We write to alert you to the Strategic Plan that is currently being outsourced by the University System of Maryland (USM) to the for-profit Huron Consulting Group. Huron has also been hired by UMD-College Park to facilitate the creation of UMD-CP’s own strategic plan this year.
Why is this important? The USM plan is central to defining the role of Maryland’s public universities, and it will outline important changes in how education is delivered to Marylanders. It will thus help to shape and constrain the possibilities for UMD-CP’s own strategic plan, as well as that of all other members of USM.
USM Chancellor Jay Perlman and Geoff Gonella, the Regent who is chairing the USM Strategic Plan committee, describe the plan as “as a blueprint for the USM’s future, articulating where we are and where we want to be.” Yet the plan pays almost no attention to the people who work at UMD campuses.
At this critical juncture in the planning process, faculty participation is urgently needed. Please read our analysis below and consider making your voice heard. You may submit comments directly to the strategic planning committee. Or you may convey your comments anonymously by submitting them to us.
An Austerity Plan
Huron is a management consulting company that was established by former executives of Arthur Andersen, the Enron-affiliated accounting firm that ceased operation in 2002. It promotes a very specific and highly ideological vision of higher education. It has, for example, a track record of proposing harsh austerity measures that include outsourcing, faculty and staff layoffs, program closures, salary reductions, and hiring freezes. These radical attacks on the fabric of university communities are all justified as “budgetary necessities” and responses to the “imperatives of the market.” The fact that both USM and UMD-CP administrations have hired Huron to analyze the USM and UMD-CP budget data, to interpret the aspirations of the different “stakeholders,” and to hypothesize about “system-wide priorities”, should be of grave concern to all of us in the USM system who care about creating a more just university system.
We believe the outsourcing of the process through which USM and UMD-CP will formulate its new strategic vision is a profoundly non-democratic gesture that threatens the autonomy of the university and subordinates it to a market logic that betrays its broader social mission. Moreover, a strategic document developed in this fashion will have limited legitimacy among the people who actually make the system run.
Quality Education Delivered by Respected Instructors
USM plans to grow enrollment by six percent over the next ten years. We applaud the expansion of higher education, but we are concerned about who will teach these ever-larger cohorts of incoming students. As educators, we want to ensure that students receive the highest quality education.
Between 2010 and 2020, as undergraduate enrollment at UMD rose 14.7 percent, the number of instructors, lecturers, and other non-tenure-track faculty rose 14.5 percent. Tenure-track faculty numbers decreased by 3 percent between the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2020 alone, with an even more massive drop during the pandemic. In Fall 2021, part-time contingent faculty, grad instructors, and adjuncts will teach nearly three-quarters of 100-level course sections.
While USM and Huron plan for the next ten years, universities expect these contingent instructors to get by on year-to-year contracts. Their wages are paltry and their work conditions do not honor their effort and expertise. The quality of the faculty working environment shapes the student learning process. The best learning takes place in person, in the context of real research opportunities, by faculty who are at the cutting edge of research and/or can interact in meaningful ways with students. But Huron’s preparatory documents point to micro-credentialing, the growth of online programs, and “Hyflex” models that create substantial additional burdens for instructors. Some students want and need the kind of distance education offered by the University of Maryland Global Campus (formerly University of Maryland University College)— long a leader in distance education. But for most, an online education cannot replace the give and take of a classroom environment.
USM’s Educational Mission
The mission of the USM includes “Preparing graduates with the knowledge, skills, and integrity necessary to be successful leaders and engaged citizens, while providing knowledge-based programs and services that are responsive to needs of the state and the nation.” But Huron’s planning documents say little about how students will develop the necessary critical thinking skills, and nothing at all about the kinds of education that an informed citizenry requires.
Instead, planning documents portray the University as a producer of workers entering the job market. We agree that the USM should be preparing the teachers, nurses, and experts in cybersecurity that our state requires. We note, however, that areas such as educational services, arts, entertainment, and recreation are also areas of projected growth on which Huron’s documents do not comment. A plethora of research studies also show that non-STEM majors are in high demand in many areas and have excellent long-term job prospects.
Furthermore, higher education is not merely a strategy for growing Maryland’s economy. Higher education can and should train future citizens, aware our world and able to interact across diversity and difference. It trains students in many skills, many of which are not easily quantifiable.
Supporting Broad-based Excellence in Research
Current Huron analyses stress the role of research in growing the Maryland economy and providing extramural funding to the USM institutions. They focus strategic investments in engineering, computing, environmental, and life sciences research. Yet the USM mission requires that it support research that may not have immediate applications and uses. And applications can be impossible to predict. Before the COVID-epidemic, who would have foreseen that the history of public health, virology, or the study of aerosols would become so directly relevant? Who predicted the importance of teaching Arabic or Middle Eastern Studies before September 11 and the Arab Spring? A large university system cannot rely on current market incentives to direct its research enterprise. In serving the public good, it must invest broadly, deeply, and widely in research across fields.
Please consider giving feedback directly to the USM Strategic Planning Committee. Also, feel free to anonymously submit to your comments to us here or to reach out to us to convey your comments anonymously (simply hit ‘reply’ to this email, or securely email us at [email protected]).
Get Involved: Make a Better University Possible
Over the coming months we will be formulating a response to the Huron-led strategic plan. If you are interested in being involved in this working group, please get in touch with us.
Also, if you have not yet joined our list, please sign up here to stay up to date on our latest announcements and campaigns. If you support our work, please consider forwarding this email to others in your department and encouraging them to get signed up and involved as well. Strength in numbers!
The UMD Executive Committee