Blaise Pascal, PenseĆ© 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.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Academic Senate Meeting, February 13, 2012: Part 2: Budget Task Force Formation and Directions on Confidentiality

Two important discussions occurred in the Academic Senate on Monday, February 13. One pertained to the motion presented by Chris Henson, English, arguing that the Senate request a state audit of Fresno State. The other, embedded within the discussion of the state audit proposal, addressed the formation of the the Budget Task Force and its lines of communication with the rest of the university.

I now have the written history of how the Task Force was formed, which was prepared and read by Michael Caldwell, and I also have a digital recording of the Senate meeting. With these aids to accuracy, I will continue a series of columns on the Senate meeting. My aim in this column and the next is to set forth what was said at the meeting as accurately as I can, but I will have some explanation of why I have been asking questions pertaining to Task Force confidentiality. Here's the line up for this blog and the next:

1. What was said in the Senate about the formation of the Budget Task Force and whether it was directed to keep any of its deliberations confidential;

2. What senators said in response to the proposal for a state audit.

The Formation of the Budget Task Force and Whether It was Told to Keep Its Proceedings Confidential

For the last four weeks, colleagues at Fresno State have been telling me that the Budget Task Force was forbidden to discuss its deliberations with the rest of the university, including the University Budget Committee. Some of this was hearsay and some of it was not, but as lawyers say, there's hearsay and there's hearsay--I believed, and still believe, that what I was told is reliable. So, at the Senate meetings of February 6 and February 13, I have repeatedly asked about communication between the Task Force, the University Budget Committee, and the rest of the university. 

My involvement in this Senate meeting was prompted by the following exchange, begun by 

Otto Schweizer (Criminology): I just have a question regarding the Task Force, the Budget Task Force. Were any of the members of the Budget Task Force also on the University Budget Committee? So if there were, then that would of course be privy and involved in the process.

Michael Caldwell: Yes. The Chair of the Budget Committee, John Constable, was requested to serve by the provost on the committee [the Task Force] to facilitate communication between the Senate, also and between the Task Force and the Budget Committee. In addition, it was determined that his expertise as a result of serving on the budget committee would be especially valuable to the Task Force.

Craig Bernthal: I think this a very important point about John Constable's responsibility to share information from the Budget Task Force. I think it really needs to be cleared up. What -- was he told to share everything? All the business of the Task Force? Was he given that as a responsibility? Was he told that he was restricted in terms of what information he was to convey? Was there any charge to the Budget Task Force to not share any of the information or proceedings within the Task Force with the faculty at large or the University Budget Committee? I think we really need specific information on that communication line. 

Michael Caldwell said he thought that was a great question, and in reply read the following prepared statement about context, which I reproduce in its entirety:

Chronological History of the
Academic Affairs Budget Advisory Task Force Formation

On March 21, 2011, Provost Covino shared his intention to form a budget advisory Task Force at the Academic Senate Executive Committee meeting, a suggestion for which no member found fault or voiced an objection. One committee member asked if the budget committee would be involved, and Provost Covino shared that he was appointing the Chair of the Budget Committee to the Task Force and there was no further concern voiced.

The Senate Executive Committee routinely serves the campus by administering calls for a wide variety of committee appointments and task forces, along with making recommendations for appointments.

From the Academic Senate Bylaws, Article XII.1.A.15:
15.The Executive Committee shall make recommendations concerning the appointments to committees, task forces, ad hoc committees, and other groups as required.

The actions of the Provost in forming the Task Force were in accordance with the by-laws of the Academic Senate, and he was aided by the Senate Executive Committee in soliciting and selecting members. There are no actual or implied statements in the Bylaws of the Academic Senate or Executive Committee requiring the Executive Committee to consult the full Academic Senate on these matters. In fact, the Bylaws clearly delegate this duty and authority to the Executive Committee; therefore, by the provisions stated in the Bylaws of both the Academic Senate and the Executive Committee, the Senate has delegated this authority and responsibility to the Executive Committee.

Regardless, on March 21, 2011, Provost Covino announced to the full Academic Senate that a task force was being comprised. There were no concerns raised by the Senate following the announcement.

From the March 21, 2011, minutes of the Academic Senate:

D. Provost Covino discussed the enrollment targets for 2011-2012. Dr. Covino announced a task force is being comprised to develop
recommendations to Academic Affairs with regard to budget reductions and cost savings.

A campus-wide call for membership went out to the entire faculty, including all Academic Senators, for four (4) tenured/tenure-track faculty to serve on the Task Force. Again, there were no concerns raised by the Academic Senate following the announcement.

Following the campus-wide call, on March 28, 2011, the Executive Committee discussed the appointments in closed session--a particularly important practice when discussing personnel matters--which included Provost Covino (as he is an ex-officio member of the Executive Committee). The Executive Committee worked with the Provost on selecting members of the Task Force, and there were no objections or concerns raised about forming a Task Force of this kind. The members present for this discussion (according to the minutes) were:

Chair Michael Caldwell, Jacinta Amaral, Thomas Holyoke, Pedro Ramirez (student member), O. Harald Schweizer, President John Welty, Provost William Covino, Lynn Williams and Michael Botwin (ex-officio)

From the minutes:

9. Executive Session.

MSC to move into Executive Session. (3:45 p.m.–4:00 p.m.) to discuss the nominations for the Academic Affairs Budget Advisory Task Force.

10. Return to open session. (4:00 p.m.)

MSC to present a list of eight candidates to Provost Covino for the selection of four task force members.

This decision was reported out and there were no objections noted. Three Deans, the Co-Chairs (Chair of the Academic Senate and Associate Vice President/Dean of Undergraduate Studies) and the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee were appointed by the Provost. The Provost was present for the justifications made for the eight faculty candidates, and the Executive Committee, exercising the responsibility to act in accordance with the Bylaws, made the decision to present the candidates to the Provost. Therefore, the actions regarding selection were not only executed by—but also authorized by—the Executive Committee of the Senate, who is delegated with the responsibility to:

"make recommendations concerning the appointments to committees, task forces, ad hoc committees, and other groups as required."

Since none of the members of the Executive Committee ever objected to the formation of the Task Force after the function of the Task Force was clearly explained, it is clear that this was a lawful, open and direct example of consultation and shared governance.

Following the initial campus call for membership, a member of the Budget Committee and past Chair of the Academic Senate, James Kus, made an inquiry to Senate Chair Caldwell regarding the formation of the Task Force versus the use of the Senate Budget Committee. Since Provost Covino made the request, Chair Caldwell referred Dr. Kus to Provost Covino. Provost Covino responded with the following to Kus, via email:

The Task Force I am assembling will potentially address a wide range of possibilities, ranging from curricular change to reorganization to accreditation to the support of strategic priorities for the Schools/Colleges. Therefore, a broadly-based ad hoc committee of both faculty and administrators is necessary to represent a broad range of perspectives on the programmatic, structural, and strategic elements of the academic operation that may have fiscal impact. The Budget Committee is very welcome to contribute through its representative to this discussion.

Kus (a long standing member of the Budget Committee), after receiving this response regarding the formation of the committee stated, via email:

My email to Michael Caldwell was in response to his call to the faculty for people to serve on the task force -- no mention was made in his original email that the task force was other than a Senate body (corrected today with another call). Thus my confusion. In the 1992-93 budget crisis, the Senate created a committee (if I recall correctly, also called a task force) to review priorities and make recommendations as to what departments/programs might be cut. I thought that Caldwell's first message was to set up a similar Senate group -- once I talked to John Constable, who had more information, and after yesterday's UBC meeting, it is clear that the group you are setting up is not in conflict with the mission of the UBC (or the work of URPAC) -- but that was not my impression based on Mike's first message to the faculty.

It is clear that the Budget Committee, including the Chair of the committee (Constable) and one of the committee’s long term members (Kus), had no concerns or reservations regarding the formation and potential work of the Task Force. To claim so, eight months after the fact, is false.

Throughout the Summer months, the Task Force met with every Dean, including the Deans of the Library and Continuing and Global Education. At no time did any Dean voice any concerns or objections to the work of the Task Force. The co-chairs of the Task Force also met with every Dean individually and at no time were there any concerns raised about the Task Force.

The Task Force was formed utilizing standard Senate procedures, did not garner any objections from any party—including the Budget Committee— for over six months, until the recommendations were published.

Although I never received a request from the Budget Committee to meet or discuss the work of the Task Force, Dr. Nef, who regularly attends Budget Committee meetings, offered to share the Academic Affairs budget information (previously shared with all of the Deans) that was the basis for the task force deliberations. This has not yet taken place. Dr. Constable has indicated to Dr. Nef that it will likely be on this week’s Budget Committee meeting agenda.

Prepared by Michael Caldwell 02.12.2012 

I did not feel this addressed my question, so I restated it as follows:

Craig Bernthal: My question was: Was John Constable or anyone else on the Task Force told to keep information considered by or any deliberations of the Task Force confidential to any degree? That's my question.

At this point Provost Bill Covino spoke: I charged the Task Force, so I should probably answer that. At the first meeting of the Task Force I informed the Task Force that this was not a confidential committee, and said further, or we had a discussion in the course of which I said further, that they would be dealing with information and deliberations that were evolving in the course of their discussions, and that while their deliberations were not confidential, and I had no reason to think that that should be the case, that they should, as we all should, exercise their best professional judgment and discretion relative to seeking input or reporting out. That was my instruction paraphrase to the Task Force.

Michael Caldwell added: I'm sorry that you [Craig Bernthal] don't feel I answered your question, but the communication between myself and Jim Kus and Provost Covino and Jim Kus reflected the fact that John Constable's role on the committee was made clear from the beginning and that he was to communicate directly with the Task Force. Whether that became blurry at some point, I can't speak for John Constable, he's not here right now.

Craig Bernthal: Yeah, it would actually be quite helpful to have him here at another meeting. I don't know if that can be arranged . . .

Michael Caldwell: Absolutely. We can invite any guests . . .

This finishes my report of this part of the Senate meeting. I will only add how important it is to have this information on the record, and especially Provost Covino's and Michael Caldwell's answers to my question about confidentiality. 

The history presented by Michael Caldwell presents many issues about the breadth of the charge to the Task Force, what the Executive Committee understood about the charge to the Task Force, and how much power can be delegated to a task force. But for me, the paramount issue is whether the Task Force was used in such a way as to evade faculty consultation.

If there was any kind of gag order to the Task Force, that is clearly a serious issue. If people have not told the truth about it, that is an even more serious issue. 

[Quotations in this column are from the Senate audio recording. I have cleared up a few verbal stumbles and "ah's" or "um's," but this is nearly verbatim.]

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