graduate in 6 years."

question4u 5 years, 11 months ago


This is certainly an odd and condescending way to interpret the article and the research. Neither suggests that those in question do not understand financial matters, let alone basic arithmetic.

The article clearly indicates that the problems have to do with finding ways to deal with "larger class sizes, fewer faculty and smaller travel budgets." Those are logistical problems. The article also mentions that "being transparent helps in dealing with difficult budgetary situations." That is obviously a management problem.

The article suggests that administrators in higher education have not been trained to deal with major budget cuts. That has nothing to do with arithmetic. When a department loses 20% or more of its budget, as has occurred at some universities around the country, arithmetic is not going to give you the solution that you want, unless you're an advocate of smoke and mirrors.

The research in question indicates that higher education administrators have not been trained in how to make decisions about what programs to eliminate, what adjunct faculty lines to eliminate, what equipment to shut down, what labs to close, and how far to cut back on enrollment. It also suggests that administrators have not been trained in how to deal with adjunct faculty who are upset about non-reappointment or students who are angry about not graduating on time or having their majors eliminated.

It may be nice for you to live in a fantasy world where "real frugality" has no human consequences, but everyone else has to live in the real world. People who are not trained to enact those human consequences, may, as the article and the research suggest experience stress. That's what the article is about. It has nothing to do with arithmetic (or comments about university faculty and KPERS that have no basis in fact).

mdlund0 5 years, 11 months ago

"...teaching, research, service..." LOLZ. More like: Research, Service, Teaching. There's the story that gets told, and then there's the truth.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 11 months ago

Thank you. Exactly. KU is a research university, not a small liberal arts college.

Research is in fact priority #1 at KU, as it should be and as it is at most other research universities.

lawrencian 5 years, 11 months ago

Faculty and unclassified staff are not on KPERS, only the 4000 or so University Support Staff. But I, for one, am not confident that KPERS will still exist by the time I am eligible for retirement in just 24 short years. All this "robbing Peter to pay Paul" that is going on in the state and federal government makes me really wonder if I'll actually be able to retire when the time comes. And no, I don't make enough money to put "extra" away -- it's all I can do to pay my monthly bills on time.

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