In response to a request made by the Faculty Senate Budget Committee in early 2019, Appalachian’s Center for Research and Policy Analysis (CERPA) conducted an analysis of the University’s budget allocations, using raw data the Appalachian administration shared. It is a serious data-driven report that provides important insights for the faculty, administration, and Board of Trustees.
The administration presented a response to the CERPA report to the Faculty Senate on April 29, 2019. Unfortunately, rather than spending time addressing the problems and finding solutions, the administration created a presentation that manipulated the data to confuse the facts.
The administration never denied the accuracy of the findings or analysis in the CERPA report; rather, they sought to spin the numbers another way. However, it was not so easy to fool the Faculty Senate. Senators quickly noticed the obfuscation and exposed it in the Q&A.
There is no denying the basic fact that over the past five years, the administration has shifted a significant amount of funding from academics to administration and support activities. A Senator pointed out that hidden in the administration’s own presentation, the numbers showed that the amount of money shifted away from academics exceeds $2.5 million. Yes, you read that correctly: if this administration had funded academics at the same rate as five years ago, there would have been $2.5 million more going to academics. If those funds were directed to faculty salaries, it would be enough money to correct 66% of the faculty salary deficit!
It’s clear that campus budget decisions can address the faculty salary deficit. It’s time to take a good hard look at institutional priorities. We’re all in this together, and we all want this institution to thrive. Faculty have pointed out the problem. We are waiting for the administration to show leadership on finding a campus-based plan to address the faculty salary crisis.
Here’s a closer look at specific examples of attempts to obscure the facts.
MANIPULATING THE VISUALS TO HIDE THE FACTS: CONFUSING ABSOLUTE AND RELATIVE NUMBERS
The administration’s presentation obscured the relative changes in funding priorities by reporting the absolute numbers. This is a well-known trick used to camouflage incremental changes by skewing the numbers and charts with large absolute numbers. Data literate people know that incremental decisions and relative changes are the relevant numbers when discussing changes in budget priorities and trends.
Faculty Senators pointed out something hidden within the following administration’s slide. It shows that academics accounted for 70.7% of the general budget in FY2014, but since FY2014, academics only accounted for 62.5% of new funds. One senator pointed out that this decline in the share of funding going to academics meant more than a $2.5 million cut in academics!
Yes, if budget priorities remained the same as FY2014, academics would have $2.5 million more in funding. This amount would provide an average raise of nearly $3,000 for full-time faculty. A $3000 average raise would have made a difference! It would have recovered 66% of the lost purchasing power that faculty have experienced in the past 10 years.
Where did these funds go? What took priority over faculty salaries and academics? The administration’s slide tells us the answer. The following slide shows that the relative funding cuts to academics were redirected to expand the university’s bureaucracy. As the following slide from their presentation shows, in FY 2014, institutional support and student support accounted for 18.8% of the general budget (14.2% + 4.6%). Since FY 2014, 27.0% of new funds (up from 18.8%) were allocated to institutional support and student support (19.9% + 7.1%).
The administration’s own analysis confirms the key finding from the CERPA report, that the administration has cut relative funding for academics to prioritize administrative and support activities.
CHERRY PICKING DATA: EXCLUDING ATHLETICS FROM THE ANALYSIS
To skew the numbers in their favor, the administration selectively dropped relevant data, namely auxiliary budgets–which are the budgets for different campus services, such as athletics. In explaining the reason for dropping this data, they claimed that units in the auxiliary category are self-funded. This is not true. A major component of auxiliary operations is Athletics, and Athletics is not self-funded. The truth is that athletics has more than a $20 million annual operating deficit. You read that correctly. Athletics loses more than $20 million every year. The losses are covered by student fees and these fees are determined on campus by this administration (link to previous story).
The problem is that the student-funded subsidies to athletics directly cuts into funding for student support and indirectly cuts into funding for academics. As CERPA pointed out, student fees are limited to a 3% total increase each year, so choosing to increase athletics fees is a choice not to fund other needs. The point here is that athletics accounts for much of the growth in EHRA non-faculty positions, and the administration decided to expand these EHRA non-faculty positions instead of funding other things. So, this data directly shows the administration’s budget priorities and should be part of any analysis. Cherry picking data is an elementary trick to manipulate findings. We need action to solve the problem, not data manipulation to justify inaction. And yet, even after inappropriately dropping this inconvenient data, the new chart still shows that the numbers of EHRA non-faculty grew 33% faster than those of EHRA faculty!
USING THE WRONG BENCHMARK: “BUT MOST OF THE MONEY STILL GOES TO ACADEMICS”
To calm faculty alarm about our salary crisis, the administration emphasized the level of the budgets by stating that “Academics continues to receive the highest percentage of the total budget.” This is an empty statement that distracts from the key finding. Did you notice that this doesn’t point out that the proportion of the budget going to Academics is shrinking? It doesn’t speak to the problem that the administration is shrinking the share of the budget that goes to academics.
More disturbing, the statement implies that allocating more than 50% is the benchmark. As if it is all good if Academics receives more than 50% of the budget! If the administration actually holds this view, Appalachian is in a more dramatic tailspin than we previously thought.
Allocating more than 50% to Academics is not the benchmark for prioritizing academics! Given that academics is the mission of the university, it should receive much more than 50%. In FY2014, academics received 70.7% of the budget, but it has only received 62.5% of new funds since FY2014.
THROWING MUD AT THE WALL TO DISTRACT FROM THE FACTS: “SOME EHRA NON-FACULTY MAKE LESS THAN $50,000”
The administration presented a slide that appeared to question the assertion that “recent allocations of positions prioritize upper- and mid-level administration” by listing EHRA non-faculty positions with salaries under $50,000. See their slide below.
Of course, simply pointing out the existence of the positions earning less than $50,000 doesn’t change what the data tells us. Not surprising, their presentation did not point out the existence (and expansion) of the highly paid executive EHRA positions. Let’s look past this distraction. The revealing data is found by comparing the change in the number of positions of EHRA non-faculty and the change in the compensation for these positions. Only using general fund data (to be fair), the data show that EHRA non-faculty positions increased 10% between 2014 and 2018. During this period, compensation for these positions in Institutional Support increased a whopping 36.5%!
This tells us that the growth in EHRA non-faculty positions is due to increases in the high-paid positions, specifically mid- and upper-level administration. The data show that the university is expanding the bureaucracy with highly paid positions while shrinking the funding for academics and faculty salaries (link to previous story).
The AAUP blog looks at campus issues related to the AAUP. Blog posts do not necessarily represent the opinion of every member of the AAUP.