Education, Top Stories
comments 57

The Meaning of the Self-Destructive Strike at WSU

On January 22, a portion of the unionized faculty at Wright State University (WSU) in Dayton, Ohio went on strike. WSU is a regional state university with a medical school, several units that award PhDs, and many that grant master’s degrees. It has many nontraditional students and pockets of true excellence; it is a national leader in educating veterans and the disabled, for example. It is also where I have taught economics for almost a quarter-century.

I applied for and received sabbatical for this year some time ago and so, as the strike has dragged on, I have watched this drama unfold at both a physical and emotional distance. The strike has been the culmination of years of bitterness between the faculty union (not, note, the faculty) and the administration. It is widely believed that the root cause of the strike was stark differences between the union and the administration over how to overcome a severe financial crisis earlier in the decade that was unquestionably the fault of previous administrators, yet has impacted the entire university. But, while the crisis is real, the root causes of the strike are longstanding, deep, and perhaps informative about both the current state of faculty unions and the future of universities like WSU. Readers should know I am not a union member because I object to coercive unionization. So, while internal union communication is available neither to me nor the general public, their point of view is freely available at their Twitter feed, which has, in part, shaped this essay.

Soon after I arrived at WSU, I was greeted with a referendum for tenure-line faculty, who were to choose whether to authorize collective bargaining through the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP-WSU). AAUP is an organization with a long history of defending academic freedom as they define it on the one hand and chartering unions at individual universities on the other. Collective bargaining was defeated then, but was resubmitted and approved soon after. Subsequently, the union and WSU negotiated a series of three-year contracts. Traditionally, negotiations on the next contract would begin in the last year of the current one, and agreement was usually reached before the current contract expired.

But earlier this decade, high-level administrators made numerous irresponsible financial decisions and, in addition, WSU was forced to pay a large fine for violations of immigration law. So the most recent negotiations, which began in January 2017, were conducted under this cloud. When no agreement was reached, initially the existing contract was extended for one year, but, after a total of 15 months of negotiation, the administration broke off what it saw as fruitless talks. Meanwhile, several senior administrators whose decisions caused the mess were removed, and WSU adopted a much harder line, eventually unilaterally imposing terms that accepted many union demands, but not with regard to health benefits. In the interim, WSU had accepted and AAUP-WSU had rejected a compromise settlement offered by an independent fact-finder, which is non-binding arbitration required under Ohio law before public employees can strike.

And so here we are. Truth being the first casualty of many conflicts, the two sides disagree on how many courses have had to be canceled, but the university is now trying to devise steps to help students due to graduate actually do so. And if another long strike in 1991 at Temple is any guide, WSU can expect to pay a substantial enrollment penalty for this self-indulgent interlude. But whereas faculty and administration at the time at Temple were arguing over how big raises should be, we do not have that luxury.

What is the reason for the extended stalemate? Media coverage, for example at NPR and  the Chronicle of Higher Education checks all the journalism-school boxes in terms of quoting both sides. But while the university’s rationale for its hard line is presented in some detail, the history of the dispute is never presented at all. (Earlier the union had raised academic-freedom issues, but in the face of some university concessions this talk has largely disappeared.)

This history suggests another explanation, which has been left unexamined—that radicalized union leadership is part, perhaps the primary part, of the problem. Since its founding, AAUP-WSU’s leadership has been more radical than the median WSU professor, let alone the median American. One of the chief negotiators is an emeritus professor of economics, and is thus part of the negotiating team despite not even being employed by the university anymore. For many years before his retirement, he had a large photograph of Karl Marx in his office window, presented for the edification of passersby. Upon his retirement, the portrait passed to another economics professor, also long part of union leadership, and in whose office window it continued to be displayed. (It should go without saying that none of this is a McCarthyite attack on anyone’s academic freedom, but an insight into the mindset of those who brought the university to this point.)

Others in union leadership have also had a fundamentally confrontational vision of the US as a country in which the good guys must always fight to get their fair share. Here, university teachers in 2019 see themselves resembling (the legends told about) the auto workers of the 1930s. The strike began the day after the MLK holiday, and the union, somewhat implausibly, has likened the strike to the causes he fought for. At least at WSU, it is the most radical faculty who are the most driven to lead the union, and so often they do; this is a common feature of special-interest pleading. As to the consequences of a strike, AAUP-WSU leadership has warned of potential costs to abstract future students if the administration gets its way. But while this fearful vision is merely hypothetical, even as university staff increasingly plead or demand that faculty end the strike, real flesh-and-blood students are being damaged by it here and now.

WSU is like any other organization in a free society. It works only because its various constituencies cooperate. Union members are fond of pointing out that “the faculty are the university.” But this is absurd. True, no faculty means no university. But no students means no university, no staff means no university, and no administrators (swallow hard) means no university. If these communities cannot come to some agreement to both offer and acquire education on particular terms, education simply does not happen. No cooperation, no university.

Many union leaders have been oblivious to this fundamental principle. Instead, their way of seeing the world is Us versus Them, an eternal zero-sum struggle between the powerless and powerful over money and authority. It is striking how large administrative pay looms in union members’ statements about why they strike. (And this, even though the new president brought on board in 2017 makes less than her predecessor did. Even if all senior administrators worked for free the financial crisis would be largely unaffected.) The union expresses a theoretical interest in accepting the administration’s changes already imposed on nonstriking faculty (which makes their health insurance benefits now identical to those of staff and administrators), but remains adamant that labor-law procedures be followed to the letter before strikers will resume their primary responsibility, teaching. There is also objection to the fact that our health-insurance premiums, which are higher for employees who earn more, are not progressive enough. The stuff of an interesting discussion around the faculty lounge to be sure, but a major issue?

The union collectively, judging by its demands, also seems unaware of the larger issues facing universities like WSU. In our part of the country, the number of college-age youth is declining. For several years, WSU, like other universities, dealt with this with increased foreign enrollment. For a time it succeeded, due both to agreements by several Persian Gulf states to increase the number of students they sent to the US generally, and by the rise in popularity in recent decades of American degrees, especially graduate degrees, for students from China and India. (These students pay significantly higher tuition than Ohio residents, who are the bulk of WSU’s undergraduate enrollment.) But the Gulf states recently sharply pared the number of students they send to the U.S., and concerns about American hostility to immigrants has decreased foreign applications as well, at least for now.

In a university whose constituencies were thinking about the future, faculty, staff, and administration would cooperate to try to improve the university in the face of these challenges. But, if asked, the union would almost certainly respond, “That’s not our job.” And they would be right; the union is about confrontation, not cooperation, admittedly probably accompanied now by similar attitudes in the administration. But the fact that the union has monopolized so much of the space for faculty–administration interaction makes such cooperative efforts much more difficult than before. Administrators are, in the end, in the union’s view not our colleagues. They are Them.

The administration has certainly made its share of blunders. During the sharp increase in domestic enrollment that briefly followed the 2008 financial crash, spending on such incredibly wasteful projects as lavish buildings increased substantially, even though it was known among WSU professors who study such things that enrollment fluctuates with the business cycle. But no one on the faculty was ever asked if enrollment would stay high, just as they were never asked whether a fancy new teaching building was a worthwhile way to improve graduation rates, as opposed to, say, hiring more people to teach algebra and freshman composition so that sections of those critical courses might be smaller. (WSU’s dream of increasing national exposure and enrollment through men’s basketball glory is an idea of which the current president is fond, despite significant research, if anyone ever sees fit to check, that this strategy often fails, badly.)

Union members would be absolutely correct to say that the financial mess into which WSU has fallen is entirely the fault of particular administrators; no faculty member contributed to these decisions. But they do not say that. Instead, they say something subtly yet critically different—it is the fault of “the administration.” But all decisions are made by individuals, either alone through their authority or through some collective decision-making process. And most of the individuals responsible for this calamity are long gone. To continue to see the problem as faculty (good guys) versus the eternal, formless blob known as “administration“ (bad guys) is to frustrate solutions to our problems. The administration in turn might have been well-advised to propose, say, that everyone with the word “president,” “provost,” “director,” or “dean” in their job title take, say, a two percent pay cut for the duration of the crisis. That would have bought some goodwill. But such a measure would require mutual trust, which has been progressively scarcer since WSU unionized.

I watch from afar with horror as the university into which I have poured nearly 25 years of blood, sweat, and tears self-immolates. And I know from my years of experience that many teachers, including many of the ones on strike, have worked harder than me for WSU and genuinely want their students to succeed. And the same could be said for all of the administrators that I personally know. But student success is an interest that we all share, and therefore has no place in a zero-sum university. Instead, it seems the only thing that unites faculty and administration is that they must destroy WSU in order to save it.

 

Evan Osborne teaches economics at Wright State University. Most recently, he is the author of Self- Regulation and Human Progress: How Society Gains When We Govern Less (Stanford University Press, 2018)

57 Comments

  1. Doug Deeper says

    This article is a nice moral statement, but the author would have benefitted from knowing better the minds of the union Marxists running the show. All of the union’s rhetoric concerning the “potential costs to abstract future students if the administration gets its way” would then be seen as obfuscation of their simple drive for power. And the author would not waste his breath with suggesting that the union “cooperate.”
    Unfortunately, most “non-orthodox” professors simply do not understand how “orthodox leftist” professors think.
    Therefore the author and his ilk are not a reliable, strong counter to the leftists. Traditional universities will continue to resemble soviet style institutions until they self destruct from pressure from the outside: students, professors, employers and the nation at large. New kinds of private schools that actually serve their students well will steal applicants in ever increasing numbers.

    • K. Dershem says

      I don’t think it’s fair to conclude that the faculty union is run by “Marxists” because one member of the negotiating team had a picture of Marx in his office. Previous administrators mismanaged the university, and now faculty are being asked to make concessions in order to keep the school solvent. Although this seems to me like a reasonable request, I can understand why faculty members resent being asked to make sacrifices for a crisis they didn’t create. I’m not sure why you think that universities “resemble soviet style institutions” or how this article provides evidence that they do.

    • Vincent says

      @Doug Deeper

      It sounds like you have amazing insight into to how “orthodox leftists” think. I mean, the fact that you’re aware that this is a homogenous group that has a prescribed way of thinking just demonstrates your stunning psychological insight. Like the patterns governing termite mound boring or the movement of a flock of birds, you must have honed in on some inherent and immutable formula that dictates how the mind of the leftist works. I mean, unlike the author, who simply cannot understand how these orthodox leftist professors think, you actually are a “reliable, strong counter to the leftists.” He’s only worked with them for twenty five years while your wisdom spans all of eternity. I also need to compliment your amazing foresight in which you predict the imminent destruction of traditional universities in favor of “new kinds of private schools.” I know, when I see “University of Phoenix” on an application, my interest is immediately piqued. I say to myself, “here’s an individual worth hiring because this person didn’t submit to the leftist Marxist Soviet-style institutions.”

      Reality is your bitch. If only the rest of the world could be gifted with your genius.

      • Harland says

        @Vincent that was one long personal attack that neither addressed nor refuted anything OP had to say. You should be ashamed.

        • Doug Deeper says

          @ Harland, thank you for your comment.

          @ Vincent, apparently I stuck a nerve.

          I have experienced leftists on campus since the late 1960s, in particular in 1969 when I founded and led the Vietnam Moratorium at Valley State College (now Calif University at Northridge) and shut the school down on 10/15/69 to protest the war. I learned early how Marxists come to dominate student groups and faculties if there is no strong opposition. As Harland points out below, there are simply very few conservatives left in any department at any university, save a few such as Hillsdale College in MIchigan. It is easy to Google numerous reports demonstrating this. And liberals have shown themselves largely impotent at resisting these Identity politics/neo-Marxist faculty. However, there is a largely liberal organization who have also arrived at this sad truth, and it is doing its part to try to improve the situation. They were founded by the brilliant NYU Prof Jon Haidt, and called Heterodox Academy. You might check them out.

          Since retiring in 1999, I have been a philanthropist/activist with numerous non-profits involved with universities. I have gotten to know many professors, mostly those right of center. I have studied numerous reports that have fully documented how self-avowed Marxists now constitute huge portions of many departments, particularly in humanities, social sciences and area studies, and yes, there are even some in economics departments. The deeper one studies the universities, the worse the situation appears. The first thorough study of studies I read on this was “A Crisis of Competence,” a 2012 report done by the National Association of Scholars, a much smaller, but more moderate organization of profs. I believe the studies reported in it have since been replicated many times.

          I am not an expert, but I understand the professors union, the American Association of Universities Professors (AAUP), is often run by extreme leftists.

          Lastly, the U of Phoenix is not exactly the kind of new school I had in mind. You might check out Jeffrey Selingo’s book, “There is Life After College.” He writes about many innovative new schools. A short list of a few of the ones I am familiar with: edX, Coursera, Udacity, University of Waterloo’s Co-op program, General Assembly, and hundreds of Coding Bootcamps. You might check out what Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen, the pre-eminent business thinker of our age, has to say about the state of our universities.

          I believe your assumptions about university profs and their union, the AAUP, may be quite inaccurate.

          • K. Dershem says

            Doug: it seems like you’re conflating radicals, liberals, identitarians and Marxists. Although there are obviously radicals and practitioners of identity politics who identify as Marxist, I don’t think Marxists constitute the majority of those groups. There’s strong evidence that liberals outnumber conservatives in most academic disciplines. It’s worth noting that much of that disparity is probably due to self-selection rather than discrimination or persecution (see, for example, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/02/27/research-confirms-professors-lean-left-questions-assumptions-about-what-means). However, it doesn’t follow that universities are infested with revolutionaries who want the proletariat to seize the means of production. “A Crisis of Confidence” (which is a very interesting read; thanks for the reference) includes a study conducted by the authors which found that 3% of American college professors identify as Marxists. The percentages are higher among Humanities scholars (5%) are social scientists (17.6%). Although the latter number is surprisingly high, I don’t think it justifies Bircher-style panic about the enemy within. As far as I can tell, that study has not in fact been replicated. The lack of viewpoint diversity in academia is a serious issue; I agree with you that Heterodox Academy is doing good and important work on this front. However, it’s inaccurate claim that “Marxists now constitute huge portions of many departments — I don’t see how this kind of alarmist statement contributes to the conversation.

          • Vincent says

            @Doug

            Since you felt it necessary to defend yourself in a serious manner I’ll grant you a serious reply.

            Regardless of your experiences with academia and your various studies, I think it’s fallacious to assume you understand how the “orthodox leftist” professor thinks. You may have observed how certain professors behave and read some qualitative studies, but that doesn’t mean you actually understand their thinking. It certainly doesn’t mean that all these “leftist” professors share the same motivations, reasonings, or even beliefs. You struck a nerve, but I don’t think it’s for the reason you think. I just get extremely annoyed with comments that say “liberals think this” or “the liberal mind works like such and such.” That type of reductionist psychoanalysis makes me think of Reefer Madness: “the marijuana fiend has no regard for basic morals…”

            It’s been my experience in academia that most liberal economics professors, for example, have quite a different worldview than liberal literature professors. Even when there is a seeming overlap with something such as Marx, when you actually discuss the details with such people you’ll find that they don’t share much in common. For example, I haven’t spoken with a literature professor who demonstrated much of an understanding regarding the nuts and bolts of economics. Marxism seems to function as a sort of jargon in literary criticism to talk about power structures and the oppressed. But even within the literary community there are Marxists who are gung-ho socialists, Marxists who are fans of victimhood (Bloom’s “school of resentment”), Marxists who see Marx as pointing out the flaws in capitalism while providing broken solutions, and many others. Personally, I find literary criticism to be in a sad state when it depends on borrowing the argot of an outdated political philosophy to describe basic concepts such as oppression, power structures, etc. It’s also my experience that many of these “Marxists” have not done their primary research and the only Marx they’ve read is “The Communist Manifesto.”

            This is not a homologous group and I was just discussing a small subset of professors. Most liberal professors don’t associate with Marxism at all. As you rightly point out, the identity politics/Marxist faculty has quite a presence on many campuses, but that’s just because they’re the loudest voices.

            The situation is exasperated because administrators love to give them a megaphone because inclusivity and diversity means accepting large swaths of foreign students who pay a premium to attend the university. Inclusivity and diversity also means avoiding lawsuits. The faculty I belong to, for example, is always being summoned to these inane meetings about inclusivity and diversity and the vast majority of us just don’t go. I’ve been dodging “Green Dot Training” and “ESL Sensitivity” and suicide prevention training and all this other crap since I arrived and so have my colleagues. While most of my colleagues would identify as liberal, very few of them buy into the hyper-sensitivity of the vocal minority.

            Regarding the alternative education platforms, I don’t think they’re the death knell for traditional education you think they are and I certainly hope not. First, most of them are extensions of major universities. I think the universities are attempting to compete with things like U of Phoenix with these platforms. Second, I think these scaled-up versions of Khan Academy are useful for those who lack opportunity but a traditional liberal arts education will always be better. The networking, ability to spend time with professors one-on-one, and the breadth of courses one takes at a traditional university all provide benefits one can’t get from an online program.

          • Doug Deeper says

            Vincent, thank you for “granting” (I know you just cannot help yourself) me a serious reply.

            I believe we have many of the same views. So let me get away from the dispute over classifications of leftist profs and how they think. I believe you may raise some perfectly fair points.

            Yes, no one can speak for such a large and non-homologous group with much accuracy. And no one can truly understand how anyone really thinks. So let me be more precise. I want to speak more about behavior and outcomes.

            I see the overwhelming power at the universities in the hands of people (faculty, admin, students) who share a set of views and I will call them the “Orthodoxy.” These views include: It is acceptable for certain groups of people to be denied free speech on campus by whatever means necessary. Some of the groups: conservatives, Republicans, Evangelical and certain other practicing Christians. Zionists, Israelis, outspoken capitalists, Trump supporters, people exposing the dangers of radical Islamists, sharia law, FGM and jihadism, people who believe in enforcing the laws against illegal immigration, people who speak out about allowing children to select any kind of gender for themselves before they reach pubescence, and people who believe there are real anatomical and psychological differences between men and women.

            I have no clear idea how any of the Orthodoxy actually think, but it is clear what they say and do and what they do not say and do. They do not stand up for the shutdown of free speech, sometimes by violent intimidation, sometimes by actual violence, for the unorthodox groups of people above. They do advocate for de-platforming, the hackers’ veto, and violent intimidation to shut down unorthodox views. It is clear on a huge number of campuses that antifa and BLM will ensure this de-platforming. Virtually no faculty or administrators will seriously stand up to this. It is clear why, they would be putting their reputation, their career, and their personal safety on the line.

            So, I conclude, while no one knows exactly the ideological composition of the Orthodox power groups, nor how they actually think, one can safely conclude that the results of their power are clear; outspoken critics of the Orthodoxy will only very rarely be allowed to speak. This is crystal clear to us unorthodox. I suggest you take a walk in our shoes for a week on campus, without a bodyguard.

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

        @Vincent

        What a pointless comment. Apart from foaming at the mouth, do you have anything you would like to say?

    • david of Kirkland says

      Far too many universities are just businesses of selling credentials, virtue signaling over a true focus on academics and preparing for future jobs.

    • Mike Johnson says

      Very good and to the point. Once ‘politicals’ have an institution by the throat it will die and that death sets the stage for a new beginning.

    • Gamlin O'Shea says

      My Dad was a strong union man, and he explained how they were regularly targeted by communists, but they chucked them out. Communism took hold where there were no strong unions, not vice versa.

  2. Doug Deeper says

    At the end of my comment I meant pressure from students and parents, not professors.

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      @Alex S

      This piece is one professor’s view of the situation at WSU, one who objects to ‘coercive’ unionization. So the lefty-bashing and union-bashing isn’t surprising.

      Given that, I would still have preferred to have the author include more background info. on the situation at WSU. What is missing?

      The union rejected the fact-finder’s report 467-12. It is rare for professors at any school to agree on ANYTHING by such a lop-sided margin. Of course, not all 467 faculty members walked out. Total membership is 564.

      Link: https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/wsu-faculty-union-overwhelmingly-rejects-fact-finder-report-find-complete-report-here/udnlyLgd7FJgBhWcQu4pgL/

      The lop-sided vote suggests that the WSU administration has screwed things up terribly. How terrible?

      As a result of the visa fraud case, WSU general counsel Gwen Mattison–who was implicated in the fraud–agreed to retire in August 2015 with a $301,331 ‘separation payment’. WSU has also refused to downsize its athletic program. Can you see why faculty members are upset? Here’s more:

      A $1 million settlement ended a three-year federal investigation into visa fraud at Wright State University, but the school and its leaders will continue to face strict scrutiny from the Department of Justice, a Dayton Daily News examination of the deal shows.

      Under the agreement signed by president Cheryl Schrader and board chairman Doug Fecher, Wright State avoids prosecution in the matter for any crimes committed by the school or its employees between 2010 and 2015, including for perjury, money laundering “fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents,” and “conspiracy to defraud the United States.”

      Link: https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/wsu-may-face-more-scrutiny-despite-deal-federal-visa-investigation/lD6pDEScJKf1PFaAleAJBJ/

    • Our universities forge the world’s finest engineers, architects, health care professionals, scientists of all stripes, etc. They are badly in need of reform in many ways, but are absolutely essential.

  3. JP Blickenstaff says

    Unions by nature are selfish takers not community builders. They have no concern for their opponents. There is the old saying that Teacher’s Unions will care about students when students join the union. That holds true in this WSU situation. The State Board of Education (or whoever) would be better off to shut this school down and mothball it; putting the funding into intuitions that are still functional.

    • Dan Love says

      @JP Blickenstaff

      Do their opponents have any more concern for them? Are administrators more community builders? We’re talking about administrators here. They’re reputation is one step above lawyers, and for good reasons.

      Also, teachers are far, far more likely to care about students than administrators are. Teachers interact eye-to-eye with students on a daily basis – deal with their problems, gauge their successes and failures, learn their names and personalities… Teachers are on the front lines.

      Administrators are pencil-pushing office-dwelling goblins who see students as walking money bags. They’re so far behind the front lines students and teachers are lucky to see an administrator once a semester. They also get paid much more than teachers do.

      I agree with another commenter. The hate for unions on here is disturbing. There’s definitely problems with unions, but the hate is disturbingly disproportionate.

      • I am in no way familiad with american universities let alone their administrators but i know universities are large organisations with a large staff extensive facilities with complex maintenance and investment needs. Such organisations need administrating and in order to do so needs administrators. I am sure there are good and bad administrators with the bulk somewhere inbetween. I am sure there are sometimes peverse incentives which mean thet pursue the wrong objectives but this is the real world not some utopia and broadly most administrators are trying their best.

        “Administrators are pencil-pushing office-dwelling goblins who see students as walking money bags” is the view of a child in which everyone is either good or evil. Grow up.

        • Dan Love says

          @Aj

          It’s obviously hyperbole Aj, settle down. Everyone knows administrators are needed and provide a necessary service.

          This thread is operating on many negative stereotypes of teachers. Negative stereotypes of administrators are fair game.

        • Stephanie says

          AJ, much of what administrators do is build procedures that serve nothing but to waste faculty time and get in the way by micromanaging things they know nothing about. If it weren’t that admistrators do all the hiring, most of what they do that is actually useful would be replaced with online, automated systems. There is little need for 90 % of university administrative staff, and universities would work better and be much more affordable without them.

  4. Time for the author to start looking for a teaching position ant another university?

  5. Academics are the ones who actually earn universities' incomes through teaching and research says

    Wow, lots of union haters here. After all, the world was so much better before workers found a collective voice.

    Reading this article, one wonders just how much damage and waste is caused by the USA’s dysfunctional health system. The cause of so much distress and conflict.

    In Australia, university upper-level administrators are paid far more comparatively than their USA or UK counterparts. It used to be that VCs here were paid a professor’s salary plus 30%. Now they are commonly paid around USD 700,000 annually and try to impress us with assertions that they lead billion dollar enterprises. But so much university administration is, as David Graeber has described it, “bullshit jobs”: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Are-You-in-a-BS-Job-In/243318

    Marx was an early economic system thinker so I imagine that a Professor of Economics who wanted to challenge a little conservative economic thinking might hang his picture to stir up visiting students and colleagues. I knew a physiology professor once who kept a carpet snake in his office and used to feed it laboratory rats. It gave me quite a surprise once when I visited his office.

    • Harland says

      WHAT conservative thinking? There is no conservative thinking on campus. They were ostracized and driven out decades ago.

      Anyone who hangs a picture of Marx is heartily endorsing Marxism. The ideology that killed more people than Nazism.

      • E. Olson says

        Harland – but true Marxism has yet to be tried, otherwise we would all certainly be living in utopia already.

      • Academics are the ones who actually earn universities' incomes through teaching and research says

        As far as I know, Marxism has not yet taken over the economics teaching departments. There it is mainly neoclassical economics that rules with, nowadays, barely any history of economic theory taught (i.e. very conservative). Australian economist (now in UK) Steve Keen has been very critical of the lack of teaching of the history of economic theory.

    • Hanging a picture of Marx is worse than hanging a picture of Hitler. At least you compare him to a rat-eating snake.

  6. Heike says

    There it is AGAIN. Sigh. People. foreign students are NOT immigrants. They aren’t. It’s literally not what the word means. An immigrant is someone who has come to another country to stay. A foreigner in our lands is NOT an immigrant. And here’s a Ph.D, someone you’d expect to use precise language, getting it wrong.

    I swear, watching highly educated people write on Quillette has done a number on my respect for the highly educated. I’ve come to find that contrary to what I’ve been told, they’re not any better than anyone else. Come to think of it, who told me that their opinions were better than everyone else’s‽

    • E. Olson says

      Heike – from what I understand, the WSU “immigration” legal difficulties occurred because administration falsely used student visa assistance to bring in foreign IT specialists who never attended classes at WSU, but instead worked as cheap IT employees for local Dayton tech firms. Apparently it never occurred to administration that perhaps WSU might provide employees to local firms by training and graduating students with the necessary IT skills. Feel better now?

      • James H Alton says

        The H1B program has long been controversial among American engineers because the H1B visa holders are “captives” of their employer-sponsors and can’t move to another company for more money (i.e. prevailing wage). It’s often viewed as a scheme for shielding tech employers from the laws of supply and demand. They can’t find qualified workers because they offer $60k when engineers are getting $100k+.

        My impression was that Wright State was representing these H1B visas as being for folks to work at Wright State, not to be students.

  7. HighTechRedNeck says

    To the author..welcome to unionism and their tactics. I’m from a union majority town and this behavior is old hat. Agreed. coercive unionism is anti American.

    Its sad to hear situation at WSU. Self immolation is a good metaphor when coupled with regressive left university groupthink and the unionism Marxist BS.
    While the union may have legit grieveances against administration, the us vs them and if someone wins other loses attitude, benefits nobody. They’re as whiny and unreasonable as some of the coddled children entering university today.

    Nobody ever mentions usually corrupt union management and their ever decreasing 19th century value proposition to rank n file members for the dues they pay. They’re far to proud to claim victory/righteousness even when their parasitic nature, infect and harm the host WSU.and students.

    If the faculty union is as radical as you claim, i hope they can decertify..but brace yourself for a festering fishook removal type experience.

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @HighTechRedNeck

      “the us vs them and if someone wins other loses attitude, benefits nobody”

      Yes, how very sad. As a former shop steward and wildcat striker I can’t agree more. Unfortunately without the union it’s minimum wage for most workers (one can always find cheap imports from India to drive down wages should they rise above starvation levels). And, as in most wars, if you aren’t winning you’re loosing, so keep winning. I hated it even when I was doing it.

    • peanut gallery says

      At some point some unions appear more akin to the Guilds that we abandoned than an organization fighting for workers rights.

  8. How on earth did so many proud Marxists become part of the economics department? That’s like having creationists in the biology department.

    • E. Olson says

      Will – How dare you belittle Marxism by comparing it to Creationism!!! Creationism can’t hold a candle to Marxism, which has an unsurpassed record of human influence through the killing of 100+ million people, and destroying the lives of billions more.

  9. Rev. Wazoo! says

    A kind of fuzzy piece which doesn’t address its title. How is the strike ‘self-destructive’? It would be if disruption bad for current students but not neccessarily faculty – caused enrolment to drop but no mention.

    “And this, even though the new president brought on board in 2017 makes less than her predecessor did. Even if all senior administrators worked for free the financial crisis would be largely unaffected.”

    Meanwhile, the issue of the strike seems to be elided into merely salaries of ‘top’ adminstrators instead of the hordes of administrators, the total cost if which is driving down admissions and quality. Faculty are sensibly concerned that by becoming massively top-heavy ( many unis now have many more administrators than faculty) the entrprise itself is threatened. Whether the union action is helpful or addresses this isn’t examined and by ignoring the crux of the issue, the article neuters itself from offering any real insight.

    • E. Olson says

      BC – What!!! You actually expect immigration laws to be enforced and violators punished? Are you some kind of racist xenophobe?

  10. E. Olson says

    Sad story, where it is hard to have sympathy for any of the parties involved except the students. Leftist faculty, Leftist Unions, and Leftist Administration have all contributed to the mess at WSU and higher education generally. Faculty Unions have done nothing to prevent the rapid increase in administration numbers and salaries that have bloated University overhead, and have done nothing to limit the rise in the use of poorly paid adjuncts as replacements for tenured faculty. Unions and administration have also done little or nothing to protect the free speech rights and academic freedoms of the few remaining Centrist/Right leaning faculty on campus from attacks initiated by Leftist faculty and students. And sadly, there is little evidence that faculty or administration have been thoughtful in considering the ethics of recruiting both foreign and domestic students who are not really “college material”, only to load them up with student debt and junk degrees (assuming they graduate at all), or the continuation of graduate programs that are built on vastly exaggerated career prospects (i.e. virtually all Master’s and PhD programs in the humanities and many social sciences). And in the end, the corrosive atmosphere at WSU will likely lead to a reduction in the quantity of quality student applicants, and the loss of most productive (and mobile) teachers and researchers at the school, while the Marxists remain to preside over the ruins.

  11. derek says

    This sounds like a failed institution where the interests of everyone except the paying customers are paramount.

    I also suspect that it is a pattern that will be repeated. The accumulation of power and resources by administrators throughout the industry is common as well the high spending. The teaching assistants treatment is awful. And faculty generally has little say on the direction of the institutions.

    The whole industry is ripe for reform, and this is usually what it looks like. The he said she said back and forth and fine apportioning of blame simply describes an impasse.

    Maybe this is why conservatives have left these institutions. Maybe they left a sinking ship, they have families to feed and got out while the getting was good.

    What is left is a fight to the death between the administrative class and Marxist unions. They fully deserve each other.

    And yes, there are innocents who are stuck. We call them collateral damage.

    • K. Dershem says

      The more comments I read referring to “Marxist” unions and “Marxist” professors, the more convinced I become that the individuals posting them have very little understanding of what “Marxist” means. Apparently the term is used (wrongly) as a synonym for “liberal.” Perhaps “Marxist” is an epithet which serves the same function for people on the right as “racist” or “fascist” does for people on the left. In both cases, I think the conversation is harmed by the improper use of loaded terms.

      • Mike Johnson says

        You might study the evolution of extremist political thought in France to 1789 then its migration to Germany which many will identify with Marx as the most noted figure. Then after focussing on Romantic Idealism through the early writings of Marx and then the efforts of Engels to make it resemble some sort of Social Science. This “marxist momentum” then split into a number of factions of which one was Leninism then Stalinism. At this point we still have this decaying marxist residue crippling parts of the educational system. Formal Marxism repeatedly dead-ended in Europe in the early 1920s, in the USSR in 1924, and finally in China after the death of Mao. Marx himself was filled by personal resentments over a failed life and his rejection by the elites in the time that he lived because he was a typical student crank. If you know his life even his father made these observations. Was Marx himself a Marxist or particularly interested in Marxism as such? No.
        Marxist most closely resembles most closely what Marx actually was in his own life. Further you do not seem to know what a ‘liberal’ is or what Liberalism actually means nor do you have much of an idea what Fascism was or how it arose and why in the aftermath of 1914-18.

        • K. Dershem says

          My point is that the term “Marxist” is being loosely and inaccurately applied to unions and academics. Nothing you wrote addressed that point. Was it intended to?

          I was referring to “liberal” in the sense in which it’s used in the American political context.

          I didn’t refer to fascism at all. I’m not sure how you can infer what I know or don’t know about it.

  12. TheSnark says

    Marxist or not, unions by their very nature tend towards an “us versus them” attitude. Combine that with management/administration mistakes and a changing economic environment, and the results are clear. In the recent past it was the demise of the American steel and car industry. Today, you see the bankruptcy and approaching bankruptcy of Illinois, Detroit, and many other states and cities. And if the author is right, in the future it will include the disappearance of many second and third tier colleges.

    The unions always claim that the administration’s or management’s mistakes and changing economics are not their fault. That might be true, but they happily fed at the trough when time were good. When times get bad they fight tooth and nail to protect their wages and benefits, whatever the cost to the rest of the company/city/state/college. It’s only when things actually collapse that they are willing to grant serious concessions. And by then it’s usually too late.

  13. James H Alton says

    Something that many readers mightn’t realize is Wright State’s location. It’s adjacent to Wright Patterson AFB. In fact, if Wright Field and Patterson Field were joined Wright State would be on base.

    Wright State has a plentiful supply of company grade officers (mostly engineers given Wright-Pat’s mission) eager to earn Masters Degrees.

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      @James H Alton

      You make a good point.

      It’s also worth noting that Dayton OH [the largest city close to WSU], like Rochester NY, was a technological and economic powerhouse 100 years ago.

      Just think of the Wright bros. [aviation], Delco [automotive batteries] and National Cash Register in Ohio and Eastman Kodak in NY. But the Wright bros. weren’t very good businessmen, and NCR and Kodak failed to jump on the digital bandwagon soon enough. Both of these formerly hi-tech cities are now in serious economic decline, as hi-tech companies have moved away.

      At least Rochester benefited from the early founding of two tech-oriented higher ed institutions [U of Rochester in 1850 and Rochester Institute of Tech. in 1829], whereas WSU wasn’t founded until 1967. In public higher ed, it is difficult to play catch up without extremely generous govt. funding–which is a pipe dream in Ohio!

  14. Morgan Foster says

    “I watch from afar with horror as the university into which I have poured nearly 25 years of blood, sweat, and tears self-immolates.

    I used to feel horror. Now I feel only contempt. Let it burn.

  15. ga gamba says

    Firstly, I have no opposition to labour unions because I recognise the right of people to assemble as they like and speak with one voice, if that’s their choice. My opposition is mandatory membership, and WSU avoids this problem by allowing educators to choose for themselves.

    Knowing the nitty gritty of expenses and revenues is important. (PDF)

    Local news reported: Wright State University’s board of trustees approved a [2019] budget on Friday that projects around a $10-million decline in revenue but still aims to add around $3 million to the school’s reserve fund.

    The school’s reserve fund is about $50 million.

    Wright State has 2,563 employees and 17,108 students, a 1:6.67 ratio. Student tuition and fees generate a bit more than 60 per cent of Wright State’s revenue.

    Revealing is page 4 of WSU’s budget presentation. Starting from 2008 and continuing to 2011, enrollment increased about ten per cent – this during the Great Recession. Employment of staff, administrators, and faculty remained mostly flat. In year 2011-2012 enrollment crashed whilst employment of administrators and faculty increased and continued to increase for a few years after enrollment decline. Revenue and expense were going in two different directions. Today, student enrollment is down 14% since ’08 and almost 25% from ’11. Though the number of foreign students is in the hundreds, it has experienced the greatest fall – over 41% for both undergrad and graduate students. Departments that saw significant enrollment declines are Engineering and Computer Science, Science and Maths, Education and Human Services, Continuing Education, and Graduate Studies.

    Administration is down 17% since ’08 and 22% since ’14, its highpoint. Faculty has only declined by 5.2% since ’08 and about 10% since its high in ’14. It should be mentioned in 2017 WSU’s Applied Research Center (WSUARC) was spun off from the university – this entity was the cause of the visa scandal and fines. Now an independent non-profit corporation, the spin off of WSUARC (a.k.a. Wright State Research Institute) may account for some of the decline in staff, administrators, and faculty. WSUARC is to pay WSU about $750,000, which will cover much of the $1 million fine, though the earlier investments to establish, equip, and run WSUARC as well as brand value, if any, are not addressed.

    Local press reported the budgets for the following departments.

    Boonshoft School of Medicine: $32.8 million
    College of Science and Mathematics: $22.5 million
    Facilities Management Services: $22.4 million
    College of Liberal Arts: $21.8 million
    College of Engineering and Computer Science: $17.3 million
    Raj Soin College of Business: $12.7 million
    Office of Chief Information Officer: $12 million
    Student Affairs: $11.7 million
    Intercollegiate Athletics: $11.2 million
    Business and Finance: $11.18 million
    Lake Campus: $11 million
    College of Education and Human Services: $8.8 million
    Provost Office: $7.7 million
    Research and Graduate Studies: $6.8 million
    University libraries: $6.2 million
    President’s Office: $5.4 million
    College of Nursing and Health: $5 million
    University college: $4.9 million
    Enrollment management: $4 million
    School of Professional Psychology: $3.4 million
    University advancement: $2.5 million
    Wright State Police: $2.1 million
    Human Resources: $1.7 million
    Chief Diversity Officer: $496,997
    Internal Audit: $285,008

    Almost a half million dollars for the diversity officer? C’mon. That’s five per cent of the $10 million shortfall right there. Athletics’ budget is a up $4 million from $7.7 million in 2013 – this occurring while the regents were cutting the budgets by tens of millions. I have no opposition to collegiate athletics provided that it’s entirely self funding and profit is shared with the other divisions, but I can find no evidence of this. A 2016 NCAA report (PDF) found WSU’s athletics’ programme had a shortfall of $1.4 million, and this audit counted the $8.6m in direct institutional support as revenue. Attendance at WSU’s men’s basketball games – its most popular sport – averaged 4,355 people; the university’s Nutter Center’s maximum capacity is 11,500 seats. Further, WSU funds the men’s and women’s basketball teams almost the same even though the women’s team had $9000 in ticket sales vice $276,000 for the men’s games – all the other sports’ ticket sales combined were $25,500. Administration officials cite what it considers the equivalent of $12.6 million in advert value from more than 13,600 pieces of news, yet with the increase in sport funding and more “advert value” attained enrollment decreased. The uni’s justification is cockamamie. But, if we are to accept news reports of sports have quantifiably positive value, then the administration must also accept and quantify the negative value of the news reports of its scandals, poor administration, labour conflict, and whatever else damages the value of the school.

    Dayton Daily News, which maintains a database of all Ohio public employee salaries, reports WSU’s 10 highest-paid employees in 2017 were:
    Margaret Dunn, Dean of the Boonshoft School of Medicine: $518,199
    Scott Nagy, men’s basketball coach: $502,719
    David Hopkins, professor and former WSU president: $422,433
    Glen Solomon, professor and chair of internal medicine: $415,953
    Mary McCarthy, professor of surgery: $414,555
    Timothy Broderick, Wright State Research Institute chief scientist: $414,099
    Thomas Sudkamp, provost: $345,470 (Sudkamp had been suspended for 3 years whilst still drawing salary. He was replaced.)
    Amit Sheth, professor of computer science: $332,811
    Jeffrey Travers, professor and chair, pharmacology and toxicology: $302,099
    Robert Fyffe, professor of neuroscience: $301,333

    These are the high fliers (and most of those being paid more than $200,000 per annum work in the medical school), and it’s only fair to mention many, many more earn much less – 1078 WSU employees are paid between $50,000 and $120,000. A sergeant in WSU’s police force earns more than $200,000 – well done, Marcus.

    Martin Kich, professor and AAUP-WSU union leader, is paid $105,151 by WSU plus whatever the union pays him, if anything.

    I think there’s some justification to increase the pay of the lowest earning faculty, say those earning less than $80,000, which is still a very good salary. A five per cent increase for Dean Dr Dunn is almost $26,000. That same 5% for an associate professor earning $60,000 is $3,000.

    The resolution to this dispute is to cut admin salaries, eliminate many admin positions, kill the athletics department if it can’t sustain itself, give pay raises only to the lowest paid faculty, and fund employees’ benefits such as health insurance at present levels adjusted to the normal increases by insurers, if any. If student enrollment doesn’t increase and sustain the education commitments of the uni, then it’s time to sack educators starting with the departments seeing the largest decline.

    • Dan Love says

      ga gamba – a Quillette commenter yesterday, Chief Global Comptroller tomorrow.

      This is the kind of analysis that was lacking. Without this analysis, there’s a lot of bullshitting.

      People outside of academia are woefully unaware of the massive gap between what teachers get paid and what administrators get paid. There are so many administrators that some colleges have more administrators than faculty. Then teachers are blamed for wasted money? Bureaucratic inefficiency, by definition, is the fault of administrators.

      Faculty have no control over the costly bullshit programs administrators create. This includes not only inefficient programs nobody knows the purpose of, but also the ideologically motivated ones. All those “diversity initiatives” and “designated safe spaces” come from administrators. (Socially) far left policies are enacted by administrators – faculty don’t have that power.

      If affirmative action and diversity crap is being funded, it’s not teachers who are funding it.

      Nonetheless, teachers are responsible for the large part they play in the academic ideological echo chamber. They just don’t do the funding.

      • ga gamba says

        All those “diversity initiatives” and “designated safe spaces” come from administrators. (Socially) far left policies are enacted by administrators – faculty don’t have that power.

        I largely agree with much of your comment above, but I think your statement I quoted here merits further examination. Tenured faculty hold a great deal of power; their jobs are some of the most protected in any sector. Often the demands for more administrators, preferred group facilities and scholarships, preferential hiring, etc. come from members of the faculty conniving with student activist mouthpieces. On US campuses we’ve seen this time and time again such as at U of Missouri and Evergreen State.

        I don’t dispute there are tensions between admin and faculty, but there is also alignment between members of the two groups in pursuit of particular goals.

        Inside Higher Education reports more and more university presidents are coming from the diversity office. The creation of the office and its directorship, often reporting directly to the president or provost, allow these individuals to leapfrog others in more established domains and on more congested and slower traditional tracks – it’s the bullet train to power. Many of these administrators start their careers as faculty, then shift to admin. The chief diversity officer (CDOs) position is typically reserved for a member of a so-called oppressed or marginalised group. At several schools these CDOs employ a team of Stasi-like informers and enforcers monitoring the student body and less compliant professors as well as control a violation reporting system to encourage narcing. And given these offices as well as many professors adhere to the prejudice plus power definition, they may be very selective in deciding which complaints merit pursuit. Of course, recognising the power of both the university’s CDO institution and faculty has over a lone student appears to evade them.

    • The whole idea that faculty are underpaid relative to staff is dubious. Most faculty work only a few days a week for 8 months of the year. Staff work 5 days a week for 11 and 1/2 months per year. Most staff members are not Deans or Provosts. So, when you say faculty are underpaid, what exactly are you comparing? I suspect that faculty as WSU and other schools may be OVERPAID relative to their contribution to universities.

      Any way you slice it, the whole thing is propped up by mounds of student debt. The faculty union is simply saying that they deserve an even bigger cut of what is stolen from naive children and their hopeful parents. Karl Marx indeed….

  16. Jezza says

    The trouble with some unions is lack of self-restraint. It is foolish to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Pragmatists are preferable to idealogues. I was a unionist for years and our interests and the bosses’ interests coincided for 95 % of the time. It is useful to remember that most organizations require a profit to survive.

  17. The author does not specify which union demands he considers unreasonable, mentioning only in passing the issue of health care. The union’s gripe lies not just with drastic increases in health care costs. It also is concerned about the administration’s lack of transparency regarding the university’s financial situation, and questionable choices of where to make cuts, which seem to fall entirely on the faculty — for example, calling for so-called ‘work furloughs’ yet still requiring faculty to teach all their classes — while preserving 19 programs, which were supposed to be self-funding but which continue to run in the red.
    http://www.wright.edu/administration/aaup/aaup.html

    The fact-finding report is 142 pages long. The union’s summary can be found here:
    http://www.wright.edu/administration/aaup/nego/FF/Summary_of_Fact_Finding_for_OCAAUP.pdf

    One of the chief negotiators is an emeritus professor of economics…. For many years before his retirement, he had a large photograph of Karl Marx in his office window, presented for the edification of passersby. Upon his retirement, the portrait passed to another economics professor, also long part of union leadership, and in whose office window it continued to be displayed.

    As Evan Osborne is an anarchist-libertarian, this really is the pot calling the kettle black. Both marxism and libertarianism are intellectually bankrupt ideologies, based on the same fundamentally flawed misunderstanding of human nature.

    Osborne argues that anarchistic self-regulation is a more effective way to organize society than government regulation. But it was a failure to enforce regulations on H1-B visas that allowed WSU to abuse the system for profit and led to the financial straits it is now in.

Leave a Reply