Is this a dagger which I see before me?
Act I: A hit, a very palpable hit
Scene – a mid-sized prairie university
NICHOLAS sits at his desk, head in hands
If there’s a department that knows tragedy, it’s likely English. And, they’d tell you that a 50 per cent reduction in courses offered would indeed prove to be quite tragic.
In a document titled “The Impact of Proposed Cuts to the Budget of the Faculty of Arts on the Ability of the Department of English to Offer Its Programs” sent to administration and various faculty members, Department Head Dr. Nicholas Ruddick wrote, “[U]nless alternative sessional and TA funding can be found to modify the effect of the proposed cuts, there will be a reduction of at least ~50% (200 reduced to 100 courses) and more likely as much as ~57% (200 reduced to 85 courses) in the total annual number of ENGL courses that can be offered over the next three years. In particular, ENGL 100 offerings are likely to shrink to a small fraction of the current annual norm, with major consequences for all students requiring this course.”
“[W]e actually can’t find a way of making [the department] more efficient, frankly. I would say it’s pretty damn efficient already” – Nicholas Ruddick
The Department of English is in this situation due over one million dollars in cuts to the Faculty of Arts over the past four years. For the 2012-13 academic year, the Faculty of Arts was asked to make reductions in expenses totaling $420,000, or three per cent of its overall budget. In 2011-12 no cuts were asked to be made, but the Faculty was asked to cut $313,000 and $312,000 in 2010-11 and 2009-10 respectively.
“[Central administration] give[s] us [a] budget but allow[s] us to retain decision making power over how that budget will be spent. Departments … in a sense have some autonomy too–limited autonomy in a sense that most of our budget is determined by salary, and I can’t really do much about that because we have to go on paying these people. But, there are certain areas where we have a little bit of leeway – sessionals, TAs, and so on. I leave that to the departments; I try to give them a lump sum amount, and it’s up to them to figure out how to spend it,” said Dr. Richard Kleer, Dean of Arts.
While every department and faculty at this university is doing all it can to become more efficient, Kleer said he doesn’t know “how far these kinds of efficiency gains can go in helping us to deal with the effects of further cuts.”
“The possible gains are certainly nowhere near enough to relieve English or Philosophy of the kinds of damage they might be facing should budgetary cuts continue at their current pace or even increase,” said Kleer.
The Department of English met with Kleer and Dr. Tom Chase, Provost and Vice-President (Academic), on Oct. 26 to discuss Ruddick’s aforementioned Impact Assessment, but feels the answers he received were insufficient.
“We asked him [Chase] what plans the university had for a scenario in which this zero per cent over three year cuts was in operation, and the English department would only be able to offer less than half the courses that it’s currently offering,” said Ruddick. “We got an explanation of the impact of the provincial government cuts on the university as a whole, but we didn’t get an answer to the question … I don’t think he knows, frankly.”
Chase said that administration is aware of the situation the department is in, but added, “I don’t think the English department is in crisis … if the government gives us zero per cent on the grant this year and zero per cent on the grant next year, the English department will be quite stressed”.
These cuts are due to the potential that the university may get only a two per cent increase in its operating grant from the provincial government or a “worst-case scenario” in which over the next three years the operating grant is not increased.
“Every faculty has been asked to come up with scenarios in which over the next three years we get zero per cent,” said Ruddick.
The Faculty of Arts struck a management committee to try and manage these cuts. The committee hoped that it would be able to manage these cuts with ease, but it turns out “that we can’t do that painlessly.”
“The Faculty of Arts essentially cannot handle any cuts. It just doesn’t have anything to cut,” said Ruddick. “The only significant amounts of money that can be cut are to the sessional and the TA budget, unless you’re talking about salaries, and of course, we don’t have any ability to sack people.”
This would prove drastic for the department as Ruddick noted how reliant the Department of English is on a sessional budget, with 36 non-permanent faculty members teaching English courses in the 2012-13 academic year.
Nonetheless, Kleer said that sessionals and TAs would be “the last thing to go”.
“In the current framework that we’ve laid out in this Self-Management Committee, we’ve said, ‘That’s the most valuable kind of spending we do. If we have to cut that, it will be the last thing that we cut.’ Take a case like the English department. A vast percentage of the teaching that they do is done by sessionals. To lose that teaching capacity would do major harm to that department, would do major harm to several other departments as well. So, why would we want to cut that first?”
Even if the TA and sessional budgets would be the last thing to go, they’re the only substantial funds left that can go.
“I don’t think the English department is in crisis” -Tom Chase
“The only ‘savings’ to Arts operations within the purview of the Management Committee would be through cutting the sessional and TA budgets – even though courses taught by sessionals assisted by TAs actually earn a lot of money for the university!” Ruddick wrote in the fall edition of the Department of English newsletter, Inklings.
Act II: The herdsmen of the beastly plebeians
Scene – a hallway in the university
Enter STUDENTS, severally
In fall 2012 there are 56 sections of English 100 offered. Ruddick said that if teaching those courses was up to permanent faculty alone “there wouldn’t be enough of them to teach anything else, so they’d be teaching just the service course. We wouldn’t have an English department. We wouldn’t have any English majors at all. I don’t think we’d have enough [faculty] even then, to be perfectly honest.”
However, other methods of delivering a service course like English 100 are employed by other universities.
“They have very large sections of the first year English, as large as their universities can manage – 500 to 800 students. And, the professors (the permanent staff) lecture a couple of times a week, and then these groups are broken down into smaller seminar groups that are presided over usually by TAs, and those TAs are generally graduate students.”
Nevertheless, this option is not feasible here because “though we have graduate students, we don’t have nearly enough graduate students to think about doing that.” Moreover, if the TA budget must be cut, this option is made even more unthinkable and ultimately impossible as the amount of marking required to teach a course that size by a single professor would be insurmountable.
“The TA budget will go before the sessional budget goes, and so you can have a professor teaching 800 English 100 students, but the problem comes then with something like the marking. English 100 requires three take-home papers amounting to about 3,000 words, and usually two or three other written pieces over the course of the semester. So, you’ve got six pieces of marking, and at the moment our cap is 40 [students per class]. So, you’ve already got 240 pieces of marking that the instructor is doing on his or her own. If you multiple that by five or six, it becomes simply impossible for a professor to offer English 100 as it has been.”
Currently, Ruddick said the university is operating at its max capacity students in a given English 100 class, and some could even argue that it’s already exceeded this capacity.
“40 [students per class] is actually slightly beyond the max capacity. The federated colleges in fact have 35 max. We have 40 because we have a writing centre manned by our TAs there, and we use that as a kind of supplement.”
Still, Chase said the university needs to look at determining whether the way the curriculum is currently delivered is “the right one.”
“Are our structures the right ones? If we feel that we need low enrollment in English 251 [Expository and Persuasive Writing] to provide really good feedback to students, and we limit them to 15 [students per class], and historically we wind up with 11 students, is that a good use of resources? If English 100 is magically capped at 40, and our federated colleges do it at 35, I mean what are the right ways to deliver the curriculum?”
Act III: Small choice in rotten apples
Scene – A quiet office in AdHum
NICHOLAS sits at his desk, with a scale
Can the English department continue to operate in its current ways? Chase said this “needs to be looked at very carefully.”
“How far these kinds of efficiency gains can go in helping us to deal with the effects of further cuts is something I don't yet know. The possible gains are certainly nowhere near enough to relieve English or Philosophy of the kinds of damage they might be facing should budgetary cuts continue at their current pace or even increase” –Richard Kleer.
Ruddick feels the department is coming to a point where it has two options: one, to continue to offer the service courses as its done in the past, or two, continue to have a functioning Department of English by offering courses higher than the 100-level.
“What we can abandon are those courses which are not part of our majors program, the service courses that we spend huge amounts of time and energy manning, English 100 and to a certain extent English 110. They count for a very large proportion of our enrollment.
“We, the full-time professoriate, are in it to teach English courses to English majors. That’s our main job. The English service course is very useful for the university, and it’s a very good course, but it doesn’t recruit students to become English majors. You’ll notice they’re called Critical Reading and Writing; they’re not called Introduction to Literature or anything like that. They are intended to help students to read and write better, and they do it very effectively.”
And, if this is the case, Ruddick said he’s going to continue running a functioning English department.
“As an English department, certainly as the head, I feel that my chief duty is to the English majors … My position would be that we continue to man the English program at the expense of the service courses. The university administration might say, ‘No, you’ve got to teach the service courses’. In that case, there won’t be an English program. So, it’s one or the other.
“If these cuts do go ahead, even if it’s not within three years, even if it’s five years or six years or whatever, if there starts to be real pressure on our ability to hire sessionals to teach [English] 100, there’ll be fewer and fewer sections of [English] 100,” said Ruddick.
The effect of this is that students will have to wait to get into a course that is required by the vast majority of programs here at the U of R. If the sessional budget were to go, Ruddick estimates “there’ll only be 16 sections of English 100 instead of 84.”
“[Students] will have to wait longer and longer to get English 100. What will the university do? Will it remove the English 100 requirement? You can’t really do that because it’s not a university requirement – it’s a faculty requirement, and it’s imposed by the various faculties. I doubt whether engineering or nursing can remove an English 100 requirement and keep their accreditation,” said Ruddick.
The Department Head hopes to keep delivering courses in the way they’re being delivered currently because they’re “better pedagogically for the students.” Other ways of teaching a course like English 100 exist, but “they’re not as good pedagogically.”
Increasing the class sizes will have a pedagogical detriment on a class like English 100 or 110 because a larger class size will mean it will necessarily be “watered down” with less assignments.
“You’re basically going to have less writing. It’s inevitable. At what point does English 100 become insufficient for the purpose? I don’t know. It’s certainly insufficient for the purpose if it doesn’t have writing assignments,” said Ruddick.
The Department Head also championed the efficiency in which his department is running.
“We’ve looked at our program here in English, and we actually can’t find a way of making it more efficient, frankly. I would say it’s pretty damn efficient already,” said Ruddick.
Additionally, according to Ruddick, there isn’t much else the English department could be more financially efficient and retain its pedagogical integrity.
“We can’t raise the cap for most of the courses … we could only do that and water down the pedagogical element in the service courses … I don’t think, until very recently, the senior administration realized what the effects of cuts like these to arts would be. I think they thought there was a lot of fat in the arts budget, by fat I mean lots of money being expanded on inefficient programs and so on,” said Ruddick.
Kleer also said that the Faculty of Arts has no fat left to discard within its budget.
“We talked about … years of previous cuts that’s eliminated most of the ‘fat’, to the extent that there was any to begin with. It’s now going to be much harder to find ways of coping. ‘Fat’ in this case means mostly losing positions from fairly large departments. I don’t know if you want to call that fat. So, when I say that we’re running out of fat … we’re getting to the point, in some units at least, if we cannot replace the people who are departing, we can’t carry on in those units. Something’s going to have to give,” said Kleer.
Act IV: Put money in thy purse
Scene – Faculty retirement party
Enter RICHARD, shaking an empty wallet
At the end of June 2012, the Department of English lost three and-a-half permanent faculty members, none of which were replaced “by anybody, not even a sessional.”
This is due to the fact that the Faculty of Arts cannot afford to hire new professors to replace retiring ones – even though a retiring professor is costing the faculty much more money in salary than a new, younger replacement professor would. In Ruddick’s words, “The deans, in a sense, don’t have the financial ability now to replace positions within their own faculty because they don’t have the financial power over their own operations. When it comes to things like salaries, they don’t have the power to simply replace somebody retiring with somebody coming in – even if it involves saving money.”
The Dean of Arts confirmed he cannot afford to replace retiring faculty.
“We already have very little discretionary spending. We could cut that [discretionary spending], first off, but that would mean getting rid of sessional instructors who are quite numerous in our faculty. So, when we have to find the money to give back, rather than give that back, we simply don’t replace (at the moment) faculty members,” said Kleer.
Chase said whether a faculty can afford to replace retiring members “depends on two things: on allocations to the faculty and on allocations within the faculty.”
“One of the things the dean does very, very carefully is to consult with the department heads and say, ‘Okay, we have X number of retirements in this faculty. Where are we going to put the replacements?’ … they’ve got to make that decision. If you want a blunt answer, can we replace everyone who has retired in exactly the same area? My answer to you, very bluntly, is not necessarily,” said Chase.
Act V: Where will the money come from? That is the question
Scene – AdHum 527
BOARDMEMBERS sit around a table, silent
Dealing with this situation of budget cuts previously, the Faculty of Arts maintained the notion of “keep[ing] all boats afloat”; the Faculty would do its best to maintain all its existing programs. However, this option is looking like it’s no longer viable.
“Our principle in the past has mostly been let’s try to keep everybody alive. And so, we’ll direct resources to the departments that are really hurting. That worked when we still had a reasonable amount of fat, but as departments get smaller and smaller, I’m not sure that it’s going to work anymore. So, we might have to go to a different set of principles that says we can’t keep everything alive. We’re going to have to make some choices,” said Kleer.
Chase said the university needs to take into consideration the demands of enrollment when considering allocating funds to the faculties.
“In engineering, in several areas including petroleum and environmental assistance, we are totally maxed out. We’re actually not able to accept more students. In other areas of campus, we are badly undersubscribed. If we do not respond to student demand, as a public institution and a publicly funded institution, we’re actually turning people away in some areas while keeping vacant capacity in others,” said Chase.
Yet, Ruddick feels a two per cent increase or status quo operating grant should not require major cuts to the faculties.
“It shouldn’t be rocket science to do something about it insofar as the program is taught pretty efficiently already, so it’s a matter of maintaining it somehow, but where will the money come from? That’s the question. Who will give us the money to put on the courses?”
Furthermore, Ruddick said that his department does not grossly outspend what it brings in, but he also notes that the fact that whether the Department of English is/isn’t a financial burden on the university is irrelevant to the nature of its funding.
“Isn’t that irrelevant in the end? Isn’t this a university, the aim of which is actually, so to speak, educate the students to think for themselves, to be able to read and write efficiently? Well, how can you put a dollar value on something like that?”
The frustrating thing for the department is that “nobody knows” what the English department will really look like in the coming years. “It will depend upon the provincial government, its budget, and how much money from that budget gets through to us,” said Ruddick.
I guess the size of your English class – or whether you can get in at all – will tell us how much of that money does end up going through.
Photo courtesy Tenielle Bogdan