From the Guest Editors: Revolutionizing Higher Education Budget and Finance

By Aimee Loiselle and Jennifer M. Miller

This special issue of Academe, the second guest-edited by Scholars for a New Deal for Higher Education (SFNDHE), calls on faculty to become active in finance issues on their campuses and in their states. Such activism engages coalitions to move beyond fighting for line items in opaque budgets to advocating for larger transformations, demanding transparency, proposing reallocations of funding, and monitoring endowments and financial investments. Austerity measures and “efficiencies” have stretched faculties and staff to the limits as the numbers of tenure-track professors and full-time staff and librarians have declined. The only answer is to challenge austerity and structural decisions that have eroded the educational mission.

Our colleges and universities are increasingly treated as assets for wealth extraction. Adjunctification, student debt, retirement fund schemes, commercial real estate projects, intellectual property deals, outsourcing, and corporate use of nonprofit campus space have exploded, taking priority over the teaching and research mission. As multiple authors highlight in this issue, upper administrators, governing boards, and hedge-fund managers view colleges and universities as investment instruments, obscuring extractive practices with narratives of profit and efficiency even when these fail to generate higher revenues.

Faculty members, staff, students, and alumni must develop counternarratives, while exposing budget numbers to demand alternatives. Moral suasion is not effective. Even public awareness is not enough. These articles offer tangible steps for how to unify and organize across ranks, divisions, and other categories to change budgets and finance on our campuses.

Contributors to this issue hail from institutions public and private, large and small, yet they highlight common stories, demonstrating the profound and consequential ways that predatory and destructive financial practices undermine contemporary higher education. The goal of this issue is not only to illuminate shared problems but also to offer meaningful strategies and tactics toward the creation of a more equitable future.

As François Furstenberg and Naveeda Khan demonstrate, budget activism can serve as a powerful impetus for the organizing necessary to bring about change. Jill Penn, Davarian Baldwin, Colena Sesanker, and Elizabeth Tandy Shermer emphasize how financial needs dictate everyday life on campus, from stretched-out workers to campus real estate empires and from curricular decisions to student loan practices. Scott Ferguson and Benjamin Wilson and, in the online edition, Kelly Grotke discuss the silencing power of narratives of austerity and “savings”—and the ways in which broad coalitions can subvert them through bold commitments to transparency and campus-level mobilization. Articles in a forthcoming online supplement will add to this conversation.

This is the major takeaway of the special issue: change in higher education must come from below. We can counter our universities’ empty corporate slogans with new purpose and a commitment to foster change. To do so, we must build coalitions to participate in the control of our institutions’ financial practices.

Aimee Loiselle is assistant professor of history at Central Connecticut State University. Jennifer M. Miller is associate professor of history at Dartmouth College. They are members of SFNDHE.