Facts & Numbers

We hear suggestions that all kinds of facts and numbers are pertinent to the budget crisis affecting the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta. We also hear that much depends on our ability to marshall the right facts and cite the right numbers. One fact that gets cited often: the Faculty of Arts has the second highest number of majors in the University. There were over 6,200 undergraduate students enrolled in the Faculty of Arts (for example) in the last academic year. This number translates into serious base funding for the University. (Perhaps someone could do the math for us there or point us towards the relevant line item in a University budget document.)

* Data from the University of Alberta’s “Data Book” for 2010-2011 prepared by the Strategic Analysis Office. http://www.ualberta.ca/~idosa/databook/

We have also heard talk about how rebates on the salaries of our senior administrators could save the Faculty from this crisis.

On a lighter note, there has been some talk of the kind of money that might be raised from a bake sale on the lawn of the President’s house (along with talk of how the money that the University paid for that house is almost the same dollar figure currently being demanded of the Faculty of Arts in the form of a cut to its operating budgets for this year and next).

We find that when we crunch even the most basic data, common sense tells us that the Dean and the President’s claims that all faculties are receiving the same budget cut (2%), and the Faculty of Arts is therefore being hurt no more than other Faculty at the University, cannot be right. Take 2% out of the bank account of a postal worker (for example) and the hurt to that person cannot possibly be the same as 2% taken from the pocket of a billionaire entrepreneur such as Daryl Katz. Sure, one number is the same, but others related to it are not. And one thing’s for sure: there is little correspondence in the effects.

What numbers and what facts do you believe are relevant to our situation? What statistics do you think we should be able to cite as we make our case to the Dean, Provost, President, and all Albertans about how important it is to fund the Faculty of Arts at their flagship research university? What data do you think is pertinent to our own “strategic analysis”? One statistic we’re particularly fond of: in just one of our departments, our staff collectively bring to our crucial daily operations 196 years of experience.

13 Responses to Facts & Numbers

  1. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    If it is true that the major cause of the current budgetary concerns is salary growth, it seems to me that layoffs cannot be a permanent solution. If both academic and non-academic staff have salary growth “locked in”, so to speak, because of collective bargaining agreements we simply are going to have to go through another round of layoffs down the road.

    Or, of course, accept salary freezes or rollbacks. A question I do have, however, is at what rate various kinds of costs are growing throughout the university. Presumably nowhere are things getting cheaper — from utility bills to construction costs to, ahem, central admin positions and salaries.

    Is there a way to identify where costs are growing fastest? If our new collective watchword is efficiency and transparency about “processes”, I’m all for it! Let’s see how that works all across the university, however. To state the obvious: “things are getting more rather than less expensive” is not to offer an explanation of why “non-academic staff in Arts have to go this year, and we’ll be looking at academic faculty in Arts next” is a good coping strategy.

  2. Carolyn Sale says:

    I’m glad somebody wants to talk about the issue of where costs are growing fastest, and whether or to what extent we can count on there being genuine transparency about “processes” across campus that would produce “efficiencies” everywhere (including, as you suggest, amongst our Central Administration).

    To know where costs are rising fastest, we’d have to review the budgets across a several-year period. How wonderful it would be if one or more of our economics professors would do that and present their perspective on the findings! But in my view, the most pressing issue that arises from President Samarasekera’s letter and the Dean’s statement about faculty salaries at the AdPRep forum is the characterization of faculty salaries as if they were an irremediable problem to the university’s financial bottom-line.

    The message from our Dean, Provost, and President is remarkably consistent in this: we are being told by all of them that faculty salaries present them with an intransigent problem that necessitates cuts elsewhere. This should be alarming not just to faculty members in our own beleaguered Faculty, but faculty across campus.

    It should be alarming in part because it works against the very task that is supposed to be so central to our senior administrators: securing funding for the university. The faculty along with the students are the core of the university, and defending what we are paid should be part and parcel of their work of securing funding for the university from the provincial government. Anytime they suggest that our salaries are a problem they shoot us in the collective foot.

    The problem here is not our salaries. The problem is that our Central Administration has not secured from the provincial government what faculty members across campus need not only to continue operating at their current levels, but to flourish.

    Our Central Administrators should be as good at securing for the faculty what they are so successful in securing for themselves. They do not (I assume) present their own salary and compensation packages as if they pose a problem to the university’s bottom-line. Why, then, should we accept it when they do this with our salaries, when we do the core work of the university, the work from which students and the culture more generally benefit? Every penny paid to the faculty (the “talented people” of the current academic plan) is an investment in the university.

    We must therefore band together to challenge the (corporate) logic behind any claim that implies that faculty salaries are a liability that somehow necessitates or rationalizes any form of austerity.

    Indeed, we need to challenge any characterization of what we are paid that suggests that we are anything than what we are: the university’s greatest asset. We are the researchers and teachers who do the core work of the university. There is no university without us.

    We need to treat these claims for what they are: evidence of the corporate logic to which the university is being subject. Everywhere this logic prevails it treats labourers — that’s us, in this scenario! — as if what they earn is a problem, when it is these labourers that produce the “goods” of the corporation. The problem that we need to address is, in short, a problem of global culture more generally, and if we, the most highly educated members of that culture, cannot address it, who can?

    I trust that faculty across campus will join us in this effort. As someone has written elsewhere, everyone across campus should recognize the Faculty of Arts for what it is at the moment: the canary in the coal mine.

  3. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    Carolyn — I couldn’t agree more with everything you have so eloquently said.

    Right now, though, it isn’t quite faculty that are the canary in the coal mine: it’s non-academic staff. I have found it quite humbling that the main voices of dissent in that process have been those of graduate students. Perhaps my impression is wrong, but my sense is that the people putting up flyers around campus about FacArts staff solidarity have been grad students.

    Certainly you have been a very vocal, as has Jeremy Richards over at Whither the U of A. But by and large the people most able to speak out — tenured faculty — have been silent. Even those faculty who have chosen to comment at Whither the U of A have done so, for the most part, anonymously or pseudonymously. It’s understandable that non-academic staff are hesitant to stick their heads out at a time when the central admin has made it clear it is looking to lop some off.

    I don’t know how calculating it is, but it seems to me that the central admin is beginning with a very vulnerable population: non-academic staff. They are already setting the stage for going after faculty next, as you point out.

    If we, as tenured faculty, don’t use the significant and important protections of tenure to speak on behalf of our more vulnerable colleagues, do we in fact deserve those same protections at which the admin (here and at other North American universities) are now taking aim?

    If the response of many of our colleagues continues to be keeping their own heads down — even offering to take more unpaid furloughs to boot — but not articulating any sort of vigorous defense of the basic work of the University which is created and sustained by the joint efforts of academic and non-academic staff, well, maybe the central administrators are right and we really are quite useless after all.

  4. Carolyn Sale says:

    The lack of faculty voices on the issue grieves me.

    It especially grieves me given what we as members of the Faculty of Arts are supposed to represent to the culture.

    I have heard quite a few excuses for why colleagues cannot or will not say anything publicly. Most of them don’t bear repeating.

    The most worrying shows how deeply a neoliberal logic runs through the University. The primary idea is that where one has any individual investment or role in the administration one can have no voice. One must just sit by and let things happen. One must not in any way construe either the institution of which one is a part, one’s role, or the issue itself as political, even though the lives and well-being of people are stake, along with forms of organization for the production of thought and knowledge.

    What is more worrying: so many colleagues don’t even offer a reason for why they cannot or will not speak up. Where those who are silent are particularly well positioned to speak up, either by the nature of their work or their authority within the Faculty, their silence is deafening.

    I am grateful, though, that a few colleagues wished to band together to create this website. They are the source of hope, as is anyone who takes the time to offer their ideas here. The Vice-Dean has written to those of us from English & Film Studies who wrote the December 10th letter to the Dean to inform us that the cuts are a fait accompli, and there will simply be a few weeks’ delay before the final decisions are made known; but even if it were true that nothing can be done to alter the situation this year, the fact remains that we are being threatened with the closing of programs and/or departments next year, along with the loss of faculty, and we must rally.

  5. Arts Squared says:

    At the Dean’s special meeting yesterday with the Department of English & Film Studies, a few questions arose in relation to numbers. A few numbers were also aired that make clear the character of the problem before us. We thought we’d share these here in the hope that others may have the answers that no one in the room could offer yesterday.

    One member of the department noted that two Faculties, Arts and Science, as the faculties with the greatest number of undergraduate students, provide the highest amount of dollars to the central coffers of the University. His question: how much of this comes back to these Faculties? Specifically, how much comes back to our Faculty? The question, really, is how much the fact that we are one of the Faculties upon whom the University crucially depends for the core activity of the University that brings in tuition dollars, teaching, factors into how the Central Administration funds us. The Dean told us that the situation is not a “transparent” one. Does anyone know how we can track this?

    The Dean was also asked if she could confirm what our ratio of support staff to faculty members is to that of other Faculties. One member of our department suggested that, given the vital role that our support staff play in furnishing services to undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty, we should also consider the ratio of support staff to students. Does anyone know what these ratios are?

    The Dean also noted that one of the items that may be struck from our operating budget is the annual investment of $70,000 in the publication Work of Arts. This is an award-winning publication that promotes the work that we do in the Faculty. In the last question that the Dean had the opportunity to take, one of our members asked why it is that we would choose to cut that item when we have already so clearly identified that promoting what we do in the Faculty is vital to achieving public support. The Dean said that “we must cut something.” The exchange suggested just how urgent it is that — if these cuts are to go forward — we start offering very specific advice about what gets cut and what does not. The Dean assured us that from this stage onwards faculty will be given ample opportunity to offer our input.

    The most important numbers that members of EFS did not get to ask for yesterday, as time was so limited: the costs/benefit analysis of how we are proceeding. As it stands, it remains entirely unclear what the costs are going to be for paying severance to staff who get laid off, or what the benefit could possibly be to the Faculty even from a strictly financial point of view. Department members were keen to emphasize — and the Dean agreed — that the process as it was proceeding was one that could not possibly cover all kinds of intangible costs and values (such as the loss of institutional knowledge, morale, and student and faculty support in departments that are currently run on very little with great efficiency). What can we do to get the various intangibles that should be factoring onto the table for discussion even at this late juncture for the first of the crises before us?

    The single most important number that we feel was offered in yesterday’s discussion: the Dean hopes to gain $1m towards the $1.5m that must be cut from next year’s budget through the closing of 7 “lines” with the retirement of 7 senior faculty members. As one member of the department noted, if this is to happen, we would be agreeing to attrition of faculty members and thus a retraction of the Faculty. Amongst other things, there is a contradiction here that we need to address: how can the Faculty continue to depend upon graduate students to fund its programs when it is in effect also agreeing for there to be fewer faculty positions available for these students? The larger question, of course, can we really permit this to happen?

    We cannot help but wonder how the closing of several faculty positions in the Faculty of Arts can be reconciled with the University’s larger ambitions. If is true, as it appears to be, that the best universities in the world are home also to the best Faculties of Arts in the world, and the University’s ambition is to be in the “Top 20” universities in the world by 2020, isn’t this the very time in which it needs to be investing in its Faculty of Arts, and growing it, rather than agreeing to its diminution? Or, to put it another way, if the Central Administration agrees at this time to a diminishing and retraction of the Faculty with the loss of faculty positions and fewer support staff to do the crucial work of running our departments, is it not taking a step that will bring about the continuing slide not only of its Faculty of Arts, which over the last six years has slipped almost 50 places in the world university rankings, and is now no longer in the top 100, but the University as a whole?

    UBC’s quite different story, which is one of steady increases in the status of its Faculty of Arts, which is now #15 in the world, and a corresponding rise for the institution as a whole, might be instructive. Can we not (as one of our members put it yesterday) be emulating “best practices” both internally and elsewhere rather than taking measures that will wreak long-term devastation for the Faculty, and a corresponding weakening of the University overall?

  6. Laurie Adkin says:

    All beautifully said, Carolyn.

  7. Ryan Dunch says:

    Regarding how Arts fits into the total financial picture of the University, it may not be transparent, but the information is available if people want to put some work into it. Go to http://www.ualberta.ca/~idosa/databook/. Look at or download the enrolment report and the financial report for the latest complete year (09-10). As the Provost has said, the revenue sources for the university operating budget are about 70% per capita grant, 20% tuition fees, and the remainder investment revenue and other. In 09-10 that amounted to $735 million, of which $529 million was from the per capita grant. The Arts expenditure in the same year was $72.5 million, which was 14.27 percent of the total expenditure on the faculties (508 million), or 13.7 percent of the total per capita grant revenue.
    Comparing that to the enrolment report, in 09-10 Arts enrolled 19.55 percent of total undergraduates and 12.1 percent of total graduate students, or 18.13 percent of students overall. Note that this statistic is based on degree program not course registrations, and therefore it understates the importance of Arts to the teaching function of the university, because many other degree programs in effect count on the ability of their students to register in Arts courses (an ability that is not always reciprocated).
    Now, I am sure there are complicating elements to this picture, and more factors that need to be considered to derive a fuller perspective on how the finances operate. Nevertheless, fundamentally, and considering only the per capita grant juxtaposed with Arts’ share of the total expenditure on the Faculties (i.e. leaving out central and other budget and expenditure elements), Arts brings in 18 percent of per capita grant revenue and receives about 14 percent back. If, hypothetically speaking, Faculty budgets were directly proportional to per capita grants based on enrolment, well, 18 percent of 508 million is 91.44 million. Presumably Arts accounts for about 15% of tuition revenue also (professional degrees cost more than Arts, but offsetting that is that Arts brings in a high proportion of international differential fees).
    What to do about it is another matter. First, inform ourselves — don’t leave it to other people. Second, ask questions — we are all researchers and know how to do this. Build a case with evidence. Third, we need to advocate for the importance of the Arts, to the public, to government, and within the university: three different but overlapping audiences, all important. Personally I do not think arguments based on entitlement or protecting the status quo are likely to carry weight — but what will? Pragmatic ones?
    The university is still officially committed to the “balanced academy” (see the Institutional Access Plan, Dec. 2009), but there are elements within the university that oppose that concept, and my provisional interpretation of the present situation is that we are in effect seeing a move away from it under the guise of distributing cuts equally across the faculties (I would be delighted to be proven wrong on this, however!).
    Given the possibility raised above that Work of Arts might go, how can we channel the expertise and interest generated by the current crisis toward creating effective venues and vehicles for grassroots advocacy toward all three audiences from Arts faculty members? I hope that the people who have shown their expertise and creativity in running blogs and using social media will take up that challenge. Carolyn’s comparative comments of UBC is a good example of the sorts of questions we need to be raising, I think.

  8. Carolyn Sale says:

    Thank you, Ryan, for that immensely helpful post. I had looked at the databook for the undergraduate enrolment figures. I had not, however, looked for the figures that get us at least part way to answer the question that one of my colleagues asked at the Dean’s meeting with the Department of English & Film Studies last Thursday.

    If we follow your provisional analysis, we would have to say that (for our sample year, which may not differ much from this one), about $19 million dollars that should have come to the Faculty of Arts, if we were receiving a percentage of funds for our operating budget that equates with what we bring in with our teaching, went elsewhere. Where did those funds go, and why didn’t they come to us? What explanation can the Provost offer us for this discrepancy? We won’t have access to the figures for this year for another year and half, but your analysis certainly raises a general question: By what criteria are funds distributed out of the central coffers by the Central Administration if they are not distributed according to the common-sense, patently equitable rationale that each Faculty should receive for its operating funds a percentage equivalent to what it brings in with the core activity of its teaching?

    We would then have to ask: is it possible that the “structural deficit” we are accused of having is the result of the Faculty not receiving, year after year after year, operating funds commensurate with what it generates in revenue with its teaching?

    Finally, should we also crunch the numbers for our salaries versus the salaries of faculty members in other Faculties? I ask because we have now heard several statements in relation to these crises in which our salaries are presented as the problem or the irremediable “sad fact” of the operating budget. Could we compare what we are paid (for example) relative to what we bring in with our teaching compared to this ratio for other Faculties, where the average salaries for Faculty members are significantly higher? Would this help us?

  9. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    Some very quick thoughts — many thanks, Ryan, for those back-of-the-envelope calculations (are any econ profs checking out this site? we’d could use you!) and Carolyn for your usual eloquence.

    (1) There may be good reasons the University doesn’t use an “eat what you kill” formula for allocating tuition money to different Faculties, but I agree it would be interesting to know what those reasons look like.

    (2) I don’t really want to build an argument around Arts faculty salaries vs. Science faculty salaries (for example). If somebody who might figure out a cure for diabetes makes more money than I do, that’s okay with me.

    (3) The more I think about it the madder I get, however, that some central admin salaries are SO high yet when there is a budget crisis the people who “must go” are non-academic support staff making quite modest salaries. I can imagine value-for-money arguments for some kinds of faculty salary differentials; I cannot imagine a plausible reason that some kinds of institutional administrative work are worth ten times what other kinds of institutional administrative work are worth. One doesn’t see that kind of disparity in *any* kind of faculty salary differential, even under circumstances in which the average person on the street might say, sure, the cancer researcher should make more than the medievalist. It’s not like all the cancer researchers are making 400k while all the medievalists are making 40k. But the differences are that stark for certain kinds of admin — why? What is the TREMENDOUS value gotten for that kind of money?

  10. Ryan Dunch says:

    Further to my comments yesterday about getting informed, anyone wishing to get a better understanding about how the university works can look at the materials and links connected with the “Academic Leadership Development Program” at the University, aka “Chairs’ School.” Especially the program brochure and the “key university documents.” This is all public information, naturally. See http://www.academicleadership.ualberta.ca/. Some links are out of date, but the university search engine works well to locate things.

  11. Laurie Adkin says:

    According to the March 2011 Comprehensive Institutional Plan (http://www.governance.ualberta.ca/BoardofGovernors/Board/BoardofGovernorsApprovedMotion/~/media/University%20of%20Alberta/Administration/Office%20of%20the%20Vice-Provost/Governance/Documents/GO03/BOA/10-11/MR-18/Action/Final-Approved-Motions.pdf):

    45 % of the university’s consolidated budget revenue comes from the provincial government, and 15 % from student tuition fees. But provincial revenue accounts for 64 per cent of operating revenue (which covers salaries), and student fees another 27 %.

  12. Laurie Adkin says:

    I have asked the AASUA Executive to obtain the following budgetary information for the Arts Faculty from the Board of Governors. A precondition of democratic governance is full and transparent information, available to all those with a stake in the outcome of decisions. Communities who do not feel that they have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the options available cannot be expected to simply consent to the decisions made in the name of necessity.

    The university has research ethics boards to ensure that the (human) subjects of research are given the information they need to provide “informed consent” to the research in which they participate. Perhaps we need an “administrative ethics board” to ensure that the subjects of administrative decision-making also have the conditions they need to provide “informed consent.”


    Budgetary Information needed:

    (1) Process/governance

     What are the criteria used by Central Administration to disperse revenue among the Faculties and Schools of the University of Alberta? That is, what criteria are used to determine the annual total budget allocation for each Faculty or School?
     Who determines what criteria are used for the allocation of the university’s provincial government revenue among Faculties and Schools of the university? What is the process leading up to the determination of these criteria?
     How is it decided what percentage budget cut will be borne by each faculty or school of the university as a result of a general university deficit?
     On what criteria does the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research allocate its funding for graduate student support among the faculties and schools of the university?

    (2) Statistical/empirical

     When people say that the Faculty of Arts has a “structural deficit,” what precisely does this refer to, and when did this deficit arise? What are the continuing operating expenses that the Faculty’s current budget allocation is not able to pay for?
     Assuming that the “structural deficit” of the Faculty of Arts has been incurred due to necessary or reasonable reasons (for the fulfillment of commitments despite changing circumstances over which the Dean had no control, or for the continued functioning of programs), why has it not been possible to increase the Faculty’s share of university revenue accordingly?
     Is any other Faculty at the university also in a situation of “structural deficit”?
     According to budget estimates in the March 2011 Comprehensive Institutional Plan, the operating budget deficit projected for 2011-12 was $4.9 million. What share of that has Arts been asked to find?
     Since 2008, what budget cuts have been implemented by each faculty or school of the university?
     How many professors are there in each Faculty or School of the University, and how many are there in each rank?
     What is the ratio of teaching faculty (tenured and tenure-track) to undergraduate students in each faculty or school of the university? What is the ratio of teaching faculty to graduate students enrolled in each faculty or school? Ditto for the non-academic staff: student ratios.
     What is the average academic salary in each Faculty or School, including market supplements?
     Across faculties and schools of the university, and including the Central Administration, since 2000, what are the annual percentage figures for changes in expenditures and revenues? What categories are these broken down into? (e.g., for expenditures: academic salaries covered by the contract with the AASUA, market supplements, NASA salaries, supplies and equipment, and for revenues: share of provincial grant to the university, student tuition fees, private donations, etc.)

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