February 20, 2013
University governance must keep control of academic performance
February 20, 2013, last update: 2/20 @ 6:06 am
Indiana University faculty members, trustees and even President Michael McRobbie showed frustration with the General Assembly last week, criticizing lawmakers' for overreaching on academic matters and other operations of the university.
Their concerns are valid.
Bloomington Faculty Council President Carolyn Calloway-Thomas led the charge. She said encroachment by the Legislature on university governance in regard to curriculum, student academic performance standards and the overall academic mission of the university "strikes at the heart" of the faculty's role.
Trustee Thomas E. Reilly Jr. said legislators also are "stepping on the trustees' toes." He noted the trustees and faculty members don't always agree, but they do on this issue, calling the Legislature's actions "sort of a pernicious trend."
Trustee Pat Shoulders said he considers "it an absolute threat to higher education that all of a sudden, a Legislature that continues to give us less money wants to exert more control."
McRobbie focused on "the intrusion of the Legislature into academic matters. I certainly would encourage the faculty to continue to speak their minds on this issue."
The state's contribution to the university's budget still is significant, but it's a fraction of what it once was. Sixteen percent of IU's overall budget and only 11 percent of the Bloomington campus budget comes from state funding. The overall percentage was 22 percent just four years ago, in 2009, and it was about 50 percent roughly 20 years ago.
The declining percentages understandably cause push back when legislators attempt to flex too much regulatory muscle at the universities.
IU has a new ally on the point. Purdue University President Mitch Daniels told the H-T the week before he left the Indiana governor's office last month that for eight years he'd heard from McRobbie and other state university presidents that legislative control was out of proportion to funding provided by the state.
"The state in many cases is still highly regulating and maintaining all kinds of control out of proportion with the dollars," he said at the time. He added that universities should be "liberated" to do more, then be held accountable for results.
He's right, as university leaders and faculty members have been right as they've showed concern over the years. But it is also true that while state funding as a percentage of operating funds has declined precipitously, total state funding for higher education has nearly tripled since 1984-85 -- from $580 million to $1.7 billion -- according to figures from the Indiana Higher Education Commission. However, state support has declined 3 percent in the last five years.
Universities have been forced to look for other funding streams to stay competitive and academically sound. IU has done well with grants and philanthropy, but tuition increases have gone up faster than anyone would like.
Ten years ago this May, the trustees raised IU's tuition and mandatory fees to $5,517. Then Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Judy Palmer told the trustees at the time that the university needed to look for efficiencies wherever it could to keep from pricing students out of higher education.
An H-T story noted: "If current trends in university spending and state higher-education support continue, she said, IU tuition could reach $10,000 in 10 years."
She was right. In-state tuition for the 2012-2013 academic year is $10,034.
Welcome to the complex world of higher education funding. Faculty and university leaders have every right to bark at lawmakers who try to control more while putting less skin in the game.
At the same time, all Hoosiers, including legislators, should question the affordability of going to college, and encourage universities to be serious about holding costs down.