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June 20, 2017

Why TAUP’s Members Reject RCM, Part III:
An Open Letter to Provost Epps and CFO Kaiser
 Some Suggestions for Improvement

Over the past two days, I have laid out the reasons, both general and specific, for our members’ fundamental critiques of RCM.  This moved me to recommended that RCM be set aside as a failed experiment.  But if the decision is to improve rather than end it, I conclude this letter with some suggestions, based on TAUP’s survey of its members, my discussions with many members of the Temple community, and my own experiences with this system.   

  1. While there may be more transparency for a few people within a college as to its own budget, there seems to be little to no knowledge of the budgets of other colleges and schools. For instance, consider this basic question:  How much money from the state subsidy, if any, goes to the medical school?  The law school?  CLA?  Without at least some data on this, it is impossible to get a real grasp on how RCM is re-distributing scarce resources and whether some adjustment needs to be made in various allocations to produce fairer outcomes for all.  (See #3, below).
  2. In a related vein, we don’t have clear knowledge at what the effective tax rate is on colleges across the board for the central administration and other non-revenue-producing units. Have the budgets of these administrative units grown or shrunk? At what rate? For what reasons?  Among the virtues of RCM touted by President Theobald was that the colleges and schools would know just how much they were paying to, say, the Office of the President and that they could object if they thought it was too much.  But making such an objection responsibly requires more information than we are currently given.
  3. One of the chief features of Temple’s application of RCM is the “hold harmless” budget.  That is, the budget of a college or school from FY 2012 was taken as a base-line, and if a college or school was running a deficit, it was plugged by a portion of the subsidy from the state.  Is that base-line going to be permanent?  If so, this seems to run counter to the nimbleness RCM was supposed to generate.  And do we want to base such an important assessment upon the budget of just one year?  Are there any plans to revisit this during the review?
  4. Temple’s colleges and schools must have robust Budget Review Committees where elected faculty play a central role in decision-making.  I recently served on CLA’s committee for three years and was struck by the collegiality and respect among the administrators and faculty serving on it, though we were able to make only limited headway in addressing the elements of RCM that we found to be unfair or mystifying.  I know from talking to colleagues across Temple that CLA’s Budget Committee is unusual in its inclusion of faculty voice.

    We must also ask who serves on these committees.  There should be a place for faculty of all ranks, librarians, and academic professionals.  Only then will all those responsible for the core missions of the university--and for the generation of a great deal of revenue--have a better sense of, and voice in, fiscal processes at Temple.  
  5. High labor costs built into instruction in colleges such as Boyer and Tyler should be properly acknowledged with sufficient subsidies, as was promised when RCM was instituted.  RCM is supposed to be driven BY the core missions of the university; it is not supposed to be driving it. 
  6. More incentives should be offered to encourage cross-disciplinary research, creative activity, and teaching.  
  7. In a similar vein, Honors courses and writing-intensive courses, which have been made less attractive under RCM by their small size, need to have pedagogically appropriate enrollment caps, and incentives should be offered to departments to teach them with those caps.
  8. Disincentives should be instituted to discourage duplication and credit-hour poaching among colleges and schools
  9. Clearer accounting is required of the entire Temple budget, a transparency we have a right to expect under RCM.  This would include the quasi-endowment, a fast-growing part of the endowment now in excess of $200 million, and unrestricted net assets, which stand  at $1.657 billion according to Temple’s audited financial statements for 2015-16.  It seems as if the administration could re-direct some of these funds to support  our central missions of research and teaching while still salting away some money for future potential crises and initiatives.

As we all know, the issues raised by RCM are complex and urgently require attention.  We welcome dialogue with you on these issues. 

We also invite our members to contact TAUP with any further thoughts on RCM.  


Steve Newman


June 20, 2017

Why TAUP’s Members Reject RCM, Part II:
 Specific Criticisms

In yesterday’s e-BulletinAn Open Letter to Provost Epps and CFO Kaiser: Why TAUP’s Members Oppose Temple’s Current Budgetary Model, I articulated the broader reasons why our members reject RCM.  Today, I’ll look at their specific criticisms.

Let’s first review the data from the numerical responses.  One question that elicited very strong responses was, “I believe RCM budgeting has changed the way my department/program operates.”  

  • Taking the bargaining unit altogether, only 4.5% disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement and 64% agreed or strongly agreed.
  • 83% of the tenure-track faculty agreed or strongly agreed, a significant number given the broader and deeper experience this group has in departmental and program budgeting.

So our members believe that RCM has had a significant impact.  But how do they judge that impact?  In a word, negatively. 

  • In response to “I believe RCM budgeting over the past 3 years has made Temple better,” only 2.9% agreed or strongly agreed; 51% disagreed or strongly disagreed.  
  • Again, the numbers from tenure-track faculty are noteworthy:  67% of them disagreed or strongly disagreed. NTT faculty, Adjunct faculty, librarians, and academic professionals had a higher percentage undecided, a function, perhaps, of the smaller role they play in fiscal processes.  But even among these groups the percentage disagreeing strongly outweighed the percentage agreeing that RCM has benefitted Temple.

We also asked a question geared toward one of RCM’s promised virtues—transparency.

  • Responding to “I have experienced more transparency in the budgeting process with RCM,” only 6.7% agreed or strongly agreed; 51% disagreed or strongly disagreed.  
  • Again, the tenured and tenure-track faculty were more decided in their opinions, with nearly 66% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.  Again, the other constituencies, though they had a higher undecided percentage, were significantly more likely to disagree than agree that RCM has increased transparency.

These numbers paint a stark picture of dissatisfaction with RCM.  That picture is intensified in the discursive responses to: “I have the following specific concerns about RCM budgeting.”  This elicited 130 replies, and while some of the phrasing and foci may have differed, there was, again, a remarkable degree of uniformity.  There were only three positive comments, and one of them then made it clear that the negatives far outstripped the gains.  Many respondents decried RCM for:

  • Discouraging cooperation between disciplines, departments, and colleges, since incentives have been ramped up to keep credit production in-house, though fairness obliges me to say that a grant I and some co-investigators from Boyer, Paley, and Theater Film and Media Arts received from the Presidential Humanities and Arts Research Program is one example of an attempt to cut against this tendency.
  • Lacking the transparency promised at its implementation.
  • Heightening pressures to up class size beyond pedagogical viability.
  • Pressuring them to admit students who lack the preparation or skills to thrive in certain programs, to water down classes out of fear of losing students, and to bring to market degree programs and certificates of questionable rigor.
  • The overarching complaint is that RCM has strongly accentuated a troubling trend found throughout academia to subordinate academic values to financial ones. The respondents acknowledge that money and fiscal prudence are necessary for Temple to succeed; but they clearly feel that RCM is putting the fiscal cart before the academic horse.  Many pointed out the particularly raw deals given to Boyer, Tyler, and CLA by the “hold harmless” budgets, by specific formulae for assessments, and the lack of differential tuition; deleterious effects were also reported in CST and CPH.  Many respondents worried over the devaluation of smaller and more labor-intensive programs over those that generate more revenue more cheaply.  

Perhaps the phrase that best captures our members’ view of RCM is “dollar signs, not students”; it encapsulates the worry frequently expressed by our members that RCM is doing damage to our ability to perform our jobs as well as we would like for our students.  It’s a phrase we at TAUP often repeat because it’s true:  “Our teaching conditions are our students’ learning conditions.”  We know what increasing class sizes will do to our ability to give our students the attention they need.  We also know that when classes are packed with students in order to run fewer sections, it’s often our adjunct and NTT colleagues who pay the price. The workload of a class becomes more demanding, while their jobs are more vulnerable to being cut. How do we build a faculty to carry on the work of the institution if we are diminishing the number of work opportunities? Will efforts to increase graduation rates be undercut by the pressures that come with RCM?

We know, Provost Epps and CFO Kaiser, that you have sent out a survey of your own on RCM, though we have not heard much about the results.  We wonder how the responses from your survey compare with our findings.  We know, too, that you have reached out to faculty individually and in focus groups; and that you have hired Deloitte to advise you as you review RCM.  As you engage in preliminary data analysis and present your findings—the tasks identified for this Summer--we hope serious consideration is being given to faculty voices.  We believe that  RCM should be set aside as a failed experiment.  Whether or not this happens, we urge you to factor in the responses we have summarized here from faculty, librarians, and academic professionals.  

In tomorrow’s e-bulletin, I will conclude with a few suggestions about RCM. 
Steve Newman


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