Just a Little Off the Top…

I lost a job today.

For the past ten years, I’ve been leading a summer faculty development workshop for a college. It’s been really well received, lots of repeat attendance as well as new folks each year, and I humbly believe that it’s had some impact on their school’s culture. But alas, this morning I learned that several consecutive years of enrollment shortfalls have left that school unable to afford this year’s event.

It’s a tough time for anyone to count on income from higher education right now. But, you know, don’t cry for me, Argentina, and all that. I have a different point to make here.

At lunch, when I told Nora, she said that aside from all the reasons why this was unfortunate, it was galling that a university with an operating budget in the upper tens of millions of dollars couldn’t manage to sustain a fifteen thousand dollar event (that wasn’t my fee, by the way; that was four days of a facility rental and four days of food, and a stipend and travel costs for me and for another workshop leader). And yes, when each item is examined on its own, a productive event that amounted to 0.02% of their annual budget seems silly to trim away. But let’s look at the whole of the thing.

Here are some of the non-academic, or co-academic, offices that this school operates, a roster similar to hundreds of other schools its size:

  • an alumni and giving office
  • an athletic department
  • security and parking oversight
  • a career services office
  • a tutoring and student academic support center
  • a human resources office
  • endless amounts of instructional and business computing
  • an office dedicated to institutional research and assessment (my old job at a different school)
  • an office of grant support for faculty research
  • a health and wellness center
  • food service and housing
  • coordination for conferences and other facility rentals
  • an arts and cultural program
  • an office of diversity and inclusion

These are now all indispensable components of any credible college. They are the baseline, the functions that must be available. So when budget crises come, it isn’t possible to eliminate one of them and leave all of the others whole. Safer to starve everyone a little bit than to throw one off the boat altogether.