The Legislature and the Budget
On September 10, the Legislative Budget Commission will meet alongside legislative committees gearing up for the special session on what to do about a billion-dollar-plus hole in the budget. That’s perhaps 2 % of the budget, but with commitments and technicalities restricting the Legislature’s options, Dame Rumor is suggesting a 4 % cut in General Revenue funding, which could cost the State University System (SUS) about a hundred million dollars.
The United Faculty of Florida and its affiliate, the Florida Education Association (which represents teachers at all levels throughout the state) are lobbying legislators to try to protect education funding as much as possible. The legislature is very averse to tax reform, so the most likely outcome is to move allocations around, and the UFF and the FEA are seeking the optimal allocation.
1. One proposal – supported by many students – has been to raise tuition, but for a variety of reasons, there is relatively little money to be gained with a tuition hike this year, so there is not much interest in this option this time around.
2. The UFF, the FEA, and a number of others have observed the coincidence that the SUS’s cut is approximately the same as the current allocation for new initiatives; perhaps some initiatives could be postponed and the funds used to protect current programs. We have sounded out this position and some legislators appear sympathetic to the argument.
3. And there’s the Budget Stabilization Fund, i.e., the rainy day fund. The FEA is suggesting that an economic downturn counts as a rainy day, and perhaps some of the money could be released.
This is only some of what was going on in Tallahassee. According to a recent report in the St. Petersburg Times (print edition), the Florida senate was inclined towards a broad distribution of cuts while the Florida house was inclined towards deep cuts in a few targeted areas (while Governor Crist was inclined towards protecting education, human services and public safety – about two thirds of the budget); on Wednesday, Senate President Ken Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio announced that the special session informally scheduled for September 18 was canceled because the lack of a necessary consensus for what action to take (the Tampa Tribune
posted their letter). No later date was announced, but with over a billion in red ink en route, it is likely that the legislature leadership is using the time (and the uncertainty over the amount of time) to press for the necessary consensus over what to do: the Times remarked that "Canceling the session also gives advocates for threatened programs more time to plead their cases," i.e., the lobbying and planning will continue.
Sherman Dorn, President of the USF Chapter of the UFF, advised the chapter that "The legislature has a choice of whether to cut new programs that have no students yet and no employees yet, or to cut existing programs that have students currently enrolled and faculty and other employees who have been at USF for years. The rainy-day fund should be tapped, and the existing university programs should be preserved even if that means that new initiatives are delayed or dramatically curtailed." He expressed concern about the relative silence of the system's senior executives and board members on what to do about the cuts – with the exception of the letter by FSU Provost Larry Abele (see below) – and wrote, "I see danger when the system's leaders are silent on a matter that can irreparably harm the universities. So we must speak up." See President Dorn's full letter is posted at
our off-campus site.
Legislators take constituent feedback very seriously, at least if they want to stay in office, and contacting legislators is relatively straightforward. First of all, it is illegal to use state office equipment to lobby legislators, so one must use one's own cell or home phone or home computer. State senators are listed at
the senate page and representatives at
the house page. It is usually best to distill a short a clear message: it should concern a single subject, focusing on what the legislator should or should not do, and the phone call should last no more than a minute. Phone messages are taken by staffers (either live or by playing recordings), and short, clear messages worded in advance are more likely to be accurately noted. The same need for brevity is true for e-mail messages, which should probably be no more than 200 words.
In the long term, the SUS's rather problematic finances need to be shored up. This crisis should not be something we think about instead of thinking about the long-term problem: this crisis is a symptom of the long-term problem, and there is no better time to think about the long-term than during a crisis which may determine the future of the system for many years to come.
A Letter from FSU Provost Larry Abele
On July 28, FSU Provost Larry Abele circulated to SUS presidents, provosts, and others, a letter that he had sent to the Board of Governors about the budget crisis.
Dear Members of the Board of Governors,
It is clear that our universities face real challenges in the weeks and months ahead and I want to thank you for all the work you have already put into getting through the revenue shortfall and to extend an offer to help in any way I can.
Along those lines, I have developed some principles and recommendations that, in full or in part, may be use of some use in your deliberations. They are prompted by an observation recently made to me by one of our alumni. The simultaneous arrival of directions to cut budgets along with proposed guidelines to distribute $100M for Centers of Excellence struck her as somewhat odd. Specifically, she asked, how can we reduce services to students while spending funds that do not directly serve the vast majority of our students? She was referring to the proposal to distribute $100 million in non-recurring funds for Centers of Excellence. A veteran of budget reductions here in Tallahassee, she asked how we could award non-recurring funds to programs that will require the expenditure of recurring funds in order to be successful when, at the same time, we are asked to cut recurring funds from our budgets?
Her questions are not dissimilar to those others have been asking. I had hoped that these issues would be discussed at the last BOG meeting but since they were not I feel compelled to make one last argument for open discussion. Therefore, I suggest that the BOG consider the principles and recommendations below as we deal with shrinking state revenues.
First Principle. The SUS, as its first priority, will serve its currently enrolled students exceeding some 280,000 along with the 60,000 plus who have been accepted for the fall 2007. This does not mean that other issues, such as economic development or public service, are not important but that they are secondary to the needs of our students.
Second Principle. The SUS and its universities will continue to maintain strict financial accountability for its operations and deal with the many ramifications of budget reductions and existing contractual obligations in a timely and expeditious manner.
Third Principle. The SUS will abide by the reduction priorities outlined in Chapter 216, Florida Statutes. This will entail following two state mandates. The first was outlined in a recent communication to the BOG. On June 29, 2007 a joint letter from the Governor, Senate President and Speaker of the House directed universities, among other state entities, to anticipate a minimum budget reduction of 4% during fiscal years 2007-08 and 2008-09 in recurring General Revenue Fund appropriations. This is the minimum reduction that will occur as quarterly releases are reduced from 25 to 24%.
Some recommendations would seem to flow from these principles.
Recommendation I. We must maintain our credibility by focusing on our First Principle and therefore In order to meet the mandated reduction of 4% for the fiscal year 2007-08 and deal with existing contractual obligations in accord with the Second Principle, the BOG will suspend all or some portion the $100M for Centers of Excellence along with a portion of funds from HB 83 (Venture Capital Program) in order to build into the SUS the most orderly possible means of accommodating reductions. This means that a portion of the SUS recurring reduction will have to be addressed in FY 2008-2009,
Recommendation II. All funds for new programs not directly serving students should be reduced to meet the 10% reduction for the fiscal year 2007-08. The BOG should make every effort to include the $80M allocated to the University of Miami as part of this reduction in keeping with the Third Principle.
Recommendation III. Each university will identify and initiate changes, on a timely basis, to make the recurring fund reductions that will be needed to replace the non-recurring funds listed in I and II above. The value here is that each university will have a full year to identify the sources of the recurring funds while still being able to serve current students.
Recommendation IV. The same First Principle and approaches listed above will be used to develop the reduction plans for 2008-09. Programs that do not directly serve students will be reduced first and then limit enrollment of students to those fully funded by the legislature for the fall 2008 class.
Recommendation V. The BOG should work with the Community College and Public School systems to ensure that each education delivery system receives only its proportionate share of the overall state reduction in recurring general revenue.
Thank you for your consideration, Larry
Lawrence G. Abele
Provost and Executive Vice President
The Florida State University
In the Aftermath of Virginia Tech
Last April 16, a student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University killed 32 people with a pair of guns within a few hours, the deadliest mass shooting by a single person in U.S. history. Within days, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine commissioned a study of the events, which was released in late August (and
available on-line). Across the country, academic institutions are taking their security plans out of their filing cabinets and reviewing them.
Of course, all this is in response to a Man Bites Dog event. The more mundane Dog Bites Man reality was captured by the recent deaths of nine miners at Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, while the statistical reality is reflected by the memorial at water's edge in Gloucester, Massachusetts, of a fisherman facing the gale: in 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an on-the-job fatality rate of fishermen of 142 per 100,000 – and none were homicides. A glance at the on-the-job fatalities over the last fifteen years (see
page 2 of this BLS release) shows a dramatic decline in homicides, a steady rise in falls, and the continued dominance of on-the-job driving fatalities.
Educational and Health Industries reported less than one on-the-job fatality per hundred thousand last year – as opposed to the national mean of about four fatalities per hundred thousand. Moreover, as the Virginia report notes, shootings in academia are very rare (about 16 a year among 4,000 institutions). But each homicide is catastrophic for someone, and such violence often has lasting effects on the continued function of the institution, for violence induces primal fears that mine support collapse do not.
And from the beginning, unions have been concerned with safety.
the feature article of the September/October AFT On Campus, there is an account of security measures taken in Suffolk County Community College after a faculty member was stabbed by a student in class; this student had already acquired three complaints from three instructors, but because of communication problems, no one had been aware that there were several complaints against this one student. SCCC has set up a clearinghouse to handle complaints – and track them – and is also working with the Suffolk County police on emergency plans.
Communication lies at the heart of many prevention and intervention problems. In the Virginia report, the authors wrestled with the point that over the years, several institutions became aware of Seung Hui Cho's mental problems, and that several reports had been received by several offices of Virginia Tech, but that this intelligence had never been organized into a form that would enable someone with authority to take action. Moreover, when Cho started shooting, emergency personnel did not have direct access to decision-making officials at the university, and (jumping to the conclusion that the initial shooting was domestic and therefore would not have a sequel) did not warn the campus community. The report has several long lists of carefully worded and often narrow recommendations about changes in communication, procedure, and organization.
There are (at least) four problems.
First, there is the often-ignored problem that composing documents is not the same as promulgating policy. People have to be so familiar with the policy that when circumstances arise, they act on it. This is why, for example, one of SCCC's innovations was a "table-top exercise" involving a simulated attack by armed robbers (while the most common sources of violence are co-workers and, in the lingo of Labor & Statistics, "clients," there is also violence from criminals and family members – see
page 4 of this BLS survey). The prevention side is more difficult, for complaints of strange or threatening behavior have to be correctly classified and routed by staff to appropriate principals, who in turn deal with them. Perhaps with some training...
Second, it is the faculty who are actually on the front lines. When the Federation of Teachers asked the Monroe State University administration for assurances that MSU was addressing the issue of violence on campus, MSU provided materials including a pamphlet listing counseling services available to students. But there was no information on how faculty should deal with a troubled or troubling student. (And since there is a comparable problem with co-workers, it would be helpful to have information on that as well.) At present, many institutions do offer specific information on dealing with harassment of various kinds, and similar information about potentially dangerous behavior may also be helpful.
This leads to the third problem: when we ask experts for direction, they don't really know what to say. Unlike a harassment complaint, which concerns behavior that has (allegedly) occurred, a complaint about potential danger concerns something that might happen. The experts themselves do not have a reliable method for predicting dangerous behavior: we have a lot of abstract descriptions of alarming symptoms, such as emotional combativeness in class (or curling into a ball, like Mr. Cho), but even a trained observer has difficulty telling if such symptoms indicate danger or only eccentricity. There have been cases where experts or administrators overreact and the institution gets sued.
Part of the difficulty is that violent colleagues and students are rare while academia is full of squabbles. Since we rarely encounter someone who is actually dangerous we may be inclined to mistake a disagreeable colleague or student for a dangerous one: readers may recall that in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings there were news stories reporting that high school students were chewed out by teachers and principals for wearing "gothic" clothing. Overreactions generate memorable injustices, undermine respect for authority, compromise the credibility of subsequent complaints, and generate lawsuits. On the other hand, even without the combative academic atmosphere, incorrect complaints are inevitable: one of the standard exercises in elementary probability theory is to show that if a disorder is rare, the percentage of false positive diagnoses is high. At any rate, an institution cannot act on its anxieties about someone,
but only on the actual behavior of (or unambiguous expressions by) that someone.
Of course, just because misbehavior isn't dangerous doesn't mean it isn't misbehavior. Calvin & Hobbes afficionados know that many classes have their Spacemen Spiffs who daydream (in class!) about how the teacher is an alien – and what should be done about it. Some compose literature on the subject (as assignments, or on their desks, as the case may be), and a few indulge disruptively in class. The last sort of thing has been dealt with by sending the disruptive student to the principal, and that principle (pun intended) still applies in college.
The current procedure at USF for reporting a disruptive or disturbing colleague or student to one's chair or supervisor, who can contact the Consultation Services (coordinated by Dr. Skalkos) in the Counseling Center during business hours; other resources include the relevant dean of one's college, the Advocacy Program (within Student Affairs; this program typically deals with victims of crime and/or trauma), the Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities (within Student Affairs), and the police. Very few people seem to be aware of this procedure (communication, again!), and there is a certain looseness to it. USF is among those institutions reviewing their policies: there is an ongoing "Safety and Security" task force that will be meeting with various campus groups over this semester in the hope of producing proposals in spring. The task force will be seeking input, but anyone interested in submitting suggestions can send them to the Provost's Office, or to
Vice President Meningall in Student Affairs.
Pulling all this together, faculty and administrators need to know what to look for – at least, the best that experts can tell us to look for – and what to do when we encounter potential trouble. But that leaves us with the fourth problem. Faculty are not experts, and the training and resources to deal with troubled students and colleagues (and with suicide being the second highest cause of death among college students, troubled students are a real phenomenon) is an additional burden on us. It is also a burden on the institution: the International Association for Counseling Services recommends one professional per 1,000 to 1,500 students; so USF, with its 38,000 students, should have at least thirty counselors; USF actually has eleven. Add the current understaffing of the USF Police Department (partly a consequence of low salaries, which leads to low retention rates...), and whatever USF's policy, USF's ability to promulgate that policy is seriously compromised.
Teaching is a calling, which sometimes means we have to go beyond teaching in our particular field. But we need the resources and support.
The USF Administration's recent proposal to privatize some of the USF police raises some questions about inherent problems with any private security force.
Before the Empire expressed its ambitions and wealth with miles of marble, the City of Rome was a city of wood. Seven hills stood above a forest of densely packed apartment buildings rising three or four stories or even higher. The first floor often consisted of shops, and the street was noisy and smelly (before automobiles there were ...), and yet renters preferred the lowest floor they could get: the higher you were, the less likely you could escape fire.
The Republic had no fire department, and this created an opportunity for entrepreneurs like Marcus Licinius Crassus, whose private force would show up and, as the flames surged through the structure, dicker with the owners over the price; usually the owner simply sold the structure to Crassus for a song, and over the years this (and similar) enterprises helped make Crassus one of the wealthiest men in the Republic.
After Crassus helped destroy the Republic (he was a member of the triumvirate, with Caesar and Pompey), the first Emperor, Caesar's heir Octavian, created the first known fire department. The Familia Publica was staffed by about six hundred slaves and was equipped with snazzy Alexandrian fire engines (which did not, apparently, render bucket brigades obsolete), but fire fighting in a city of wood was dangerous and the slaves really didn't have that much motivation to risk their lives fighting fires to save other people's buildings. It was, predictably, a disaster that propelled reform: in 6 AD a sequence of destructive fires impelled Octavian to create the Vigiles, a force of about seven thousand free and respected employees of the state dedicated to fighting fires (and sedition). It seems to have done fairly well, except for being overwhelmed or sabotaged (take your pick) in 47 AD (when Nero did or did not fiddle on top of the Palatine).
This long-term success is not surprising: standing in that narrow street with nothing but a few comrades, a little Egyptian pump, and a mess of buckets, up against pillars of fire and smoke, a Roman knew that his own standing and that of his family would benefit or suffer by his conduct. The slaves the Roman professionals replaced had no such motivation.
Sedition, as well as the hazards of fire fighting, raises the problem of trust. Whatever the greater efficiencies and savings of employing private contractors, statesmen prefer to retain the more critical functions of government to the government. "... [I]f any one supports his state by the arms of mercenaries," warned Machiavelli, who knew about such things, "he will never stand firm or sure, as they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, faithless, bold amongst friends, cowardly amongst enemies..." Well, why should a mercenary risk his neck for some strange prince with a short-term difficulty?
The problem with mercenaries is that the commitment in trust the state gets is commensurate to the commitment the state gives, and if the state only offers piecework, then the state will only get that (if that) in return. (Compare this to the Roman practice of holding veterans in esteem, and granting them land upon retirement: no wonder Rome could expect a lot of its soldiers.) Worse, if one hires a company like Blackwater (or a peg-legged sea-cook like Long John Silver), that contractor will hire the employees that that contractor prefers to hire, under terms and conditions of that contractor's choosing. The employees hired by Blackwater (or John Silver) will then suffer a conflict of interest in any division – overt or subtle – between their actual employer and the institution that they are theoretically serving. The result is usually just a degradation of service, but disasters are not uncommon.
Privatization is not in itself a bad thing: it took forty members of the French Academy forty years to produce the Vocabolario, but it took Sam Johnson alone (well, with private assistants) less than ten to write the Dictionary. But composing dictionaries is not an office of trust like, say, fighting fires, maintaining sewers, or counseling schoolchildren. And some positions – counseling and teaching schoolchildren or administrating schools, for example – require that employees (e.g., counselors, teachers and administrators) take a long-term view. Replacing counselors and teachers with subcontractors hired by a for-profit education firm (or replacing administrators with subcontractors hired by a management company) will ultimately undermine the mission of the university – a university already compromised by the privatization of the campus bookstore, janitorial services, and (haven't we learned the lesson from Rome?!) the police.
Privatization is in vogue now, for not only is sewer maintenance often privatized, but last year, the IRS started contracting collection agencies to handle delinquent accounts. Meanwhile, as Dilbert fans have noticed, the high-tech world is increasingly dependent on consultants, contractors, and other transient creatures flitting through volatile firms looking for some stability. This is a way to maximize black ink on quarterly balance sheets, for it saves money on benefits while simultaneously discouraging union organizing. But if no one keeps an eye on the long run, everyone could find themselves muddling through towards the abyss. Only by long-term commitments going both ways can an institution like a university assure its future.