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.”

Monday, April 9, 2012

Academic Senate Meeting of April 9: Dean Vida Samiian Addresses Cohort Hiring

Today's Academic Senate meeting was long and complex. But mainly, there were three items of significance:

1. The Resolution on Cohort Hiring was significantly amended for the better;

2. Dean Vida Samiian argued against current funding practices for cohort hiring;

3. Jacinta Amaral introduced a new motion calling for Senate consultation regarding the name change of Fresno State.

First, the amendments. It became obvious after the last senate meeting in which Provost Covino announced that he was "partnering" on 25 hires having nothing to do with cohorts that cohort hiring was not the main problem facing the senate. Rather, the problem was how hiring was funded. Would funding for hires be provided to the colleges and schools in full, as had been the practice for twenty years before the arrival of Provost Covino, or would larger and larger portions of hiring money and faculty salaries be controlled by the Provost?

To put this in the simplest way: the question is who gets the most say in who is hired. Although the provost has always had final approval over hiring, giving him control over funding, even at the 50% level, gives him much more control over hiring decisions than the provost has had in the past. Instead of approving reasonable decisions and disapproving unreasonable ones--the main extent of a provost's previous duty--he now gets to set the hiring agenda. As a friend of mine says, he who has the peso has the say so.  I for one do not believe that, relative to departments, the provost is in an informed enough position to make agenda setting decisions, although he has every right to veto an unreasonable hire.

So, today the Senate redirected the language of the "Cohort Hiring Resolution" to address the funding of hiring in general.

To do this, two of the resolves were replaced by these:

Resolved: That the Provost's Office should suspend all future cohort hiring. [Thus, this  year's cohort hiring is not affected.]

Resolved: That all money allocated for all faculty hiring be distributed to Colleges / Schools according to the Level B funding model in place before the current practice of cohort hiring began.

These friendly amendments were introduced by Honora Chapman and Kevin Ayotte, respectively, and so received by Chris Henson.

At the bottom of this blog in red is the language of the Resolution on Cohort Hiring as it stands now. (I would suggest that at the next Senate meeting, the title of the resolution also be changed, as it is no longer a motion specifically directed toward cohort hiring, but toward hiring in general and the way it is funded.)

At this point, discussion began. The first speaker was Dean Vida Samiian of Arts and Humanities. Here is her remarkable statement in full:

Vida Samiian: Since my name was mentioned at the last Senate meeting as a dean who supported the Cohort Hires, I need to clarify my position on the issue: First, I would not adopt centrally funded cohort hiring if I had a choice. Of course, I did cooperate with the initiative initially and continue to participate because of the budget implications for the College.

Also, I want to say that the two most important pillars that hold the academy--our university--as a center of learning and discovery of knowledge--are (1) academic freedom and (2) shared governance. What I see here [gesturing to the Senate] is an example of shared governance. As a dean, I thank you for your commitment and am honored to address the faculty Senate.

The problem with the cohort hires, which was not evident initially, lies in the funding process associated with it. If cohort hiring requested voluntary participation from colleges and departments--with no additional financial incentive, there would be no problem. Obviously, departments would participate only if their critical hiring needs matched the proposed themes.

The centralized funding for the cohorts is the problem, because it has created a "carrot and stick" incentive, especially hard to refuse during a period of budgetary reduction. But more importantly, it changes the transparent decentralized level B allocation model that has operated effectively over the last 20 years. With the centralized funding for the cohort hires--and now for an additional 25 positions--we will see a shift from decentralized to centralized distribution that will come in a gradual and nontransparent way.

Within academic affairs, the decentralized Level B allocations use a formula that takes into account a number of factors, most importantly FTES targets and the mode and level of delivery of each college. Even though the formula is complex, the distribution is transparent because the University Budget Committee is involved in the development and revision of the formula.

Funding for centralized cohorts has to come out of Academic Affairs--off the top or off the side. The positions are distributed, through negotiations between the deans and the provost. And the factors determining the ultimate decision are not clear.

The long-term impact of such a practice is even more alarming because the funds that are used for the centrally funded hires are academic affairs funds, and as such, could 
and should be distributed according to level B allocations.

The long-term impact is also alarming because the commitment to funding these positions is not just for one year but on-going. So each year, new cohorts get added to existing ones and therefore the portion of funding that needs to be kept centrally i.e., not distributed through the formula--will have to be increased? 

The escalating impact over the next couple of years is serious:

After fourteen searches in 2010-2011, eleven new centrally funded hires came on board in 2011-12, for three cohort themes. Seven searches are currently underway--five for a water cohort and two for previous cohorts.

That creates a total of eighteen cohort positions to be funded "centrally" in 2012-2013, along with a proposed "Multiculturalism" cohort and searches for twenty-five more centrally funded positions.

In 2013-2014 we will be up to forty-three centrally funded-positions [11 + 7 + 25] at an estimated cost of $2,000,000 kept centrally in Academic Affairs for these positions. 

A compelling reason to overturn a long-standing, effective Level B funding distribution process has not been made. Funding for these centralized positions is not part of the Academic Affairs allocation and it would be more transparent if they were distributed according to formula to schools and colleges. This would allow each college to consider priorities based on departmental critical hiring needs and not based on thematic concepts proposed centrally.

To summarize, I see that the cohort hiring process and the centrally-funded positions lead to an undesirable trend against transparency and against the decentralized budget allocation with the outcome of taking decision-making away from the collective wisdom of faculty and departments.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you on this important matter.

The Senate, which had been utterly silent during Dean Samiian's statement, applauded her at length. It was, in my 30 years as a university teacher, the most courageous and forthright speech I have ever witnessed.

Forty-five minutes of discussion went on after Dean Samiian's speech, much of it very important. This included a reply to Dean Samiian by Provost Covino. Also, earlier in the meeting, Jacinta Amaral introduced the following resolution under new business (this is to the best of my recollection, and probably not the exact wording): 

Whereas: There have been continuous efforts and initiatives over the years to establish a name for this university, and

Whereas: the Academic Senate of California State University Fresno has not been consulted recently regarding this matter;

Therefore, be it resolved: that this Faculty Senate urge the President to revisit this important issue and consider whether or not the ends used for this change could not be better used to expand course offerings.

This entry has gone on long enough, I think. Certainly, what Dean Samiian had to say is the most important thing in it. If time allows this week, I will present some of the more important speeches, at least in paraphrase, and add a few of my own thoughts about the financial implications of centrally funded hiring. (It will eventually reduce the overall allocation to Level B: the schools and colleges. What looks like a handout from the Provost involves a big bill for Level B farther down the road.) I would like to summarize the Provost's response tonight, but am reluctant to do so without hearing the Senate recording, so look for that in the future.

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 [this language was changed, and what is below was substituted]

Resolved: That the Provost's Office should suspend all cohort hiring; 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 [this language was changed, and what is below was substituted]
Resolved: That all money allocated for all faculty hiring be distributed to Colleges / Schools according to the Level B funding model in place before the current practice of cohort hiring began; 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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