Monday, March 29, 2010

Cross-subsidies and the humanities

An excellent article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed that dispels the myth that the humanities are a drain on universities.

A few choice tidbits:
"If you count what patients pay for treatment as income earned by a medical center, but do not count what students pay for literature courses as income earned by the humanities department, the hospital will surely look like a much smarter business. You might therefore appoint those productive health-care administrators to a death panel (called a university-wide planning committee) on lost causes like the English major."

"But, according to spreadsheet calculations done at my request by Reem Hanna-Harwell, assistant dean of the humanities at the University of California at Los Angeles, based on the latest annual student-credit hours, fee levels, and total general-fund expenditures, the humanities there generate over $59-million in student fees, while spending only $53.5-million (unlike the physical sciences, which came up several million dollars short in that category). The entire teaching staff of Writing Programs, which is absolutely essential to UCLA's educational mission, has been sent firing notices, even though the spreadsheet shows that program generating $4.3-million dollars in fee revenue, at a cost of only $2.4-million."

"Of the 21 units at the University of Washington, the humanities and, to a lesser degree, the social sciences are the only ones that generate more tuition income than 100 percent of their total expenditure."

"Because [this] evidence runs up against the widespread myth that other units and departments subsidize the humanities, and up against such well-entrenched forces within the university, it is regularly ignored or even suppressed. In the 1990s, UCLA invested huge amounts of money setting up Responsibility Centered Management, an accounting system eventually used at many universities to evaluate all the real costs of different units and the revenue they actually produce. The goal was to make budgeting fair and transparent. However, according to administrators then prominently involved in the process, when the initial run of those intricate spreadsheets showed that the College of Letters and Science was the most efficient user and producer of money, and the health sciences were far less efficient, RCM was abandoned. I have no illusions that the businesspeople and University of California medical executives who evidently have President Yudof's ear will be more receptive to that inconvenient truth today than they were then."

"Even though scientists bring in research money, research grants never pay for their full costs, so they actually erode resources from the general instructional program. And cutting budgets further in the courses that are already the lowest cost is nutty."

"But when a university's own leaders begin talking about higher education as if it were just another business rather than a great collective legacy, by making English professors the scapegoat for hundreds of millions of dollars in operating deficit, they need to hear some other voices. The assumption that the humanities are a vestigial parasite within an otherwise self-sufficient institutional body is dangerously wrong."

If the above link no longer lets you view the whole article without paying, then try this link:

1 comment:

  1. It is a critical point to understand that the research grants that the U gets do NOT cover the cost of the research that is done. We have been told by our administration - in the past - that the justification for new buildings is the money that the inhabitants will be bringing in.

    Such justifications are simply untrue.

    And this is not a new discovery. For some posts about this situation that are years old, please see

    April 25, 2007

    (Trees do not grow to the sky, why the state should not fund new biomedical research buildings)


    May 1, 2007

    If You Build It, Grants Will Come?
    Or, Could Someone at BigU Please Be Honest and Responsible About Expansion of Biomedical Research?