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 24, 2012

Senate Meeting of March 19: Virtual Transcript on Cohort Hiring Issue

As a prelude to this Monday’s senate meeting, I offer this review of what was said with regard to Chris Henson’s resolution to suspend cohort hiring. What follows is a virtual transcript of the last 25 minutes of the senate meeting, if not a word for word transcription, from the CD provided to me by Venita Baker at the Academic Senate Office. (If anyone thinks they’ve been misquoted or want to fill out what they’ve said, please use the comments sections, below.)

I spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening trying to extract what follows, and I got at least one surprise—a statement by the provost in response to a question by Melanie Ram, the significance of which blew past me completely during the meeting. I have italicized this in the transcript, but I want to highlight the statement now. In response to Ram's question about the funding for non-cohort positions, Provost Covino said the following: "I recently met with the deans and indicated to them that I do have funding available to partner with them on up to 25 positions." The italics are mine. I think the senate needs to find out exactly what the provost meant. Does this mean that the provost is now going to fund other or perhaps all hires at the 50% rate at which he is now funding cohort hires? If so, that means he is virtually assuming control of all hiring. (To state another obvious fact, it is the number of hires that affect the budget, not who decides the hires.)

It is hard not to get the sense, in listening to what follows, that deans and department chairs think they are getting a special favor by being given a cohort hire--that they've hit the lotto, so to speak. But the jackpot is made of money that would normally go to the schools, so departments could hire according to their own priorities. Now it is being withheld, and the provost holds the purse strings. 

The discussion of the resolution to suspend cohort hiring started at 4:55 p.m., with scant time to develop, and began with Chris Henson reading the motion. She then made the following argument in favor of the motion, which was seconded by Jacinta Amaral.

Chris Henson (English):

“In the past, there have been budget cutbacks. I have been through a couple of rounds of those. And always during times of budget cutbacks hiring has been restricted to urgent positions, positions that were absolutely crucial. Those identified first at the department level and then, of course, that often has to be sorted out at the college and school level. But always the hires that were made in this kind of budget cutback were those that were identified as absolutely urgent hires.
“Currently we face budget cutbacks more grim than any I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve been here for a long time. Already, as the motion indicates, we have already experienced cutbacks in numbers of sections of classes, larger class size, an additional push for even larger class sizes: mega-classes. There are in lots of departments positions that are really urgent which for a variety of reasons departments have not been able to hire, and it seems to me those restrictions will probably continue.
“If we look at the resolutions that came from the budget task force, those resolutions called for aggressive enrollment management, redesigning curricula, redesigning courses, scheduling efficiency, and for all undergraduate and graduate programs to be reviewed. And I certainly understand those are all important, but it seems to me, that all of those are probably going to lead to additional cuts in numbers of sections offered, additional pressure for larger class sizes, and if all programs are going to be reviewed, there is also the possibility that some programs could be cut. Also, it leads to the idea that hiring will in fact be restricted.
"Given all of that, and given the fact that we face a possibility of another $11 million dollar cut, it seems to me we need to go to the policy that has been in place in the past, where any hiring that is going to be made, particularly until we know about further budget cuts, and this is a matter of uncertainty at this point, that any hiring should be on an urgent basis based on the need at the department level. So, given that, what I think is most important is the first resolve, which says that the provost’s office should “suspend” cohort hiring, not that it be ended completely. That seems to me to be only a very rational thing to do in a time of great uncertainty about the budget. So I hope that you will support this resolution.”

Alex Alexandrou (Plant Science): “Perhaps the Provost can speak a little bit about this cohort policy, and what was the essential thing currently advertised, so that we get the full picture of what’s going on.”

Provost Bill Covino: “I’m not sure precisely what you want to know.”

Alex Alexandrou: “At the time this policy . . .  why you introduced this policy, what was the reason.” [this is not completely audible on the CD]

Provost Covino: Yes. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now. The deans can correct me if I’m misremembering any part of our discussions. I went to the school and college deans, and I asked them, as is conventionally the case, to identify the high priority needs of their departments. I also asked them to think about whether any of these positions had elements that overlapped with any others, that would allow us to, consistent with out own strategic plan, and consistent with developing productive synergies, and consistent with attracting highly qualified faculty, whether any of these positions had elements that would overlap the others. So that we could make it possible for faculty hiring with membership in a cohort that would engage in collaborative work on something: research, curricular, or outreach issues.
The deans came back to me, and I said I would help to fund these positions. The deans came back to me with three categories: Category 1 was World Cultures and Globalization. This was particularly advocated by Dean Samiian; in fact, she is right now acting as facilitator of that program. Then Urban and Regional Transformation was the second cohort. The third cohort is a health cohort: Physical, Psychological and Environmental Health. The deans felt that these were broadly based categories, that there were a number of positions they indeed did need, that they would be going forward with in any case, that could benefit a dimension that in effect said to faculty who were applying that if you take this position, there will be a cohort faculty that is interested in working with you or with dimensions of what you do, built in along with your departmental faculty.  So that was the initial intent. And I don’t want to go on about how it has played out. I don’t want to take up your time. We went on to identify a cohort in water for which we also got a significant gift.”

Melanie Ram (Political Science): “Since you agree that the high priority needs of the colleges and departments are first and foremost, would you be willing to fund those positions that meet high priority needs if they did not meet the urgent needs for departments and colleges, if they did not fit into the form of cohorts?”

Provost Covino: "Yes. I recently met with the deans and indicated to them that I do have funding available to partner with them on up to 25 positions. I would like to see some of those positions considered as cohort positions, so we can continue to develop these. Other positions speak to other needs. I would like all positions to be addressing departmental and college needs that are important."

John Wakabayashi (Earth and Environmental Science) “I’m from a department that one of our faculty searches is in fact part of a cohort. We had a specific need. We had two specific needs in terms of retirements of faculty and core courses and subject areas that needed to be covered. So one of those positions, for a hydrogeologist—the cohort hire—was a need of ours anyway. But what might be more informative to the body [the Senate] is: Were there positions identified as part of this cohort hiring that were not identified as department needs?”

There was a long pause here with no answer, so Wakabayashi repeated his question: “Are there cases where there were positions that have been part of this cohort hire that searches have been initiated that were not previously identified as critical department needs?”

Although one might have expected the Provost to answer the question, it is Dean Luz Gonzalez who speaks:

Dean Gonzalez (Social Science): "I can only speak for the College. We initially .  . I think what’s missing here is the sort of things that transpired from the time we started with the cohorts to the time of the budget crisis. Initially we identified as deans a series of searches that were identified as critical to the departments. We had eight in the College of Social Sciences. Two of them, it was an agreement that they did not fit into the cohort, and those were the law enforcement, so the provost went ahead and approved those, because as I said, they don’t fit into any of the three cohorts that we have, and then after we identified those six he agreed to fund two, and so we went forward with all eight, four of them completely covered by the college, two of them by him, and your two. Then the budget, there was another issue with the budget,  we knew we couldn’t afford it, so of the critical positions we had to make a decision and eliminate four. Because we knew we couldn’t go into 11-12 with eight positions in our college and afford all of them. There was just no way. So all of them were critical. We decided to put a lot of them in cohorts because they fit. But in the end we could do four. One for criminology, one was for the department of Chicano studies, the econometrics, and an urban planner. So yes, and sort of no, but."

Dean Paul Beare (Kremen): "We had four searches this year, they were all critical. One was a cohort hire in the Water. I know in some of your searches you get hundreds of applicants. In teacher education over the years more of our searches fail than succeed, partly because almost everybody is making more money in the public schools than they make when they come to us. We searched for a science educator, which is the hardest area in teacher ed. to fill.  Amazingly we got four qualified applicants. Two took jobs before they got here. Two interviewed; they both wanted the jobs. We got one, and he said the cohort was his motivating factor to come here. That he knew he’d have peers that were interested in the same research area as him. I never expected to fill that position. I’m convinced we wouldn’t have if wouldn’t have had the cohort."

Jacinta Amaral (State Wide Senate): "I like the idea of cohort funding. However, I’m very concerned about the funding stream for this and how long would the provost’s money stay with that hire. At some point, would a department be told, now it’s all yours. What happens to cohort funding should we change provosts. How is it set up to protect departments over time?"

Provost Covino: "The funding that’s provided is permanent. It recurs every year. Of course, if there is a dramatic budget cut, it might have us considering all kinds of things, that’s another issue. But as with any tenure track hire, the funding is permanent."

Tamyra Pierce (Chair, Mass Communications Journalism) "We had a desperate need for a video production person. Where does a video production person fit into a Water Cohort? That’s what we initially asked and thought, how we were going to do that. Then we realized, oh of course, they could do a documentary and things like that. We had a massive pool, and some of our top candidates are interested and have done work with water and other environmental factors. And so when we initially thought how are we going to fit into this cohort, we could not have foreseen this. We realized we could work with it and fit ourselves into it."

At this point, Michael Caldwell asked Chris Henson for a quick review about what she said about past policy, but she clarified that she was talking about past practices.

Thomas Holyoke (University Wide Senator): “I guess as I see this, this is really an issue of control and who has it. There has been a great deal of movement of faculty into FERPing and therefore considerable loss of faculty and inability of many departments to continue to offer the programs that they have now. And I have a little bit of sympathy for the cohort idea, but first and foremost, departments need to be able to continue the programs they have and be able to hire people who are primarily able to do those programs. Now if it happens that a candidate that is perfect for the hole the department has, as determined by the department, also happens to have some other additional specialties, as I guess is what happened with MCJ, I guess I’m perfectly OK with that. But I think, as one sympathetic to this resolution that first and foremost departments during these tight budget times who are losing faculty at enormous rates need to be able to continue the programs that they feel are in the best interest of the students. And that is the type of control I think is the most important.”

I have only a few comments. First, John Wakabayashi's excellent question, "Were cohort hires approved that were not considered to be urgent departmental hires?" was never answered, though he asked it twice.

Second, Jacinta Amaral's question about the funding stream for cohort hires was never quite answered. Although the provost said the funding would be permanent, he did not say whether the funding would be permanently out of his office or whether it would shift to the schools. If the provost is "partnering" on 25 hires this coming year, whether cohort or not, this question becomes even more important. What that "partnering" means must be pinned down at the next meeting.

No detailed information was offered about the deans' reaction when cohort hiring and its funding was first announced by the provost as a policy. No information was offered by deans regarding how their department chairs reacted. No information was offered by chairs about how their faculty reacted, except implicitly by Tamyra Pierce.

Tamyra Pierce provided a good example of how departments will adjust their hiring needs--or at least their job descriptions--to get into the cohort hiring money.

Tom Holyoke hit the nail on the head.

In a previous blog on this meeting I said that the faculty had been given the usual snow job. I have not changed my position on that weather report. And just when the discussion was getting going, the meeting was brought to a close with the swift finality of a sushi chef beheading a fresh fish.

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