Tuesday, April 13, 2010

University of Minnesota

Regents Professors visit Faculty Consultative Committee

"One hopes that the Bruininks/Sullivan regime will be gone;
the University needs new leadership."

"In response to a question about whether the presidential transition is a problem, Professor Luepker said he thought it is."


Faculty Consultative Committee

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Professor Gonzales convened the meeting at 12:10 and welcomed the Regents Professors. She said the Committee would be interested in hearing any concerns or issues that are on their minds, and said that in the interest of candor, the comments would be noted in the minutes but that names would not be attached to them.

As a DGS, one is seeing the impact of budget cuts and must be concerned about the future of graduate education. Every day is a bad news day, and down the road, one must ask what will happen to graduate education. In addition, the University is in transition, things are up in the air, so programs are difficult to administer.

One Regents Professor commented that their program has a lot of foundation money and is able to recruit the best students in the field. That subverts great programs; how will this remain a great research university if it cannot attract first-rate graduate students—and the faculty who attract such students?

Across-the-board cuts are easier than targeted cuts but they do not make sense. There is a need for hard decisions and criteria for determining what is important so that the colleges can decide what departments to support or not support. The 3-5-8% cuts are frustrating because they undercut the quality of the University.

As people think about moving the University forward, they need to think about departments that do not traditionally support graduate students with grant funds because the faculty cannot obtain a lot of grant funding. When the University comes out of this, does it want strong science departments and weak humanities?

Professors Gonzales and Oakes reported that they have been pressing the President and Provost for strategic plans and scope of mission discussions and have worked on the fiscal crisis the entire year. They have no idea what the plan is. That is a problem, which is one reason why the Regents Professors were invited to join the Committee today.

The frustration in CLA with the protocols in place for approving Liberal Education courses (effective for incoming students as of Fall 2010), among a number of CLA department heads as well as faculty, is very high. At worst, the protocols as followed by the Committee on Liberal Education (CLE) have been described by several individuals in various departments as "infantilizing"; chairs have reported their course proposals being sent back repeatedly for revision (if not outright refused), sometimes as many as four or five times, requiring an enormous expenditure of faculty time for what often seems like small return.

Fall registration begins in just two weeks. Though CLE has been reviewing courses for a full calendar year, the number of approved courses—required for graduation—remains a fraction of what was available to students under the old system now being phased out. Under the various categories (for example, Arts/Humanities & Literature; or Historical Perspectives and Historical Thinking) less than half as many courses as in the past are now listed as approved on the OneStop website. If insufficient numbers of courses are available to students, their graduation will necessarily be delayed, thus disrupting the University's efforts to improve the four-year graduation rate.

The liberal-education protocols likewise invite potential harm to the professionalization of graduate students. The protocols do not permit for even advanced graduate students (ABDs) to teach liberal-education courses (typically 1XXX level), teaching experience that in many disciplines is critical for new PhDs to be competitive on the job market (especially the case in a number of the humanities and social sciences).

CLE has seen departments act irresponsibly, some of which is based on self-interest: They don't want to require students to go to other departments to take classes. The reply: The strictures are so tight that there are not enough courses to allow students to graduate, so they will go elsewhere to school, and there is the impact on graduate education as well. Professor Hanna commented that this [self interest] sounds like an extension of the current budget model where tuition dollars are so important. One of the Regents Professors commented in response that "it [the budget model] is crazy."

One must be concerned about the decline in the sense of the collective and commitment to the University. It is difficult to get buy-in for a University-wide program, and when one cannot get feedback from central administration, one gets the sense that faculty are tolerated on campus, for the work they do, but the administration appears outcomes-oriented and seems not to welcome participation. If the Faculty Consultative Committee cannot make headway, who can? This situation represents a decline in a sense of the University shaped by the faculty, not just one where faculty members are employed by the University.

Professor Luepker observed that once again the University is faced with a crisis, and suddenly units face a 2% or 5% or 7% across-the-board cut. That may be the way to respond to the immediate problem but that does not make the hard decisions about the way the University is going. Professors Gonzales and Oakes, and others, have been asking where the 3-5-year plan is. What the University faces now is just a small bump in the road; in the summer of 2011 there will be a much deeper bump. Professor Luepker related what had been discussed at the Advancing Excellence steering committee and commented that faculty members must be involved in the discussions about the broader issues concerning where the University will be in 3-5 years. He said he hoped the process would not be top-down and that the colleges will get active. The University will get smaller, he concluded, and recalled that Senior Vice President Cerra told the Finance and Planning Committee that the Medical School will shrink by 10-12%.

In response to a question about whether the presidential transition is a problem, Professor Luepker said he thought it is.
A lame-duck president may be in a good position to make decisions, he said, and the University needs decisions now or the next president will be left with a bigger mess. He said he thought the faculty should press hard for decisions now. One Regents Professor said that there is a concern that if nothing except defending the institution is on the table for the incoming president, the situation would invite the administration and new president to do what they want. Their concern, Professor Oakes said, is that anyone in the room can make the case that his or her program is central to the mission. That is another reason the Regents Professors were invited to the meeting: because they can emphasize the University-wide approach that is needed.

None here would disagree with the proposition that the central purpose of the University is education and intellectual activity.
It seems that that central mission has been bled in the last three years for other purposes. One can argue about 3% versus 5% cuts, but the University could get rid of its intercollegiate athletic program, sell the stadium, and let it function on its own.

It's also worth asking if the investment in the branding campaign, "Driven to Discover," has contributed anything to the educational mission of the University.

What will be the faculty participation in the presidential search?
One hopes that the Bruininks/Sullivan regime will be gone; the University needs new leadership. It is not getting leadership with the central educational mission at the heart of the concern, so this will be a smaller and weaker university. The effort to strengthen the core mission of the University has been bureaucratized to death because of what the central administration has been preoccupied with, such as the stadium and "Driven to Discover." It is not clear how effective faculty governance is—if this Committee can't get plans out of the administration, who can?

Why can't this Committee get the administration to provide plans? And if not, what should they do? This Committee is the faculty's voice; if it is unable to represent the faculty, other faculty should help. One does one's work knowing that the members of this Committee are doing the hard work of speaking for faculty in governance [supposedly], for which they are to be thanked. If nothing is getting done, the faculty needs to know that.

The key message from the Regents Professors could be significant: If there is not adequate faculty representation on major committees, including those dealing with budget cuts, the University is in big trouble. Faculty should be at least 60% of the representatives on major committees; the message from this Committee and the Regents Professors could be that without major faculty representation, it will be impossible to avoid having the administration run the institution.

The faculty are not just employees. The faculty provide the intellectual and pedagogical stuff that makes for a great—or mediocre—university. And it is the faculty, not the administration, that must shape the University. The faculty do the intellectual work that makes this a great university.

Professor Sampson observed how difficult the task is, given the angst that a $36 million cut is provoking for 2011. In regard to the coming biennium, if, for example, there is a $5 billion shortfall and if higher education's cut is proportionate to its share of the budget, then the higher-education reduction might be $450 million.

That projection clearly means the University will have to close programs.

It is not the coming budgets that are of concern as much as budget cuts being made now without consideration of quality. The colleges have not been asked what is good and what the quality measures are. One does not feel good about this process.

... twice per year this Committee has a meeting with the President and senior vice presidents devoted to a discussion of the intellectual future of the University. The Committee identifies a theme to guide the discussion. The theme for the next meeting is "How to trim the tree of knowledge: Downsizing the University."

Faculty members in general recognize that this is an extraordinary situation. Their parochialism will or must give way to recognizing they are part of a larger community, and that decisions will be required for tough cuts. Faculty voices must be a part of the decisions.

The Regents Professors have one advantage: They have been here a long time and built their careers at the University. They have seen a lot and have seen bad times in the past; they have institutional memory. They can bring a collective memory to the situation. They believe in the University and want to be sure that any decisions made in a crisis are made with the core mission of the University in mind. One does not always see that to be the case in recent decisions. One hopes that the faculty at the meeting, and the hundreds who are not, will think hard about what the University should look like.

Professor Chomsky said she endorsed the idea of the Regents Professors speaking. The administration hears from this Committee, with considerable communication in private, and it also hears shriller voices (who complain correctly about concerns like the failure to justify administrative expenses, but aren’t doing so effectively [cough, cough]). For the administration to hear directly from the Regents Professors cannot hurt.

The department chairs in one college were informed about the budget cuts and told they nonetheless had the responsibility to retain current student headcounts in order to generate tuition revenue at current levels. The necessary result is larger class sizes, for which, in the 1980s, the University was criticized severely by the legislature. The President’s communication to the University regarding the budget cuts insist that quality will not be sacrificed, which can be read to suggest that the institution has been wasteful, which hardly seems to be the case. At what point do claims about steady-state quality (demonstrably untrue) in the face of repetitive severe cuts become counterproductive (for example, in the eyes of the legislature)? It appears that the University's response is that it will have a lot less and at the same time somehow get better.
There are some legislative voices who regard the University's aspirations to improve itself as the explanation for why tuition is so high. People who have been around longer than he has also say there is now more appreciation among legislators than there used to be of the importance of the quality of the University, including the need for it to continue to bring in large research grants and contribute vitality to the local high tech industry.

Professor Gonzales thanked the Regents Professors for joining the meeting and for their candor. Professor Oakes said that if the Committee could help in developing a statement, it would be glad to do so.


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