Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Refining the Pitch on Ag Extension Job Cuts

Last week I wrote about Old Main's strategy of placing blame for the cuts in Ag Extension jobs at Rendell's feet, although Rendell had given Old Main  the flexibility to shift money around in the budget which could have been used to prevent these cuts.

On Monday, Adam at devoted his column to this  topic. He got the following pushback from Penn State Bullshit Artist Lisa Power.
This all begged the question: Can't Penn State just move some state money around to prevent the job cuts in agricultural research and Cooperative Extension, at least this year?

I asked Lisa Powers, the university's chief spokeswoman.

Simple answer: No, it won't happen, she said.

Powers explained it this way:

Overall state funding for Penn State isn't climbing. So if the university were to move some extra state dollars into agricultural research and Cooperative Extension, it would have to take those dollars away from general-education uses -- that is, undergraduate education.

And that, Powers said, would force an even heavier tuition expense onto students' shoulders. Penn Staters already pay among the highest -- if not the highest -- tuition rates among public universities in the U.S.

Powers said the situation presents "a direct trade-off."

"It's a decision that we decided a long time ago that we're not going to make," she said. Plowing more state money into agricultural research and Cooperative Extension, and taking it away from undergraduates, would be "like having students pay a tuition increase to pay for mushroom research in Chester County.

"Our greater obligation is to the students," Powers said.

Beyond that, she explained, "it's been a longstanding, obvious agreement that we rely on state, federal and county-partnership resources" to finance agricultural research and Cooperative Extension in Pennsylvania.
Lisa has effectively said, "Our spin about it being the governor's fault is bullshit. We are the ones who have decided not to save those jobs."  Good, for Lisa.

She also said the the choice for Old Main is between undergraduate education and extension. This is a false choice. There aren't just two categories in the internal Penn State budget: Ag Extension and Undergraduate Education. There are other areas in the budget where money might be taken for Ag Extension. My guess is that Old Main presents this false dichotomy because it knows that the constituency for Undergraduate Education is much larger than the Ag Extension constituency.  The framing of this as a choice between undergrads and farmers allows Old Main to appear to stand up for one large constituency while pissing off a much smaller constituency. Bad for Lisa.

But there is something even more disingenuous about this loud proclamation,"Plowing more state money into agricultural research and Cooperative Extension, and taking it away from undergraduates, would be "like having students pay a tuition increase to pay for mushroom research in Chester County."  It's not as if Old Main would shift money from the General Funds Budget, which is made up primarily of tuition money and state appropriations, to anything other than Undergraduate Education. Yeah, right.

For example, Old Main has been using General Funds money to support Outreach. This is from the Penn State Strategic Plan for the next five years. (PDF page 57).
Penn State, as the Commonwealth’s land-grant university, has long fulfilled a role as the major provider of outreach services to the people of Pennsylvania. This  long-standing commitment has continued despite decades of falling state support  as a share of the University’s General Funds budget. As state and federal funding  for Cooperative Extension has largely stagnated over the past decade and more, reductions in programming have had to occur in order to cover the increased costs of faculty and staff compensation including fringe benefits. Increasing  contributions from county governments have not been able to offset these declines. University funds have also had to cover more of the increasing overhead costs.

Similarly, the wide range of other University-sponsored outreach programs have grown over the past decades to the point at which, overall, Penn State operates the  largest unified outreach program in the nation, reaching one out of every two  households in the Commonwealth. This has meant growing costs for faculty and  staff salaries and benefits of those employed in Outreach, and for growing costs of  University overhead on operations, despite the considerable successes that  Outreach has had in securing extramural funding for many of its programs.

Given the increasing costs of tuition and living expenses for Penn State students and the associated difficulties of funding their education, along with the declining  share of state funding for outreach programming, the University can no longer rely  on student tuition to support the internally funded Outreach programs to the extent  it has previously. Accordingly, all other Outreach programs centrally supported by  E&G funds will be placed on the same financial model as Cooperative Extension,  with the University’s contribution to programming capped at the 2009-10 level  going forward from that date. That is, increased Outreach salaries and fringe  benefits must come from extramural sources, or be taken from the base funding the University will continue to provide, until such time as public funding for the University increases beyond inflationary levels in higher education.

Now the new strategic plan calls for Old Main to cap the amount of tuition dollars going to Outreach , but still Old Main has been using and will continue to use tuition dollars to support Outreach.

So Lisa is bullshiting  people when she ask them  to believe that  Old Main would never divert undergrad tuition dollars away from undergrad education. It has been doing exactly that and it will continue to do exactly that.  Worse for Lisa.

Why does Old Main think it can get away with this bullshit? It might be because the information needed to get at the truth,when it is available at all,  is  fragmented and I'm the only one paying close enough attention to piece things together.

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