Dollars and Common Sense at Universities

I'm doing a little poking around academic expenditures this morning, she says vaguely. I came across this fascinating article about Rutgers. Apparently, Rutgers is cutting funding for professors, while bolstering their athletic program. 

Rutgers University forgave $100,000 of the football coach’s interest-free home loan last year. The women’s basketball coach got monthly golf and car allowances. Both collected bonuses without winning a championship.

Meanwhile, the history department took away professors’ desk phones to save money and shrank its doctoral program by 25 percent. After funding cuts by the deficit-strapped Legislature, New Jersey’s state university froze professors’ salaries, cut the use of photocopies for exams and jacked up student tuition, housing and other fees.

 

32 thoughts on “Dollars and Common Sense at Universities

  1. “Meanwhile, the history department took away professors’ desk phones to save money and shrank its doctoral program by 25 percent.”
    Those are both very defensible moves. 4.5 years after moving here, my husband still doesn’t know how to use his desk phone. He uses either email or a cell phone for work communication. As for cutting the doctoral program by 25%, isn’t that what everybody’s been arguing for years, that doctoral programs overproduce PhDs?

  2. Yeah, I was going to say, we don’t have much of a sports program, but we’re facing cuts, too. In fact, my boss told me yesterday that the writing assessment program I’ve been coordinating for the last 6 years is being defunded (even though it’s working and it didn’t cost that much money–about $12K, most of which I wasn’t getting, btw).

  3. Desk phones are important for conference calls if you don’t have an unlimited minutes plan. Even if you do have unlimited minutes, the good desk phones have speakerphone and a mute button so you can comment on blogs during meetings.

  4. I’ve always enjoyed those articles that link to the University President’s e-mail so that we can contact him and tell him what we think. Can we oblige? Where can I go to have my home loan forgiven?
    Also, just for fun google “highest paid public school teacher” sometime and read about the football coach in Illinois who makes almost 300,000 dollars a year, as a PE teacher in a public school! Good times. (Wonder how much they pay the paraprofessionals who work with sped kids. Thinking it’s probably not 300,000 a year!)

  5. “The women’s basketball coach got monthly golf and car allowances.”
    A car allowance or a company car is pretty normal if there is a fair amount of driving involved in the job (not sure if that is the case here).
    I think you have to make a distinction between the money-making and money-losing sports (I’m assuming women’s golf and the majority of sports are a money-loser). I don’t know about Rutgers specifically, but football and basketball have traditionally played a big role in cementing alumni loyalty and encouraging alumni generosity. Take for instance Notre Dame. On the one hand, it’s culturally the most important Catholic college in the US. On the other hand, you have to wonder whether Notre Dame would have gotten to be such a big deal without its football program. There are a lot of Catholic colleges in the US, and the football program is the biggest distinguishing features between Notre Dame and the others. My husband’s college’s football program is less successful by a long shot, but you can see what a large part football plays in alumni life. Homecoming weekend is a huge big deal, there’s a sort of carnival with free rides for everybody, fireworks and a huge bonfire and then an immense parade in the morning.
    Having an at least moderately successful football team is like an ongoing free advertisement for a college with regard to prospective students and to reminding alumni that it’s time to send a check to the old alma mater.

  6. The relationship between academics and the big sports at universities may resemble the relationship between books and the cafe at a Barnes and Noble.

  7. For those of us who follow college football the obvious must be stated: Rutgers is not Notre Dame.
    Not Notre Dame, but considering recent off-field developments, I would not be surprised if there was an active drive to replace Penn State in the hearts and minds of regional public school types.

  8. Cutting the graduate history program, and graduate liberal arts programs generally, at second-tier universities like Rutgers seems like a good idea to me. What possible need is there for such programs or their graduates?
    On the other hand, Rutgers may be spending too much on football. You can have a football program which inspires both alumni loyalty and student cameraderie without big money: witness Yale or for that matter Williams. You just have to set appropriate goals.

  9. As my eldest is a junior in high school, I’m researching the whole college thing. For me, a competitive football team is a distinct negative. _Beer and Circus_ was an eye-opening read.
    I’m not sending my kids to college to become football fans. I’m sending them to be educated. There are far too many trade-offs made to support the whole college marquee sports culture. Trade-offs such as: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204443404577052073672561402.html
    Note that Penn State was/is seen as a model football program.
    Y81, Yale does spend big money on football. The financial aid awarded to students is not linked to athletic performance, and thus will continue even if the player suffers a career-ending injury. The Ivy League’s Academic Index places limits on recruiting, though. The athletes must be able to function in a classroom.

  10. In the long term, the Penn State scandal may lead to some reduction in the importance of football at that school, but the short term impact appears to be in the opposite direction. It reminds me of the “rally round the flag” effect you see in the IR literature. The trustees are taking huge amounts of flak and not for failing to report things to the police. If they hadn’t have fired Paterno, they’d probably be under less pressure from alumni thought outside pressure would probably be greater.

  11. I have an aunt and uncle who are 60ish, quite well-off, and alumni of Washington State University. They have sent both their kids to WSU and are rabid WSU football fans and go over for games (it’s not at all a convenient trip). They are also VERY generous. If I were a university fundraiser, this particular couple would have me licking my chops. And there are tens of thousands of people (probably even hundreds of thousands) exactly like that.
    The football team is often a sort of umbilical cord connecting alumni to a college.
    On the other hand, there is such a thing as academic-oriented alumni. You do run into donors like somebody who took a philosophy course 50 years ago, it blew his mind, he made big bucks elsewhere, and now he wants to endow a chair.

  12. You can get a mix. My old stomping grounds has an endowed chair named for well-known football coach despite said coach ending his career on less than happy terms.

  13. “In the long term, the Penn State scandal may lead to some reduction in the importance of football at that school, but the short term impact appears to be in the opposite direction.”
    I think that explains something I saw over Christmas break. We were at the Dallas Galleria mall and there were two tween/teen boys wearing Penn State Football shirts. It was really jarring.

  14. Y81, Rutgers’ graduate history departments has been one of the highest ranked in the country, at least the last time I looked a few years ago. I think the English department was well regarded as well. I don’t think Rutgers yet qualifies as a second-rate university, at least not yet. I’ll fully admit they’ll make it there someday if they keep it up.
    Full disclosure: I’m a Rutgers grad (graduate school, in the sciences) with experience at other universities.

  15. I was an undergrad at Rutgers College (class of 1981) when the school made the move to “big time” football and stopped playing traditional opponents like Princeton. Many students were upset because of the loss of this traditional rivalry, since the two schools played the first-ever college football game. I have never forgotten sitting in a language lab with many broken tape machines, while reading in the school paper about the new carpeting for the football team’s locker room that had been provided by a generous donor. To this day, I have never given the school a penny because of the misguided emphasis on sports. It is still a good school, however. Apart from others mentioned above, i think the philosophy department was the top-rated program in recent years.

  16. Rutgers is tied with the University of Virginia for the #20 ranking in graduate history programs. In addition to fine historians like Sue Cobble and Bonnie Smith, the program boasts a 2011 Macarthur “Genius Grant” winner, Jacob Soll.
    Unlike Jim M, I’m *not* a Rutgers grad, but I wish I had had the good fortune to attend their history program! I’m terribly sorry to hear about their phones…

  17. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it would make more sense to cut out the bottom 40 or so history programs entirely (there seem to be about 150) rather than cutting 25% from programs at the Rutgers level. But reducing the glut of Ph.D.’s is generally a good idea. And there is an argument that the Northeast is adequately served by better programs, so that Rutgers is a good place to make cuts.
    It’s baffling to me that a university with intellectual pretensions would want a football program that functioned at a level higher than Princeton’s. Is there any evidence that Rutgers’ upgrading of its program has helped with either student recruiting or fund-raising? Note that Princeton does pretty well in both areas. :D

  18. Perhaps like New Jersey itself, Rutgers has a bit of a complex. For many of the undergrads, it was not their first-choice school, but it was the best option when they did not get into Duke or Michigan, even though their SAT scores and class rank made them appear to be viable candidates for the upper echelon. Many of those will take their lumps, do well as undergrads, and go onto first-rate grad schools and make a lot of money. Some will drown their sorrows in alcohol for four years, but even some of these people will go on to make a lot of money. They just will not have a graduate degree. Some will run for office. Some will win. Of these, a fair number will be indicted. Those indicted will likely face prosecutors with at least one Rutgers degree; some of those prosecutors will have double Rutgers degrees, and can be expected to be especially righteous. Some will become the star of a show on Fox and instantly become the school’s best-known alum. Some will play music in obscurity for years, but become famous when their songs about vegetables are played on Noodle, or Noggin, or whatever that channel that came along after my kids were toddlers was. Some will read blogs, and occasionally post comments.

  19. “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it would make more sense to cut out the bottom 40 or so history programs entirely (there seem to be about 150) rather than cutting 25% from programs at the Rutgers level”
    I see an analogy between this suggestion and the problem with football programs like Rutgers’. Rutgers has a middling football program that is being subsidized by student fees & university funds (3 million, according to the Bloomberg article). Those cacluations are always really complicated, and I’ve heard folks complain about whether “overhead” costs are properly taken into account when the calculations are made, but let’s take that number as a starting point. They’re trying to compete in the league with much better financed programs, with stadiums 2X as big as theirs where people are willing to pay much more for tickets (and even donate money for the opportunity to be in waiting lists to purchase tickets — i.e. the longhorns). But, they hope to make it into the big time, to make the football into a money raising activity for the school and are “investing” in it to do so (with, mind you, student tuition & fees, and taxpayer dollars). There’s a reasonable suspicion they won’t succeed (just like with a middling history program, presumably at less cost).
    I find the arguments for indirect costs and benefits to always be suspect. There was an interesting article in the NY times about the indirect benefits that are promised for public subsidies for convention centers that said that the indirect benefits — hotel rooms, restaurants, etc. rarely materialize. But, even more suspect is the argument in favor of “intangible” benefits (the convention center will put us on the map as a real city, or Rutgers will become a “name brand” school). Those things might happen, but they are risky endeavors, not worth investing in heavily, and they are prone to the mutually assured destruction (Rutgers has to keep pouring money into its program, never quite pouring enough to reach the big league).
    The latest NCAA report said that only 22 football programs are revenue positive. The rest of them need to think seriously about what value they’re getting from their programs and consider leaving the field to he big boys (just like the low ranked history graduate programs).

  20. Jacob Soll has toiled away at the Rutgers Camden campus for over a decade. You could argue Rutgers didnt really know or care who they had on their history faculty until the MacArthur folks took notice.

  21. “I have never forgotten sitting in a language lab with many broken tape machines, while reading in the school paper about the new carpeting for the football team’s locker room that had been provided by a generous donor. To this day, I have never given the school a penny because of the misguided emphasis on sports.”
    Why don’t you give to the areas you are interested in?
    (I once heard of a donor who funded a rock-and-roll practice room because when he had been at that school, there was no place on campus to practice loud music. You can make things better–if you want to and have the money.)

  22. Amy, many of us don’t contribute extra funds to our universities because we aren’t done paying our own tuition there yet through loans, and because we know that we will be unable to afford the tuition to send our own kids there, much less have any extra money left over to give to the university after that.
    I remember fuming when I read the article about the massage therapists who are on call at one Ivy league school for the students during exam weeks. I’m thinking: maybe if you cut out perks like climbing walls, aerobics classes and massage therapists, more of us would be able to afford to send our kids there. It would be nice if the generous donors gave to a program so more poor students could attend the university rather than funding things like new carpet for a locker room.

  23. “Amy, many of us don’t contribute extra funds to our universities because we aren’t done paying our own tuition there yet through loans, and because we know that we will be unable to afford the tuition to send our own kids there, much less have any extra money left over to give to the university after that.”
    Sure, but that’s different than “To this day, I have never given the school a penny because of the misguided emphasis on sports.” Saying that suggests that it’s a choice, rather than a necessity.
    “I remember fuming when I read the article about the massage therapists who are on call at one Ivy league school for the students during exam weeks.”
    The top Ivy League schools are very generous to moderate and lower-upper-middle income families.

  24. MH,
    One of my college acquaintances once tried to eliminate office landlines for his old department. It was costing $50 a month per phone. The plan didn’t work out–everybody wanted to keep their phone. (I wonder if they couldn’t have gotten a better deal from the phone company, though.)

  25. “Why don’t you give to the areas you are interested in? ”
    Because money is fungible. Giving money to the history department makes it a little bit easier for the university to allocate its resources poorly.
    I think Rutgers is making an effort to get into the big leagues in football, and hopes that the investment now will pay off in a money-making football program. As with convention centers and incentives to move factories, though, I think that the endeavor can often be a zero sum game, especially when you’re playing with a deficit to start with.
    I am very suspicious of efforts to argue for indirect benefits, and even more so when the indirect benefits are branding and profile.
    I think a private university, like Yale or Harvard or Caltech, can decide its going to subsidize its sports teams to create opportunity and environment (it’s the same as the ivy covered buildings and nice dorm rooms). A public university has to play a different game, though, and decide whether its job is to provide history professors for its students or football coaches for its alumni. If they want to keep saying that education (as opposed to entertaining alums) is their main business, they need to find private support for their sports programs and fund the educational programs with tuition/state funds/fees.

  26. Among philosophy grad departments, Rutgers is ranked number 2 at the Leiter Report. They made some good hires some years back.
    http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/overall.asp
    1. NYU
    2. Rutgers
    3. Princeton
    4. University of Michigan.
    5. Harvard
    5. University of Pittsburgh
    bj said:
    “Because money is fungible. Giving money to the history department makes it a little bit easier for the university to allocate its resources poorly.”
    Does the same thing apply to people donating to the football program? I suspect that in practice, money attracts money (see, for example, Harvard’s $30+ billion endowment).
    If you were strategic and dealing with a cooperative department, you could improve life a lot by doing things like funding a speaker (or a speaker series or a conference), cookies and Coke for the department’s undergraduate club, souping up the grad travel fund, partially funding a graduate potluck (my husband’s department pays for the main course for a monthly grad potluck, which is always fantastic), etc.
    (You do have to watch universities carefully. They do have a tendency to steer money toward stuff they were doing anyway. For example, funding an existing faculty member with donor money.)

  27. If you have to pick between number 5 schools, you should go with the one where your classes will be more convenient to where you can buy a salad with fries on top.

  28. I’m a Rutgers grad (’96), who started out as a bio major, then took history classes and quickly switched. Poli sci was also a great department. Then the whole honors program was like an 18th century salon- living up to the old “public ivy” Rutgers nickname… I hope RU is still an attractive option by the time my 4 year old is of age… And still affordable…

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