University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler’s fiscal year 2019 budget was approved by the Board of Regents earlier this month. Meaning, in-state tuition at the Twin Cities campus will increase by 2 percent, with non-resident tuition rates having been increased by 15 percent in December. The decision was met with opposition, and the board has subsequently voted to tighten the professor hiring process in order to control costs. However, it’s uncertain the extent to which the University putting new tenure-track hires under extra scrutiny will put more pressure onto non-tenured faculty and teaching staff, who have faced a profound lack of solidarity from their institution over recent years.
Considering the fact that the University is seeking to increase enrollment by 3,000 students, the needs of non-tenured and tenure-track teaching staff have to be addressed. The University has increasingly relied on non-tenured faculty and instructional staff, with compensation and working conditions for these instructors being unsatisfactory. Earlier this year, the unionization attempt among University faculty failed as a result of opposition from the University, which spent around $500,000 in legal fees to curtail the efforts of organizers. The unfair working conditions of teaching staff should be taken seriously by the University. Despite its stated commitment to scrutinize hires for positions that are funded by tuition or state taxes, many teaching staff are hired on short-term contracts that lead to job insecurity. Such positions are often poorly paid, and create a vicious cycle of low-wage teaching positions. They also give teaching staff an undue amount of work, which in turn can negatively affect students in reducing the amount of individualized attention received. If student tuition dollars are not adequately supporting those who are making their college experience worthwhile — or worse, actually being used to pay for legal fees to fight against unionization, as the University was found to be doing in 2016 — then they are being grossly misused.
Tuition costs have risen exponentially over the past couple of decades, and students today are paying more than ever for their education. Since the University continues to seek more funds through increased tuition instead of a different source, such as the central reserves fund, the money spent should go toward that which most benefits students. Students’ tuition should first and foremost be used to improve the quality of their education, and so prioritizing the wellbeing of teaching staff is an essential investment. The University of Minnesota has behaved inversely by mistreating its faculty in order to address tuition costs. This is clearly not the answer, especially since tuition costs have risen, and will likely continue to do so. The current working conditions for many teaching staff are unsustainable and short-sighted, and need to be reexamined by University leaders. Student tuition should go toward fairly compensating teaching staff and ensuring they are reasonably equipped to deal with their students and workloads. Otherwise, students will likely experience increasingly larger class sizes, overworked teaching staff and an ultimately diminished quality of education.