Addressing the budget separately from long-term issues

Last Friday, department chairs and school directors made one point clear with the Provost: there had been insufficient open discussion about reorganization issues within colleges. In an e-mail to chairs over the weekend, the Provost agreed to address budget issues separately and on a different schedule from anything that falls under “realignment” for longer-term reasons.

In the past few months, several faculty have made comparisons between our current situation and the recent book by Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (you can read an online summary of her argument). Klein argues that advocates of free-market or neoliberal policies have deliberately crafted a strategy of waiting until a natural or economic disaster strikes and then pouncing with policies that would never be approved in a stable environment. I have heard the argument that there are always ideas and vague plans for restructuring that float around USF, and they become viable when there is a shock such as the current budget crisis. Whether or not the idea is tied to the concrete circumstances we face, it becomes far more likely.

There is also the sociologists’ term institutional isomorphism (JSTOR article) to describe the diffusion of institutional structures. In some cases, the parallels are coerced, as when the No Child Left Behind Act required that all states receiving Title I fund (for the education of poor children) also agree to test all children, every year, in grades 3-8. In other cases, the parallels come through a normative process, and there is no doubt that the language of the USF Strategic Plan is all about this type of institutional isomorphism. Our Board of Trustees wants us to be AAU (the American Association of Universities), AAU eligible, or at least like AAU institutions. This institutional ambition isn’t new at USF, and plenty of other institutions have trod in the prior path of higher-status institutions (or tried to follow the trajectory of aspirational peers, if you prefer that language). And to some extent, faculty and departments will use such isomorphic tendencies to their tactical advantage when seeking faculty lines, operational support, and so forth.

But now we face a budget crisis, and anyone who looks at the university should fear that USF’s language of AAU status is looking less realistic and more like the “high school script” that almost all high schools follow, which Mary Metz described almost two decades ago. Are we an AAU-worthy institution, or will we just play one in the movies? The aftermath of reorganization beyond budget cuts will be embedded in the academic culture of an institution. The productivity costs of reorganization are real, and while they may be justified in some cases by budget savings, to use the budget crisis to reorganize beyond what is necessary has impeded the type of transparency that both Renu Khator and Ralph Wilcox promised.

Reorganization may be useful, or it may drive faculty away from USF and set us spinning our wheels for several years just responding to the reorganization. The chairs are correct: the two sets of decisions (addressing the budget crisis and addressing long-term issues) need to be done on separate schedules.

(This entry is adapted from a longer discussion of the WST, AFA, IBL, and ISLAC situation.)


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