Twenty years ago, Frank Borkowski became USF’s fourth president, promising to raise the institution’s research activities and national profile. Per-pupil state funding of Florida’s universities peaked halfway through his tenure with a downward trend since, and yet USF’s profile today is one of a major research university. That says much about the work of hundreds of faculty, but there have been costs to the institution. As state funding falls yet again and all of Florida’s universities face unstable and unpredictable funding, we need to see what that 20-year trajectory has done to faculty work: it has encouraged administrators to created a de facto differentiated staffing model, without a clear set of rewards for anyone. While President Genshaft has talked about rewarding academic superstars (her choice of words from the fall 2007 state of the university address), and while the provost puts together a task force without asking the faculty union to participate on the steering committee, we all need to understand that we already have a differentiated staffing model, and it’s one that is demoralizing or demeaning to many employees.
Archive for the ‘Values’ Category
This morning in the Tampa Tribune, Adam Emerson’s story USF Union Seeks Budget Cut Delay appeared. For the most part, it represented faculty concerns well in terms of faculty’s wanting there to be more deliberation about reorganization and budget cuts, and I have two short comments.
First, this story has the very first response of the university to faculty questions about the origins of the unrestricted-assets growth, in terms of VP Michael Hoad’s responses to Emerson’s questions. I don’t understand Hoad’s apparent answer, but it’s a first step in the right direction, and there needs to be much more openness about the assets. (Emerson wrote, “For example, the budgets for auxiliary services, such as alumni and athletic associations, originate in this ‘unrestricted’ classification,” which doesn’t make sense since unrestricted assets represent the growth of unspent funds, not operating expenses, and the $240 million was in the university itself, not the auxiliary units, which had $88 million in unrestricted assets at the end of last June.)
Second, Emerson made a leap between the discussion of the assets and the chapter’s resolution asking for a delay in reorganization. In talking with me over the phone, he asked if there was a link between Friday’s resolution and the discussion about the $240 million in unrestricted assets. I told him that was a logical connection, but that that hadn’t been explicit in the discussion on the motion. I had been reading the motion to be parallel to the letter the majority of CAS chairs sent the provost some weeks ago, asking that the discussion of reorganization be slowed down and separated from budget cuts; if there was a link between the two issues, it was more likely to be the fact that unrestricted assets should give USF some maneuvering room. But that’s a relatively minor quibble.
What is true in the story is that USF faces choices about what to do with the budget cuts given the unrestricted assets. The Board of Trustees can ignore the existence of the unrestricted assets and cut far into academic programs. The trustees can ignore the existence of budget cuts and absorb all of the appropriations gap through unrestricted assets. Or the trustees can recognize that we have both a long-term change in what the state is appropriating AND a large cushion that we can use to make the change much smoother.
Last Friday, the chapter approved the following resolution (which went through rephrasing overnight Friday and early Saturday):
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida strongly recommends the immediate suspension of all efforts in progress to reorganize the colleges and subunits thereof pending further deliberation by the faculty and the substantial involvement of the faculty in considering, making and implementing any plans regarding such reorganization.
The reorganization specifically was not on the agenda. The issue came up in discussion of the budget cuts, and the initial motion was made by a faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). The discussion focused on the judgment that reorganization was being tossed about in far too rushed a manner. As far as I recall, there was no discussion of administrative intentions, but as several dozen CAS chairs had noted in a letter to the administration several weeks ago, there was a clear sense that addressing the current budget crisis should be done separately from larger organizational issues, and that a rush to change based on the end of the fiscal year would cause considerable harm to USF’s academics.
Economists warn us that we are facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and that we should expect hard times through 2010 or 2011. Florida has been hit harder than other states, and several state universities have announced major cuts: Florida International announced that it could lay off two hundred employees, while Gainesville warned that some of the most popular programs in the state faced the knife. USF administrators have proposed many rearrangements, some of them having little to do with the immediate financial crunch.
The fiscal year ends in two months, and after the governor takes a veto pen to the legislature’s budget, USF will be informed what its budget will be next year. Even now, the proposed budget is grim, and if the governor vetoes the 6% tuition hike included in the budget, the financial outlook will be grimmer. Even that budget may be inflated: at the latest United Faculty of Florida Senate meeting, UFF (statewide) president Tom Auxter warned that the real figures may not come out until November. Our legislative contacts report that Floridaâ€™s political leadership may be trying to make it through the elections without letting on how bad the fiscal situation is, and a special legislative session after the election might cut the state budget further. When Provost Ralph Wilcox says that USF has an obligation to meet its payroll, he is expressing a welcome realism.
On the other hand, the administration says that much of the reorganization is not just for budget-cutting. As observed previously (see Sherman Dornâ€™s commentary), many faculty think that administrators can take advantage of emergencies to institute otherwise impolitic changes â€“ even changes having little to do with the emergency. And although our administration sold much of the reorganization as an opportunity for future accomplishment rather than a necessity for dealing with the immediate crisis, the administration has followed the hard sell strategy of insisting on committing to reorganization NOW.
It is during a crisis that clarity is most valuable, so we should separate out the two threads of the emergency and the opportunity. Let’s begin with the emergency.
Background on the Emergency and the Opportunity
Last fall, Provost Khator, in consultation with the Faculty Senate, charged a Budget Priorities Task Force to “review all academic centers, institutes, departments, and programs, and prepare recommendations that would allow us to make budget reductions strategically.” This task force only examined academic units within Academic Affairs on the Tampa campus, and was structured so that no reviewer was connected to a unit that reviewer helped evaluate. On February 29, the Budget Priorities Task Force submitted its report (see the 126-page PDF document), which listed brief ratings (on “centrality”, “quality”, “demand”, and “viability”) and evaluations of the colleges and departments. The document was released publicly, before chairs, directors, and deans had the opportunity to respond. Considering the number of units evaluated, the evaluations were inevitably terse and occasionally inconsistent with past reviews conducted by external panels drawn from a unitâ€™s own discipline. That inconsistency and the lack of a pre-release review opportunity led to some departmentsâ€™ being surprised and disappointed at both the process and the result of the task force. Many departments responded in March.
The evaluations did suggest some cost savings, and in particular tended to recommend that free-standing institutes find new funding sources. Several departmental mergers were proposed, particularly of units that seemed to be having difficulties. Perhaps the idea was that the synergy of merging two departments would improve performance, but certainly such mergers would reduce administrative costs.
Editorial comment: it is not clear that reducing resources â€“ either by merger or by other means â€“ would help any unit. If the university has a strong stake in a unit, then a wiser course may be to provide additional resources and perhaps additional nagging. On the other hand, if the university is trying a tactful way of abandoning a low-priority program at a time of budgetary stress, a merger can provide good cover.
In March, the second (opportunity) thread appeared when Arts & Science chairs received notice that administrators were contemplating breaking up the college, with natural sciences being merged with engineering. That move would be accompanied by other shuffling throughout the university. Decisions on these changes were to be made within a month, and in this compressed time scale the emergency and opportunity threads appeared to be conflated. At the April 14 meeting with engineering and natural science faculty, the provost and a few supporters of the college-level reorganization spoke of benefits to natural science of having its understaffed departments merged into a large college, although speakers were vague on how these benefits would materialize and in what form. Most faculty expressed concerns, most notably why an immediate commitment was necessary for changes unrelated to the budget problem.
Some faculty supporters of the merger hoped that it would resolve longstanding administrative problems, notably inequitable allocation of credit for external funding. But the suggestion that the university might simply address these administrative kinks was met by a pointed response by Engineering Dean John Wiencek that the opportunity called for more than “tweaking” policy.
Reactions and the Future of the Reorganization
After Arts and Sciences chairs complained about the discussion (or the insufficiency thereof), the administration has backed down from its initial plan to commit to the reorganization in April, and now plans to make the commitment by July 1 when the next fiscal year begins. And at its April meeting, the Faculty Senate resolved to “establish the Faculty Senate Task Force to Review the Administrative Structure of the University of South Florida,” and to meet on May 21.
But the most visible publicity this spring has focused on the proposal that Africana Studies, Women’s Studies, the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean (ISLAC), and the Institute on Black Life (IBL) be merged. The proposed merger was seen as downgrading these units, and the resulting uproar, including last weekâ€™s student protest, was reported in the local newspapers, Inside Higher Ed, and the Chronicle for Higher Education. Some money would be saved â€“ not much â€“ so this could be a cost saving measure or perhaps (as some feared) a tactful way of abandoning low-priority programs.
Legally, the reorganization of USF is a management decision, but it has academic consequences, and as the reorganization proceeds, the Faculty Senate will be engaged over the next year. And reorganization affects the terms and conditions of employment, so the United Faculty of Florida watching the situation very carefully, especially the consequences for tenure-track faculty. A few dozen faculty have consulted with chapter officers over the past few months, and that will certainly continue. (The current officer list is posted on-line).
But will this reorganization work? As a package, it is supposed to cut the budget while seizing an opportunity to develop interdisciplinary research and not harm academics. The stakes are high: USF faces tens of millions of dollars in cuts, and these cuts must come from somewhere. In bad budget years, nerves fray and morale sinks as the administration faces only bad choices and worse choices. And this is a horrible budget year.
An effective reorganization requires not only much political capital but also broad support and widespread assistance. A top-down reorganization, devised and dictated by a small group of people, will cost a lot of political capital to sell and may have too little support and assistance from faculty and professional ranks to succeed. Every university that aspires to greatness must be a “loosely-coupled” system requiring the voluntary and committed action of faculty.
This is the hard-headed argument for faculty governance: because faculty work in the gut of the university, it is better to have broad support for an imperfect organization than apathy about theoretically better one. Several years ago, the Board of Trustees and the United Faculty of Florida agreed to language in the Collective Bargaining Agreement committing both parties “… to principles of shared governance, which require that in the development of academic policies and processes, the professional judgments of employees are of primary importance.” That lofty language carries a gritty reality. The goals of the university can best be met when faculty and administrators work together. This summer, the choices that the upper-level administration makes, and the process involved, will not only determine whether few or many have a stake in USF’s success, but whether USF succeeds.
According to the Tampa Bay Gazette report on the LGBT Alumni Societyâ€™s Annual GALA Reception and Awards ceremony (p. 17), Tampa’s mayor criticized USF for not providing domestic partner benefits:
Dr, Wilcox praised the USF Pride Alliance as a leader helping the University to increase its tolerance for diversity. He also shared his vision of USF earning the prestigious Association of American Universities status. â€œNo city can be truly great without an AAU University,â€ he said. Mayor Iorio accepted the challenge, but also reminded Dr. Wilcox that a universities [sic] should be a leader in the community with regard to social progress, referring to her 2004 executive order establishing Domestic Partnership benefits for City employees, while USF still does not offer such benefits.
UFF does not think there is any conflict between the two challenges: The vast majority of AAU universities have domestic partner benefits.
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.)
I am in one of the departments that may be affected by departmental reorganization within USF. My dean has called a meeting with my department for this afternoon, and I strongly suspect that we will be merging with another department. The faculty in both departments have made their preferences known, as has our dean to the provost, but I suspect we’re merging anyway. There are some important practical matters after merger to pay attention to, and this is solely about those practical matters.
Transitions on annual evaluations: faculty have the right under Article 10 to be evaluated every year under procedures and disciplinary criteria that department employees approved by vote. When departments merge, the annual evaluation policies for the component units will almost certainly be different, and department faculty have at least three choices:
- Draft an entirely new set of evaluation procedures.
- Adopt one of the former department’s procedures as the procedure for the entire unit, entirely or with slight modifications.
- Vote to treat faculty from the former departments separately and under the former procedures of their former departments for a transition period, until there is time to craft a unified set of procedures.
If my department is merged, as I suspect, I will recommend the last option to my current and future colleagues; we don’t need to be spending our time and energy on something when we can agree on a transitional framework that will last us for a year or so.
Tenure and promotion issues: The bottom line for the chapter is that reorganization should not force tenure-track faculty to educate a new batch of colleagues about their work at the department/unit level. At a consultation between the UFF-USF chapter and the administration Tuesday, the administration agreed to written, binding agreements so that tenure-track faculty could retain continuity of colleagues for T&P evaluation purposes. The devil’s in the details, and the chapter will be looking after those details for any affected tenure-track faculty.
Summer teaching opportunities. The common expectation of both UFF and the USF administration is that each unit has an explicit set of procedures on offering teaching opportunities (covered under Article 8). Merging departments will not be able to address the transition in the same way as for annual evaluations, and it is important that faculty in any merged units talk in the summer and craft a single policy in the fall, well before summer 2009 comes around.
Other governance issues. While most other departmental governance issues are outside the collective bargaining agreement, merged units will also need to figure out how to handle governance. In some cases (as in course/program approval processes), transitional arrangements with minimal disruption may be possible.
Have more questions on practical issues? E-mail me!
There are hundreds of employees at USF who are not represented by any union, and this is what can happen if your employer can change the terms and conditions of employment at whim: USF is shrinking non-reappointment notice requirements for those outside bargaining units. Inside the unit, apart from soft-money (grant-funded) positions, a professional employee has one semester’s notice for the first two years and one year’s notice afterwards. Outside the bargaining unit, the new rules give only 30 days’ notice of nonreappointment in the first two years and three months’ notice afterwards. Non-reappointment is ending employment without cause; in the unit as well as out of it, USF has the right to terminate people with cause, after due process. One of the protections for professional employees inside the bargaining unit is a longer non-reappointment period.
This week, Anthropology Chair Elizabeth Bird’s column appeared in the St Petersburg times: Florida’s War on Knowledge. In it, Professor Bird captures the problems with Florida higher education policy and the dangers with budget cuts and a threatened governance change.
The public needs to know more about the effects of budget cuts, and the position of the UFF chapter is that all faculty at USF should participate in educating the public and policymakers. See http://faculty.ourusf.org/educate-the-public/ for more information on the chapter’s gift-card drawings tied to educating the public.
On Friday, the UFF-USF chapter approved a resolution that urged the maintenance of separate identities for the Department of Women’s Studies, the Department of Africana Studies, the Institute on Black Life, and the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean. The resolution focuses entirely on the intellectual value of having separate identities. That focus does not mean that faculty and the UFF chapter do not want USF to save money. But faculty do not want the budget crisis to be an opportunity for other changes that endanger our shared academic values.