Field of Science

How to run a university - not like a business!

Politicians and businessmen are fond of saying universities should be run more like a business.  Just at the moment, TPP is not going to explain why this is just a plain stupid idea, even more stupid than the idea that a successful business man would know how to run a university, or a country, for that matter.  No, at the moment my immediate problem is getting enough seats in a classroom for students.  This is not your classic case of demand exceeding the number of seats, this is when the number of students enrolled (24) is based on the number of stations in the room (24), and you discover 4 days before classes begin that 4 of the stools, which get a lot of wear and tear, and were cheap crap to begin with, are broken beyond repair such that even young bodies could not endure them, and another 2 of the hodge podge of stools replacing cheap piece of crap stools broken earlier will not work (too short, two arms that get in the way, broken casters).  Now of course in a business when something your customers have paid for, e.g., seats in a classroom, are lacking, you quickly buy new ones.  So you call your department chair, who calls the dean, who calls the provost (Provost Plodder, you may recall, charging forward into the past) only to discover that this educational expense is the responsibility of the department who delivers the services the students pay for.  Now here's where the university greatly departs from any know business model of operation and in a most important way.  If this were a business, the department WOULD GET THE REVENUE (TUITION) IT GENERATED!  But the university central administration keeps all the tuition, in part to pay us, but what about the departmental budget, those real educational expenses?  Well, that budget hasn't changed in 20 years.  So each new budget asks for things you cannot presently afford, and with more high ranked items than any other department in the college, not one single item was funded.  Nada.  Yes, we pride ourselves on a quality education here at U. BTOC (Bring Your Own Chair).  Now least you think maybe a biology department is a charity case, if you figure out how much tuition the department generates, and then subtract the personnel lines, the salaries, there's over $5 million dollars left, and this is money to cover the cost of education.  Wonder if any of the administrative units that were reconfigured, redone this summer, installed with new fancy new office furniture have any left over stools?  The paying customers need a place to sit. 


Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm missing something, but this seems more like a convincing argument that universities SHOULD be run more like businesses. Aren't you saying that if the financial structures of universities were more business-like, that you would already have your stools?

Overall, I agree with your initial statement that universities should not be run like businesses, but this example I think highlights one area where more business-like operation would greatly simplify many of our lives.

The Phytophactor said...

Hmm, guess it could be interpreted that way, but mostly it shows that even fiscally, where running things like a business might make the most sense, universities don't even come close. Oh, yes, stools were "appropriated" from another lab.