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The following are a few of the questions that we believe need to be answered quickly, in order to clarify the issues for the university community.
What is the problem for which you are offering a solution? What is the purpose of this proposed reorganization?
The Planning report focuses almost exclusively on public-relations goals.
An examination of the SUNY Mission Statement shows a striking contrast in approach. SUNY's mission is based on the assumption that higher education is a common good. The legally sanctioned SUNY mission, unlike this report, calls for the "broadest possible access," for a student population "fully representative of all segments of the population" to a complete range of academic programs, as a means of "enhancing the well-being of the people of the state and the region, and "protecting our environmental and marine resources." There is no mention of rating systems of competition with other universities.
The Planning report does not make a serious analysis of UB's past. It would be instructive to see, for example, how and when interdisciplinary work has been carried out successfully, and how the programs being targeted for dissolution are viewed by faculty, staff and students (not only the administra-tion's point of view). Is there any precedent for successful reorganization of this kind in an era of shrinking budgets?
How will the proposed reorganization improve undergraduate education at UB, as your plan alleges? It is clear that students will lose options if some departments are closed, and it is by no means clear that students have anything to gain.
Would these plans foster destructive competition for funding among sectors of the university?
The Incentive report and the Revenues (RCM) report, mentioned above, seem to flesh out some of the financial aspects of the plan. For example, the Incentive report states that the "Provost will keep a percentage of all university revenues, i.e., a provostal tax or subvention, to support innovative academic programming and research that serves the university's mission."
The draft Revenues paper outlines a scheme that would really bring Dean Triggle's Donner party home to UB. How can collegiality survive, not to mention interdisciplinary cooperation, when departments must vie for tuition funds to keep their programs running and to buy supplies? Would the curriculum become more rigid, instead of more flexible? In practice, would "RCM" operate on the department level, the dean's level, or where? If tuition becomes the measure of a unit's workload and funding, where does that leave student services, administrative offices, and libraries? Will these have to hold bake sales or fold?
What effect would such plans have on workload and jobs for professional staff? How would academic workloads be affected?
Why are certain departments targeted for dismantling?
If we are concerned with increasing interdisciplinary work, why are you targeting some of the departments that are most involved in interdisciplinary work? If we are concerned about "diversity" why axe the departments and programs which have the most ethnically diverse faculty and students? In light of the recently released "Report of the President's Task Force on Women at UB," which showed the need for a strong academic program in Women's Studies, why weaken the university's commitment to women's studies and gender studies?
How many of our best faculty would be induced to leave if they lost their departmental homes? How many untenured faculty will look for jobs in more stable universities? Will the percentage of part-timers continue to increase dramatically?
How would centers and institutions be run? How would they relate to departments? Who will grant degrees? How will faculty and staff hiring, promotion and tenure be affected?
You have dismissed most of these practical questions as "administrative details" or "questions that we will work out later." You even dismissed questions about tenure and institutional stability with a remark that the faculty and staff of the new, reorganized UB would bring "their own internal security" with them, needing no long-term commitments from the university. You suggested that the employee of the future would be a more "adventuresome" person than the stability-seeking faculty and staff today.
Research centers, as we know them, have relatively short lives, and are usually administered by the Vice President for Research, on "soft" money. The people who are employed only at centers are not part of our union bargaining unit, have no tenure, and can be dismissed without cause. Is this the "adventuresome" future in store for UB faculty and staff? Will faculty and staff at the centers and institutes envisioned in the plan work for the state, the Research Foundation, UB Foundation, or what? Will they be temporary, permanent or term employees?
How many tenure-track or permanent-appointment jobs will be lost as a result of this plan? How many in the next year? How many in the next three to five years? Will women and minorities be affected disproportionately, destroying the meager progress made in the last 20 years?
Remember that under the Policies of the Board of Trustees, outlined in the Faculty and Staff Handbook, the faculty departments share decisions on hiring, promotion and tenure with the administration. In the centers of your plan, this decision-making power appears to rest solely with administrators.
Is the implementation of the plan dependent on getting contracting out in the UUP contract? How many jobs would be subcontracted to outside or inside corporations?
In conclusion, implementation of the plans currently being discussed would probably work counter to the Mission of SUNY, violate the current UUP contract, local past practices, and (at least in spirit) the Policies of the Board of Trustees, force some departments to close, and introduce a series of competitive diseases into the university. Universities need the unity inherent in the name, in order to provide an atmosphere conducive to study, research and learning. Constant overturning of the status quo may be useful for competitive businesses, but certainly does not foster a scholarly atmosphere.
Given all of the serious questions that your plan raises, the calendar and academic responsibilities, a mid-May deadline for resolving them is completely unrealistic. The university community needs much more time to consider thoroughly the implications of these documents.
Chapter President, UUP Buffalo Center Chapter
The plan thus contains proposals that are inconsistent with each other. Yet we understand that the Provost's Office is already implementing the details. The plan does not examine what might be the reasons for the low rankings of so many of our departments; and it is at no point directed toward improving matters in this regard via the provision of incentives for scholarly excellence. Rather, the implementation of its proposals will bring a further decline in our national rankings.
The remarks which follow are addressed especially to Part III of the Plan, which contains a series of proposals for radical changes in almost every aspect of the way UB is run.
What is the underlying rationale for the proposed disruption?
Seven or eight years ago, President Greiner, as Provost, indicated that the unique feature of UB was its comprehensive collection of professional schools. He indicated that we should focus on that and suggested that the Arts and Sciences should become a support system for that collection of professional schools. There was a major negative response to that statement, and it was not mentioned publicly again. However, the present plan can be viewed as a version of that original goal.
What is broken?
The plan maintains that the present system does not work, and that this provides a rationale for the changes projected in the plan. But it does not tell us how the system is broken, only that it causes "tensions between Arts and Sciences." No one can deny that there are major problems at UB. The extent to which those problems can be blamed on the current Arts and Sciences structure has not, however, been investigated. The extent to which a change in structure will improve the situation has not been determined. The plan, in this respect, seems to rely on wishful thinking and on a reckless desire for change for change's sake. Yet there are many piecemeal improvements to the system that could be made without the major dislocation produced by a complete restructuring.
Why reject the Triggle Commission Report?
About four years ago, a task force was put together under Dean Triggle by then Provost Bloch. The commission, of which our present Provost was a member, was charged with examining the future of the Arts and Sciences. The report of the commission discussed three alternatives: a two-unit structure (fusing Arts and Letters with Social Sciences, with Natural Sciences as a separate faculty); a single, all-embracing College of Arts and Sciences; leaving things as they are. It decided in favor of the last of these, arguing that the disruption produced by restructuring would not be outweighed by any likely benefits to be derived from either of the remaining two alternatives. At the same time it recommended piecemeal reforms designed to address concerns relating to co-operation between existing faculties and deans. That such reforms can be effective is demonstrated by the successful interdisciplinary degree programs which already exist, and which could easily be extended.
The M.A. as target degree: Is there a demand? Is it degree inflation?
The discussion of the "M.A. as target degree" initiative began with the idea that it was primarily a means of getting an additional year's worth of tuition, and graduate tuition at that, from most of our undergraduates. No market study has been undertaken to determine whether there is a demand for a greater variety of M.A. degrees, or for combined B.A./M.A. degrees.
It is currently unclear whether our undergraduate students exit with appropriate breadth and depth of knowledge in their majors. At UB many of our students enter college unprepared for scholarly work. Rather than addressing this problem, for example by a rigorous restructuring of the initial year in such a way that our students would be brought to the level where they could cope with the demands of a genuine and reputable undergraduate major in the three years which remain, the plan seeks to tag on an extra year of the same coasting which we all too often have at present-where even students entering college fully prepared would find it hard to achieve a genuine master's level education in 5 years.
What will the master's degree orientation mean for Ph.D. programs?
Despite an avowed desire to increase the national rankings of our Ph.D. programs, the emphasis on master's degrees will for certain crucial core disciplines arguably degrade the intellectual environment for Ph.D. students. It will thus reduce the appeal of UB to potential Ph.D. students with yet further detrimental consequences for our national rankings. Furthermore, the Provost has suggested in the most recent discussions on the B.A./M.A. initiative that perhaps the M.A. portion of the joint B.A./M.A. degrees will be in the professional schools exclusively. This would result in an even greater than predicted shift in resources from the Arts and Sciences to the professional schools, since the crossover to the M.A. specialty would begin in the third year of college, and not after the fourth, as in the conventional sequence. Rather than viewing other AAU public universities as our competitors, the UB core campus will be competing with the SUNY colleges feeding into the professional schools.
What will it mean for the retention and hiring of good faculty?
Our most visible and important research faculty will certainly not want to be part of a university that focuses on master's degrees. Our most movable faculty will leave, and we will have even more difficulty than we currently have in recruiting top-notch faculty. The real scholars are already unsure of UB's future. Switching the emphasis to M.A. training will be the last straw for many.
The report of the Provost's Task Force on Incentive and Resource Allocation contains the statement that "The intention is to bring into better balance the reciprocal relationship between institutional priorities and individual career enhancement (in a culture which presently privileges the latter to the detriment of the former)." This is an extraordinary assertion. In a context of undue emphasis on flawed evaluative tools such as the NRC rankings, a context of threats of closing Ph.D. programs that are not high enough in the rankings to suit the administration, the Provost and President simultaneously maintain that faculty who pursue national or international recognition among their peers and in their disciplines are operating against the best interest of the university!
What are the consequences of replacing retiring senior faculty on a 1-for-1 basis with assistant professors, and turning the salary savings over to the Provost?
This part of the plan completely removes the elements of flexibility and planning from the deans. It represents, in effect, a demotion for the deans, and an assault upon their status and function. It makes an increase in departmental rankings unattainable, since such rankings depend mostly on the size of the unit and the numbers and eminence of senior faculty involved. Under the Provost's plan, new senior faculty positions will be assigned almost exclusively to institutes and centers, which will draw resources away from the core academic disciplines. Senior positions will be filled not by departments but via what the plan calls a "group process." We are not told what will be the role of scholarly expertise in this "group process," and what will be the role of administrators.
The Plan talks of a "Provostal Tax" to be levied on savings from faculty turnover. The tax should be levied not at 100 percent, as the Provost proposes, but at some modest level-say 10 percent-and increased (or decreased) in light of subsequent experience. In addition the revenue from this tax should be distributed on the basis not of administrator fiat but of a properly established system of peer review governed by a collegial council of faculty with experience of interdisciplinary research. Additional centers and institutes should then be financed, as at other major universities, not by drawing resources from the core disciplines but from external endowment funds specifically raised for this purpose.
What is the basis for selecting the foci for institutes and centers?
Nobody who criticizes the Provost's plan believes that interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary activities per se are a bad thing. In fact such activity has been flourishing and even increasing for several years; but the plan gives every evidence of ignoring the reports of these successes, which represent ground-up collaboration motivated by genuine disciplinary needs. Either the Provost does not appreciate the nature of the activities that the faculty already pursue, or he feels that the faculty are not pursuing the issues that he happens to find important.
The Plan includes a list of foci for institutes and initiatives, with little or no analysis of needs, quality of faculty interested, whether the ideas are passť, or of pedagogical value. The Provost is quick to claim that what he has offered are just suggestions; at the same time, however, departments are being instructed by deans to produce detailed proposals for the future allocation of departmental resources in ways which will enable the departments to become integrated into the very institutes and centers which are listed in the Plan.
Consequences for Tenure and Promotion
The plan proposes that contributions to centers/initiatives/institutes will have a role in tenure and promotion. This possibility has already created some anxiety among junior faculty. The proposal is consistent with the plan's notion that a department-based academic structure is a hindrance to the development of the free-floating type of educational institution that he visualizes (as stated in the initial plan in the Fall of 1995).
Does the proposed structure accomplish the goal of interdisciplinary activity?
Universities have repeatedly found, as the Triggle Commission reported, that interdisciplinary activity does not flow from administrative fiat. Not only can an administration not mandate such activity from the top down, but the approach proposed by the Provost, which is to advocate a finite number of foci that should, he has maintained, accommodate almost every faculty member, is tantamount to telling faculty what they ought to be researching. The plan does not acknowledge the extent of current interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary activity occurring at UB. Further, it presupposes that such activity, by definition, always requires team efforts. In fact, however, very many faculty members engage in interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary activity in their own individual research.
Turning UB into a Market Economy
The plan proposes a new accounting system, dubbed "Responsibility Center Management" (RCM), under which each budget unit is essentially accountable for generating the revenue needed to cover its costs. Market competition does, certainly, have its advantages, but it must be introduced with great care, and from this point of view it is regrettable that RCM is to be instituted simultaneously with so many other global changes (e.g. the restructuring of Arts and Sciences) which make impossible the sort of detailed preparations necessary to make it work. For the plan, with its many centers and institutes, will yield unclear reporting relationships, and it will mandate competition between departments and institutes/centers for the very same faculty time, resources, enrollments, and allegiances. Institutes and multidisciplinary activities require cooperation among units. RCM produces only competition. Assuming they can be blended is ludicrous, unless departments disappear and resources flow only to institutes and centers. All of this seems to have all the potential for consequences which can only be described as catastrophic. At the very least it will mean that faculty members with fund-raising savvy, rather than being encouraged to attract new funds to the university, will be pitted against their colleagues in a scramble for those existing funds which have now become centrally pooled.
RCM will transform UB into a market economy in which the activities worth pursuing or supporting are those that are most saleable. Everywhere that RCM has been implemented, professional schools have benefited at the expense of the Arts and Sciences, and vocational training has benefited at the expense of liberal education and of pure research.
The Provost proposes, in the spirit of RCM, that UB replace retiring science faculty who do not have external funding with faculty who are funded. Yet there are fields within every discipline, and especially so in the sciences and mathematics, that for different reasons do not attract external funding. Their presence is nonetheless necessary for scholarly reasons. The long-term effect of this suggestion would be to kill the academic enterprise: one type of cell would eventually dominate all of the other cells within the organism, thereby destroying the balance within each discipline that is required by any university that is to be able to fulfill its mission as described at the beginning of the Provost's plan-that of the creation of new knowledge and the sharing of ideas.
Some departments or schools with low ratings are scheduled for reductions, some are scheduled for increases. What are the bases for these decisions?
One is tempted to suggest that the decisions simply reflect the Provost's and President's biases. Poor rankings in professional schools such as Law and Management are responded to with an increase in resources. The School of Management recently faced problems in re-accreditation. The recommendation by the accrediting team was that an infusion of resources was not the solution. Instead, the school should divest itself of some of its degree programs. Yet the Provost and the President still intend to infuse resources. The Law School, which plunged in the rankings in recent years, has nonetheless been allowed to reduce enrollment, charge higher tuition, and has been given money for major raises in the salaries of all its faculty.
Are there inappropriate assumptions being made about what areas departments are or ought to be focused on?
The appendix to the plan discusses what departments have been doing and what they ought to be doing; its recommendations are often anachronistic in a way which bears witness to a lack of knowledge of the various disciplines involved. Yet for most faculty this is the most important aspect of the plan, since it deals with the realities of their home departments and not with abstractions or vague futuristic concepts. We urge both faculty and administrators to focus their attentions on the recommendations in Part III of the plan. Their implementation would amount to an attack on scholarship and on the faculty that pursue it.
It is the function of administrators to put forward proposals for consideration by the faculty. But it must be left to faculty to sharpen and concretize, and if necessary to reject, such proposals, for in the end it will be they who will be called upon to conduct research and to teach the students of the future.
John Boot, professor and chair, Department of Management
Science and Systems, School of Management
Jonathan DeWald, professor and chair, Department of History
Stuart L. Fischman, professor, School of Dental Medicine
Frederic J. Fleron Jr., professor, Department of Political Science
Mendel Sachs, professor, Department of Physics
Barry Smith, professor, Department of Philosophy
Howard Wolf, professor, Department of English