Page 208 - American_Higher_Education_V4

Basic HTML Version

208
“Nothing in the legislation changes the amount of state
funding for higher education,” says John Bennett, Virginia’s
finance secretary.
For all the hoopla
surrounding
restructuring, the
benefits will not
be extended evenly
across Virginia’s
institutions.
At UVA, the pressure already is being felt. Goal number
nine—“Work actively with elementary and secondary school
administrators…to improve student achievement”—resulted
in the Curry School of Education receiving marching orders
from the UVA administration to seek out and improve a local
school. The school was located, and two education professors
are now working halftime on the project.
Breneman, the school’s dean, views the scrambling with
some amusement. “In the effort to get themselves deregulated,
the schools may have breathed new life into SCHEV and got
themselves re-regulated,” he said. “The fact is, every campus
is fumbling in the dark with this thing. No one knows how it
will turn out.”
Warner, whose office had a major hand in developing
the goals, predicts the outcome will be good for the schools
and for the state. In some areas, he said, the universities
have proved themselves sorely lacking, and making them
accountable will give the state some powerful leverage.
“Take the area of fostering the careers of women and
minorities,” he said. “Universities have been some of the
worst performers in the state in this regard. That may surprise
people, but university systems tend to be run by old-boy
networks. I think we’re going to see that change as this process
moves along. The universities will get their freedom, and the
state will get what it needs also.”
Campus administrations will also have to tread delicately
when it comes to exercising their hard-won authority
over tuition and fees. While the new legislation explicitly
confers control over tuition to the campuses, it is universally
recognized that the General Assembly could snatch it back at
any time.
“The schools got the authority, but I wouldn’t characterize
that authority as unchallenged,” said Finance
Secretary Bennett. “In effect, the General
Assembly was saying, ‘Yeah, you’ve got the
right to do 25 percent (in tuition hikes), but
if you do 25 percent, we will come back and
slap you around.”
College administrators largely agree with
this assessment. Grabbing control over tuition
proved to be a popular political gambit by
governors and the legislature during the ’90s,
and there is nothing to prevent it from being
employed again.
But, administrators say, tuition hikes in
the foreseeable future will probably run only
two to three percent above the inflation rate and thus will
be unlikely to attract the ire of politicians. At UVA, tuition
increases were projected in the eight to ten percent range last
spring, on the assumption that the state carries through on its
funding goals. Projections at other schools were somewhat
lower.
Given all the uncertainties, was the two-year effort over
restructuring worth it? Most university officials, especially
those in the top three, appear to believe it was—with caveats.
“We would have preferred to end up where we started
(with charter status),” said Sullivan at William andMary.
“What we eventually got was a framework to work out these
management agreements that may offer us the chance to plan
ahead several years at a time. That would be a huge advantage
over the last decade, which left us with zero predictability.”
At UVA, Vice President Sandridge noted that the
university hospital was granted widespread autonomy in
1996 under a similar restructuring arrangement. That effort
has proved very successful, he said, and he expects the same
experience this time.
“It is quite clear that the state always has the authority to
overrule their agreement with us. We acknowledge that,” said
Sandridge. “But it is my experience in Virginia that parties
usually operate in good faith. So we are going into this with
the expectation that we can work out a reasonable financial
plan with the Commonwealth and that we will be able to
make decisions at UVA, to operate the campus, and to set
tuition consistent with that plan.”
The true outcome of the restructuring plan likely will
be revealed in stages. By this December, the Level III
management agreements are scheduled to be approved and, at
that point, the institutions will know exactly what authorities
they have gotten from the state and what they have given
up. The agreements will be put into practice next July, and
the performance of individual campuses will be reviewed by
SCHEV the following year.
“It’s a case where the final product is never really the final
product,” said state Senator Chichester. “We will take small
steps, see if they work, and then take more steps. And a real
judgment as to whether we have succeeded is probably some
time away.”
u
Robert A. Jones is a former reporter and columnist for the
Los
Angeles Times
.
Tom Cogill for CrossTalk