Should One Size Fit All?
The precipitous decline of the financial markets has taken its toll on college and university endowments across the country. MIT has not been immune to this affliction. Following early announcements to the contrary, the MIT administration has frozen faculty salaries above a threshold minimum, laid off personnel, and required departments, labs, centers, and administrative units from Building Services to MIT Medical to cut their spending by 5% each year for the next three years.
A detailed financial justification for these decisions has not been forthcoming and is unlikely to emerge in the near future, if ever. Widespread, systematic faculty involvement in the decisions seems to have been lacking, although there is anecdotal evidence that faculty were in some manner consulted prior to some of the actions taken.
A gigantic task force of over 200 individuals has been assembled to gather information and help mitigate what are likely to be dire consequences of the decision to cut the operating budgets of all units by 15% over the next three years. Most units have been able to absorb the shock for the first year, but in planning for future years some draconian measures will need to be taken that are likely to affect the quality of life for faculty, students, and staff for many years to come.
It is politically easiest and temporally most expeditious to apply the cuts equally across all units, but we ask, should one size fit all? In the current issue of this newsletter we report a most interesting discussion with William Kettyle, M. D. and Medical Director at the Institute. MIT Medical is in many ways just like MIT academic departments, with 73% of its annual budget supporting personnel, 15% drugs (equivalent to essential materials in departments), and the remainder supplies, or “tongue depressors” in Dr. Kettyle’s words. MIT Medical’s annual budget of $80M will be shaved by that 5% in FY10, the consequences of which are discussed in the interview with Dr. Kettyle. Some of this information has appeared on the Website of MIT Medical, but may not be familiar to most of our readers.
The task force group under “Administrative” with the subheading “Human Resources and Benefits” is responsible for oversight and decisions concerning the way in which Dr. Kettyle and his team at MIT Medical will meet the demands of future cuts of 5% per year going forward. We were impressed with the creative solutions that this team has advanced to generate revenue by expanding its services to non-MIT Health Plan, Institute, and even local community residents and workers to stave off the impending disaster that might occur were MIT Medical to continue to lay off personnel, give up more salary lines, and shift its services to more costly and most certainly less convenient off-campus units. This example should serve as a beacon of light for DLC administrators.
But not all DLCs would be able to respond in this manner nor should they. As graphically demonstrated numerous times in this newsletter over the past years, the growth in administrative salaries and positions has been significantly greater than that of faculty lines. It is the faculty who generate revenue for the Institute, through tuition as teachers, through overhead as researchers, and through international and other programs such as ILP that bring in real dollars. If one size should not fit all then, we ask, why should there not be a serious administrative reorganization that would lead to a significant reduction in administrative lines, salaries, and overhead? What part of the task force is charged with that chore? There is a subheading entitled “Administrative Processes” which, we urge, should address this option in a serious manner. The other subheadings of Human Resources and Benefits, Procurement at MIT, and IT at MIT will have a similar opportunity to recommend reductions in administrative overhead. We urge them to consider such action, rather than, for example, reducing benefits which have already eroded significantly over the decades. Do any of you remember $7 per year annual parking fees and $800 annual travel allowances for faculty to attend meetings?
The Provost’s Office kindly provided us with the personnel counts summarized in the table shown below:
Academic staff is a catchall category that includes teaching staff – Lecturers, Instructors, Adjunct Faculty, Professors of the Practice, Retired Faculty, Professors without Tenure, Retired Faculty, Visiting Faculty, Visiting Lecturers, Visiting Instructors; scientific staff – Senior Scientists/Engineers, Postdoctoral Associates, Research Fellows, Affiliates; – and, lastly, Academic Administrators. Administrators and Academic Staff have grown dramatically in both absolute number, 45% and 71% respectively, and relative to permanent faculty (5%). Our view is that, as a matter of principle, the pain of reductions in staffing and overhead allocation should fall more heavily on employment categories that have experienced explosive growth unless a convincing counter-argument can be made. A fair and reasonable strategy for cutbacks must be based in part on accurate labeling and accurate counting. Administrator and academic staff categories should be refined into operational sub-categories that accurately reflect contributions to Institute welfare.
There is hope that the financial markets will rebound to the extent that the MIT plan of 5% cuts per year in FY11 and FY12 will be mitigated, but we cannot count on that. Now is the time for creative thinking, like that of Dr. Kettyle.
We are pleased to note that revenue generation is a subsection of the task force and trust that they will advise the administration on new sources of income other than taxing faculty grants and contracts in some direct or indirect manner. It is critical that we continue to find funds to attract and support new faculty; to match research grants requiring such; to stop the erosion of the quality of life and learning not only for students but for faculty as well; to provide services that keep the Institute buildings and grounds well maintained, the finances well managed, the grants and contracts units competently staffed, the health of our community affordable, convenient, and professionally tended; and by no means least to provide the best education at the undergraduate and graduate levels that defines MIT as one of few very top U.S. institutions of higher learning.
Hard decisions will need to be made in the coming months in order to navigate the Institute through the troubled financial waters that affect most institutions worldwide. We urge that “one size fits all” no longer be the mantra as we go forward.