Saturday, November 20, 2010

One (More) Reason Unions Matter to Professors

Inside Higher Ed reports that an arbitrator has ruled that Florida State University fired twelve tenured professors in violation of its contract with the faculty union, and ordered these jobs reinstated. In response the university also reinstated nine non-union tenured professors. This, of course, speaks to the importance of unions, and also tenure. The arbitrator's decision-making process should be of some interest, especially by those of us who have made such arguments:
Further, the arbitrator touches on an issue that has angered many faculty members in traditional liberal arts departments in this era of budget cuts: the idea that their departments are somehow evaluated as less financially viable than others that attract outside grants. The arbitrator uses anthropology -- the target of cuts at Florida State -- to challenge this thinking by noting, as many faculty members have, that its tuition revenue makes it financially strong (running a surplus in fact).

The finding compares anthropology (subject to deep cuts) with meteorology (which was protected), applying the administration's stated goal of focusing on departments with high costs. Anthropology's cost per degree awarded is $33,343, compared to more than $50,000 per meteorology degree. And anthropology's net tuition earned exceeds that of 14 of the 17 departments in arts and sciences at the university. "It made no sense to eliminate anthropology from a budget standpoint," the arbitrator writes.
While I don't think that financial calculations should be at the forefront of reasons as to why humanities departments should not be cut, we shouldn't take that reason off the table. If the numbers lean in favor of such departments we should use them in order to shift the debate to ideological terrain: universities are going after the humanities because they (in better situations) engage students and challenge them to think critically about their place in society or within the university (so many of which are rapidly transforming into glorified business and tech schools).

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