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Dr. David Johnson Determines Funding Distribution

Joel Goode, Opinion Editor

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This article is an extension of last week’s previous article titled “As spring blossoms, the arts and sciences wither” in issue 16 that takes a deeper look at the issue of arts and sciences funding at USA. This week, I interviewed Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. David Johnson.

For readers who did not catch last week’s article, I’m investigating the distribution of funds between the colleges at USA. More specifically, I’m concerned that the arts and sciences, which are responsible for most gen ed requirements, receive less funding than other colleges.

Last week, I reported that the university funding model is set up so that the schools that receive the most new enrollments also receive the most funding. However, my interview with Johnson revealed that this was too simplistic an explanation.

Johnson explained that the amount of student credit hours being taken within a college is the primary factor when he distributes fund between colleges. Head count, or amount of students majors in a department within a college, is also considered, but it’s not the primary consideration.

“An engineering student actually takes classes in engineering mostly in their junior and Senior years,” according to Johnson. “In their first two years, they’re mostly taking courses in arts and sciences, such as in mathematics. As the head count in engineering has gone up, the student credit hours in mathematics has gone up. Not only does engineering need faculty, particularly when students reach their junior and senior years, but mathematics needs faculty even sooner. ”

Johnson operates at the college level, which means he determines how funding is distributed between colleges such as the college of medicine, the college of engineering, and the college of arts and sciences.

Within the colleges, the dean looks at where enrollment is growing. The primary criteria for funding is credit hour growth. The dean makes the case for a specific program, and then he and the provost attempt to add faculty to keep up with student credit hour production.

Johnson explained that from 2012-2016, overall enrollment in the arts and sciences went up 6,000 credit hours, approximately a 7 percent increase. The number of faculty in arts and sciences went up from 234 to 257, which is a 10 percent increase, although this information doesn’t any possible distribution inequalities within a college.

“I look at those credit hour numbers and when they’re coming up, I am sympathetic to requests from the dean for new faculty positions,”said Johnson.

During the 2012-2016, engineering grew from 5,500 credit hours to 8,500 credit hours, an increase of more than 50 percent. The administration was able to add 22 percent more faculty (8 more professors) during that period.  

The biggest issue facing the arts and sciences is that several departments do not feel as if funding is being distributed proportionate to the credit hour production. For example, the departments reported on last week include foreign languages and life sciences, which lack classrooms and labs.

However, the administration said it has begun to address these issues. The chemistry department, for example, similarly suffered from a severe lack of lab space, and their concerns were adequately addressed with with the construction of new labs in the old engineering laboratory.

Johnson acknowledges there are space issues on campus. A survey was recently completed by faculty, students, staff, and administrators as part of the master plan for facilities. The master plan, which will be completed by the end of the semester, will determine allocation once resources become available.

The committee for the plan is co-chaired by Johnson and Scott Weldon, vice president of finance and administration. Surveys and focus groups are administered through Angela Coleman’s office of institutional effectiveness.

The humanities building is a prominent priority, according to Johnson, as well as the life sciences and instructional laboratory building. The committee is also conducting a classroom utilization study.

There are also departmental needs for new faculty. Some administrators believe an adjunct or part-time professor cannot provide the quality of education a tenured faculty member can. However, Johnson reserved a certain appreciation for part-time faculty.

“I do not want to diminish the work of part-time faculty,” said Johnson, citing Dick Rogers in Chemistry as someone who has worked in industry for decades and has pursued a part time career at USA to commendation.

“Many schools would like to have something like Shelby Hall, and would also like to have a few more full time faculty. We’re going to try to do our best,” said Johnson. “We’re at the same faculty-student ratio overall that we were at our peak before the recession.”

“Our percentage of instruction delivered by part-time faculty is no higher now than it was before the recession, when 80 percent of instruction is delivered by full-time faculty. If you compare us with other state institutions, that’s not a bad number. It’s a good number.”

The administration appears to be working to meet the complex needs of USA’s many colleges and the departments within them.

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Dr. David Johnson Determines Funding Distribution