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.”

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cohort Hiring and the Academic Senate

Craig Bernthal

On Monday, the Academic Senate votes on the resolution introduced by Chris Henson, English, to suspend cohort hiring. [I introduce a correction here: today is the first reading, so a vote is doubtful.  3/19/12, CAB] That resolution, introduced in the Senate on February 13, is set forth in full at the end of this blog. The important part is what the resolution wants to do: suspend cohort hiring, including the searches currently underway. I think the Senate has two rational alternatives with regard to voting. First, it could just adopt the resolution in full. Second, given the lateness in the academic year and the amount of energy expended already in searches, it could let the current round of cohort hiring go through and vote to suspend the practice starting next year. The key word here is suspend.

I have blogged already about why I think cohort hiring is a bad practice, at least in the way it is being conducted. There is a place for cohorts and a place for the Provost to promote cohorts. There is no place for decrees about cohorts. Departments are the places where hiring decisions ought to be made because departments have the primary responsibility for making decisions about curriculum and instruction. Departments have that responsibility because they have the greatest expertise in their disciplines and what they need to mount a successful curriculum. Departments ought to be the primary political unit on campus for all decisions affecting instruction and curriculum. Cohort hiring during a putative "hiring freeze" in response to a putative budget crisis (that $65 million carry-forward, again) gives the Provost way too much power over curriculum. This vote is about much more than cohort hiring: the big issue is the marginalization of the faculty in favor of administrative control of the curriculum. For a fuller treatment of this, here is a link to the previous blog:

The Provost Creates His Own Faculty

I expect this to be an issue on which the administration really digs in its heels. On Monday, be prepared for a parade of deans speaking before the Senate to stress how important cohort hiring is to them.  (I have heard, and hope this might be confirmed if questions by senators are allowed, that 10 of this year's cohort hires have gone to Social Science. That's probably close to 50%. If this is so, the Senate ought to pursue the rationale supporting this. At any rate, expect Dean Gonzalez to be a big supporter.)

When the rhetorical barrage occurs, I hope that senators consider the following:

1. Deans keep their jobs at the pleasure of the Provost;
2. Some of these deans had napkins tucked under their chins as they contemplated the gobbling up of Science and Mathematics and the amalgamation of Arts and Humanities with Social Science;
3. Not all the deans will be speaking.
4. The Academic Senate is a faculty institution representing the faculty. How does your department want you to vote?

The deans may well have important things to say about searches now in progress, and of course, senators need to rationally consider whatever facts the deans present. But with regard to cohort hiring in general, they are not free from pressure, and the faculty's opinion is better than theirs for that reason alone. Senators, I recommend the following mantra: "I don't care what the deans think. . . I don't care what the deans think."

This is another Academic Senate meeting in which the presence of the faculty is very important. I can't think of anything that affects the culture of a department more than hiring decisions. Professors, if you can possibly make it, come to this meeting. Your presence will speak for itself.

One last thing: THE VOTE ON THIS RESOLUTION MUST BE BY SECRET BALLOT. The reasons are obvious: this is going to be a pressurized meeting. As much pressure should be taken off senators as possible when it comes to the final vote. Senators should not have to worry about incurring the displeasure of a dean or the provost when casting their ballots.

Here is the resolution:

Academic Senate Resolution on Cohort Hiring Through the Office of the Provost

Whereas:  California State University, Fresno currently faces a base budget gap of $900,000-1.2 million for the academic year 2011-12 and the possibility of an additional  $11 million cut for the academic year 2012-13; and

Whereas:  The recommendations from the Academic Affairs Budgetary Advisory Task Force (AABATF) for cuts within Academic Affairs are restricted to cuts at the College/School level and below; and

Whereas:  Colleges/Schools and Departments have already absorbed substantial cuts which have resulted in fewer sections of classes offered, larger classes, the inability to replace faculty who have retired or left, the inability to hire faculty to develop and teach curriculum in crucial areas of need; and

Whereas:  The further cuts that will be imposed will undoubtedly restrict the hiring of new faculty for Colleges/Schools and Departments; and

Whereas:  The Provost currently has a policy of “cohort hiring,” by which one or more central themes are selected and Colleges/Schools and Departments are encouraged to request a faculty position that relates to or falls within that theme; and

 Whereas: Curriculum and instruction are the purview of the faculty, and the faculty are best positioned to identify the needs of Colleges/Schools and Departments based on such factors as the specialties and interests of current faculty, current trends in the discipline, needs in the geographic region, employment potential for graduates, and accreditation requirements; and

Whereas:  The policy of cohort hiring shapes curriculum and instruction by giving priority to cohort hires and by taking away money from other hires determined to be crucial by Colleges/Schools and Departments, giving unprecedented control over curriculum and instruction to the Provost;

Whereas:  In this time of severe budget cutbacks, any hiring that continues to be possible must be directed at the crucial needs of Colleges/Schools and Departments as identified by faculty; therefore be it

Resolved:  That the Provost’s Office should suspend all cohort hiring, including the searches currently underway; and be it further

Resolved:  That the money allocated for cohort hiring either be used for faculty positions identified by faculty as crucial for College/Schools and Departments or distributed to College/Schools for other purposes vital to maintaining curriculum and ensuring students access to classes and timely completion of degrees; and be it further               

Resolved:  That this resolution be forwarded to the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and the University President.

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