Artists Should Make Their Own Way

Unlike Stacey Recht Czar ("Supporting Individual Artists," issue of May 24-30), I have not grown tired of apologizing for anything to do with the sensational events connected with the 1990 CAC exhib

May 31, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Unlike Stacey Recht Czar ("Supporting Individual Artists," issue of May 24-30), I have not grown tired of apologizing for anything to do with the sensational events connected with the 1990 CAC exhibit of Mapplethorpe's photographs simply because I was never in a position to be connected with any responsibility for them. Why associate with any imagined guilt or embarrassment over such things simply because they occur in proximity to one's residence?

I feel no burden now, nor did I at the time. Would I feel different if I were a practicing artist rather than a "mere" citizen? Not likely. At least not as long as I possessed any self confidence.

In her Arts Beat column, Czar expresses disappointment at the end of individual artist support — but I say good riddance to taxpayer-funded support to individual artists. Forcibly taking the fruits of another's labor so that healthy, able-bodied individuals might express their creative urges is unnecessary.

Any artist with real passion for their ideas will find the means to make real their vision. If they create something that resonates, even if only to themselves, the work will reward them.

If it resonates with others, it might stand out in the marketplace enough to support the artist's physical needs as well. That is a risk an artist must be prepared to take.

Funding individual artists enables more risk-taking, yes, but also enables many frivolous sham artists, too. For the record, I support some limited public funding of institutions — the Cincinnati Art Museum, Hamilton's Fitton Center and the like — rather than of individual artists.

Yes, it is quite a challenge to make a living as an artist. Many choose to teach, some choose other work to pay the bills, hoping in their "spare time" to keep at it and eventually make a go of it. Locally, it's admirable the way Thom Shaw remained prolific while supporting a family working in the corporate world.

Many get discouraged and give up or postpone artistic efforts. Some satisfy themselves practicing their art without attaining much success. Consider all the musicians playing in bars past middle age. They do it without "support" because they love it.

But I don't think artists "suffer" disproportionately. People start out with all kinds of dreams that get derailed and either learn to find another way to fulfillment or muddle through, disappointed. Life isn't fair.

Even though I root for artists' success, I am content to let them struggle. Why should they not? They are no more deserving of extraneous financial support than anyone else.

How does Czar propose to support and embrace these yet-to-be-proven significant artists? What tangible mechanism does she propose, if any? And please forget about reversing any Mapplethorpe legacy — funding cuts or otherwise. It's time to move forward rather than look behind.

— Rick Gray, Liberty Twp.

Too Many Middle Managers
Rick Petrick's claim that salaries for professors and staff at colleges rise faster than inflation is, as far as professors go, contrary to fact ("Higher and Higher Education," issue of May 17-23). Over the past 20 years, average U.S. faculty salaries, adjusted for inflation, have increased only a microscopic 1/4 of 1 percent (0.25 percent) over the entire period vs. 34 percent for doctors and 18 percent for lawyers.

The flatline in faculty pay increases hurts hard in the recruitment of well-qualified people to devote their lives to academia instead of more lucrative options. The average pay of an associate professor last year was $57,468, an average that masks a much higher range in fields like medicine and computer science and much lower in humanities, for example.

Like most other people, faculty's real income is also being further reduced by increases in health-insurance costs, which have risen as much as 40 percent in a single recent year at some colleges. Beyond all this, the number of full-time (never mind permanent) faculty is constantly being reduced nationwide; fewer than half of the professors at a typical college now are tenure-track. Pay for part-time faculty can be lower than the official poverty line.

The main cause of increased costs is one that receives little attention in the media or from politicians, both of whom tend to ask college administrators, rather than faculties, what the problem is. The payroll of non-faculty staff at American colleges has exploded for decades, with no end to the growth in sight.

In 1930, the average American college spent 19 cents on administration for every $1 spent on instruction; by 1988, it was 45 cents of administration per $1 of instruction, at which date administrative costs had reached $1,742 per student per year — and they have continued to go north ever since. Between 1975 and 1990, the number of full-time faculty positions increased 25 percent while the number of administrative positions grew by 42 percent.

In the California state system, one of the largest, the number of administrators more than doubled from 1976 to 1999 while the number of students increased by 17 percent and the number of tenure-track faculty by only 7 percent. Today, fully two-thirds of the people employed in higher education are not actually educators themselves.

It's true that generous increases in administrative pay rates, including those of presidents, have also contributed to collegiate budget problems. The job market for administrators doesn't generally justify high pay raises, since most of them work at only one or two institutions during their careers and about half are internal promotions. The arms race of spending on non-academic facilities for student services and sports — a war a less-than-wealthy college can never win — takes its toll as well.

But the primary factor remains the sheer number of jobs being created in middle management and office staffs, a trend which can't continue much longer. Like American business of the 1980s, American higher education will eventually have to lay off a huge number of non-key employees and adopt rigorous policies to improve efficiency, rather than to justify new hires, in non-academic areas.

Until pressure to do this comes from their boards, the public, politicians and the media, administrative bloat will continue indefinitely; administrators will continue to blame the ever-decreasing faculty payroll as the supposed culprit; and the cost of going to college will keep creeping upwards.

— James McNelis Member, American Association of University Professors Lebanon