How to do shared governance badly.

I’ve been meaning to visit here and tell the story of the difficult situation at my university, Colorado State University – Pueblo, for some time now, but I waited until now so that my story has a moral. You may have read about the problems that my friend Tim McGettigan has been having with his e-mail, but that incident was a direct result of sudden and unprecedented budget cuts announced last December during finals week. At that time, we were told that up to 50 positions, including those occupied by tenure track professors from across the university, might be eliminated unless we could figure out how to cut $3.3 million from the upcoming 2014-15 budget.

In an effort to limit the number of people who might be fired, a group of faculty leaders from across campus met extensively with CSU-Pueblo President Lesley Di Mare over Christmas Break. Those meetings led to the creation of a statement which included a wide range of possible money-saving measures. One of these emergency measures was eliminating research course downloads for faculty like me who currently teach three courses each semester. According to our administration, this new 4-4 teaching load would allow the university to save $290,000 annually by eliminating adjunct faculty who currently teach the classes that research-active tenure track faculty don’t.

When we returned from the Christmas holidays, everyone at the university learned that the projected cuts would not be as bad as was first feared. Instead of 50 positions disappearing, only 21 people will be losing their jobs next fiscal year, and that figure includes staff and one administrator. More importantly, we learned that no tenure track faculty would be let go (although we will lose quite a few lecturers across the university). However, a 4-4 teaching load for all tenure track faculty without administrative duties or grants that paid for their release time did become official policy effective Fall 2014. While many of us were relieved that the colleagues we know best would remain employed, none of us were particularly happy about having higher teaching loads (especially since research expectations for our annual performance reviews have not been adjusted at all).

There were both unofficial and official responses to the imposition of this higher teaching load. One of my colleagues in Chemistry sent a long e-mail denunciation of the Provost (who had been charged with implementing this policy) to everybody on campus. Another colleague, Bill Brown in Physics, wrote a long letter to the local paper describing exactly what professors like him do all day. Perhaps the harshest criticism of this change came from the Scholarly and Creative Activities Board (SAB), led by two other scientists. Here is a piece of their long letter to the Provost on this subject:

To avoid a loss of expertise on campus before it begins, we ask that you support faculty who wish to remain current in their field of expertise. In most disciplines, currency is maintained through scholarly activity, which is a time consuming endeavor. This takes the form of reviewing current literature within one’s discipline, commonly for the purpose of preparing a grant application or in preparation to conduct research/scholarly activities. Ideally, this leads to publishing the results of scholarly activities or generating other scholarly products. If the results of scholarly activity are recognized within the community of their peers, faculty are frequently asked to participate in the peer review process, which is a critical means of being most up to date on current activities within their discipline. Frequently, faculty will disseminate the results of their scholarly work at regional, national, or international meetings. Again, this is not only an opportunity for faculty to establish their reputation among their peers, but also to build the reputation of CSU-Pueblo and to learn from their peers the most recent developments within their field of expertise. However, if faculty do not have time to seek funding for scholarly activity or engage in scholarly activity or mentor students who are engaging in scholarly activity, there are no new results or findings to present at meetings or other scholarly products. The very notion of a University of teacher-scholars breaks down.

This letter elicited an e-mail response directly from President Di Mare. The SAB published it in their minutes so I have seen a copy. It reads, in part:

The comments to the Provost indicating that he or I somehow “imposed” or unilaterally mandated the 12/12 teaching load for FY 15 without input and discussion from faculty groups is incorrect. See attached word document “Faculty Recommendations.”

That document is the statement I referenced above, the list of possible cuts generated during the meetings with faculty leaders between our last two semesters. While that document was created with input from a few faculty, it was not created with input from a broad swath of faculty. More importantly, when someone essentially tells you, “Propose budget cuts or fifty of your colleagues get it,” that is not the same thing as endorsing any particular cut.

One set of leaders in that room were the officers of our AAUP chapter. I hold no office in our local chapter, but I can tell you from talking to all of them that none of those folks endorsed a 4-4 teaching load. Indeed, I’m told that they weren’t even the ones who suggested this measure but their names ended up on the final document nonetheless. As a result of President Di Mare’s e-mail, our AAUP chapter felt compelled to issue a campus-wide e-mail denial that we support the 4-4. Speaking personally, being told I have to teach more because I was “not working fulltime” made me angry (because I certainly am). Being told it was my idea (or even simply my colleagues’ idea) to work even harder when it obviously wasn’t only made me angrier. After all, many faculty have their doubts as to whether there is really a budget crisis at CSU-Pueblo at all.

While there are many aspects to the current situation at CSU-Pueblo, the one thread I’ve tried to pull here is a story about failed shared governance. Our President seems to think that consulting a few faculty members under difficult circumstances is tantamount to shared governance, but the administration was really just going through the motions so that they could do what the Chancellor of our system wanted to do all along. The result lacked any support from the broad swath of faculty not party to those talks. The result even lacked support from at least a few of the faculty who were party to those talks. No wonder so many of us got upset. The more important an issue is to faculty in general (and course load issues are very important to faculty in general), the more important it is that any administration get as many faculty as possible to buy into the results. Otherwise, they will have a lot of very unhappy faculty on their hands.

Luckily, things might be getting better around here. Recently we have been told that a plan is being created to allow faculty with active research agendas to gain release time on a competitive basis for the semester starting Spring 2015. The Provost has even expressed his approval for a plan that would allow individual departments to create revenue neutral opportunities for faculty members who do not win that competition to gain release time anyways. While this situation is hardly ideal, it is certainly a big improvement over the position that the administration took on this issue just a few months ago.

Despite my relative happiness with this solution, it is worth noting that our administration has been drawing up the details of these plans without consulting a broad swath of faculty. In other words, while they seem to be at least partially convinced about the importance of faculty at a research university having time to actually do research, they are still doing shared governance badly. Therefore, while I am more pleased about the situation at CSU-Pueblo than I was just a short time ago, faculty/administration relations at my university still have a lot of room for improvement.

6 thoughts on “How to do shared governance badly.

  1. I would suggest that the faculty at CSU-Pueblo look intently at administrative bloat–in particular new administrative positions and administrative staff hired over the last three to five years.

    I’d also want to know how workloads have been comparably increased by one-third for all administrators and administrative staff.

    This is the first time that I have ever heard of an institution eliminating the cost of adjunct faculty as a cost-saving measure. Hiring them–exploiting them–is always the cost-saving measure.

    And the fact that eliminating those positions by raising full time loads by a third raises less than one-tenth of the ostensible deficit suggests to me that this is a very contrived crisis–perhaps not in its actual scope but certainly in its supposed implications and ramifications.

  2. Pingback: Shared Governance: Going Through the Motions | Learning and Labor

  3. Pingback: “[A]nd the number of the counting shall be three.” | More or Less Bunk

  4. Pingback: 2014 Through the Academe Blog: March | The Academe Blog

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