New financial system for colleges causes stir

Anna Staver

Responsibility Center Management (RCM) is a system that determines how much money each college earns each year. The university switched to this model at the beginning of the last financial year. The new way Kent State divides its money is also dividing the opinions of its faculty.

Tim Moerland, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, described the RCM system as balancing a checkbook.

“You have income and expenses, and hopefully, you can control which one is larger,” Moerland said. “It’s been a very useful thing.”

The way it works now is if, for example, an economics major takes General Psychology. The psychology department earns 80 cents for every dollar that a student spends on the class, while the economics department earns 20 cents.

However, when that same economics major takes Principles of Macroeconomics, the economics department earns 100 cents out of every tuition dollar spent.

Each college at Kent State adds up all those dollars to figure out how much they earned and how much each of their departments earned for the semester.

Then the college gives 47 percent back to the university and keeps the remainder for themselves. The money they earn pays for the professors, materials, labs and any other expenses.

Before the year starts, each dean works with their department chairs to come with an estimate of how much money they will need to run their department. Together they estimate the number of students each department will have, and come up with an estimated budget.

If the department needs more money than it thinks it will bring in, or if they earn less than anticipated, the dean has the option to pull money from another department to cover the losses. However, Moerland said he hopes RCM will help department chairs figure out how to better live within their means.

Departments stand to greatly benefit from having a lot of classes in the Kent Core, especially if they attract relatively few majors.

The class General Psychology brings in approximately $1 million a year to its department. In fiscal year 2010, the psychology department had a budget of $4.68 million, which means over 20 percent of its money came from that one core class.


RCM has accelerated the process of creating interdisciplinary courses, Moerland said. For example, the geography department now works with politics and public health to create courses in mapping that will benefit both disciplines.

Moerland said he believes this kind of multi-department course will become more and more common in the future.

“No discipline is the silo that it was 20 years ago,” Moerland said.

The 17 departments he oversees now have the ability to see where they stand in terms of income and expenses. And that transparency, Moerland said, has helped his departments make better financial decisions.


The transparency that allows the different departments within the college to make more informed choices, also allows them to see how they measure up with each other. And that is a problem, said a chair within the College of Arts and Sciences who asked not to be named because of the controversy behind the issue.

“With the current RCM model, people are fighting each other for enrollment, and frankly saying things that piss people off,” the chair said.

One such example occurred when Professor Jon Secaur was interviewed about the new lab class in Physics and the Entertainment Arts.

“To be practical, it helps the department because we are judged by the number of people we have in the seats,” Secaur said. “So instead of taking a lab course in geology, they’re taking one in physics, which helps our department a great deal.”

When the Stater asked Secaur about this competition between departments, he said he is aware of this competition, but does not agree with it.

“The RCM model just isn’t fair to some departments,” Secaur said. “I would hate to see the university run like a business because it’s so much more than that.”

Associate Provost Timothy Chandler said “that’s one of the big weaknesses of the RCM system.”

In contrast to Moerland, the chair disagreed about the increased cooperation between departments.

“RCM does create a competitive environment between departments which I think can hinder or prevent cooperation,” the chair said.

Another chair from the College of Arts and Sciences, who also asked not to be named because of the controversy behind the issue, said it has been a strange adjustment for him since RCM was implemented.

“It may be unusual for faculty members to see themselves not as an academic department, but as a firm that depends on making a profit,” he said.

He compared his department to a business with a failing product.

“If we’re always losing the company money, then eventually the idea of dropping us completely has to arise,” he said.

Another issue that the transparency offered by RCM brings up for both chairs, is the realization that some departments in the black are subsidizing the departments in the red.

For example, departments like biology, psychology and English are in the black while chemistry, geology and computer Science are in the red. Moerland has the final say on allocation. He can take the profit from psychology and use it to covers the losses in geology.

Moerland said he is aware of the tension felt between his departments.

“The sense of competition is a part of RCM. It’s part of the beast,” Moerland said.

“But Kent State has gone through exceptional efforts to be mindful of that.”

Math professor Tracy Laux said he thinks those efforts defeat the purpose of RCM.

“There is supposed to be some sort of financial benefit to units that turn a profit,” Laux said.

If a unit’s profits aren’t their own to spend, then Laux said he wonders what incentive a department has to try to come in under budget.

Another issue that complicates RCM, that everyone can agree on, is the current financial crisis facing Ohio and the nation as a whole.

The College of Arts and Sciences had a budget loss last year of $200,000 and he anticipates this year being greater.

Moerland can now see that computer science was in the red $1.65 million last year, and that concerns him for the future of the department. Moerland said he is not sure he will be able to carry the department much longer.

In the midst of all this, President Lester Lefton challenged the faculty at his State of the University speech to bring the Kent Core down to 35-40 classes. And Lefton said he could conceive of an even smaller core in the future.

This would mean that several departments could lose core certification for their classes. And the chairs are very worried about this.

“In physics the core classes that we have pretty much fund our department,” Secaur said.

Moerland said that if a small core was implemented no one would be fired, but he and his departments would re-evaluate their direction. He suggested that the department’s focus might shift more toward research, or onto other higher-level courses.

“If the department is so critically dependant on that one core class, then there are other issues at play,” Moerland said.

Now that the first fiscal year under RCM has passed, it is currently under review by the Faculty Senate Budget Advisory Committee. FaSBAC created a work group at their last meeting to take suggestions about what changes should be made to the RCM model, and to come up with a proposal.

Provost Robert G. Frank said he wanted to remind the committee that while he would be open to changes in the system like adjusting the 80/20 split, major changes or a shift away from RCM are not going to happen.

You can contact Anna Staver at [email protected].