Why didn’t the additional $550 million in the 2019-20 budget help instruction?

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Understanding budgeting processes


Why didn’t the additional $550 million in the 2019-20 budget help instruction?

by Jon Bruschke

Editors Note:

To some, it may seem a strange time to be thinking about good budget times when the immediate future is likely to be bleak.  We find this piece timely for three reasons.

First, if we do not understand why the instructional budget does not grow in good budget years then the losses we experience in bad years are unlikely to ever return.

Second, the COVID-19 crisis has exposed vast disparities in the health care system and, more broadly, society in general.  Rightly, most of us in academia view this as shameful and as a wake-up call to address those inequities.  We anticipate any associated budget impact will expose the disparities within the CSU system, and it is our hope this crisis will serve as a wake-up call for the CSU, and our campus, to address its own disparities, and especially our treatment of lecturers.

Third, Article 20.34 of the CBA clearly articulates that both class size and tenure density are central to educational quality, yet the way our budget is structured makes it impossible to advance one without cutting the other.  This structural problem defies time, and if we are serious about making progress on the stated goals in our Strategic Plan the questions presented here are urgent.

The Central Question

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value”

How is it possible $550 million additional dollars allocated to the CSU by the legislature for the AY 2019-20 have not resulted in improvements to department instructional budgets?  How is it possible that some departments have had cuts to instructional budgets even as system-wide budgets adjust upward?

The answer typically given to this question is that, when considering each non-instructional expense one at a time, each is “necessary” and thus no other choices were possible.  This is a common approach to logic – study each premise in isolation with the hope that if each premise is true the conclusion must be as well.  What I hope to press here is the flip side of that logic, sometimes called reductio ad absurdum[1] — if the conclusion strains credulity, there’s something probably wrong with all the justifications that led up to it.

And on its face, I must say I find the conclusion deeply troubling.  The core mission of the system is the instruction of students; it is undeniably true that the system has faced years of budget paucity and many priorities deserve attention.  But the instructional budgets fared no better than any other priority during the lean times; why have they been declared so much less deserving of financial restoration during periods of budget relief?  Isn’t the instruction of students our sine qua non, the only indispensable thing we do?

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value” is a quote often attributed to Joe Biden, and without doubt it’s a line he repeats frequently.[2]  If we don’t value instruction, I suppose our budget is right where it needs to be.  If we do value quality instruction as a pre-eminent priority, there is a lot of work ahead for the campus and the Senate (and its committees) to re-align our budget with our values.

Before diving into the weeds, I want to make two things clear.  First, I do not doubt the intelligence, goodwill, or professionalism of those folks most centrally managing the CSUF budget.[3]  The problem is complex and righting our ship will be no small task.  From what I can tell our current regime and especially Vice President Danny Kim, Provost Pam Oliver, Executive Director of Academic Finances and Space Management Alyssa Adamson, and ultimately President Virjee – have undertaken nearly heroic efforts to reset a budget that has been fraught with chronic baseline underfunding that has heretofore been addressed with a series of mind-bending budget “backfills” at years-end.  The new scheme is not yet concrete, but all early returns show the discussions to be a vast improvement and product of a good deal of hard work and good will.[4]

What I hope to press, as hard as I can, is the question of why we are not investing more in our faculty and the classroom instruction of our students.  My intention is not to be critical of any one office or person.  We can recognize the hard work of the many good people who have started to turn around our campus budgeting system.  We can still ask why none of the $550m infused into the system has made it into the CSUF classrooms.

My second opening proviso is that I have reviewed VP Kim’s budget report, the Chancellor’s coded budget memorandum, and have done my due diligence researching the facts presented here (and invite any and all to check out the footnotes).  But my perspective is that of a current department chair, former member of the statewide academic senate, former member of our own PRBC, and generally that of a faculty member.  It is not that of a budget insider.  I will cite material when details are available.  Much of what follows is based on how I have lived and experience the budget and what I have learned from elevator conversations.  In many ways, I feel like these are the means by which I have learned the most about the budget.  It is my conclusion that we do not have balances, so much as a dizzying series of encumberances, cost-swaps, backfills, and practices that exist in institutional memory at least as much as they exist in written procedure.  One goal of this essay is to share what I have learned. 

Finally, I wish to distinguish carefully between direct faculty-and-student interaction in for-credit enterprises from overall student support.  The so-called “model comprehensive university” approach that was the halcyon of our past President was ripe with new student support activities, supplemental instructions, assessment mandates, a vast expansion of our HRDI office, growth in administration, and more student affairs initiatives.  Everything and everyone on the campus contributes to student learning and that’s a good point, as far as it goes. But it’s a major logical and policy mistake to say that all things that make a contribution to students are therefore equal to or better than quality classroom experiences.  I do not wish to denigrate the activities of the non-academic activities that surround classrooms, but they are not the focus of this paper.  The question is, how long we can increase investments in those other activities while holding our instructional budgets stagnant before the core activity (which the rest of it is supposed to support) begins to wither?

Nonetheless, whether the other things that have consumed the budget instead are more important or will serve students better is unavoidable to my central question here, and without apology I will say that my answer is “no.”  If we want to be a vibrant institution of higher education we will be no better and no worse than the quality of our classroom instruction and the primary driving force of that will be, and has been at every university for the past 26 centuries, the faculty.  If, as you read this, you are of the belief that some form of out-of-classroom support or program can raise our institution even as our investment in classroom instruction shrinks proportionately you need read no further; we will not agree.  If the quality of classroom instruction and the quality of, and support for, faculty is of concern to you, I hope the following thoughts will help us build campus consensus on a set of values that are reflected in our budget.

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A loose structure: Departments provide instruction but only indirectly control instructional budgets

The only units on this campus that directly provide credit-bearing instruction to students are departments,[5] and they are largely (if not exclusively) in charge of developing courses, scheduling them, and staffing them.  In theory, there is a dollar amount departments have to spend on instruction (almost all of which is dedicated to instructor salary), and making that “budget” involves a series of tradeoffs – teaching large sections with low-paid faculty saves money, teaching smaller sections with higher-paid faculty costs more.  When balanced properly, departments offer all the classes that meet students need, in the format and size that is pedagogically appropriate, while staying on budget. 

There are some complex formulas for how student enrollments are balanced against salary,[6] but the bottom line is that a department is expected to make its FTES target[7] without over-spending on faculty salary.  A pool of money is assigned to a department for instructor salary, the full-time faculty salaries are subtracted from that pool, and the remainder is what can be used to hire contingent[8] faculty.  This is sometimes called the “part-time budget.”  From a staffing perspective, the department chair assigns all the full-time faculty to their course assignments, which is never enough to staff all the necessary classes.  The chair must then hire enough contingent faculty to cover the rest of the sections.

I’ll call this the “FTES-SFR” model.  In theory, that is a fairly neat process and an equation with very few terms.  In practice, the lines are more permeable in ways that are and are not transparent.

The campus receives funds from the system on dollars-per-student basis, which is expressed as an “SFR” or student-to-faculty ratio, and it is not the same for each campus.  The core calculation is that the smaller the SFR the more dollars per student a campus gets.[9]  It bears repeating here that CSUF gets fewer tuition-and-state-fund dollars per student that almost any other CSU campus.[10] And that is really, really not fair.  On the CSUF campus, this process repeats at the college level where each college is assigned a different SFR; the best-funded colleges (ECS at 17.4 and COTA at 18.1) receive about 30% more dollars per student than the worst-funded colleges (HSS at 25.1 and COMM at 23.1).

But, having an SFR of, say, 20.3 does not mean that a campus receives funding to hire one faculty member for every 20.3 full-time students.  Although the funds arrive on campus on a dollars-for-faculty-per-student basis, this is not all campuses need to spend money on to stay in business. The Academic Affairs division needs to hire support staff, pay for facilities, incurs office expenses, etc.  Nor is Academic Affairs the only division that needs to be supported by state dollars.  Thus, funds are taken from the 20.3 SFR allocation for various non-instructional expenses, which are necessary, but they are not for instruction although they are funded from the same SFR-based pool as everything else.  One very direct implication of this is that, assuming two different campuses have roughly the same number of students and administrative expenses, a campus with a higher SFR will have less to spend on instruction.  And, of course, a campus that spends more on administration will have less money left over to spend on instruction.  This a transparent way that the SFR-FTES model does not necessarily mean that funding increases make it to the CSUF classrooms – the additional funding is being sent to other campuses.

And like universities, instruction is not the only expense for a departments.  Many departments have faculty duties that require assigned time, which is a cost.  And here the uncertainty begins. 

The fundamental structure is that instructional budgets are managed at both the Dean and departmental level which often makes it difficult to determine exactly how much can be spent on the part-time budget, what happens to funds that are “saved” by teaching more students with fewer faculty, or what happens if a department over-spends its instructional budget.

Full-time salaries are managed (both negotiated and processed) by the Dean’s office, not the departments, so departments can’t really alter the cost of instructors.  So are budgets, so it is not always the case even if a department collapses three sections with 25 students to one large section of 75 that those 2 “saved” sections will be credited back to the department (to be given, perhaps, as assigned time). 

Nor is the number of students required for a class to count as a “K2”[11] offering standard across colleges or dictated by system-wide standards.  Imagine a department has a SFR of, say, 25.0 and a teaching load of 4 courses per instructor per semester.  One might expect that teaching 1 class of 25 students counts as 1 course and therefore teaching 1 section with 50 students would count as two.  Not so; the number is closer to 90.  What happens to funding awarded but not used to instruct those 40-80 additional students?  That reporting it is not a regular part of any budget report I’ve ever seen.[12]

Nor does the department SFR necessarily match the college SFR, so some departments within a college can themselves receive higher or lower SFRs depending on decisions at the Dean level.

Assigned-time awards are also vexing; depending on the source of the funds a faculty is bought out of a course at a rate of $4,747, although the actual replacement costs are in actuality over $7,000.  How that difference is handled will again depend on the Dean’s office, and the degree to which it will transparently show up in a department budget will vary by college.  The mere fact that the replacement cost is fixed when the contingent instructor salary varies (and very, very few contingent faculty are paid at or below $4,747) is an issue.

An additional uncertainty is over-enrollment.[13]  If enrollment exceeds the assigned target the additional sections are almost always taught by lower-cost contingent faculty, and the additional funds are “back-filled” at the end of the year.  Are the over-enrollments funded at actual costs or on the basis of regular FTES-SFR formulas?  If it’s a surplus is that kept by the Dean or returned to the department?  Those are questions without clear answers.  A common problem has been that somewhere around the end of the summer student enrollment creates demand for additional section and a call goes out to add sections.  The question of “sure, but how will these get paid for?” isn’t really answerable at that point since, among other things, targets are funded on an annual and not on a semester basis.  One possible consequence to a department over-enrolling is that they will get additional funds and get to keep any surplus generated by offering a course taught with low-cost faculty; another is that they generate a surplus that is kept at the Dean’s level; another is that it will just come out of the department’s spring target (at which point they will probably need to lay off[14] contingent faculty).  The most likely outcome is never clear in August.

And timing is also an issue.  Semesters are now scheduled a full year in advance, but budgets do not roll out from the campus to colleges and departments until much later.  In AY2019-20, the budgets arrived at Dean’s offices in November, after all instructional expenses for the fall were set and spring classes had been scheduled and enrollment had started.  Because classes must be scheduled roughly a year before the budgets for them is available any staffing decision involves a fair amount of guesswork.

There is more.  If a faculty member retires there is usually a year-long gap between the retirement and any replacement hire, but the funding stays constant even though the full-time salary amount is considerably lowered.  What happens to those funds?  Grants generate overhead funds; do any of those go to the department?[15]  Departments that offer large numbers of GE courses can have enrollments rise or fall in enormous proportion based on additions to, or re-classifications within, the GE structure.  The ability to offer large or small sections also depends on classrooms, which departments can request but are not guaranteed, so even a department that wishes to offer more large classes might not be able to find rooms for them.  I will stop here.  The point is that there is much uncertainty.

This loose fungibility also makes it unclear what becomes of savings in the instructional budget.  A department wishing to add an assigned time for, say, an undergraduate advisor might approach the Dean who might approve it on the condition that they collapse four General Education classes into a mass lecture to pay for it.  Such salary savings could be more than enough to fund assigned time.  This particular tradeoff would save twice as much as the new assigned time would cost, so what becomes of the remainder?  The Dean could leave it in the instructional budget, but it could also become part of the Dean’s office allocation of the college FTEF, in which case it might be possible to spend the funds on other areas of need.

“In the end department chairs control paltry budgets and have almost no discretion in how to spend them, and have little ability to do anything other than minimally keep the office running and staff classes”

In the end department chairs control paltry budgets and have almost no discretion in how to spend them, and have little ability to do anything other than minimally keep the office running and staff classes.  The amount of the instructional budget under their control varies widely by college and is fraught in the best of circumstances.[16]  The experience of department chairs is thus grim.  I have taken out the agendas for every substantive, budget-related issue I have encountered in the past 2 years as a chair.  There are 3 categories that consume 90% of discussion: (a) budget cuts, (b) restrictions on existing funds so that they can be used for fewer and fewer purposes,[17] or (c) increased bureaucratic requirements to access funds.  I have yet to hear any sentence in any meeting that suggests any department might get more funding or be able to spend funds on a wider array of needs.

Implementing and combining different teaching strategies

The FTES-SFR model and downward pressure on quality

When considering the FTES-SFR model, it is crucial to notice that the only way costs are saved is by not hiring part-time faculty.  Teaching larger sections only saves money because a department can then offer fewer sections and save the expense of hiring instructors for those sections.  Ditto online offerings.  It doesn’t matter whether the large sections are taught by tenure-track or lecturing faculty, all cost savings come from the sections that are not being offered and the salaries that aren’t being paid.  One-hundred percent of the flexibility in the instructional budget comes from the ability of a department or college to offer fewer sections and pay fewer lecturers by hiring fewer of them.  We fund ourselves by laying off lecturers.  My prose here is intentionally blunt because I hope it can serve as a corrective to anesthetized language we often use to obscure the very real and painful way we structure our budget around the contingency of lecturer employment.

“One-hundred percent of the flexibility in the instructional budget comes from the ability of a department or college to offer fewer sections and pay fewer lecturers by hiring fewer of them.  We fund ourselves by laying off lecturers”

Practically speaking, the model creates nearly unbearable pressure for increasing class sizes.  Deans always need budgetary breathing room, the need for assigned time is always greater than the funding available, smaller sections (like labs or graduate seminars) must always be offset by larger classes elsewhere, and as negotiated salary increases are pitted against static instructional budgets larger sections – especially larger online sections which don’t require classroom scheduling – are the only viable candidates for budget balancing.

There is no doubt in my mind that this also produces equivalent downward pressure on quality.  Research unequivocally shows a value to smaller classes[18] (a point codified in Article 20.34 of the CBA) but the budget advantages to large classes are too enormous to resist.  There is nearly unbearable pressure to adopt cost-free materials regardless of quality due to FTES competition.  Online sections offer schedule flexibility, are assumed to be always scalable, and do not require classroom space.  Insisting on face-to-face instruction, with small classes, using paid-for texts, all due to quality concerns, carries a real financial risk. 

“Practically speaking, the model creates nearly unbearable pressure for increasing class sizes…There is no doubt in my mind that this also produces equivalent downward pressure on quality. ”

I’m not saying that all of these things are necessarily bad.  There are surely some good mass lectures, some excellent free materials, and some terrific online classes.  What I am saying is that far too often these decisions are driven by overwhelming budget pressures and any serious attempt to discuss quality is muted from the outset.  What I am saying is that any department that has done its due diligence and decided that the free materials for a topic aren’t that great, or that the online format isn’t appropriate for a given curricula, will face the very real loss of enrollments and suffer potentially lethal budget hits.  We have a system where holding the line on quality carries very substantial risks.  We have very strongly incentivized looking the other way when questions of quality come up.

Consider an example where department A and department B each offer courses in the same GE area.  If department A adopts a cost-free textbook that fact will be advertised to the students at the time of registration and demonstrably shift student enrollment, which is the point of advertising the fact in the first place.  If department B decides the cost-free text is of inadequate quality they can choose not to adopt it but only at the risk of having massive drops in enrollment (and the very real probability of section cancellations) encouraged by our own advisement systems.  If the FTES-SFR system did not make the health, and occasionally existence, of a program dependent on enrollment department B would face no penalty for holding the line on quality.  With the FTES-SFR model these are existential questions.

All these downward pressures on quality are lessened with lower SFRs that make it less urgent for departments to fill mass lecture sections.

The model also creates a series of perverse incentives for the treatment of faculty.  Both Deans and serving faculty have an incentive to low-ball the salaries of new hires.  For the Dean, higher salaries squeeze the part-time budget, which for faculty means, in turn, higher workload for existing instructors.  This, of course, frustrates our stated goal of recruiting and retaining excellent and diverse faculty.  And it’s just no fun to start a job where your own salary has negatively impacted the workload of all your new colleagues.  The same pressures create disincentives for Department Personnel Committees to recommend early promotions, range elevations for lecturers, seek new tenure-track lines to improve tenure density, or even recommending promotion at all.[19]

I want to be entirely clear about this:  I have found the hiring and promotion process on this campus to have been handled in an entirely professional way, and I know of no instance where the good faith of any personnel committee had been compromised by these pressures.  But is it really wise to set up a structural system of budgeting that puts low salaries, slow promotions, and higher class sizes in the direct financial interest of the committees making key personnel decisions?  That faculty generally resist these pressures is a testament to their character.  That they have been put in that position in the first place is testament to something entirely different and much less pleasant.  If we want fair decisions we should not have budgeting systems that create financial incentives for some decisions but not others, and we should definitely not structure the decisions to create conflicts of interest for the committee members.

Thinking outside of the zero-sum model

Why did the system get an additional $550m and none of it made it to our instructional faculty budgets?  A core assumption that the instructional budget is zero-sum.  The logic goes something like this: instructional funding can’t be increased without cutting something else, and none of that $550m can go to the instructional budget because it is all earmarked elsewhere.  The portion of the budget increase designated for instruction was linked to higher enrollments, so CSUF could spend more on students but not more per student.  Salary increases (like the GSI) can only be funded from the instructional budget, so cuts elsewhere are necessary to fund salary increases, and these cuts are larger than any gain in new money from the system.  To be sure, the legislature earmarks funding, and that accounts for some of the difficulty in allocating the increase.

Let me start by saying that this all sounds more than a little defeatist to me; it’s a way of saying that things are bad and will never get better.  (There is some hope that development can relieve some of this pressure, but in all candor development is best at new projects, scholarships, or program-specific gifts, and it is not reasonable to expect that our fundraisers can fill in holes in our base operating budgets.  I know of no precedent in the system where soft money is used to make instructional targets.)[20]

I will also say that regardless of what anyone else thinks about it this zero-sum thinking entirely pervades the Chancellor’s Office.  Any salary increase suggested by the CFA always meets the objection that the instructional budget is fixed and so any salary gains must come from higher class sizes and fewer contingent faculty.  The logical extension of this argument – that therefore no faculty entering or in the system should ever expect any pay raise, and that if they do get one they should feel responsible for having their colleagues fired and a worsening of the student experience – is never defended.  Any retort is generally of the nature, “this is why we need to join together to advocate for more funds from the system.”  Which the CFA has.  And which the legislature and governor have now granted.  And yet the zero-sum model is still firmly in place and there has been no substantive impact on our department instructional budgets.

If looking at our budget reveals our values, what do we currently think about instruction?  Our current budgeting practices make it clear that we think instruction is basically OK, does not require additional investment, and that while salary increases and other cost escalations (such as retirement benefits) will inevitably grow and that means that tenure density will inevitably decline and class sizes will inevitably increase, that is just a fact of life we’ll have to deal with as it happens.[21]

I am more optimistic.  My purpose for these remaining words is to make the case that the budget is not zero sum and that we have real choices we can make.  The budget is not, and never has been, a fixed and inevitable monolith.  It is more fluid than is generally imagined and it is a reflection of values and priorities.  If we value high-quality instruction we can find a way to express that in our budget. 

Reason #1: The budget is more fluid than fixed.  I hope the preceding discussion has at least opened the possibility that, when viewed from an objective standpoint that simply describes how the budget functions, there is considerable flux.  There are fixed amounts that are transferred into some accounts, to be sure, but the number of reallocations, new restrictions, encumberances, backfills, and estimates far exceeds the number of reports that show actual balances.  If we want to seriously re-consider how we are spending our budget, there is opportunity to do so.

Reason #2: Smart people at the highest levels say so.  Some time ago I found myself at a meeting with a person who had served both as professional CFO and as a campus president within the CSU system.[22]  They commented that all CSU funding was fungible.  A campus was generally free to reallocate funds differently across its divisions.  A point they made was that if our campus was handed a budget cut we would find a way to pay for it, demonstrating that substantial changes in funding allocations were possible with enough campus will.  The reason we do not make larger changes to our funding patterns, they felt, was because it took extreme duress to motivate us to do so, and not because it wasn’t possible.

Reason #3: The independent fact-finder reports during the collective bargaining process.  Every three years the collective bargaining agreement is re-negotiated.  In every cycle for which I can find documentation, which includes at least the last five, the Chancellor’s Office has claimed that no faculty pay raise is possible because there is no room for it in the budget.  In every one of those instances the question has gone to an independent fact-finder and in every case the neutral audit has found, unequivocally, that the claim has no factual basis.[23] 

Reason #4: Different approaches to over-enrollment.  As I alluded to earlier, CSU Fullerton has pursed, over the course of decades, a strategy of over-enrolling students as a means of getting a larger share of the system budget.  Other campuses have not.  I will not take a stance on the value of either strategy, but the existence of more than one approach demonstrates that, even at a large-scale level, there are significant choices to be made and our decisions are not predetermined for us.

Reason #5: The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) report on administrative hiring.[24]  After a review of administrative hires across selected campuses in the CSU system, the LAO concluded that they could not find justification for most of the new administrative hires they had reviewed (including new administrative hires at CSUF).  The positions carried duties and did perform some meaningful functions, but when asked why the position was necessary, or why the number of administrative jobs had to increase, the LAO simply found the rationales nonexistent (not inadequate; they were simply not offered).  My point here is not to criticize administrators in general or the administrative staffing of this campus or the system.  But the finding does mean, fairly unequivocally, that the positions are discretionary.  How is it possible to have funds to hire new administrators without firm justifications of need when there are no funds for new expenditures on faculty, for which there are manifest needs?  The funds are not fixed.  There are choices to be made.

Reason #6: The LAO report on the parking surplus.[25]  There is now a famous report identifying $1.5 billion held in off-campus funds.  This fund was not revealed or discussed by the Chancellor during either the CFA contract negotiations or during the tuition increase hearings.  In the latter case, the funds were not disclosed to either the legislature or the students who were speaking against the increase.  The Chancellor’s office has heatedly denied any wrongdoing and insists the funds are an entirely legitimate and necessary operating expense.  My own inquiries, among people who are often more than willing to critique the Chancellor for decisions they disagree with, do tend to side with the Chancellor on this question.  To me, it remains stunning that a fund roughly one-fifth the size of the total system budget could be held in off-campus accounts and take a LAO investigation to identify.  At any rate, the existence of the fund does raise more questions about how fixed the budget the truly is, and what discretion might exist.  The UC has similar fund, and they use it to accrue interest to funnel back to core functions.  Does the CSU fund do the same thing?   Are there other possible and improved uses of the funds that wider inquiry might reveal?  These questions are difficult to raise or pursue if the existence of the fund takes financial detective work to uncover.  But it does make it seem like more is possible than is generally acknowledged, and there are more possibilities for budget re-prioritizing than the Chancellor’s Office is forthcoming about.

Reason #7: The growth in the CSUF budget.  Page 10 of Vice President Kim’s November 7, 2019 Fiscal State of the University presentation shows that in 2013-14 CSUF received $130.1m from the Chancellor in state funds and tuition Money.  In 2019-20 it was $227m.  That’s a 73% increase.  But the number of full-time students has only increased 8%.[26]  Yet the CSUF instructional budget has remained stagnant.  Reductio ad absurdum – the conclusion that there isn’t enough money is only possible if all $93m couldn’t be spent on instruction.  The absurdity of the conclusion damns the premises.  I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that if the budget increased to 173% of its 2013-14 level there should have been some discernible increase in the amount spent per student on instruction.

“[T]he proposition that instructional budgets are fixed and that there is no additional money in the system is tenable only if it is true that the Chancellor’s account is fully correct, and those of the LAO, the CFA, the independent fact finder, and the points raised here are without merit…that should make us question the zero-sum assumption of the FTES-SFR model”

And so the proposition that instructional budgets are fixed and that there is no additional money in the system is tenable only if it is true that the Chancellor’s account is fully correct, and those of the LAO, the CFA, the independent fact finder, and the points raised here are without merit.  I believe that the conclusions from all these sources, if not fully correct, at least have a pretty good point.  And that should make us question the zero-sum assumption of the FTES-SFR model.

VR & AR – where is the money for a game developer



How is it possible the legislature gave the system $550 million additional dollars this year and there has been no discernible impact on the instructional budgets of our departments?  I think the answer is more complex than “all the money was allocated elsewhere” or “there’s just so much money for instruction and not a dollar more.”  Any long-view account of the budget, both at CSUF and in the wider system, makes it clear that our funding priorities have shifted from where they were only a few decades ago, and that they have shifted away from maintaining a high-quality, tenure-track faculty and toward something else.  This is a value choice as much as it is a budget concern.  In slightly different terms, and with apologies to Joe Biden, our values might not drive our budget in unconstrained ways, but it is at least as true that accounting rules don’t fully determine our budgets.  Our budget overall, and the recent increase, have not made it to our department’s instructional budgets — at least in part — because that is not a priority at the system level nor a focus on this campus.

“If we want to slowly turn ourselves into an institution with larger and larger classes and all-contingent faculty all we have to do is nothing.   All of our system-wide and campus trends are already leading in that direction…If we want to be something different we will have to be bold…and to acknowledge that there’s not a cheaper route to higher quality.”

In a shared governance context the solutions must be shared.  A crucial player is the Planning, Budget, and Resource committee, an entity with a long history and fluid role in setting budget priorities on this campus.  They work in conjunction with the Provost and President and do much to set our priorities.  Deans have many pressures and many calls to remedy what are many and legitimate budget needs.  The Senate, which has traditionally shied away from questions of budget, has a more prominent role to play but will only be as involved as it chooses to be.  And the campus President, of course, has the final say.  This is not an exhaustive list of players, but it is the central cast.  Working together, it will be possible to set priorities, define clear values, and align them with our budget better than we have done at present.

To be blunt, our current system of budgeting provides strong disincentives against investing in high quality, personalized instruction.  Against this backdrop, it might be disheartening but can hardly be surprising that a new set of funds from the state hasn’t been invested in classroom-level instruction.  The circumstance does prove the lie to the mantra – “We’d love to invest more in faculty; there’s just no money!  If we advocate together for more funding instruction will get it’s share!”  The funding just came through.  The share given to instruction was proportional to increases in the student population and was not an additional investment in faculty or classroom instruction.

If we want to slowly turn ourselves into an institution with larger and larger classes and all-contingent faculty all we have to do is nothing.   All of our system-wide and campus trends are already leading in that direction.[27] If we want to be something different we will have to be bold, to put force behind our belief that we are a quality teaching institution, to invest in the central activities of that mission, and to acknowledge that there’s not a cheaper route to higher quality.  We need to pursue the tenure density goals of our strategic plan as aggressively as we pursue higher graduation rates.  

In short, reaching higher needs to be more than an admonition we give our students to encourage them to strive; it needs to be a standard we hold ourselves to when we make decisions about instructional quality.

References and Notes

[1] Also often discussed as a fallacy, reductio ad absurdum is considered by many logicians a way of testing dubious premises.  If the conclusion is absurd, it’s time to re-examine the premises.  See https://msu.edu/user/blmiller/BasicLogic/DeductiveArguments.htm

[2] I can’t resist distancing myself from Mr. Biden a little bit; I’m not suggesting this quotation ought to ring true because the former Vice President is a galvanizing political figure, and as with most quotes the original sourcing is a little precarious (the quote might have started with his Dad, for example).

[3] This is not to say that I think the Chancellor’s Office has the right priorities – they seem unduly interested in foisting their own view of curriculum on faculty and departments.  They have pursued these changes with great vigor and against nearly universal opposition.  In contrast, they have shown little interest or energy in reviewing whether departments have adequate support, or protecting campus members who come under digital attack, or addressing the open access challenges, or taking action against internet sites that facilitate academic cheating.

[4] As a department chair, I have received frequent updates on budget discussions, but it appears we do not yet have final decisions in addressing, for instance, the structural deficit.  Those updates do suggest that the campus is asking the right questions about the budget and that, if a new funding model is not especially imminent, we are at least trying to better understand the shortcomings of our current approach.

[5] A small percentage of the campus FTES target does get allocated to non-departmental entities. In my view, this is a dangerous trend.

[6] Here goes: A department is given an FTES (“Full Time Equivalent Student”) target, where each student in a class counts as 1/5th of an FTES at an undergraduate level, so a department with a target of 100 needs to offer 500 undergraduate seats at an average of 3 units with its budget.  The number of faculty assumed to be needed per FTES is called FTEF (“Full Time Equivalent Faculty”), and the ratio varies by college so that some colleges get 1 FTEF for every 17 students and some get 1 FTEF for every 25 students.  In all cases the FTEF linearly derives from the FTES.  The FTEF is converted to a monetary amount, so a department’s instructional budget is its FTEF times the dollar value of an FTEF (which can change annually).  The full-time faculty salary is subtracted from that amount and the balance is what the department chair can spend on part-time salaries. 

Example: A department has a target of 300 FTES and an SFR ratio of 20 producing 15 FTF to teach 1,500 seats.  In a year where an FTEF is worth $80k, the instructional budget is $1.2m.   If they have 10 full-time faculty making $85,000 each they would have $850,000 devoted to full-time salary and a balance of $350,000 for part-time faculty.  If each full-time faculty averages 3.5 courses (between buyouts, start-ups, assigned-time, etc.) and each class has 25 students the full-time faculty would teach 875 students, leaving a need for 625 students or 25 sections at 25 students each.   

Note: I have heard various and conflicting accounts about whether departments or colleges must account for benefits, but the most recent is that instructional budgets do not have to account for benefits, only salaries.

[7] See above; FTES stands for “full-time equivalent students” and about every 15 units a department provides to a student counts as a single FTES.  The “target” is the number of FTES a department is expected to provide in a given year.

[8] I have spoken with many people who have strong views about the way to refer to the non-full-time faculty.  One possible term is “lecturers,” but lecturers can be full-time although not tenure-track.  A budgeting term is “part-time,” but many consider that pejorative since the part-time faculty often perform more work and put in longer hours than their counterparts.  Another budgeting term is “temporary” although our campus has several so-called temporary instructors who have been here long enough to have out-lasted 3 campus Presidents.  The term “adjunct” makes their work seem non-essential when it is instead foundational.  “Contingent” is used here because it refers to the way they are treated by the institution; they are employees who are performing essential work but to whom the institution will not make a permanent commitment.  A related term is “precarious,” or collectively the “precariate.”   Of course, the terminology is far less important than the lack of pay and lack of respect, and ignoring the plight of our contingent faculty has real dangers.

[9] The FTEF calculations discussed in the footnote above, which are expressed on a per-department basis, are calculated on a per-campus basis at the system level.

[10] See page 17 and 18 of the November 7, 2019 Fiscal State of the University budget report.  This has also been repeatedly covered in the Daily Titan by Hosam Elattar on December 2, 2019.



[11] A “K” designate is defined in a document called the EPR 76-36.  A “K2” is a course with high enrollment – usually a large lecture – and counts as 2 teaching assignments for an instructor, so an instructor who is supposed to teach 4 sections can teach only 3 if one is a K2.  The EPR document is quite dated and has been supplemented by staffing formula documents that have themselves been amended, and the upshot is that while it is clear a K2 counts as 2 courses it is not clear how many students are necessary for a course to count as a K2.  Colleges differ in the number of enrollees necessary for the course to count as a K2 and how to handle over- or under-enrollment is largely handled at the discretion of the Dean.  The CSUF Academic Senate has recently asked for this document to be updated; in my estimate we are several years away from any clarification and the most likely outcome is a fixed number that raises the number of students necessary for a K2 assignment.

[12] There are reports on faculty WTU that account for workload, but those do not demonstrate what happens to the additional funding generated by K2.

[13] Opinion about the value of this strategy varies considerably; at the campus level CSUF pursued this strategy for decades under prior administrations while, during the same period, CSULB steadfastly resisted over-enrollment.

[14] Technically, the work is not available in the spring and contingent faculty are not offered courses.  I mention this here because the terminology matters a great deal to some – there is resistance to saying that a contingent faculty member is “laid off” or “fired.”  I will use the more direct term here since it doesn’t really matter to the contingent faculty member who could reasonably have expected to have work in the spring and will lose some or all of it, based not on their performance, or even on student demand, but on fluid management of the budget that covers costs by failing to re-hire contingent faculty.  See the expanded discussion below.

[15] This has been an ongoing campus issue I will not belabor here; our AVPRSP Binod Tiwari is taking admirable steps to return the overhead revenue to the departments and even individual faculty.

[16] I do not wish to create cross-college comparisons on the instructional budget management front, but I will say that I have noticed that more transparency generally corresponds to fewer department-level funds.

[17] Outside of OE&E, the two main funding sources are TADCAP funds that are generated from intersession courses and MCF funds; the requirements governing both have changed frequently and always to add more restrictions on how the funds can be used.  Deans also control how much of these funds go to departments, and the only changes I am aware of have been instances where the Deans have kept more of the funds at the Dean level and sent less to the departments.

[18] Overwhelming empirical evidence clearly points to the conclusion that small classes produce better outcomes.  Kokkleneberg, Dillon & Christy (2008) used a sample of over 760,000 observations and found negative effects for class sizes “for a variety of specifications and subsets of the data, as well as for the whole data set … The specifications tested hold constant for academic department, peer effects (relative ability in class), student ability, level of student, level of course, gender, minority status, and other factors.”  Similar results were obtained by Dillon & Kokkelenberg (2002) in a separate study with 360,000 observations, and a 10-year longitudinal study involving over 5,000 modules and 250,000 student grades.  Kokkelenberg, C., Dillon, M. and Christy, S. (2008). ‘The Effects of Class Size on Student Grades at a Public University’, Economics of Education Review, Vol. 27, pp. 221–233.  Dillon, M, & Kokkelenberg, E. C. (2002). The effect of class size on student achievement in higher education: Applying an earning function. Paper presented at the 42nd annual conference of the AIR in Toronto, ON.  Gibbs, G., Lucas, L., Simonite, V. (1996).  Class size and student performance:  1984-94.

[19] I am unable to speak authoritatively on the official status of how tenure salary increases, salary-step increases, and tenure-track hires impact the instructional budget and hence cuts elsewhere.  Much of it seems to do with how benefits are counted and what is accomplished with one-time versus baselined money.  But I can say definitively that I have heard people at or above the Dean’s level suggest all these costs must come out of a department’s instructional budget.

[20] I have not extensively researched this point; it is possible that some general capital development initiative on some campus has been at least partially appropriated for core instruction.  Nonetheless, it is safe to say that soft-money funding for core FTES instruction is an aberration at best.

[21] For some there is a hope that some educational innovation – better advisement, or student success centers, or more interactive online tools – will compensate for the loss of quality due to ever-growing class sizes and increasingly contingent nature of the instructional workforce.  My reading of the literature is that while none of these programs are necessarily bad ideas, none is even a hollow substitute for a loss of high-quality faculty-to-student interaction.

[22] I’m withholding the name out of respect for privacy. Collective Bargaining Agreement (Contract). Retrieved from May 6, 2015 https://www.calfac.org/resource/collective-bargaining-agreement-contract-2014-2017#article-1

[23] ” Fact finder sides with faculty in csu, cfa dispute,” by Jasmine Demers, 2016. Retrieve from https://csusmchronicle.com/14681/news/fact-finder-sides-with-faculty-in-csu-cfa-dispute/

[24] “Stronger oversight is needed for hiring and compensating management personnel and for monitoring campus budgets.”  Report 2016-122.  California State Auditor, April 2017.

[25] “The Chancellor’s Office Dud Not Fully Inform Legislators and Students about the CSUs $1.5 Billion Surplus.” Report 2018-127. California State Auditor, June 20, 2019.  https://www.auditor.ca.gov/reports/2018-127/sections.html#section2

[26] According to the CSUF Institutional Research website, total campus Fall FTES was 30,777 in the fall of 2013 and 33,202 in the fall of the 2019.  https://www.fullerton.edu/data/institutionalresearch/student/enrollments/headcountsftesbycollegeandstudentlevel.php.  Slide #9 of the Budget Report shows enrollment of 27,198 in FY2013-14 and 29,517 in FY 2019-20, growth of 8.5%.

[27] This outcome is not a hypothetical possibility without precedent– there are decidedly institutions built on an all-online, all-contingent faculty model that are somehow accredited.  There are no shortage of advocates for a cost-cutting, corporate-style higher education and many serve at the highest levels right now.  System-wide tenure density trends can be found here: http://www.fullerton.edu/data/_resources/pdfs/ir/CSU_TenDen_SFR_Trends_2009-18.pdf


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