Paul L. Caron

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Why Do Liberal Universities Eschew Progressive Budget Cuts That Would Take More From Highly Paid Administrators And Faculty?

Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed:  The Biggest Cuts Need To Come From The Top, by Silke-Maria Weineck (Michigan):

It is true that academics vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. This has led conservative enemies of higher education to claim that universities are left-wing institutions. They are not. They are quintessentially bourgeois institutions — liberal, sure, but not on the left in any meaningful sense. Their prime function is the reproduction of civil society and the managerial class. ...

Universities are facing terrifying budget shortfalls as a result of the Covid-19pandemic, and they need to do one or a combination of three things. (1) They can spend their endowments — but most colleges either don’t have the amounts they would need, or, like my home institution, they do have the money but, for a mixture of good and bad reasons, do not want to dip into it too deeply. (2) They could take steps to increase revenue — but the very circumstances that have led to the crunch make that nearly impossible, certainly to the extent necessary. (3) They can cut expenses — meaning cut staff and salaries, which are by far the biggest budget item.

A left-wing or even a left-liberal institution would make sure those cuts come from the top and are structured like a progressive income tax, with those earning more forking over not only more of their salary but a higher percentage of their salary. Progressive taxation is the bedrock revenue principle of liberal democracies, including the United States. It’s impossible to imagine leftists, left liberals, or even centrist Democrats advocating for a flat tax.

And yet, all over the country, this is what universities are doing. If they are not firing faculty and staff members, shuttering entire departments, or cutting salaries directly, they are pausing retirement contributions. ...

This is a flat cut. The staff member who makes $30,000 a year is giving up the exact same percentage of her salary as the business-school professor raking in $300,000. 

It would be so damn easy to do this differently. Anyone with a basic grasp of Excel and a few hours to kill could figure out how to cut salaries progressively to achieve the same amount of savings. Don’t touch salaries below your county’s median income. Divide up the remaining salary tiers: take 5 percent from the lowest tier, 10 percent from the next one, 30 percent from the top. Or implement some version of that. Use the damn spreadsheet.

To repeat:  This would be easy. And right. And in keeping with the most basic liberal principles universities claim to uphold. If universities ran themselves the way they talk about themselves, no college would have cut retirement benefits across the board.

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You don’t expect faculty to actually believe their own b.s. do you?

Posted by: Anon | Aug 8, 2020 8:56:35 AM

Revealed preference.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Aug 8, 2020 9:11:58 AM

There’s the principle, and then there’s the principal.

Posted by: Jim | Aug 9, 2020 3:23:47 PM

My university actually did this and I think it was the right thing to do. I took twice the number of furlough days as my reference librarian, and there's no denying I'm in a better position to take the hit. Nobody's happy about a pay cut, but if they have to happen, my institution did it about as well as possible.

Posted by: Rick Goheen | Aug 10, 2020 9:50:31 AM

The first three comments passed the vibe check.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 19, 2020 9:43:00 PM