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.”

Monday, April 16, 2012

Academic Senate Meeting of April 9, Part 2

Craig Bernthal

I have already set forth some of what happened at last senate meeting in my preceding blog, which is on this website immediately before this blog. Many important points were raised after Vida Samiian’s statement, including Provost Covino’s response, and I will try now to report more fully on the meeting as a whole. (I have done my level best to make this accurate, and have done a virtual transcript, from the Senate recording, of Provost Covino’s statement on hiring and some of the other comments by senators. Direct quotations use quotation marks, paraphrases do not. If those who spoke (or were present as auditors) spot an inaccuracy or want to make a fuller statement, I hope they will use the comment portion of this blog for correction and addition.)

The first half hour of the Senate Meeting was devoted to a communication about the Common Ground Initiative from Technology Services. This announcement, which was promised to be short, took up a surprising amount of time—over half an hour. The senate could have been referred to the important links and given the major points, in about five minutes. See these at:

After this communication, Jacinta Amaral moved to extend the meeting to 5:30, which seemed to be the only way anything would be accomplished, and this was passed. Chair Michael Caldwell noted that this would make him late for a subsequent meeting and that he would have to turn the meeting over to the Vice-Chair. As it transpired, however, he did chair the entire meeting. (When this motion came up for a vote, one senator spoke in opposition, but the motion to go 15 minutes longer was passed.)

Jacinta Amaral then introduced a resolution asking the president to revisit the motion of “rebranding” Fresno State. This motion was added to the agenda, but time ran out before it could be discussed. (How the senate will approach this motion at the coming meeting, now that the new logo has been given to the public, is an interesting question.)

The reassignment of the department of Economics from Social Science to the Craig School of Business was discussed. This item did not have to be approved by the senate; but, it was presented, by Sean Alley, and discussed. Econ’s move to the Craig School of Business was unanimously supported by the Economics faculty after “a lot of soul searching.” One of the motivations was that recruiting and retaining faculty had been very hard, and the economics faculty felt the move would help to address that problem.

Two comments were made, one by Jan Slagter, who suggested that aligning Economics with business would shift the focus of the department, so that it became more oriented to business and less to models more broadly associated with social science. [I am paraphrasing rather freely here, but I think I have Jan’s point correctly, and I agree with it. Once again, this is a move toward an applied disciplinary model, rather than one which seeks understanding for its own sake, regardless of any particular application. This is one more example of the direction of Fresno State.]

Sean Fullop (Linguistics) congratulated the department of Economics on its move to a school in which it would have more resources and probably higher pay, but noted it was unfortunate that most departments on campus did not have that option. “It concerns me that a department has an opportunity to make this maneuver to better itself, but not all departments can do that. The rest of us have to waive a sign in front of the Long Beach headquarters if we want things to change. That doesn’t work too well, we’ve found.”

At this point, the senate returned to discussion of the cohort hiring issue. It began with Vida Samiian’s statement, which I include once again, so that you don’t have to bounce between blogs if you want to refer to it:

Dean Vida Samiian (Arts and Humanities): 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 Cohort Hiring motion was then amended by Honora Chapman and Kevin Ayotte as indicated in the previous blog about this meeting. What followed during the rest of the meeting was essentially a response to Dean Samiian's statement. 

That response began as follows:

Linda Hauser (Educational Research and Administration): Our school does support the cohort hiring model, because it aligns with the university strategic plan, specifically in the area of transformational scholarship. Under our strategic plan we’ve stated that we are committed to transformational scholarship that addresses regional issues specifically targeting investment that emphasizes interdisciplinary research, and we see this as a method that helps us do that. Also our strategic plan includes the capacity to build partnerships in areas of emerging and vital importance which includes water, resources management, atmospheric pollution, and health disparity.  It increases faculty collaborative research options across disciplines, and we see that’s one method that assists us in doing it. We’ve found it to be a valuable process for us thus far. (Dr. Hauser also reiterated what Dean Paul Beare had said at a previous meeting, about how cohort hiring had attracted faculty to the school of education.

Dean Bob Harper (Craig School of Business): We’ve had positive experience with the cohort hire. We hired two people in cohort positions, and part of the attraction for them was the opportunity to work in cohorts. (Dean Harper also indicated that The Task Force charge was to suggest cuts within academic affairs rather than just at the school / college level or below, so he felt that the “whereas” in the motion was inaccurate. For instance, centers and institutes are not all within colleges or schools, but they were considered by the Task Force.

Kevin Ayotte (Communication): In reply mainly to Linda Hauser explained that the resolution was not against cohort hiring but against the circumvention of the Level B allocation model for hiring. Cohorts could still be hired, but within the Level B funding model, which assured a more equitable division of hiring among the schools and colleges.

Chair Michael Caldwell noted that one of the resolves eliminated cohort hiring from the provost’s office, and he did not see how that was consistent with what Kevin Ayotte had said about the motion not being against cohort hiring. [I do not think there is an inconsistency. The key phrase is “from the provost’s office.” Cohort hiring could continue, by arrangement among the schools, but according to the Level B funding allocation.]

Sean Fullop (Linguistics): The thing that concerns me about the cohort hiring as it is currently being done is that I’m not sure who dreamed up the cohorts. So that, normally, faculty in departments decide what they want to emphasize and who they want to hire, so there is a collective consciousness from the people who already work here as to the direction they want to move toward. Here, cohorts came from . . . I don’t actually know where. And as they were suggested, they seem to have ignored some of the already existing interdisciplinary initiatives on the campus, so there are existing interdisciplinary programs that are dying, that are not provided with a cohort which could have saved them, such as cognitive science, which I direct, and which I am now winding down and discontinuing. But, just as the program was getting legs, we have to wind it down. Its just an example where the program already existed, but whoever dreamt up the cohorts did not have it on their radar. Maybe we should start with the programs we already have.

Chairman Michael Caldwell: "I haven't watched Jeopardy since 1995, but it sounded like there was a question in your comments, so if you'd like to have that question addressed, we could see if there's anybody present today who could answer how the cohort were 'dreamt up.' . . . anyone who would like to speak to that? Who was involved with shaping or determining cohorts?"

Provost Covino: "I had some role in that, as I said at the last senate meeting, but I’m happy to reiterate it. I discussed the idea of interdisciplinary cohorts faculty with all the school and college deans. I indicated to them at the time that there was funding that was sitting in the Academic Affairs budget when I came here in a line item that said “Faculty Appointments.” And I felt that that provided a very good opportunity for us to discuss what their needs were and what additional dollars could be devoted to them. So I asked the school and college deans to first of all determine what kind of faculty positions—I presume they do this in consultation with the faculty and the chairs, although I’m not in that process—that they determine what kinds of faculty positions are most needed in their departments and programs, and then secondarily ask themselves whether there were any overarching qualities that would allow us to crosscut some of these positions so that they formed a cohort that focused on a certain task. And I asked the deans to come back to me with these categories.

            “At the meeting at which they returned with information about the categories and the positions, they proposed three categories at that time: Globalization and World Cultures, which Dean Samiian is strongly coordinating and mentoring; Urban and Regional Transformation, which Dean Gonzalez and Dean Harper are coordinating; and Physical, Environmental, and Psychological Health, which Dean Hoff and Dr. Casandra Joubert are coordinating.

            “This past year, as we were developing the strategic plan, former Dean Andrew Rogerson proposed to the deans in general that Water needed to be a priority for this university for a number of reasons, some of which are apparent. And he asked the deans to consult with their faculty to determine whether there were positions that would be useful in forming an interdisciplinary cohort focusing on water quality, water technology, water access, etcetera. The deans then returned to me with an idea for a Water cohort, and we have five searches going on in that area this year, with three authorized for next year. We have also received a $300,000 gift from [hard to discern: Columba Valve?] for the Global Water Cohort. That is the way the cohort categories have evolved.

            “I can’t tell you what kind of consultation went on at the school and college level. I simply asked the deans to come back.

“And this year I once again pointed at some dollars that were made available not as part of [inaudible] growth allocation process, but as part of a process of rebating some benefits dollars that are coming back to all the divisions. When I saw that rebate, I discussed this in some detail with the University Budget Committee. When I saw that rebate I decided that should be allocated out to the schools and colleges as faculty positions. I went back to the deans. I said to them, look, I know things are tight, I know that you have some dollars you want to devote to replacement positions, but if we use these dollars, and we share them, if I provide part of the dollars for positions and you provide some dollars for that position, we can get more positions. We can multiply faculty positions and we can therefore hire more faculty. I asked them then to consider whether they would like any of these positions, of this search next year, to be faculty cohorts, and said I would encourage each college to come up with one, and whether they would like any of these positions to be shared positions, in which I would help with the funding. They have since returned with requests for 50 positions; half of the positions will be funded by schools and colleges and are essentially replacement positions; the other half, about 25, are being proposed as shared funding positions, in which I provide half and they provide half, in which case we get 25 positions out of that instead of 10 or 12. And some of those are cohort positions and some of them are not cohort positions. They are simply positions that deans have come to me about and said ‘I’d like some help with this one,’ and since I have these dollars to help, which I would not normally have, because normally the dollars are all just allocated out by formula, I’m certainly willing to consider that. So, that gives you more than what you asked for, I realize that, and I apologize if I’m speaking too long, but we can always move to have the meeting go to 5:45 [laugher].

“That said, I do want to also comment, I have to read Dean Samiian’s words in order to respond more fully. I think there are some matters there that I don’t agree with, that I don’t think for a microsecond are accurate, but if it is necessary to respond, then I will, but apart from that, I do want to note that I don’t think, from the position of provost, and having the sole responsibility for the appointment, hiring, and determination of tenure-track faculty positions, as indicated in university policy, I don’t from this position think that we should routinely allocate faculty positions according to formula. I don’t think that it is necessarily the case that the size of a college should determine the dollars that are available for positions, because there is a great range of kinds of needs, of histories of positions, and filling of positions, or program demand and lack of demand, of student demand and lack of demand, of priorities of research and for teaching that need to be considered.

“So, as I rehearse for you what the process is, I will tell you that routinely, cohort or no cohort, the process is this: the deans consult with the faculty and chairs, the deans then prioritize the positions. So the deans will routinely get a dozen requests and say, well, you know, maybe we can do eight. They prioritize the positions. They come to me. We have another negotiation about positions. I ask a lot of questions. We talk about where this would fit into the mission of the college relative to the university, etcetera, and then I’m left with the responsibility for determining which positions will be offered. This has been the process that has been followed for years with prior provosts. I confirmed this with Provost Echeverria, who happened to be here, and others. And that is the process followed by every other university I’ve worked in. So faculty are crucial, they’re important, they require consultation and input from the faculty and the departments, and they should not be automatic or formulaic.”

Tom Holyoke (Political Science): I just wanted to mention a few things about how cohort hiring worked for us in the College of Social Sciences because for us it broke down at the internal level. There was no consultation that really took place. Our department needed an IR professor [International Relations], which we’ve been needing for years. We were told that because everything was being done as cohort hires now, that we could only have this if we could share it with another department. We weren’t very happy with that idea, but . . .  OK. Then out of the blue we were told , Oh, you’re going to be doing a second joint hire with a different department that will fit into one of the provost’s cohorts, and we weren’t’ quite sure why we wanted this or what we were going to do with this person, but we were told we were going to have to share this person with another department and we’d have to figure something out. So we spent two disastrous months trying to write job descriptions. In the end, we couldn’t get candidates that we wanted. In the end, the Political Science Dept. backed out of all hires.
Now, people were hired. We had two departments that were able to hire, and they hired good people, but the people who came into our pool just did not fit our needs. Now, this was not the provost’s fault, but cohort hiring, within the internal complications of the College of Social Sciences, did not work.

Member of the Physics Department [Sorry, sir, I cannot discern your name. Doug Singleton?]: We were never actually consulted by the dean as to cohort hires. They actually came to us and said, these are the cohort hires. So [to Provost Covino] you might want to check with the deans and see if they are actually consulting with us, because they’re not [laughter].

Dean Vida Samiian: “I’m one of the deans [laughter] that ‘dreamed up’ this Cohort of Global Studies and World Culture. The issue is that we have 10, 15 critical positions. So as a dean, I had to think, what cohort could maybe cover—could become an umbrella—for a couple of these positions. And of course it was a difficult task to convince the department chairs to use it, because they were saying it would limit the pool of applicants. So, for example, this year, right now, a couple of the deans have proposed a Multiculturalism Cohort. Now, I need to see if of the 12 positions that have been requested any one of them can fit—can stretch—to fit under this cohort. I mean, sometimes you can stretch it, but the issue is . . . Provost Covino is correct, [in previous years] there always was consultation with the provost. . . but the funding was at the college level. So the deans did not have to manipulate and maneuver to fit the positions under some cohort, but could prioritize their requests within the college, and of course then had to consult with the provost and show that there is funding within the college and there is demand, programmatic demand, programmatic demand has priority.
“So this is the problem I see with the centralization of hiring that I was trying to explain. Because I think that over the years, if we continue this, and continue to use centralized funds for faculty salary, we’re going to have to change the allocation to some extent.”

Melanie Ram (Political Science): Before we can determine the value of a cohort, we need an inventory of faculty who are already interested in the cohort. We may not be bringing in people who are more interested in the cohort subject than any number of people who are already on campus. For instance, I don’t remember an inventory being taken on campus of people who are interested in Globalization. We already have a lot of people who are already experts on these issues, so we may be duplicating faculty resources that we already have. We can’t know the specific added value of a cohort until we figure out how many people we already have in any area and what we need in addition to that.

Alex Alexandrou (Plant Science): I agree with my colleague [Melanie Ram]. We need a system where we can record the academic interests of the current faculty members. We don’t know what we’re doing. We need to move to identify the talent we have.

Jacinta Amaral (Modern and Classical Languages): “I’m very concerned about this issue, because in 1997, the current Chancellor, Charles Reid, and the previous Chancellor, Barry Munitz, worked together to prepare a paper that was funded by the Rand Corporation, and the title is Breaking the Social Contract. At this point you can get it on Amazon for $5. The paper addressed the crisis of higher education in the United States and the fiscal crisis in California. They make their case for the fiscal crisis, and then, what can be done on the academic side of the house. Their ultimate conclusion in regard to the major problem in getting universities to survive, fiscally and every other way, had to do with the department structure. There are statements in the report that simply say, faculty don’t know who needs to be hired. That was 1997, and I see in my work in the senate, over time, the gradual erosion of shared governance and also our academic freedom through defining what persons need to be hired, and Dr. Chapman is acquainted with my favorite example in the report, that is, who is to say that any classicist knows who should be hired? Should another Latin teacher be hired? So as you think about this issue, keep in mind that our current chancellor, our former chancellor, have been working on how not to have faculty involved in hiring.”

Don Austin (Industrial Technology): “I always fall back to the very basic question, what is trying to be accomplished by cohort hiring? Are we as a university wanting to tackle major issues of transformation of urban areas and of this valley, which is a huge thing to be fixed. We’ve got problems here and the university could accomplish. Is it going to be done through hiring cohort faculty to do that? The water issues, the multicultural issues—is that the goal of this, or is it a goal of maybe splitting up certain situations? It doesn’t work to have people split: part-time over here, part-time over there, it doesn’t work. And so, when I hear this cohort person is going to be part-time at this department and part-time at that department, bells go off. But if it is simply taken people and put them within those departments where they are going to have responsibility within that department for meeting the needs of the students, what is the difference between hiring through cohorts and hiring through the normal method. So I guess I’m just uninformed as to what the purpose of cohort hiring is.”

Kevin Ayotte: “This particular set of resolutions is actually relatively straightforward. There’s no difference in terms of the amount of money that would be available for faculty hiring either through the cohort process or if this resolution were adopted. This resolution would simply distribute the money directly to the colleges or schools, who would fund the hire exclusively, rather than having to go through the cohort process, and say, ‘Well, maybe we can get some of that money back that would otherwise have if it had been distributed to us, if we would go along with this particular cohort. This allows the positiona created by all the individual schools and colleges, and then, if there were some other mechanism, that the university wanted to create to provide incentives for cohorts to tackle some of those regional problems, then that additional money could come from somewhere else, but there is no difference in the money. Now, you have money held at the provost’s office rather than being distributed to the colleges and schools. It’s the same net amount of money either way.  But this resolution would call for colleges and schools to have the same control over hiring that they’ve always had. The provost has the same authority to approve and disapprove searches that he always had under this resolution.”  

At this point, the meeting adjourned. I’ll have a few things to say about the hiring motion in another blog.

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