Sunday, October 25, 2009

History Professor: "It's really a sad story..."

On October 7th, 2009 I was able to get an interview with the director of HOT (Humanities Out There)/History professor, Lynn Mally. Lynn Mally has been a history professor for 21 years and is in her second to last year before she retires. Currently she, along with many other History department staffs have been struggling to bring the students high quality education due to the cuts brought upon the curriculum.

Young: So how has the Humanities Department been affected by the recent cuts?

Lynn Mally: It’s really a sad story, essentially what has been happened was that the budget for the school of humanities was drastically reduced. And because we’re not like the natural sciences, you know Humanities don’t receive outside grants, the way the dean has decided is that whenever a professor or assistant professor leaves for whatever reason or retires, the school won’t find a replacement for that professor by looking at other schools nationwide but rather keep that money to run the school. So because this has been happening to Humanities, there has been fewer faculty members then there were before. History now has five fewer faculty members than before. Because of retirement and professors leaving to other schools, for history this has been a bad impact because we spent the last decade trying to make this department a more global department. I mean we have Europe, United States, our Latin America has been pretty strong, but we’ve really expanded to Asia, Middle East, and Africa and so we’ve…um… for example in our Asian program, the Korean historian was hired by the University of Pennsylvania and he’s not being replaced, but well he may eventually be replaced, but this year we only have a lecturer teaching two classes. For our South East Asian historian who teaches about Vietnam, which you can see is a very popular course because of the high number of Vietnamese-American Students, is not being replaced.
Professor Mally goes on about how professors from other programs in history who are leaving aren’t being replaced.

Young: I know that natural sciences have been receiving outside grants and government funding mainly because they are believed to produce “commodities” for the future. But why do you believe history is beneficial for the future, I mean not just for the students but for the future of the world as well? Like why do you believe History should be treated equally as Natural Sciences?

Lynn Mally: umm well, I think if you don’t have any understanding of history, you don’t have any understanding of the world. umm I think scientific research that has an eye to historical problems is the most productive research that we can have. So I mean all this investigation in global warming, of course that’s a scientific problem, but by examining how we got into this and how the Industrial revolution impacted on global climate and what we can do to provide growth without the same kind of negative impact is the way to go. So to a historian, every problem you go to is a historical problem. So you’re going to do research on drugs to treat depression, well lets start with a historical analysis on how depression has been treated and what has been the historical attack on that treatment and you go from here. I think history is the knowledge of where we’ve been and where we’re going. I mean we have “History of Science” program here, that’s also kind of disappeared, I mean the professor retired and we haven’t been able to replace him. I think that humanities and the sciences, the people in the sciences have been trying to do more collaborative projects but that has not been possible without the people in those fields (Humanities) to do it.

Young: So has the atmosphere in the Humanities department, especially History, been a lot more stressful since the cuts?

Lynn Mally: Yeah, stressful and really angry. Umm because…in the growth years all the departments in the humanities, we had a lot of faculty members had visions as to where their department was going. And now those visions are pretty much destroyed. And in the meantime we don’t know what going to happen to the shape of our department and it’s impact so the program now is not going to be determined by us and our ideas of where our department is but to just accidental factors who retire. I’m retiring not this academic year but the year after this academic year and I am the only person who does Russian practically on this campus in fact we have very little teaching Eastern Europe on this campus. I mean does this mean Eastern Europe is going to disappear? I mean, I’m part of the Russian Studies part of the program. Does that mean the Russian Studies program is going to disappear because I’m not here anymore? I mean it’s just a big…uh big mess and no one knows what the future is going to bring. No one knows what’s going to be happening so everyone is going to be angry, furious, scared, upset. I think a lot of people (faculty) close to this department are retiring because they’re all thinking “What’s the point?”

Young: I noticed that earlier you were talking about how faculty members in the Humanities department had “visions”. For the History department, what was that vision?

Lynn Mally: The history department had a vision, of course, that we were going to move towards world history. So not only was this department going to fit people who only taught American history, we needed to pay attention to the world. We need to have coverage of the world so we can’t focus just on this western department. So that was a really big push. We hired Italy specialists, we have three now, um we only had one African professor, but that was new for the last ten years, we have really brought coverage to Asia so we had a South Asian historian, a South East Asian historian, and Korea (historian) which was new for the last ten years. We really were trying to expand our coverage per se’, we really had the expertise to teach World History, but now that is collapsing and I don’t know what to stand up for.

I proceed to ask Professor Mally about how she would have handled the budget situation if she was in Yudolf’s position, but she replies with her opinions that student tuition should be raised, but she admits that this plan is getting ridiculous because the tuition is already bad enough. She then proceeds to talk about raising taxes, which she admits is getting worse as well. Mally concludes that the only best situation is that they accept fewer students due to the fact that the school is not going to give money to students anymore. With a smaller faculty, there should be a smaller number of students so that classes won’t get overcrowded in an understaffed classroom.

Young: What actions have the faculty taken to fight and stand up against the cuts?
Lynn Mally: Well the history department is threatened with the cut of three staff positions. That hasn’t happened yet. Well what have we done? Well we protested, we’ve written letters to the dean, we tried to help staff members find other jobs. I believe one reason why staff members are so angry is because we feel like we’re powerless and there’s not much we can do to stop this. So the staff is incredibly upset because in one hand they’re told that they’re going to lose their jobs or might…we don’t know. There is a feeling amongst the faculty that the administration for Humanities is doing a very poor job communicating its plans to the faculty of the staff.

Young: So how long have you been teaching at this campus?
Mally: 21 years
Y: So out of those 21 years has this been the worst?
Mally: yes
Y: so seeing that this is the worst, where do you think the history department is going to end in 5 years at this rate?
Mally: I don’t know. I would predict that people who can retire will retire, and we have a lot of people who can retire in this department. Junior faculty or Mid level Faculty or either upper level faculty who can leave will leave because they feel discouraged about what’s going on and the people who are staying, who knows what their reasons for. Their family is here, they don’t want to leave, their kids go to school, I mean there is a lot reasons why they won’t leave, but I think it will be a difficult period because they are going to have to re-envision a department that will be structured completely accidentally because people will retire, for example European history. The European history faculty is old. We have been focusing more on Asian history and world history in our more recent times so we’re making the most out of European history at this time. So then what will happen? It’s kind of hard to imagine a history department without European history. I mean, it will be a completely different history department. I mean what will the classes be? We have to re-think requirements you know. Now we have an emphasis on European history but well if all the European historians (faculty) retires then there can’t be an emphasis. Right now our Asian history emphasis has been socked so it’s more difficult for the students to get the classes they need. It’s going to be a new place. It’s going to be really difficult to re-imagine how it’s going to work. And if things stay the way they are, there will be no authority to plan because the people who leave will leave for any reason such as a better job, a re-location, and there will be no way we can replace them.

Young: How do you plan on making the most out of this year in this situation before you retire?
Mally: (Long pause) You know, it’s … it’s really really hard. I think that I’ve had to make a lot of small changes in the way I teach. We don’t have any handouts to give them (The students) so that means the students are pushed to check the webpages to get what they need. It’s been quite hard on me because I’m more of a twentieth century person (chuckles) and we don’t have paper so I’ve been doing Powerpoints and putting them on a website and making students print everything out. I guess I feel like it’s just a catalog of losses and you just adjust to that so I feel like my challenge is giving students the same quality of education I would’ve given them before with fewer resources and without the reserves I really try to choose my books so that they’re cheap and I think most of the students are trying to do that. I mean I would put my books on reserve at the library for the students to have access to, but the problem is the budget cut has shortened the library hours. So that means even if you wanted to read the book on reserve, you have a less chance of reading those books because the library will close so it just seems like some kind of catch 22 situation that whatever you do to fix the problem it would come back pushing other problems, making it hard to overcome. You know I’m not celebrating my last year. Im feeling like it’s sad because I’m saying goodbye to a profession or a job that will not exist anymore. This could be the last cataclysm of changes. These changes have made the classes get bigger and the sections get bigger and the books get more expensive and the students have to work more. These changes have been happening throughout UCI and we’re wondering “what more can happen?”
Mally continues to talk about the small changes such as the new complicated add/drop policy for classes and students having to work.

I have a follow-up interview with Professor Krapp of Film and Media Studies, a faculty member who is well educated in the Budget crisis and the well beings of the School of Humanities

Young Kim: I just want to start with a general question. How has the school and more specifically the History Department been affected by the budget crisis?

Krapp: The three to four main sources of funding that comes to the university are state funding, comes from taxes, allocated to the university as a whole which are then divided to the campuses and the campuses give it to the schools. That provides for most of the operating budget of the schools. Then there are student fees. Your fees go to the university system-wide, which divides them up to the campuses. Actually first interesting is a campus like UCI does not get all the fees that the students at UCI pay. The university-wide system in Oakland, where the president is, they can decide to give “x” or “x+” or “x-” dollars to this campus or that campus. So there is some kind of socialization of our dollars and the state’s dollars. And there is research income and contracting income. And what I mean contracting, I mean auxiliary services like parking services, food services, residents etc etc. All that money flows around the campus. History does not receive a piece of that since history so not much involved in contracting and the grants. So for the departmental perspective of humanities and social sciences departments, it’s really only the money they get from the deans office. Now the Humanities department runs by an operating budget, it’s calculated historically and right now the state has been reducing its share. That means that reduces the operating budget for all schools. And the state has cut roughly 20% year over year, if you look the past 3 years it’s 40% down, so that means each department gets less money because each dean receives less money so each campus receives less money and each school receives less money. There are cost drivers to each department, the departments don’t necessarily pay their own salaries, but they are responsible for the ratio between students and faculty, faculty and staff, and students and staff. So a department could want to hire an additional administrator, a part time administrator, student support staff, but it would take away from other things that the department could do. The department is usually responsible for office supplies, you know the photo copier etc etc. But the big costs to the department after salaries are taken care of by the campus, you know their counting mechanism associating the faculties’ and the staff’s salaries with the school and with the department. And the big things that are variable to the history department is…well I’ll tell you. We have somebody who goes and runs a study abroad center in Australia. Sharon Block. As long as she’s not here the education abroad provides some money to replace her in some classes, a lecturer. A person who teaches some or all classes that Sharon supposedly teaches. Then there is money that’s needed to pay TAs. You have a large class, history enrolls more than a hundred students, then it’ll be fifty students per TAs but now it’s sixty to seventy students per TA because we don’t have much money for TAships. So again the department has to manage it’s budget and say well “we need from the Grad of dean office, from the system, campus, and school enough money to provide TAships for the classes that we have. So it’s a complex mix of things. And then there are other things that the department needs to do with it’s money. But usually the department has fixed costs that are 90% or 95% and they all flow through. It’s not History itself can control those costs. There are variable costs and they seem to be a small part of the difference.

Young: So how much has been cut for the history department? Is there a percentage and statistic that describes the damage done to the history department?

Krapp: yeah that’s pretty simple math but complicated consequences. So the simple math is that the cut to the schoolwide budget year over year from this campus allocated to this school is a reduction of roughly 10%. It should’ve been less but what happened was last year’s cut came very late and this year’s cut is lumped in with it so we’re dealing with 18 month budget. We’re dealing with a messy delayed process that was only resolved late May, early June when there was only a few weeks left in the academic year. So the campus found out in early June that it needs to save a million dollars per day because last year’s budget was cut in the end of last year by a big amount. And then this year’s budget is lumped in with it. So it’s only a year and a half. So that makes it somewhat more than a 10% cut. You know the base operating budget was about 32 million dollars and the cut is 3 million. And the school needs to allocate that in a fair and reasonable way across the various things the school can do. Remember there are a lot of fixed costs. The school cannot reduce its headcount very easily. The school can look at reducing the people who work here but that’s a tough thing to do. So before you do that, you look at everything else. You look at all things that are not necessarily already contracted. One of things that wasn’t contracted is how much money do we give out in the TAships. Umm…

Young: Does this apply to all TAs in general or just history?

Krapp: TAs in general across school. I mean how many lecturers do we have? Is it possible to use fewer lecturers to teach more classes? Is it possible to make larger classes out of fewer classes with the fewer lecturers? How many faculty members do we have? Is it possible that some of them are going to retire? And where we would normally replace them but this year we’re not replacing them. All those kind of things. So first we look at the margins. Is there something we can do? It’s a 10% cut basically where we have a very little number. 95% of the budget is basically, it’s flowing through. You can’t really adjust that without closing a department, firing the faculty and getting rid of all the students, which would be far too drastic and no one wants to see that. So what we can do is the tweaking, which hurts but it allows the department to continue to operate under the assumption that next year maybe it will get worse again but not too much and then the year after we can start coming back. So the department of History, like other departments, all these departments with large student numbers on demand has to manage that demand for its classes undergraduate and graduate and see if it can do a lot more for less because one thing you can’t recover from easily, can’t undo, is reducing the number of faculty or closing a department. I mean once you do that, it’s almost impossible to undo.

Professor Krapp continues to talk about negotiations, layoffs, furloughs, and contracts.

And then the TAships and the student Fellowships, granted fellowships, are another thing that is probably going to be reduced not this year but next year. Undergraduate financial aids comes straight out of the fees, it’s like a third. So one out of every three dollars you give to the university goes directly to financial aid. For Grad students it’s actually every other dollar, 50%. But still there is a lot of money that has to go towards tuition and TAships or fellowships for graduate students and that’s called a “block allocation”. And again History would get a share of that. And when history is looking at this winter, applications of Grad students, they apply directly to History. Undergrads don’t apply for history. Any undergrad at UCI can go take a history class. But graduate students would only be able to come here if history is able to give them a deal for instance, in your first year as a grad student you can get a fellowship and your second year you can get a TAship something like that. That’s not a great deal because some private university can do a lot better. But it’s some kind of deal. Now history does not have that kind of money but they have the right to offer that money.  So uh if history now is hurting, it’s partly because the dean’s office has less money to offer TAships and fellowships. Now that’s fairly expensive because not only through the TAships and fellowships mean the students get a thousand dollars a month but it also covers their fees and health insurance. That’s actually a more expensive part. It’s like an iceberg, part of it is above the water but the larger part is below the water, it’s invisible. We charge students, but if they work for us, we have to pay that charge. That’s an expensive thing and history is a large department and history needs TAs and history wants to offer TAships because it needs that labor for their undergrad class. And also history wants to do research, part of doing research is having graduate students and undergraduate students and you want the best graduate students you can have, but that costs money because they can go somewhere else.

No comments:

Post a Comment