Budget scrutiny should go both ways

Joel FaltermayerFaltermayer argues that while reaching out to local representives is an option in response to budget cuts, students should also hold the university financially responsible for its spending habits.

Given that I’m not usually prone to ostentatious shows of politicized angst or social lamentation, I watched Gov. Tom Corbett’s eagerly anticipated budget proposal last Tuesday without the panic or dread that President Ann Weaver Hart had strategically encouraged when she said, “If approved…this reduction will be felt by every student, parent and employee.”

Just as soon as last year, Temple’s appropriation fell 30 percent short of the enacted budget from the 2011-12 year, and I was summarily encouraged to “stay informed” and “contact my legislator.” Yet, though Hart lauded our frugal efforts at “stream-lining processes, eliminating redundancies and reducing administrative staff” during the past year, Temple’s central administration has effectively removed itself from culpability by demonizing Corbett under the pathetic banner, “and what of the children?”

Frankly, Hart’s eloquent knack for shifting fiscal accountability onto both students and faculty alike has not changed much in the past year, relying on vague euphemisms that are an integral part of administrative rhetoric. This is neither a death sentence, nor a call to march on Harrisburg. We have been brainwashed with the image of Corbett snipping the umbilical cord to public education, simply because Temple administration is reluctant to admit to its own fiscal indiscretion.

Even though Temple’s appropriation amounts to a small percent of the university’s revenue, Corbett rightfully questions where our public funding and tuition is being squandered, if Temple is able to physically expand while academically shrinking. The stream of funding has slowed to a trickle because the state will no longer commit funds to an institution that indulges in risky building projects, bureaucratic ineptitude, and a relentless, malicious desire to suck students and faculty dry of both money and patience.

While many students remain ignorant to this phenomenon, English professor and Faculty Herald contributor Philip Yannella discovered that the Temple Treasurer’s Report for 2011 noted a doubled surplus of operating expenses in the neighborhood of $94 million. By strenuous feats of bureaucratic navigation, Yannella succeeded in making this conversation a little bit more transparent for faculty who were under the threat of Hart’s metaphorical red pen known as “stream-lining.”

Last year, Hart’s definitive promise was to “reduce Temple’s operating costs by $36 million,” noting that the “bulk of the cuts will come from trimming the administrative operations of the university.” Yet after the State Appropriations Committee had supplemented Temple’s initial funding with an additional $58 million, Temple administration continued to push academic cuts and tuition raises while the administrative structure and senseless expansion actually grew.

Yannella, a professor in the English department, noted in the Faculty Herald how “faculty were being told that the fiscal sky was about to fall,” while “surpluses, created out of money paid by students…were being siphoned off into construction projects.” Thus, those of us who commute via the Broad Street line are greeted bitterly each morning with a $147.4 million dormitory so that a recession-era Temple can offer 1,275 more beds to those willing to pay for the “urban college experience.”

“Why should current students be ‘taxed’ to create a more entertaining, prettier and more convenient environment for future students?” Yannella said in the Faculty Herald.

With an additional $300 million worth of obscurely funded construction projections planned, Temple’s future planning comes at the expense of academic standards. Consequentially, operating costs for integral academic programs, including the Hebrew department, are deemed unsustainable while non-tenured faculty and non-unionized employees are forced to justify their own wages and salaries.

Granted, some of these issues are not explicitly culpable, such as the increase in non-academic university professions, tuition inflation, and the commercialization of degree programs. However, if Hart claims that “Temple remains one of the best values in the nation,” then I am only exercising my rights as a consumer.

Perhaps I am too harsh. Hart has taken the pains to digest Corbett’s address in such simplistic terms as would befit a Chief Executive Officer of such a diverse, multi-interested institution. After all, we as students, parents, employees and faculty (both tenured and non-tenured), are far too preoccupied with tuition increases, salary freezes, costs of living and least significantly, education, to worry about how Temple is spending our money.

Rather than lobbying Harrisburg for a few extra bucks, Temple students need to ensure that they are earning a justifiable return on their investment. After all, the army of administrators employed by Temple, (an estimated one-half of Temple’s academic expenditure) exists so that faculty and students can teach, learn and research.

Joel Faltermayer can be reached at joel.faltermayer@temple.edu.

6 Comments

  1. Great article, it is amazing to cry broke with a new building going up every six months.
    Temple College Republicans

  2. This would be a great article if the person who wrote it did some research into how projects are actually funded. Tuition and fees do not fund building projects. Bond offerings, institutional loans(from university reserves to the housing office) and donatins from alumni and friends pay for building projects. There’s nothing wrong with having an axe to grind when you write opinion pieces, but at least make an attempt at understanding what you’re writing about.

  3. Echoing what Mike said.

    Do some research to find out how the “physical expansion” is being paid for before writing a piece like this.

  4. Mike,
    You have a mistaken view of how funding works if you don’t think that funding for construction comes out of the pockets of students. Its pretty easy for a large organization like Temple to separate revenue streams and costs in order to mask its spending.

  5. I don’t see any definitive claims which support Mike’s argument. In fact, the writer used Phillip Yanella’s words to frame the argument. Or can you not read quotes, Mike? As the (other) Simon pointed out, the argument is not that Tuition is being used directly to fund construction, but rather that it is a huge possibility worth looking into. After all, even if a tiny slice of tuition revenue was being used in such construction projects, then Temple’s Financial Administration loses all credibility when they raise tuition and ask for more state funding.

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