UBToday Online Alumni Magazine -Spring 1997
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Rehearsing process

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Rehearsing the process

For several years before 1994, arts and letters had been absorbing state budget cuts by not filling faculty positions vacated through retirement and departure-but these cuts were clustered by chance, not design. The music department, for example, was down eight positions while some other programs remained intact.

"We had more mission than budget," Grant says. "The provost [then the late Aaron Bloch] had said we would have no relief, that arts and letters would take an $800,000 permanent reduction." Grant asked the 11 arts and letters departments to file plans for their futures-and to consider how arts and letters could eliminate eight positions.

"The reports came back requesting more, not fewer, positions. The faculty's job is to be visionary. The reports showed our enormous potential for growth. The faculty was proposing new programs, new positions, enhancements of what we do. No one recommended reductions." At this point in the development process, Grant had to file a budget plan accommodating the announced reduction.

"Since the faculty had proposed no cuts-and this was not a shallow exercise; what might have been called superfluous was already gone-and the faculty had written convincingly about their aspirations ... we struggled for quite some time. The faculty had identified everything that we do as important." Caught in an apparently inescapable bind-arts and letters could do nothing to increase its resource base but had no way to cut without cutting something of value-Grant rephrased the problem in terms of how, under the circumstances, they could best protect the arts and letters mission.

"We started to look at places where there is the most overlap in the faculty. For instance, African American literature is now taught in English, in African American Studies, and in American Studies. But these courses are not coordinated, there is no overview of the subject, and this-the overlap between interdisciplinary departments and disciplinary departments-seemed to be an area where we could achieve some program enhancement without additional resources."

What emerged from this line of thought was an arts and letters plan that gradually-over five to eight years-moves several interdisciplinary programs, notably American studies, Puerto Rican studies (to be recreated as Latin American studies), women's studies, and a nascent program in Asian American studies, into disciplinary departments. The faculties of African American studies and Native American studies would remain together for reasons that are unique to each program.

"There is a loss here, but it's the best loss to take." This part of the final plan was controversial and has been the subject of public discussion since it was put forward. "We emerged with a very strong sense of what's important to us, working within a well-defined mission. And we realized that there are no good reductions to take."

Grant readily admits that the entire planning process would be different if resource limitations were not a factor.

"Our actions now are driven by immediate concerns. Conversations about values are at a whisper and conversations about costs are at a shout. It is the chief loss and consequence of crisis planning that conditions, not values, drive aspirations."

-J.M.

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