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Volume 20, Issue 5, Dec 08, 2014

From (Under) The Chair’s Desk

Budget news continues to bubble along, without yet gushing forth in a clear stream. The Board of Regents has recommended the so-called performance-based funding formula with 60% of its weight dependent on numbers of in-state students enrolled, such that most of us see it as an enrollment-based funding formula. If you would like to read the complete Regents’ appropriation request for FY16, it is a fascinating public document: see here. Information on performance-based funding begins on page 29. As a formula that will deprive the University of Iowa of approximately $54 million, there is little surprise that UI faculty don’t view this choice very favorably. For an especially articulate expression of concerns, see the response of the faculty senate leadership here. In such an environment, I was surprised that Bruce Rastetter, President of the Board of Regents, agreed to attend UI faculty senate last week and to address faculty concerns, since he is seen as chief architect and advocate of the formula, and would surely be a lightning-rod for hostile reactions.

Speaking personally, I was surprisingly impressed by President Rastetter’s performance. I suppose I was expecting to be able to catch a glimpse of cloven hooves or smell a whiff of sulfur. Instead, he managed to come across to my eye as smart, engaging, apparently responsible, and almost convincing. He seized the initiative at the beginning by praising the University of Iowa and suggesting that he would like to see us rise still further in reputation by becoming one of the top ten public universities. (That triggered a flow of nostalgia in me: was it under Provost Hogan that we last heard that as the mantra to whip us into redoubled efforts?) This begged the obvious question of how were we going to increase our reputation if he was taking away $54m of our funding? To this and a barrage of similar questions, he maintained two basic answers. One was that we were smart as an institution and would react to the formula so that we didn’t lose funding, including by growing our enrollments of both in-state and out-of-state students and getting more research dollars. The other, related, answer was to suggest that the state contribution is only a relatively small part of our budget, and the Regents were just trying to recalibrate that small contribution in a responsible manner, re-targeting Iowa dollars to Iowa scholars, and rebalancing funding between the three schools. When pushed with the other obvious line of questioning—won’t the UI’s success in recruiting more Iowa undergrads harm the other institutions of higher education across the state, including our fellow regents’ institutions?—his answer was first to suggest we should target students now going out of state, then ultimately to suggest that we weren’t likely to make much difference anyway (which did rather contradict his first assertion).

We were a frankly hostile crowd, and yet Rastetter came across as neither glib nor bellicose. As I said, I came away quite impressed by his performance. Of course, once I stepped away, I still found it hard to see how taking $54m from our budget is any way of doing us good. If one accepts the implication of Rastetter’s argument, then the state is essentially contributing to our mission only insofar as we are educating its school leavers, leaving the institution adrift to find its own funding for graduate and professional work and for all our research, and thus backing away from the longstanding model of our being a true public institution—which seems to me a terribly sad diminution of our traditional standing as a public university serving as a public good.

Not that the funding formula is by any means inevitable. At different meetings over the last couple of weeks, I have seen President Mason, our faculty senate leadership, and our own Loren Glass (current chair of the Governmental Relations Committee) all suggest ways in which the model may yet get revised as the state legislature take on their collective task of dispensing budgets in the first half of next year. Most folks think that some performance-based funding formula is likely to stay with us, but that this particularly imbalanced version is far from inevitable. The senate leaders in particular seem to me to be doing an excellent job of advocacy, with some suggestion that there is little point in faculty expressing our outrage—we would be outraged, wouldn’t we?—unless anyone has particularly persuasive power with legislators from outside Johnson County and environs. Probably our best advocacy is to continue our outstanding work in teaching and in research so that the UI remains a power-house of thought and learning.  Meanwhile, an uncertain budget outlook is likely to continue uncertain for months to come.

Other than budget news, another recurring sense of uncertainty lies in the prospects for graduate students. As the Graduate College cuts fellowship funding and this year’s job seekers test the opportunities available in the field, a recent report by the AWP (2013-14 Report on the Academic Job Market available here) paints a bleak picture for job prospects of the 3,000 to 4,000 new graduates in creative writing competing for a little more than 100 academic tenure-track creative writing jobs. The AWP job list data makes clear an increase in the number of non-tenure-track jobs and in nonacademic jobs advertised in the AWP, even as the number of creative writing tenure-track positions stays stable at about 100. The report emphasizes the perilous plight of adjunct positions, a peril that it ties to administrative bloat in universities. It also includes interesting data on the number of MFA creative writing degree-conferring programs (some 229).

Our own proposal for an undergraduate degree in creative writing proposal has now been advanced by the Provost to the Board of Regents for consideration, with the expectation that the Board will make a decision at its February meeting. Such a degree does not exist, and we are discouraged from giving it any publicity, unless and until the Board of Regents approves it. The AWP report provides an interesting context for our efforts. If we are successful, apparently such a degree program will make us the 694th institution offering a BA/BFA major in creative writing!

Meanwhile, within the remit of what we do control, English faculty continue their outstanding work in research and teaching. See below for stories of recent research successes, while the end of term busyness has most of us deeply engaged in our teaching mission. (Don’t forget grades are due to be entered into MAUI by Tuesday, December 23.) As we face the last pedagogic luncheon of the semester on Wednesday, and as you contemplate the well-oiled machine that is our undergraduate major, let me thank Doris Witt for her two and a half years as Director of Undergraduate Studies. Doris will be stepping down from this position mid-year as she heads to Montpellier to teach on our exchange next semester, when Blaine Greteman will be stepping into her place. Thanks, Doris, for the persistent energy and good judgment in the position!

And, as the semester comes racing to its close, don’t forget the opportunity for celebratory conviviality among colleagues at the upcoming winter reception on Friday. I look forward to seeing many of you there!


Advocacy Matters (from Loren Glass)

Writing in my capacity as (newly appointed) chair of the Government Relations Committee let me first of all affirm that I’ve met with our local caucus and they are firmly opposed to the (so-called) performance-based funding model. When asked how faculty could contribute to an effort to reform or reject the model I received the following advice. First of all, if you live in Johnson County there is no need to contact your representatives; they are already on our side. If you know anyone in any other district, particularly if it houses an institution of higher education, you should feel free to encourage them to contact their representative. Generally speaking, the argument should be that this model hurts higher education generally, not just the University of Iowa, by pitting us all against each other in a zero-sum game competition for a diminishing number of Iowans. Furthermore, we should emphasize that this is not performance-based funding, but enrollment based funding, and we’re fine with a model which is truly based on performance. These arguments are also valuable if you have any connections to any businesses that contribute to local legislators. Please feel free to email me if you have further questions. I’m anticipating visiting Des Moines some time next semester and will keep in touch about developments as they arise.


Faculty Matters

Congratulations to Claire Fox, who has received honorable mention in the competition for the Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize from the MLA for her work Making Art Panamerican: Cultural Policy and the Cold War. See the news section of the CLAS website for the full information, here.

Blaine Greteman has been selected by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies for an Interdisciplinary Research Summer Grant for his project, “Linked Reading: A New Scalable Model for the Digital Humanities.” Blaine will be working with David Eichmann from SLIS and James J. Lee from Grinnell University.

Congratulations to Brooks Landon, whose Fall 2015 CDA application was approved by the Board of Regents last week. Brooks is proposing to deploy his expertise as a scholar of Science Fiction and popular culture to the cataloging and dissemination of the Hevelin Collection in Special Collections at the UI Libraries, a unique resource of 20c fanzine culture, a trove of usually ephemeral materials, newly acquired by the UI Libraries.

Congratulations to Kathy Lavezzo, whose Fall 2015 CDA application was approved by the Board of Regents last week. She will write one final chapter (in fact, the first) and the introduction and conclusion of her book, A Cultural Geography of Antisemitism: Jews and the Making of English Space, 731-1671, a work impressive in its scope and significance.

Bravo to Laura Rigal, whose Spring 2016 CDA application was approved by the Board of Regents last week. Laura will complete her book Streaming Ralston Creek: Hydraulic Media and the Politics of Scale in the Landscape of Capital, 1832-1983, an innovative and important study whose relevance becomes all the more apparent with each successive flood of the Iowa river.

Congratulations to Harry Stecopoulos, whose Fall 2015 CDA application was approved by the Board of Regents last week. Harry plans to write a final chapter and the introduction and epilogue of his book, “Telling America’s Story to the World: US Writers and Cultural Diplomacy, 1940-1990,” a valuable and timely work, contributing to a significant strand of scholarship reading anew the modern American literary canon in the light of cultural diplomacy.


Memorial Matters

A memorial service for Richard (Jix) Lloyd-Jones will be held on Monday, December 22 at 10:30 a.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 320 E. College St. He died at his home in Iowa City on October 7, and his body was deeded to the UI College of Medicine.

Professor Lloyd-Jones was chair of the Department and director of the School of Letters from 1976 to 1985, and was for several decades a major national leader in the shaping of college and university writing programs.


Upcoming Matters

Executive Committee Meeting. Dec 11, 2014 at 3:30pm. 331 EPB.

Memorial Service for Richard (Jix) Lloyd-Jones. Dec 22, 2014 at 10:30am. Trinity Episcopal Church, 320 E. College St.