Tuesday, September 25, 2007

BigU Bumbles On

Left Hand/Right Hand Problems Continue

For some reason, Mr. B. receives numerous blanket emails of minutes from various BigU committee meetings. Almost every time he reads one of these, interesting things jump out. I have previously posted on the Science Classroom Building. Many of the other issues raised seem worthy of some sort of dialog. But our administration continues merrily along, safe in the knowledge that they know best. I wonder? Tid-bits below.

From Minutes

University of Minnesota Faculty Consultative Committee

Thursday, September 13, 2007


"These minutes reflect discussion and debate at a meeting of a committee of the University of Minnesota Senate; none of the comments, conclusions, or actions reported in these minutes represents the views of, nor are they binding on, the Senate, the Administration, or the Board of Regents."

Faculty Discipline?

Professor Durfee, although unable to be present at the meeting, had sent an email message about the strike; he suggested the Committee discuss what punishment the University is contemplating when it makes official statements such as "faculty who move class away from picket lines may be disciplined."

In response to a question, Professor Balas suggested the Committee not issue any statement on the strike because it should not get in the middle of the bargaining process. The Committee should, however, discuss with the Provost the language used about disciplining faculty members and what might be done. Committee members assented.

Faculty Input On Decisions About Classroom Configuration?

The Committee turned to the proposed design of the science-teaching-and-student-services building, which will replace the Science Classroom Building at the northeast end of the Washington Avenue Bridge. A number of Committee members expressed considerable dismay at the configuration and size of classrooms in the new building. (The current lecture auditoriums that seat 200+ students (4) and 70-seat classroom will be replaced with six smaller 117-seat interactive classrooms, six 90-seat interactive classrooms, and seven 30-seat seminar classrooms.) Department heads in IT have protested the configuration as not appropriate for their needs.

The question, Professor Windsor said, is how academics closest to a facility are integrated into the planning for that facility. She said this reminded her of the decision about the new CSOM/CLA building, decisions about which were made at a high level, not with the faculty.

With the budget model as it is, and many departments increasing class size, not reducing it, the new lay out seems counterintuitive.

She expressed concern that the right hand doesn't always pay attention to what the left hand is doing. She observed that she teaches a large 3-XXX lecture course, including in the Science Classroom Building, that is a prerequisite to other more advanced courses, and if they cannot find enough lecture halls to teach large numbers of introductory students, the students don't have the prerequisites for other courses, and their progress in the major is stymied. "So much for 5-year graduation rates in that case." Professor Durfee commented in an email on the subject that perhaps someday classroom design planning would be done in collaboration with faculty, perhaps through the Academy of Distinguished Teachers, so that issues of classroom size and what constitutes an "interactive classroom" have faculty input.

The Committee agreed it would raise questions about the new facility with the Provost next week.

Is BigU Still a Land-Grant Institution?

The Board of Regents has seen the data on the increasing qualifications of incoming freshmen, Professor Wambach said, and a couple of Board members have asked how far the University can push on increasing the high-school rank metric. What will be the tradeoffs if 90% of the students are in the top 10% of their class? Is that a realistic or politically-desirable goal? Some Board members, Professor Balas added, suggested that this may be the wrong metric; the University is a public, land-grant institution and it should seek to educate students from many parts of society. The Provost, however, has said that the University will continue to use as a metric the academic quality of incoming students.


Professor Balas turned next to the question of metrics and measurement, a major topic of discussion at the retreat in late August. He reported that he took away points from the September Regents' meeting that made him realize this is an issue about which the Committee must be assertive. One of the Board members focused on the comparison group: who does the University want to be like, and why. Tracking metrics generates policies; if the University is tracking something, why?

The Committee, he concluded, must disregard the advice it received at the retreat not to worry about the metrics and measurements, because they will clearly have an effect on decisions and policies.

Committee members made it clear at the retreat, Professor Martin commented, that they are not happy about the metrics currently being used.

(Professor Balas observed that there is only one metric related to research in the current set: dollars.)

Professor Sirc said he talked to Dr. Howard, Director of Institutional Research, about what would be the single best measure to improve the University's rankings; Dr. Howard said it would be to improve the graduation rate. It is not clear what any individual faculty member can do about that. In the case of his department, it has sought to hire new and interesting faculty but has been told that will not happen.

One can measure and re-measure, Professor Windsor said, but unless one identifies what is driving any comparative advantage, the measures don't by themselves help achieve outcomes. What is it that higher-ranked universities do, she asked? For example, do they have lower student-faculty ratios, do faculty teach fewer/more classes, do they admit students with better academic records, do they provide more/different advising support, do they recruit more outstanding faculty, do they have better retention mechanisms for faculty and staff, etc.? Knowing these types of pivot points would help to identify where resources might be directed.

Professor Martin commented, apropos Professor Windsor's point, that they have known for a long time that Minnesota's faculty is 20% smaller than the faculty of its peers given the number of students. It appears that CLA faculty teach more students per faculty member than other CIC liberal arts colleges, for example. Of all the discussion about getting into the top three, she has only heard one part of the University say it needs more faculty: the AHC has been forthright in saying it needs an additional 500. The rest of the University does not make that kind of statement because there would be no place to house them if they could be hired. It is an odd ambition to be really good without the wherewithal to get there.

What is excellence, Professor Balas asked? Professor Windsor responded that some would say one knows it when one sees it; departments are just excellent. His concern, Professor Balas said, is that the Regents are set on metrics and measures, and if there is nothing there about teaching and scholarship, they will be lost in the message. He said he would prefer that the Board not just talk about metrics but have a much richer conversation about what it takes to make the University great. If there were three additional metrics that would be easy to measure and that would go beyond what is being proposed, what would they be, Professor Yust asked? The University collects a lot of data; there must be some that say something about faculty excellence.

Professor Martin urged that Professors Balas and Hoover bring up the concerns about metrics in their meeting with the chair and vice chair of the Board of Regents and convey the faculty discomfort with metrics that are missing important parts of faculty activities. And that do not correspond to faculty perceptions of what it means to be a top-three university, Professor Balas added. It is the faculty's sense that other things are going on that matter but that are not measured. To the extent that Institutional Research is disconnected from the academic mission, Professor Martin said, the faculty will not see what they believe appropriate in the metrics. That is why Professor Balas is correct, Professor Kane said: the Committee must take an active role in identifying what it believes should be measured.

Professor Wambach asked if it mattered "what most of us do or what a few of us do." The University has 45 National Academy members; its peers have 65 or more. So what the University needs to do is hire 25 National Academy members who will bring a lot of grant money and reputations. That would solve the problem without worrying about the rest of the 3000 faculty. Or hire three Nobel Prize winners, Professor Martin added. The metrics reward the star system, Professor Wambach maintained. People are brought in after they have established their reputation; schools with high reputations recruit stars. That is why the Committee should develop metrics it can embrace, Professor Balas said, because the star system is divisive; do some get everything and the rest nothing? Its metrics should be ones the Committee believes are right and the discussion should start with them.


Up to now the Committee has been a strong advocate but it and the administration have been two ships passing in the night, Professor Balas commented.

Things have not changed this year; sometimes he (a department head), as a member of this Committee, knows more than his dean, but sometimes his dean knows things that he would have expected to know as a member of this Committee. The faculty generally are clueless about many things; they know that budgets are increasing but that costs are up 10% so that the departments must make cuts.

Professor Yust said it has been her sense that Minnesota has been among the most consultative institutions; in the past there was one person responsible for certain kinds of decisions and one could call that person to get an answer. Now responsibility is diffused over a number of people and it is difficult to identify responsibility.

A lot of faculty were involved in strategic positioning, Professor Martin observed, but they are no longer. The Provost created a culture of consultation with the task forces that has since diminished.

The Committee should have a conversation with the Provost to express its views that the measures the colleges are being held to do not fit what faculty do and that the process as constructed did not have enough academic participation.

There was so much time and money spent on the task forces, Professor Yust said, and the disconnect between their work and what has happened may lie with whomever was charged to carry out the recommendations. One question is the extent to which those obligated to carry out the recommendations were also obliged to consult.


momo said...

Go FCC! Be assertive!

Mr. B. said...


I've added a new sentence and a link:
"... previously posted on the Science Classroom Building." This is in the first paragraph of the original post.

Ciao, Bonzo