Anything Be Done?
It's Up to You!
By KEN ANDERSEN
Midterms are graded and we are getting ready for the end of the
term, and the holidays. The spring term will be on us before we
know it. Maybe it is time to think about our new year’s
resolutions. After all, faculty are often described as taking
too much time and engaging in too much deliberation before they
make a decision, if they do.
We could focus on national/international issues. The nation is
worried according to the opinion polls. But let us focus on Illinois
as our state offers much to contemplate for those of us concerned
about the role of higher education in shaping the state and nation’s
future. As former American Education Council President Stanley
Ikenberry pointed out at the October 18 meeting of the IBHE, we
have done a great job of convincing the public of the great value
of an education for the individual. But, we have done a terrible
job of convincing the public of the great societal contribution
of higher education in its contributions economic, medical, civic,
aesthetic and to the overall quality of life attainable in this
country. He issued an urgent call for the IBHE to speak on behalf
of the needs of higher education.
Last year the Governor and the legislature refused to address
the structural deficit that exists in the state’s budget.
They had that opportunity in SB/HB 750 and chose not to do so.
They piled greater debt on our students, our children, and our
younger colleagues to handle in the future. They not only underfunded
the state pension systems but also agreed to do so again next
year. No use having that fight in the legislature when everyone
wants to get home—adjournment date is set at April 7—
to run for reelection or find an alternative to serving as a legislator.
Illinois pension woes attracted attention this fall in major articles
in Time and the New York Times Magazine. The underfunded pensions
will be an increasing drain on the financing of higher education
for many years to come limiting student financial aid, needed
building maintenance and new facilities, and support of public
colleges. This affects private schools, albeit differently than
public colleges. Nor will the funds required to improve elementary
and secondary education be there.
The underfunding threatens access to Illinois higher education
now that a college education is as essential as a high school
diploma used to be. Public universities are moving toward a high
tuition, high financial aid model. Yet Congress is preparing to
cut back on student aid and Illinois has yet to recover from MAP
cuts. Reallocation of tuition money for needy students is unlikely
to meet the need while it may provoke a negative reaction from
many parents and students leading to more legislative efforts
to cap tuition increases. Institutions correctly say aid is available
but the high tuition rates inevitably discourage many students
from even considering college. Many families have learned from
bitter experience to fear debt and some need whatever income the
prospective student can earn.
Have you looked at tuition and fees at your institution recently?
(My tuition and fees as an undergraduate were $100 a year and
$110 a semester on my doctorate.) The 2005-06 undergraduate tuition
and fees reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education are startling:
Bradley $18,630; Chicago State $6,625; Columbia (Chicago) $15,998;
DePaul $21,100; DeVry $12,160; Illinois College $15,400; IIT $22,982;
Illinois Wesleyan $27,624; Loyola $24,612; National Louis $16,935;
Northwestern $31,789; Quincy $18,330; Roosevelt $14,430 (a reduction
from the previous year by $2,000); SIU-C $6,831; Chicago $32,265;
UIC $8,302; UIS $5,375; UIUC $8,688, Wheaton $21,100. Most community
colleges fall in a range from $1,800 to $2,300. These figures
do not include other costs such as textbooks and materials, a
major concern of students, food and housing and personal expenses.
While tuition and fees at public institutions are still sharply
lower than at private schools, particularly the more prestigious
ones, they have risen sharply in recent years and the public four-year
institutions are being pressured/forced to adopt a high tuition-high
aid model by the decline in state support. With the emphasis on
higher education as a private good, many believe public institutions
should set tuition at whatever level the market will bear. This
will effectively close the doors to many students and fracture
the American dream.
It is not that faculty are overpaid. IBHE reports that median
faculty salaries at the four-year publics are at 93.5% of peer
institutions and our benefits packages lag as well. Community
college salaries fare better in salary comparisons but there is
a running dispute about the comparison base. Independent college
and universities exceed those of their peer groups on the average
but actual salaries vary dramatically from institution to institution.
(For much greater detail, see the AAUP Academe data of last spring
or the IBHE report of its October 18 meeting available online.)
What can we do? One of the governor’s aides told me last
year, “No one fears an angry faculty,” and “No
one will support a tax increase to pay for pensions.” But
the reality is the tax increase is needed to support education
among other state needs. And yes, we need to resolve the problems
caused by past and continued disastrous decisions to underfund
the pension systems. That burden grows every year. One estimate
is the shortfall is equal to two years of the state budget.
What can an individual do? Maybe the recent national accolades
for Rosa Parks tell us something. First, individuals can make
a difference. Perhaps even more important, they remind us of the
importance of narratives, of telling a story that captures attention
and motivates change. The current emphasis on getting control
of the “story” and “framing” by both the
administration and the opposition suggests the importance of controlling
What does all of this suggest about our New Year’s resolutions?
• We will tell the story of the impact on our students,
our institutions, and ultimately the citizens of Illinois of the
cuts imposed on higher education. Every institution, private or
public, has been negatively impacted. Unless the pattern of declining
state support for higher education is reversed, the state faces
a significantly darker future. We are destroying the seed corn
needed for tomorrow’s growth. We need to tell the story
to friends, neighbors, legislators. It is not for our personal
benefit that they need to support higher education, it is for
the public good as well as their personal advantage for the long
term. Surely we know something about the value of investing for
the future and the value of compounding.
• We will recognize and respond to the realities of the
political climate. Little will be done during the spring legislative
session to deal with the substantial financial issues that Illinois
faces. But, substantial risks and opportunities will come with
the fall 2006 veto session after the election. Now is the time
for us to establish contact with legislators if we are to have
any impact during that veto session. It is too late then. Yes,
most legislators will be reelected given the ability to carve
out safe political districts for incumbents. But don’t overlook
those not reelected for they have greater freedom to vote their
conscience. Don‘t overlook the power of the lame duck.
• We will be active in shared governance on our campus and
across the state. Fewer and fewer faculty are active in the shared
governance process. We need to reinvent some elements of the process
to ensure faculty have a meaningful voice and have ownership of
change. If not actively engaged in shared governance activity
we should be monitoring their activity and expressing appreciation
to those who are actively engaged. Meaningful faculty participation
in institutional governance is at greater risk now than it has
been since tenure became a reality for most faculty. The role
and responsibilities of the faculty are being redefined—too
often without faculty participation in that process.
Two years ago the National Communication Association gave me the
honor of addressing our national convention on the topic “Recovering
the Civic Culture.” I argued that we have been seeing a
well-documented loss of participation in the civic communal activities
nationally and locally in voting, in civic groups such as the
Rotary and the PTA, and in our own universities, colleges, and
departments. In part, the decline in shared governance is because
we have stopped participating in governance activity. We have
voted with our feet and our allocation of time and commitment.
I conclude as I did then with a citation by Molly Ivins. Although
focused on politics, her words apply to every domain where we
have need of a vibrant civic culture—our institutions are
certainly one such place. “In this country, we have the
most extraordinary luck—we are the heirs to the greatest
political legacy any people have every received. Our government
is not them, our government is us.. . . It’s our government,
we can make it do what we want it to when we put in the energy
it takes to work with other people, organize, campaign, and vote—we
can still make the whole clumsy money-driven system work for us.
And it’s high time we did so.”(Molly Ivins, “Offering
up a host of examples identifying Bush’s many problems,”
Chicago Tribune, September 18, 2003.)
is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, University of Illinois