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Every Dean has a program within his or her college that has low enrollment. Let’s say in this case a Masters in School Library Science, with 5 students. Let me take you into a meeting of faculty and the department head to discuss the issue.

Now, it doesn’t take much “figuring” (which is what you call analysis using the “by the seat of the pants” method) to conclude that the program “costs money to the university.” Very often the person realizing this will also say, “but the Masters in Library Science (another related degree) enjoys a rich enrollment and is a ‘cash cow’ for the university. And that’s true.

Another person will point out that both programs “use some to the same faculty” and this would be correct; and another person would say, “besides, all the faculty members are tenured, what are we going to do with them if we close the program?” That would also be correct.  That ends the meeting; we all go to our respective cubbyholes certain in the knowledge that we have “solved” that problem.

This example illustrates one of the main reasons why TUs have to raise tuition and fees, not because faculty salaries have escalated dramatically (we get paid less of a percentage of the income every year) a very important reason is that thousands of programs in TU’s around the world are in the same situation as our Masters of School Library, they have become the opposite of “cash cow”, which would be something like a “bleeding cow” and we are not equipped, prepared or ready to do something about it.

Who cares about such things as “operating costs” at a TU?  Everyone should, beginning with the Department Head for that program, but also the program faculty which –unless they are aware of the relationship between having students and getting to keep their jobs— do not care. That’s not their job.

Part of the problem is the background of CEOs of Colleges and Universities. If you were hired as a Dean you were hired to “lead” the College, not to manage it. The Vice President may expect you to control your budget and touch all the administrative bases, but that’s not management it is called administration.

Deans are for the most part, celebrated faculty with minimal operating experience or sometimes, they are bureaucrats who have risen through the ranks and are now ridding the administrative escalator. The first type is clueless about what to do with a “bleeding cow”, while the second type knows only too well the trouble one can get into when trying to close a program. There’s a third type, a celebrated faculty who also knows how to manage the enterprise. I like to call them “the rare birds”, (a select breed).  They know how to ask for the appropriate information and if they do not receive it, they hire somebody to cobble together their own report and they use it. This is fine as far as personal operating data is concerned, but because they are your own estimates, the university does not take them seriously and very often question your assumptions. It is definitely not a decision-making tool.

TUs know something about how their costs and income go, college-wide and university wide, but at the program level, the basic operating unit it all gets papered over by political considerations. After all, if we know the data and it s not good, we’ll have to do something about it.

Next post: Round Five in the accreditation wars

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