‘Colleges Grapple With Grim Financial Realities’

Speaking of “program prioritization,” this piece on rough college finances in today’s Chronicle features University of Scranton president Edward Steinmetz:

“If it’s a $12-million hit, that’s huge,” he says. “We’ve had negative variances in the past, but never to that extreme.” In late March, the university got a sense that the pandemic could be long and damaging. “We started to alter our plans, because our fiscal year begins June 1. It allowed us to say, The world has changed. What can we impact right away?” The university eliminated salary increases, reduced pension contributions, and eliminated some positions.

Now the university is going through a longer and more difficult process of examining the enrollment, revenues, and costs of various academic programs, and analyzing which could be cut.

“It forced us to have conversations,” Steinmetz says, “which I think was a sea change for campuses like ours and a lot of academic leadership. They’re not used to those conversations.”

Steinmetz sounds suspiciously giddy that this crisis won’t go to waste.

‘Jesuit College Workers Unite’

Elizabeth Redden, writing for Inside Higher Ed:

An alliance of faculty, staff and graduate student unions; American Association of University Professor chapters; and student organizations has come together to support a new petition opposing “the rash of austerity-driven layoffs, firings and program eliminations occurring and under consideration by Jesuit institutions across the United States.”

The department gutting—often conducted under so-called “program prioritization” campaigns—is particularly egregious in light of the Jesuit tradition. If philosophy, religion and other core liberal arts programs are on the chopping block, why keep the lights on at all?

The KU Leuven Fund for Fair OA

Dummy Verbeke, writing on behalf of the KU Leuven Libraries, on the KU Leuven Fund for Fair OA:

The fund is exclusively devoted to the support of non-profit and community-owned initiatives in the field of Open Access and Open Scholarship in general. It is not a library-supported APC fund, which all too often results in channeling money to traditional suppliers without solving any of the three issues raised above. Instead, it is our way of making sure that at least part of the available library budget is safeguarded to support alternatives, fostering diversity of business models in the market of academic publishing and helping those who are willing to try something new.

This is a great model, ripe for widespread emulation. Lots of libraries support community-owned, nonprofit initiatives, but most of the spending seems ad hoc. A formal fund structure, with some budget-percentage set-aside—2.5 percent is good target—would provide legitimacy and a measure of stability to the APC-resistant, community-led corner of nonprofit scholarly publishing.

‘Beware the Instant Global-Campus Movement’

Phil Hill, writing in the Chronicle on the recent University of Arizona acquisition of the for-profit Ashford:

Both Arizona and Purdue, with one move, have outwardly leapfrogged their competition and became major players in the online world with a much more diverse set of learners — working adults from underserved demographic groups. So it’s not hard to see why other universities are looking to follow their leads. When Purdue University Global was being approved by accreditors in 2018, there were already a dozen other nonprofit colleges exploring potential acquisitions of existing for-profit online universities. This appears to be an emerging, problematic trend. Call it the Instant Global Campus movement.

Hill’s main beef with the movement is that these insta-campuses are isolated from their co-branded brick-and-mortar universities. Fair enough. But the real problem is the stealth privatization of the public land-grant university:

Under the Purdue and Arizona arrangements, the parent for-profit companies, Kaplan Higher Education and Zovio, transition immediately from the perilous for-profit sector, with its shrinking enrollments and reputational baggage, into the lucrative and growing online-program-management market. The companies not only gain Purdue and Arizona as clients, each worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year in revenue, but also get a springboard to serve many other colleges with these services.

Jeff Pooley is professor of media & communication at Muhlenberg College and director of mediastudies.press, an open access scholarly publisher.

pooley@muhlenberg.edu | press@mediastudies.press

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