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Should John Kasich Be the Next President of The Ohio State University? (Part 3)


Part One of this three-part series explored the reasons why having any former governor serve as the president of a public college or university in that state, and especially as president of that state’s flagship public university, is a bad idea.

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John Kasich

Part Two addressed the reasons why having a former governor with an ideological bent toward privatization and corporatization in such a role is counter-intuitive and demonstrably problematic.

In Part Three of this series, we now address why former Governor John Kasich is a particularly problematic choice to lead Ohio’s flagship public university.

As governor, Kasich was no friend to public higher education. Let’s review.

Governor Kasich’s 1st Budget – 2011

In his first biennial budget in 2011, Kasich slashed the main funding source to colleges and universities (State Share of Instruction or SSI) by 12%.

In that same budget, the governor attempted to undermine the whole concept of public universities by proposing a “charter university” system. The idea was that, in exchange for less state funding, universities would be “freed” from many state regulations (such as tuition caps, construction requirements, public records laws).

Fortunately, the legislature cut this proposal from the final budget. However, the compromise was to allow universities to lease “auxiliary services,” such as parking and residence halls, to private companies.

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OSU’s student newspaper, The Lantern, made a point to show how much can change in a 50-year period when the university entered into the long-term parking system privatization deal.

Ohio State has taken advantage of this by leasing its parking system in 2013 for a 50-year period in exchange for a one-time $483 million payment. Similarly, the university leased its energy facilities in 2017 for 50 years for an upfront payment of $1 billion.

While these seemingly lucrative deals are undoubtedly tempting for universities which have been left behind by the state, essentially selling off public assets for one-time payments is short-sighted and an unsustainable budgeting model.

Moreover, Kasich was openly hostile toward faculty in his inaugural budget. During his initial gubernatorial campaign, he said he would make professors work harder. This was ironic, given that Kasich had just come off of a very lucrative deal to appear in an OSU classroom for $4,000 an appearance. He was paid $50,000 a year for no more than four visits to the classroom per term. After milking the system for so much money for doing so little, it is hard to understand how he could possibly criticize full-time faculty.

Nevertheless, Kasich’s executive budget included a provision that faculty would have to teach one additional course every other year (with no end date or other specificity). Perhaps he thought that every professor earned $50,000 for giving four lectures a term.

Yes, while sending a message with charter universities that universities were too burdened with regulation, Kasich wanted to micromanage faculty workload. The legislature ultimately abandoned this idea, too.

Governor Kasich’s 2nd Budget – 2013

In his second biennial budget, Kasich couldn’t help himself but to introduce yet another workload mandate for faculty. This time, he was sure to include greater specificity. All research and instructional faculty would have had to teach one additional course from the previous academic year. The language, however, was permissive — boards of trustees could choose to adopt this or not. Nevertheless, legislators decided to eliminate it from the final bill.

In addition, it was this budget that Kasich introduced a new funding model for higher education, one that moves away from enrollment to one based primarily on course completions and graduations. We warned the legislature of the perils of moving from an opportunity-based system (enrollment) to a production-based system (course completions and graduations). Legislators did not heed our warnings, and our predictions have come to fruition.

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College Credit Plus ad from the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

As a result of the new funding model, institutions that have selective admissions, and thus more students that perform well, are being even more rewarded with SSI dollars. Conversely, this has hurt open-access institutions, and has incentivized them to become more selective with admissions.

Moreover, Kasich pushed for a vast expansion of Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) by introducing “College Credit Plus” (CCP). It used to be the case under PSEO that high-achieving high school students could earn college credit by attending classes at their local college or university. But under CCP, even 7th graders can take “college” courses, most of which are taught in the high school. Rather than properly fund higher education, Kasich’s idea with CCP was that students and the state can save money by pushing students through their education as quickly as possible.

But, as usual, he ignored the unintended consequences. The lower division classes that are now the core of CCP have been the bread and butter of colleges and universities, which have suffered financial harm by CCP usurping these courses.

Of course, the irony was probably lost on Kasich and Republican legislators that they want public high schools to teach college courses, even though they contend the same schools are inadequate as a justification for “school choice”/support for charter schools.

Governor Kasich’s 3rd Budget – 2015

A big piece of the governor’s third budget was pushing “competency-based education” (CBE). The idea behind CBE is that one can take a test to prove that they know material rather than having to take courses they might not otherwise need. CBE has been used for many years in fields where it is easy to ascertain competency, and we have no problem with that.

However, Kasich welcomed with open arms Western Governors University – – a “university” without any faculty — to lead the charge of CBE in Ohio. That a governor would welcome an outside entity to compete directly with Ohio’s public colleges and universities, which offer CBE options, raised eyebrows among many.

Kasich’s 4th and Final Budget – 2017

In his final budget, the governor successfully pushed through a provision to formally recognize Western Governors University as an Ohio institution. With Ohio public colleges and universities competing for students and resources, giving a formal stamp of approval to a “university” with a dubious record of student success (when compared to similar programs at other institutions) was baffling.

Kasich’s budget also would have required public institutions of higher education to pay for students’ textbooks, allowing the institutions to charge students only up to $300 to defray those costs. With what resources, governor? That unfunded mandate was cut from the bill.

The funding that Kasich proposed for SSI in his final budget was still slightly lower than the SSI funding in actual dollars in Gov. Strickland’s final budget (see above chart). Of course, when accounting for inflation, the Kasich’s funding for higher ed looks even worse. Ohio’s percentage change in per pupil spending from 2008 to 2016 was -15.2%.

Throughout his tenure as governor, Kasich successfully pushed several income tax reductions that overwhelmingly favored the wealthiest Ohioans. All the while, public goods and services, including higher education, unnecessarily suffered.

Kasich’s Record on Public Employees

Kasich’s first major act as governor was working with State Senator Shannon Jones (R-Springboro) to introduce the infamous Senate Bill 5. SB 5 would have stripped public employees of any meaningful collective bargaining rights. Management would be able to impose contracts, and employees couldn’t strike. Despite the public outcry and opposition, the legislature passed the bill. In November 2011, the people of Ohio overwhelmingly voted to repeal SB 5 in a referendum vote.

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Anti-SB 5 sign at 2011 rally in Columbus

It is worth emphasizing that, although all public employees would have had their labor rights much reduced, faculty would have been prohibited from having any unions whatsoever–this when faculty at 11 of the 14 public universities in the state are unionized. This singling out of faculty demonstrates a lack of appreciation for faculty work and/or represents an effort to silence our faculties’ public expressions of concern over the erosion of the emphasis on the core academic missions of their institutions.

The referendum on Senate bill 5 did not stop Kasich from finding other ways to hurt public employees. Working with Republicans in the General Assembly, in 2013, the governor strong-armed the public employee retirement systems to adopt new requirements that would force systems to cut benefits and raise age and service requirements.

For example, with the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS), to which most of our members belong, active educators had their contributions raised from 10% to 14%, their final average salary figured using the last five years instead of the last three years of their careers, the service requirement increased to 35 years, as well as changes to the benefit formula and cost of living adjustment (COLA).

Other Considerations

Governor Kasich has been a strong proponent of gimmickry over substantive improvements, especially in terms of access and affordability. For instance, College Credit Plus (CCP) has alleviated the immediate costs to students but has actually compounded the financial stress on colleges and universities caused primarily by the declines in state support–and has actually led to escalating tuition for the courses that CCP students eventually do need to take to complete degrees. There is a ready parallel to the cuts in state taxes that have led to dramatic increases in local taxes supporting local governments and school districts. This gimmickry demonstrates a sort of shortsightedness and a lack of understanding of how colleges and universities pay their bills and remain sustainable public institutions over the longer term.

Consider also the impact of the Boards that Governor Kasich largely filled. The recent largely self-created financial crisis at Wright State is a salient example of a vision, driven by cronyism and in some cases outright corruption (according to the Ohio Attorney General, Ohio Inspector General, Ohio Auditor, and a half dozen federal departments and agencies) that has emphasized “investments” in every imaginable alternative to “instruction.” So, as the state has been slashing support, Boards have “invested” in all sorts of non-academic “initiatives” and “enterprises” that have drained reserves. Faculty have been implicitly and explicitly blamed for not being more “efficient” or “productive” when all elements of their workloads, even at Ohio State, have increased. Scapegoating is easier than blaming one’s appointees and, implicitly, one’s own decision-making. The Ohio Conference’s annual reports on higher education have shown where money is being ‘invested.”

Where is the legislation addressing administrative bloat, escalating deficit spending on athletics, campus construction and off-campus property purchases that seem especially counter-intuitive when enrollments have plateaued or declined and when an increasing percentage of instruction has moved online, etc., etc.? Colleges and universities need administrations and Boards with a sense of long-term stewardship; instead, we increasingly have itinerant administrators and politically partisan and largely corporate Boards.

Franklin County Charter Tax
The Ohio Democratic Party dedicated a page on its website to exposing how much money ECOT and other charter schools took away from public schools over a six-year period in each county, all on John Kasich’s watch.

What has occurred at the K-12 level is even worse than anything that has occurred at the post-secondary level, but it is instructive of the level of damage that can be done in a relatively brief period. Tens of millions of tax dollars diverted from public schools already challenged by under-funding were wasted on Ohio’s online alternative school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT. Equally scandalous has been continued funding of charter schools, three quarters of which are performing at the level of the lowest-performing public districts to which they were supposed to provide a dramatic alternative. They are largely corporate schools, and much of the revenue is being siphoned off into administrative salaries and shareholder profits, while the teachers are grossly underpaid. Some of it is an outright swindle, with subsidiaries of the corporations operating the charter systems in just about all of Ohio’s major cities leasing space to the schools at multiple times the going rates for commercial rents. One would think that the multi-layered scandal involving ECOT and tens of millions of dollars in squandered public monies would, alone, have been enough to shame lawmakers away from these “alternatives.”

The Ohio State University Can Do Better

Despite the fact that Kasich has built a national reputation for himself through his 2016 presidential campaign as a civil candidate (who isn’t civil compared to Donald Trump?), Kasich’s time in Ohio was marked by abrasive remarks, attacks on public employees, and a dismal K-12 and higher education record. Indeed, since Kasich has been an outspoken critic of President Trump, it seems very fair to point out that the sort of open normalization of obvious conflicts of interest has been one of his main criticisms of Trump, but it’s hard to explain his being hired by a Board that he has largely appointed as governor as anything but such a willingness to benefit, even selectively, from such a flouting of established standards.

Someone who has exhibited a lack of support for public higher education, hostility toward faculty, and fundamental misunderstandings about academia should not be made the leader of Ohio’s flagship institution. We urge Ohio State to have an open and robust search for their next president.

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