The Shared Services crisis….

I first heard about this issue about a week ago mainly because of my alumni connection to the University of Michigan. Turns out the issue is happening at UT Austin also. The Chronicle has the story here.

The macro picture is that public universities are looking for every last cent in efficiencies as they struggle to find a sustainable business model for the future. The big picture is described pretty accurately with regards to Berkeley here, hat tip to Tyler Cowen.

A new decade and the fifth year of this blog

First, a happy Twenty Ten to all of the loyal readers of this blog, now in it’s fifth year. My hope for all of us is that this new decade brings forth some really excellent science–science that perhaps can be usefully applied to our planet’s many vexing problems.

A New Year’s thought: I’m often struck by how often the pundits assume either constancy or linearity to trends, neither of which is really captures the richness of the complex adaptive system within which we all live out our lives (Even Moore’s Law may be a casualty of either the current physical limitations of integrated circuit construction or perhaps quantum computing). Of course, a Kurzweilian Singularity could easily be bad for us, just as well as good. So there we have it. But, as Andrew Sullivan often says “know hope”.

I also bring to your attention, a very interesting piece in the latest New Yorker by Tad Friend on the on-going crisis of funding public research universities as exemplified of course, by Berkeley. It’s behind the firewall, but an abstract can be found here. The point is that state funding for many publics is in the tank and the result is an attempt to retain academic excellence through other means–at Berkeley by raising student fees. The money quote from the piece is:

Dr. Harry Powell, the U.C. faculty’s chief liaison to the Regents, said, “The legislators have told us, essentially, ‘The Student is your A.T.M. They’re how you should balance your budget.’ “

Public to private…

The Chronicle’s Paul Fain has a brilliant analysis of what’s happening to the large public universities here (hat tip my wife).

Best part of the article for me was about Ann Arbor in the early 1980’s when President Harold Shapiro (later Princeton’s President) made some very tough but intelligent decisions about how to restructure Michigan’s budget to be less dependent on state funding. I was there.

The agonies of the academy

Andrew Delbanco in the NY Review of books–money quote:

In short, the financial crisis not only is threatening the livelihood of faculty and staff but is also degrading the experience of students. And despite the big hit on the big endowments, the further you go down the hierarchy of prestige, the worse the effects. For instance, the chancellor of the Connecticut community college system recently informed faculty that the first phase of the governor’s proposed budget cuts would require limiting student enrollment, reducing service in libraries and laboratories, and cutting back on the availability of advising, remedial tutoring, and childcare. On the West Coast, things are no better: San Jose State University has been forced by budget reductions to turn away thousands of qualified applicants for the first time in its hundred-year history.[9]

For years, we have witnessed a growing gap between rich and poor colleges, the privatization of public universities, and aggressive if not reckless investment and spending practices at wealthy institutions, where the allure of gain appears to have overwhelmed the consciousness of risk. Now we are also witnessing drastic budget contraction at the most fragile and vulnerable institutions. Higher education has always been a mirror of American society—and, for the moment, at least, the image it reflects is not a pretty one.