Read the original article in The Oregonian here.
As little as a week before the start of summer term, Portland State University abruptly canceled more than 50 courses, including at least a dozen with enough students enrolled that the class would have turned a profit for PSU.
Portland State's provost, Sona Andrews, and the dean of its huge College of Arts & Sciences, Sue Beatty, defend their decision to cut the classes as the least-harmful choice for students, given that the university had to cut $5.7 million from its 2013-14 budget.
Eliminating 6 percent of summer courses that were offered, most of which drew fewer than 10 students, saved the university $660,000, Andrews said Friday.
But some professors and students are outraged at some of the largest classes that were wiped out, most of them in the biology department. Sizable economics, chemistry and math classes also were shut down.
The cancellation of a genetics class that would have brought in about $27,000 in tuition from the 45 students enrolled, but cost just $4,700 to pay an adjunct professor with a Ph.D. in biology, means a net loss of more than $20,000 for PSU, said Stan Hillman, biology professor emeritus who served as the department chair for nine years.
"Any logical person could see there will be less revenue and it will make the financial picture worse for the university," Hillman said. "It completely defies logic."
He fully supports canceling summer classes that draw too few students to cover the cost of the professor or instructor, he said. Until this summer, when central university administration took control of summer term, PSU taught every summer class it offered, no matter how small or how much of a money-loser, Andrews said.
Three-fourths of the 79 summer courses that PSU administrators canceled were almost sure to be money-losers, university records show.
But why cancel a popular three-course biology series that had drawn more than 40 students and would be taught by an inexpensive adjunct prof? Hillman asked. Tuition payments would easily have exceeded the adjunct's pay by $40,000, he said.
The answer, Andrews and Beatty explained, is that every class that got canceled will be offered during the regular academic year. Instead of incurring the costs to pay a tenure-track faculty member or adjunct to teach in the summer, PSU can instead pack the would-be summer students into the course during the regular year, making the class bigger and adding zero additional expenses, they said.
That saves money, even when a summer course appears to be a money-maker, Beatty said. Under their contract, PSU professors can't be told they must teach an additional class but they also can't refuse to see their student loads increase, she said.
But Hillman and Carey Booth, a Ph.D. employee of Reed College who has taught the summer genetics course at PSU for 24 years, both questioned that logic.
More than half the students who take PSU biology courses during summer term are not regular PSU students who will simply shift their course-taking to fall term, they said. They are students at Reed, Lewis & Clark College or other small liberal arts schools that don't offer the range of science classes as PSU with its 1,200 biology majors.
Unable to take a summer biology course from PSU, they won't ever make a tuition payment to the downtown Portland school, Hillman and Booth said. PSU will lose that revenue entirely.
"That's the major fallacy in their argument," Hillman said.
Andrews concedes she and other top officials who decided which courses to cancel didn't know how many students in each of them were PSU students or were likely to pay PSU the tuition that was turned away by the cancellations. They counted on department chairs to know which summer courses would be the least harmful to cut, she said.
But Booth said she and others made the case directly to the dean that forgoing about $30,000 in tuition for the genetics class, mainly from students who would not otherwise pay PSU, made no sense, given that she'd be paid $4,657 to teach it.
The last-minute nature of the cancellations riled students and instructors.
Vice President for Finance and Administration Monica Rimai directed every part of the university to cut 2.3 percent of its budget by the start of April, before summer course enrollment was opened. But Andrews wanted to make strategic cuts to the academic side of the university. So she had deans of every college recommend 2 percent and 4 percent cut scenarios to her, so that she could cut more deeply in some areas to spare others.
She gave them two full months, until June 3, to turn them in. That meant that final cuts, including the list of summer courses to cancel, did not go out to deans until June 13, just 2 1/2 weeks before the first day of summer term, which will happen Monday.
The cancellations left students in the lurch.
Greg Twiss, a pre-med student with a year left at PSU, got notice 13 days before genetics was to start. "It was confusing. ... We premed students have to take really hard classes during the year, so it's best to fit these other things in during summer. I'll have to squeeze it in when I didn't want to and not take something else that term."
Biology department chairman Jason Podrabsky said many students came to him upset because a course cancellation was going to delay their planned graduation date or prevent them from applying to physician assistant school or another graduate program.
Andrews conceded that some students were inconvenienced and said it's possible a few of the course cancellations will cost the university money.
"This is not a desirable situation to be in; it is the result of a limited budget. We have 29,000 students and we have to look at the big picture. ... We do our best in accommodating and figuring out how we can best serve our students."