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Coping With Cuts

I-O Practices Can Help Institutions Dealing With Financial Strain

By Stephany Schings, Communications Specialist

As academic institutions continue to experience diminished state support and other financial challenges, SIOP Fellow Neal Schmitt says industrial and organizational psychology practices can help institutions cope.

According to a 2009 report by The Delta Project, a nonprofit organization focusing on trends in higher education spending, “the shift away from public funding of institutions continues, with most of the new money in higher education coming from tuition and fees, private gifts, and grants and contracts.” At public institutions, the report continues, state appropriations per student declined from 2002 to 2005 and rebounded slightly in 2006 but have not since returned to their earlier levels.

“In general, the proportion of school funding that is funded by tax dollars has gone down dramatically,” said Schmitt, a psychology professor at Michigan State University. “The need to generate resources with constrained budgets has made academic administration increasingly difficult.”

He recently discussed this issue while he gave the inaugural lecture at Bowling Green State University’s Robert Guion and Patricia Cain Smith Lecture Series, named in honor of SIOP members Robert Guion and the late Patricia Cain Smith, both luminaries in the field of I-O. Guion and Smith are also former faculty members at BGSU.

During his lecture, Schmitt spoke to those in the I-O field as well as the general public about the financial strain academic institutions are experiencing all over the country.

“In my lecture, I reflected on what is happening to me at Michigan State University,” he said. “I was thinking about the things that had the most impact when I was chair. You could probably go to any state in the union and it would be similar, probably even worse (than at his school),” Schmitt explained. “For example, the University of Michigan gets about 10% of their funding from state funds. That, at one point, was closer to 50%, and it’s going to get worse in Michigan. So gradually we are becoming less and less funded by tax dollars and, on the good side, I suppose we are less dependent on them.”

Schmitt said that although less government funding can constrain institutions, he believes I-O psychologists are positioned to help institutions cope.

“I believe there are several steps I-O psychologists can take, and have begun to take, that might be derived from textbooks in organizational development or industrial-organizational psychology,” he said.

Schmitt’s discussion at BGSU focused on several fields in which he feels I-O psychologists possess strengths and can offer assistance to both their own departments as well as their institutions at large:

1.  Communication-Faculty, staff, students, and parents (and perhaps external constituencies as well) must know the situation, must understand how they can help, and must feel some ownership for the problem.

2. Planning-Deciding what is most important to you, what efforts can be used to sustain or improve these items, what needs to be cut should be decided at all levels of the university.

3. Entrepreneurship-Figuring out what the university and the department can do to incentivize saving and generating funds.

4. Evaluation-Determining what works and what does not, what needs to be fostered and what doesn’t.

5. Selection, promotion and retention of current faculty members.

6. Change-Taking advantage of new technology and innovations whenever possible.

“I think there are probably three of those things that are most central to I-O psychology,” Schmitt said. “One is performance evaluation and feedback to faculty members. We need to develop faculty when we have them and develop new faculty when we get them, and those are sort of bread and butter issues in terms of I-O psychology.”

Schmitt said selection and retention of faculty is a second aspect that is central to I-O psychology concepts.

“That is certainly of central concern to many I-O psychologists,” he said. “And the third thing that I think is most directly relevant would be program evaluation. In many universities we have all sorts of obsolete centers and institutes around campus that are using money, and we should be evaluating them and redistributing funds that can be of better use elsewhere.”

Schmitt said he feels I-O psychologists are also uniquely suited to provide assistance in the fields of entrepreneurship and planning.

“As state institutions become less and less supported by state monies, we are going to have to find the money somewhere,” he said. “We (I-O psychologists) know a lot about entrepreneurship. If we allow our faculty members to develop programs and we reward them appropriately, I think we can do a lot to support ourselves. In terms of planning, there is a large group of I-O psychologists who do planning for organizations, and I believe those skills would transfer over into academic institutions.”

Schmitt said that without attention to the financial constraints, psychology programs are going to face cuts, fewer faculty and staff, and bigger classes. However, he said he remains hopeful that I-Os can utilize their skills for their institutions.

“I believe there is much that psychologists can do to enhance organizational and societal effectiveness in general,” he said. “I think I-O psychologists could start within their own departments and also consult within other units of their university. We are individuals with expertise that institutions have locally on which they can draw. We must engage actively in shaping our own destinies in academic institutions and the role of universities and academics in our society.  I am convinced that resources will follow these initiatives if we persist.”

Also during the lecture series, Schmitt gave a second lecture on validity generalization results. The Robert Guion and Patricia Cain Smith Lecture Series is expected to continue next fall.