Friday, March 21, 2014

The Humanities Make Money for Colleges and Universities

The belief that professional programs pay the salaries of humanities programs and majors is just not true.  This is the argument of UCLA English professor Robert Watson in a piece from the March 21, 2014 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Here is a taste:

...But, according to spreadsheet calculations done at my request by Reem Hanna-Harwell, assistant dean of the humanities at the University of California at Los Angeles, based on the latest annual student-credit hours, fee levels, and total general-fund expenditures, the humanities there generate over $59 million in student fees, while spending only $53.5 million (unlike the physical sciences, which came up several million dollars short in that category). The entire teaching staff of Writing Programs, which is absolutely essential to UCLA's educational mission, has been sent firing notices, even though the spreadsheet shows that program generating $4.3 million dollars in fee revenue, at a cost of only $2.4 million.
So the answer to "Who's going to pay the salary of the English department?" is that the English department at UCLA earns its own salary and more, through the fees paid by its students — profits that will only grow with the increase in student fees.
That isn't an eccentric calculation. Of the 21 units at the University of Washington, the humanities and, to a lesser degree, the social sciences are the only ones that generate more tuition income than 100 percent of their total expenditure. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, recently cited a University of Illinois report showing that a large humanities department like English produces a substantial net profit, whereas units such as engineering and agriculture run at a loss. The widely respected Delaware Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity shows the same pattern.
Read the entire piece here.


Paul M. said...

Despite my personal sympathy for his position, there are two glaring flaws with how Watson employs his numbers.

1) He only calculates income from tuition. The STEM courses make (massive) money through grants and patents. Tuition is small beans by comparison.

2) He futzes with expenditure, switching, it seems, between salary costs and total budget. It's not clear whether he attempted to calculate actual overhead. (Every department could meet its budget and the school could still fall in insolvency. Those pesky buildings, non-teaching department staff, and other physical plant costs aren't calculated into departmental budgets.)

So his essay, while well-intentioned, is basically meaningless without more realistic numbers.

George Mason English Department said...
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Lewis N. Clark said...

The belief that professional programs pay the salaries of humanities programs and majors is just not true. best colleges

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