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.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fulfill the Mission of the University

Fresno State: What Needs to Be Done Now

Craig Bernthal

            I am asking myself this morning how President Welty and Provost Covino might stave off the faculty protest that is now emerging at Fresno State. One of my colleagues gave me an answer to that question: they’d have to come clean, and come clean fast. What we saw Monday in the Senate was the same old stall: no information volunteered, everything extracted. Michael Caldwell framed the purpose of the meeting at the beginning: this was a place for the senate and then the general faculty to express their concerns. I’m surprised we got any information at all. As it was, we got almost nothing. If the administrative object was to give faculty an opportunity to blow off steam in hopes that boiler pressure at Fresno State would fall, the meeting was a failure.

            What would it take for me, personally, to regain enough confidence in the President and Provost to begin to reconstruct a working relationship? They would have to publicly acknowledge in a memo to the faculty, distributed to the entire faculty, the deep flaws in consultation about the budget.  They would have to acknowledge mistakes in the creation and utilization of a Budget Task Force that excluded participation of the University Budget Committee. They would have to acknowledge that the main responsibility for hiring faculty, course design, curriculum design, instruction, and assessment lies with the faculty, and that they intend to suspend cohort hiring, pending consultation with the senate about the wisdom of that practice. They would have to promise much fuller disclosure of the budget and communication with the faculty. They’d have to promise to open the books on Save-Mart, Campus Pointe, and Athletics. These things ought to done and they are the right things to do.

            After these critical issues of governance and procedure are addressed, the process could move forward, and get to substantive issues. I think there’s hope that rational budget decisions could be arrived at very quickly, for indeed, the problem is not all that complicated. The purpose of Fresno State is to teach students. Research has always been a secondary, though important concern. So here is the solution:


            What gets cut before teaching? Everything. All the bells and whistles. For instance: CSALT and CSALT-like programs; whatever makes up TILT in excess of keeping classroom technology working; as much of the administration as possible in every part of the campus; Red Balloon and projects of that ilk; any general funding support for special centers like Richter and the Office of Community & Economic Development, all but the most necessary travel, and yes, faculty research. That last will especially sting, and good teaching comes out of good research, but with exception of grants and contracts acquired by faculty from sources outside the university, it must take a back seat.

            Let’s look again at what we found out Monday about the carry forward in the Office of the Provost, which is about $6.5 million.

The provost accounted for this 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.”

            Let us exclude Smittcamp, which is an indispensable part of the educational mission of the university, and examine everything else. To put it simply, why would we want to fund any of these items while we are cutting sections of classes and running others with preposterous enrollments? All of this ought to all be prioritized lower than teaching. In a budget emergency, it all ought to be cut. I do not know the difference between “research transformative faculty” and faculty who do research, but for now, let’s concentrate on retaining a faculty in sufficient numbers to transform students. For example, I know of one section of Humanities 10 that is enrolled at 279 students. This course is supposed to have a writing requirement of 1,000 words with a revision of that 1,000. Writing cannot be taught under these circumstances. It can’t. We can pretend to teach it, and students can pretend to learn. The administration can also pretend that learning is going on while retention rates go up, but we know the truth.

(Note: The total carry-forward in Academic Affairs for the 2011 to 12 Budget Book is $18,299,039.)

            Above all,  cut in other parts of the university before cutting Academic Affairs, where the university's mission is accomplished. The University All Funds Budget summary shows that the total general fund for the university (initial budget) for 2011–2012 is $227,575,822. Of that, Academic Affairs gets $84,079,815. Out of what Academic Affairs gets, an even smaller amount goes directly to teaching. That is a snapshot of a university that has its priorities muddled. This inversion of priorities is at the bottom of the faculty frustration which is now going to become very public and vocal.

Fresno State Budget Book

[Feb 8 at 12:30. I have had some email feedback on this column, and in response, offer the following modification. In order to mount a successful educational effort for students in science (and I'd assume this is also true in other disciplines) some research money is necessary. That seems obvious, so my statement about research cuts was too broad. But I will stick to my basic principle, educating students comes first. That is the first budget priority, and it must start by providing the resources to mount a successful class according to the needs of various disciplines.]

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