Colleges Column

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The largest collective-bargaining vote ever taken in higher education--the choice of agents to represent the 20,000-member faculty of the California State University system--will remain hanging by the slimmest thread--19 votes--until union and system officials meet tomorrow to discuss several hundred ballots that are in dispute.

The apparent victor in the heatedly contested race was the United Professors of California, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (afl-cio), which received 6,473 votes. The Congress of Faculty Associations, an affiliate of the American Association of University Professors and the National Education Association, received 6,454 votes.

The system's administration questioned the greatest number of ballots, including 224 believed to have been cast by part-time instructors whose eligibility to vote in the mail-ballot runoff has not yet been determined. The winning union contested 198 ballots believed to be those of teaching assistants, who both unions say should not be eligible. Also challenged were the ballots of 73 department chairmen.

At a time when enrollments in the graduate programs of universities across the country have shown their sharpest drop in five years, one distinguished institution is seeking to view the situation as an opportunity rather than a threat.

In a detailed 113-page study on the future of graduate education at the University of Chicago, a faculty commission that has been studying the subject intensively for two years argues that demographic projections are too hazy to be used as predictors of future graduate enrollments, both nationally and at the University of Chicago in particular.

But while acknowledging that their institution will continue to be sought out by academically able students hoping to train for academic teaching and research careers, the faculty members note that because the number of such careers now open is limited, Chicago has the chance to broaden its graduate programs to embrace the aims of students preparing for nonacademic careers.

"If European politics and institutions were studied alongside European languages and literatures," the study says, "the resulting program could prepare not only scholars and teachers of greater breadth and sophistication, but better diplomats and journalists, and more effective executives in international organizations, businesses, or banks with European interests."

To affirm its intent to back this "liberalized conception" of doctoral programs, the university should, the commission urges, streamline graduate studies in the humanities and social sciences along the lines of its programs in the sciences. The change would shorten the number of formal courses required of students and would emphasize individual research and work with colleagues and faculty members in preparing the student's dissertation.

Because scholars have long been divided on the question of how rigorous a "good" doctoral program should be--and for how many students the rigor is appropriate--the commission's ideas may provoke debate not only at Chicago, but at other prestigious institutions.

A more discouraging look into the academic future comes from two scholars who have put together an appraisal of the higher-education sector in the 1970's. The economist Howard R. Bowen and the demographer W. John Minter, in a four-part series in The Chronicle of Higher Education, report that "American higher education faces the possibility of austerity greater than at any time since the Great Depression and World War II." Arguing that colleges met their most serious financial challenges during the 70's by cutting budgets and programs and expanding their enrollments, they suggest that such "saving" graces will not rescue academe from financial distress in the 1980's.

Among the "innumerable small economies" instituted by colleges to save money during the last decade were: cutting energy use, reducing faculty travel and assistance, eliminating memberships in professional associations, rotating the teaching assignments of nontenured faculty, cutting the quality of food services, shortening the academic year, deferring maintenance, and reducing the "real" compensation of employees.

Faculty members, the authors say, "bore the brunt of financial stringency," a perspective that has been widely acknowledged to be accurate. Taking inflation into account, the average rate of faculty compensation declined by about 19 percent over the decade, they note.

"A state of chaos on Idaho campuses" is how a University of Idaho spokesman described the effect of Gov. John Evans' new order placing most state employees on a four-day week.

The order, designed to make up a multimillion-dollar shortfall in the state's budget, affects all employees at state colleges and universities who are paid out of Idaho's general funds. The group includes most administrators, clerical, and secretarial workers, and some faculty members.

"A Useful Education," a new study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, documents the growing career orientation of the nation's college students.

While 38 percent of all students in 1969 were enrolled in vocationally or professionally focused programs, a decade later 58 percent were enrolled in such programs. In 1979, according to the study, 45 percent of colleges and universities offered computer-studies majors; 42 percent offered medical-technology programs; 25 percent offered majors in law enforcement; and 23 percent offered secretarial programs.

Those statistics dovetail with data on national postsecondary enrollment patterns over the last decade, which show that the growth in higher education has come primarily at the community-college level and among the so-called "nontraditional" college students: adults principally seeking career-related skills.

The current educational climate on many campuses has also spawned renewed interest in "general education," the core of required survey courses that in an earlier era enabled colleges to introduce students to a variety of major academic disciplines. Such courses fell from favor at many schools in the late 1960's, as students--supported by a fair number of faculty members bored with delivering the same lectures year after year--demanded the right to choose what they would study.

Now, however, according to the Association of American Colleges (aac), administrators and faculty members are concerned about deficiencies in the basic knowledge and skills of today's students, and are "shifting their attention away from narrow specialization and professional training toward broader educational purposes." As a result, the education group notes, many colleges are increasing the number of general-education courses required for graduation and changing the content of some of them.

In a report released at a recent conference on the subject, aac researchers noted that 85 percent of 270 colleges that are currently reviewing their general-education programs offer "a limited range" of required courses for breadth, and 55 percent offer interdisciplinary "core" courses. About 60 percent of the schools allow students to take the courses at any time during their undergraduate years.

More than 75 percent of academic administrators surveyed and about 70 percent of faculty members said their attitudes toward the notion of general education had become more favorable over the last three years.

The report, Reforming General Education: A Survey, is available for $3 prepaid from the Association of American Colleges, 1818 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009.

Their growing interest in general education has not, however, prevented colleges and universities from placing on their budget-cutting "hit lists" departments of geography, which have suffered dwindling enrollments in recent years.

The University of Michigan has decided to eliminate its geography department entirely, the dean of arts and sciences at the University of Pittsburgh has called for closing the department of geography there, and a number of other schools are considering the same idea.

Undergraduate enrollments in the subject, which reached a high of about 789,000 in 1972-73, fell to 690,000 in 1980-81--a drop of 12.5 percent, according to the national organization of geographers.

Some 410 of the nation's 3,000 colleges and universities have geography departments. Such institutions as Brown, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Yale do not.

--Martha Matzke

Vol. 01, Issue 36

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