A friend of mine, who has been a president for a long time once told me, "It's easy to be a president when you have lots of money to give out."
Obviously, that's not the case for most university presidents today, especially presidents of public universities. States have sharply reduced appropriations. Endowments plummeted. And, tax revenues are still falling. The next biennium will make things worse, as states that shored up budgets with stimulus dollars will see those monies disappear, leaving a huge hole in base appropriations. Higher education will be hit hard in most states.
Most public universities, including the University of Houston-Downtown, have instituted some form of hiring freeze. Many have instituted furloughs and have reduced or eliminated non-essential travel. Others are undergoing drastic cuts, eliminating programs or even departments. Some state universities have already been forced to layoff staff and adjuncts. Now, some are laying off tenured faculty.
At UHD we are still going through our budget process. Believe it or not, this past month we actually made a very tough decision, but one that I think will strengthen the university. We will be hiring additional tenure track faculty because of our rapid growth. But, we also decided to reduce the faculty teaching load during a time of budget reductions. In doing so, we are investing in our future.
Two years ago the Academic Senate voted to reduce the teaching load from 4-4 to 4-3, with the desire to eventually move to a 3-3 teaching load, as we grow graduate programs and research. A 4/4 teaching load means that faculty teach 4 courses in the fall semester and four courses in the spring semester. A 4/3 means that in one semester the faculty member teaches 4 courses, in the next he or she teaches 3. Most of UHD's peer institutions in the region are already on a 3/3 or 4/3 teaching load.
When I arrived as president, I was surprised to learn of the new policy and its pending implementation. A few people urged me to postpone the move for an additional year or, at least, to consider phasing it in. Instead, we decided to authorize faculty hires to prepare for the transition to 4/3. We were making plans to fully implement the policy when the Governor notified us of a 5% rescission for this current fiscal year and for next.
After meeting with the Faculty Senate and talking with faculty, I realized that the policy was very important to them. Workload is not the same thing as teaching load. Faculty may teach 4 classes, each of which meets 3 hours per week, but that doesn't mean that they only work 12 hours per week. In fact, according to several workload studies, faculty throughout the country tend to work between 60 and 70 hours per week.
Faculty advise students on their major, career paths, and graduate school. They serve on committees (such as budget, personnel, curriculum, and assessment). They conduct research, develop service-learning and civic engagements projects, develop new courses and new degrees, apply for grants (which are complicated, cumbersome, and often rejected despite all the work), publish articles and books, attend professional conferences where they present their research, and, of course, prepare and update their courses. New technologies also pose challenges, as faculty must learn new software or tools.
By moving from a 4-4 teaching load to a 4-3 teaching load, we affirmed that our faculty need to have time to pursue their research and other professional activities. Moreover, we recognize that faculty do not fit in one mold. Some, because of their disciplines or professional interests, are involved in creative activities, such as developing a jazz or dance performance or writing a play. Others are interested in exploring new applications of their research. Still others are working with schools or nonprofits, applying their research to help improve student achievement in K-12 or to address social problems within Houston.
So, despite a 5% reduction for this year and next, we are moving forward with a reduction in teaching load. Even so, faculty are making adjustments. We will hire new faculty, but probably not as many full-time tenure track positions as we would like. We are reducing the number of low-enrolled courses, increasing class sizes (where appropriate and consistent with learning outcomes), and faculty will be asked to teach more online courses and to develop online and graduate degrees.
As I explained in a previous post, I have appointed an Efficiencies and Budget Reduction Task Force to review our budget and procedures. The Task Force will make recommendations on cost savings and revenue generation. As an institution, UHD will make additional adjustments in the next few years to find efficiencies and to reduce base budget costs, while freeing up monies for strategic initiatives.
We will also move forward to implement programs that will better recruit, retain, and graduate our students. So, we will hire new staff, particularly advisers, recruiters, and other staff working in programs dedicated to student success. We will invest in areas that grow resources, such as research and development. We will expand distance education with a new learning center and with online courses and degrees.
As we further develop our vision and strategic plan with our planning process, we will invest in key areas that will bring distinction to the university. I am confident that even tough times, together we will make smart decisions--decisions that will make us stronger, more efficient, and better at our prime mission, helping students to succeed. As the budget process continues, I will describe our decisions. I believe we are on the right path and will grow stronger through the process.