The Creative Pessimism of PSU Budget Narratives

January 28, 2020 / Jose Padin

Last week the Office of the Provost hosted two budget presentations, one on Wednesday, hosted by the Provost, and one on Friday, hosted by the Vice-Provost for Budget and Planning.

Those in attendance — faculty, academic professionals, graduate student employees, classified staff, administrators — were walked through deftly curated graphs making projections of budget doom and gloom through much of this decade.  We were told that OAA was sharing projections that are based on “highly predictive models” constructed on “the best data on enrollment trends."

Faculty and academic professionals in attendance raised serious questions about the trustworthiness of the projections communicated by the Office of the Provost and how university priorities should be reflected in budget decisions. The conversation exposed many loose ends and poorly constructed seams in the budget narrative shared by the PSU administration which, in the spirit of shared governance, it is our duty to continue scrutinizing.

  • You are invited to attend the PSU-AAUP and Faculty Senate Budget Town Hall, February 4, 4:00-6:00 pm, in the Smith Center 238 browsing lounge. This event is co-sponsored by the PSU-AAUP, Faculty Senate, PSU Faculty Association, the Graduate Employee Union, and SEIU Local 89. RSVP.

Colleagues in attendance at the budget forum on Friday received a concise sheet prepared by AAUP with financial information from the audited PSU books which raises serious questions about PSU’s credibility in the business of annual budget forecasts, let alone longer-term predictions. This will be explained at the Budget Town Hall on Feb 4th.

When pressed to explain questionable uses of data and inferences in their presentation, the Office of the Provost could not defend them. They punted. OAA did not produce the projections, so we were told we would have to take our questions to the PSU Budget Office, reporting to the Vice President for Finance and Administration, Kevin Reynolds.

In any event, we were told, “budget models don’t create money, they are meant to shape how we think about money.” On the basis of the Office of the Provost presentation, one infers that PSU would have us think two things: first, that there is no alternative but to cut, and, consequently, “hard reality” offers no room for faculty and academic professionals to meaningfully engage in the conversation about priorities, data, predictions, etc., except to talk about how to “handle together whatever is handed to us.” 

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