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.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cohort Hiring and the Provost

Craig Bernthal

Two things struck me about the Senate meeting on Monday with regard to the motion on suspending cohort hiring. One was that, as per usual, the administration was giving the faculty a snow job. Apparently Provost Covino rather modestly suggested there be cohorts, the deans spontaneously sang “Hallelujah!” and charged out the door to get him what he wanted. They are now beside themselves with joy at the results.

            You wanna buy a bridge in Brooklyn? For cheap? I thought of doing a detailed analysis of the games being played at the meeting, but what’s the point? Like good birdwatchers, at this point, we can tell a hawk from a handsaw.
The problem that the faculty faces is not actually even cohort hiring v. not cohort hiring. The problem is the role the provost has grabbed for himself in cohort hiring. Here is what I believe: The provost ought to have virtually no role in hiring. If there are to be cohorts, they should be the product of decisions made by departments and deans working in cooperation when mutual needs can be satisfied by hiring in cohorts.

Cohort hiring as imposed on the faculty and managed by the provost is going to make a mess of the faculty by misallocating resources.

In the past, funding for hiring was distributed to the schools according to a formula taking into account many factors related to the delivery of instruction and the number of students served by each school. Departments, after prioritizing hiring needs and in consultation with their deans, made rational decisions about which positions would be filled. There was nothing arbitrary about this procedure. Choice operated within the constraints of whatever allocation was determined by the formula. Cohort hiring could be done within this model by the voluntary cooperation of departments and schools who recognized the value of creating a cohort.

Now the provost has introduced a cohort hiring process that is ungoverned by formula—ungoverned, ultimately, by anything but his own will, since he decides on the theme for the cohort. Cohort hiring is centrally funded, and those funds, which normally would have been distributed to the schools, are now withheld to pay the wages/benefits of cohort hires. The provost pays for 50% of a cohort faculty member’s salary and benefits for the duration of that person’s tenure at Fresno State. Each year, as more and more cohort faculty are hired, this central fund will grow. As time goes by, the provost’s designation of cohorts will determine more and more what this university’s faculty professes. Academic senators and their departments have to ask whether this is a good thing. Senators, do you want the provost to have the final say about the composition of the faculty of this university, or do you want your department to determine it’s own faculty needs and hence, it’s own curriculum? Ask your department whether it wants to cede this kind of power to the provost.

If cohort hiring is to be done, it ought to be funded at the college level, after money is allocated by formula, so that departments and schools can participate as they see the need. If the faculty decides that cohort hiring is good, fine. Let the schools fund them. The question is not whether there should or should not be cohort hiring but whether the provost should impose cohort hiring. The faculty could have hired cohorts under the old scheme and still can if it wants.

Cohort hiring as we now have it puts departments in the urgent position of having to acquiesce in the provost’s cohort process—i.e., kowtow to the provost’s latest decision on what the faculty should look like—or miss out on hiring altogether. Thus History, which needed a professor of Asian history, lost out because it didn’t fit into a cohort. English, which for years has been in serious need of an English Education professor, couldn’t fit that into a cohort and lost out. Sometimes departments are able to bend a need to fit a cohort, such as was the case in Mass Communications Journalism, related by Tamyra Pierce. Sometime the cohort exactly fits a need, such geology’s need for a hydrologist. And certainly deans and departments that can get hires in no other way will try to find ways to get into the cohort, even if it takes distorting a job description with RTP complications down the line. This is not the optimum way to fill urgent hiring needs during a funding crisis. Again, we see policy that in fact flies in the face of the funding crisis by less rationally allocating resources.

Here is what the Senate ought to do:

1.     Take the provost out of the cohort hiring process; it is not the provost’s job to create a faculty or a curriculum;
2.     Affirm that departments in consultation with deans are the best determiners of hiring needs and how to fill them;
3.     Allow departments and schools to form cohorts and hire in cohorts if that best fulfills their needs;
4.     Fund all hiring according to the allocation formulas for level B.

No one with a vote in the senate ought to mistake the real issue at stake: the right of faculty to determine curriculum and instruction.

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