Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Academic Senate Meeting, Feb. 6: Consult Now?

Consult Now?

Craig Bernthal

            The most important fact that I derived from tonight’s Senate meeting at the Satellite Union is that the Budget Task Force recommendations and revisions are now going to the University Budget Committee, Academic Planning and Policy, and then the Academic Senate. So consultation will have occurred. Better late than never, right?

            Wrong. Because sometimes late is too late, and this is really late. The Task Force has been working on budget recommendations since last summer. The University Budget Committee will not be able to do that job between now and March, when the recommendations are due. I predict the UBC will either be pressured, by time as much as any personal influence, to rubber-stamp what the Task Force has done. Or, it might just throw up its hands in defeat when time runs out and say, we can’t make a reasoned recommendation. Either way, the UBC will have been “consulted.” If the UBC finds itself in an impossible situation, I hope it describes in full why real consultation was impossible and refuses to ratify the appearance rather than the reality of consultation. The Senate must do the same.

            A senator asked the reasonable question: Had calculations with actual numbers been made by the Task Force, and if so, where were they? Well, sometimes numbers were used. And with regard to some recommendations, there was a general sense as to what would save money. Later, when I had the chance, I followed up: Would the calculations that did involve numbers be made available to the UBC? No, Michael Caldwell responded, it had all been very complicated, and the picture kept changing, and it wouldn’t do the UBC any good to go over all those steps. Better to just give them the final product.

            Well, we wouldn’t want to confuse them, the dears.

            I asked: Did anyone on the Task Force feel anxiety that the University Budget Committee was not part of the Task Force’s process from the beginning? There were no takers on that one, so finally Michael Caldwell, Senate Chair, replied that John Constable, the UBC Chair, who was also on the Task Force, was to keep the UBC in touch with the Task Force. (As in The Maltese Falcon, somebody’s gotta take the fall.) Two veterans of the UBC have told me that the UBC got no data from the Task Force whatsoever.

I should say at this point that only four of the Task Force members were at the Senate meeting. It made actually talking to the Task Force, which is what needed to happen tonight, impossible. This was not the faculty’s chance to meet the Task Force. It has never had that chance. I wish that John Constable could have responded to questions about Task Force / UBC relations. I was grateful for the presence and candor of Rich Zechman, Professor, Biology, who was the only person from the Task Force who spoke to the faculty as a faculty member, who tried to give us the sense of what Task Force deliberations were like and some of his own disagreements with the outcome.

            A few other interesting facts emerged. Not all of the recommendations made by the Task Force were primarily aimed at budget cutting. This was initially acknowledged by Rick Zechman, who noted that it was part of the Task Force charge “not to just look at savings.”  Robert Harper, Dean of the School of Business, also acknowledged this charge. They both identified that the decision to move Economics to the School of Business was purely programmatic. I asked, what other recommendations by the Task Force were driven by programmatic rather than budget concerns? I asked for a list. After a long pause, I was told that all of the recommendations had some budget consequences. Well yes, doesn’t everything? But which recommendations were primarily programmatic? There was no answer to that one.

It should be a matter of great concern to the Senate that part of the content of Task Force recommendations are not motivated by budget cutting. The Task force was not only exercising functions that belong in the University Budget Committee, but also in AP&P. More importantly, what we have taken as a budget cutting committee is more than that. Whatever is mainly policy driven needs to be identified and reviewed as such.

Course redesign. Biology 10’s lab sections have been redesigned, so now it has a much better pass rate and the course hasn’t been “dumbed down.” That’s good, and apparently, the lab portion of Biology 10 really needed an overhaul. Since course redesign had been put forward as a budget saving measure, was there any evidence that any other specific course at Fresno State could be redesigned to save money? No, although the committee did look at a list of possibilities.

The Task Force only considered budget cutting at the level of School or below, so no cutting was considered in administration. Addressing this concern at the start of the meeting, Provost Covino said he’d already cut administrative costs by 10%. This does not, of course, mean academic administration can’t be cut more. With regard to the entire university, a senator asked, why do we need 18 vice-presidents? No one volunteered an answer.

 Linnea Alexander of English asked about the 6.5 million in carry forward from last year within Academic Affairs. The provost accounted for this as a combination of funds as follows:

$1 million in various offices and programs such as the Richter Center, Smittcamp Honors College, and others;

$1 million for a research wing at the Jordan research center;

$1.5 million for student researchers over a period of five years;

$3 million for “research transformative faculty.”

The Task Force was not asked, if I understand correctly, whether they thought these allocations wise, given other budgetary pressures. This apparently was not a topic the Task Force was asked to address.

            What are we left with at the end of the day? A process in which the Academic Senate has been excluded for so long that it cannot be called consultative; a process that is so close to the finish line that it cannot become consultative; a set of recommendations that seem too general to be of much help; an undisclosed number of recommendations that have little to do with budget cutting and more to do with the rearrangement of schools and departments; an excuse to start forcing course redesign on the basis of the success of lab redesign in one course.

            The biggest result of the Task Force experience is the compromise of faculty governance. This is not the fault of the faculty who were on the Task Force. Tonight was just another exercise in trying to pry information out of the administration and into the light of day. I used to do that for a living when I was a lawyer. We used interrogatories and depositions, and that is how various faculty members and emeriti have tried to establish facts, but the opportunities are limited and it is very hard. This is called “an adversarial process.”

            It isn’t consultation. 

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