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.”

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hiring: Cohorts and Funding

Once more unto the breach. Unless there is an hour of communications and announcements in the Senate on Monday--which is altogether possible--the motion to end hiring that is funded outside of Level B, including but not limited to cohort-hiring, will come to a vote.

I have seen so much email on this issue that I feel inadequate to do justice to the arguments against imposed cohort categories or the use of "rebate" funding for permanent positions, mentioned by the Provost at the last Senate meeting. Therefore, I  hope people who have more to contribute will use the comments section of this blog. 

I will address a few of the issues:

1. Funding Sources for Initial Hiring: We get nothing for free

In the Senate meeting of March 19, Jacinta Amaral asked the following question: "I’m very concerned about the funding stream for this [cohort hiring] 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 replied as follows: "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."

Senate Meeting of March 19

As I noted, Provost Covino had not answered the question, which was about the funding stream, not the permanence of the funding. Where was the money coming from? Which sources would it come from in the future? Subsequent Senate statements by both Dean Vida Samiian and Provost Covino have gotten us closer to an answer.

At the April 16 meeting, Provost Covino said in the preceding year there had been additional dollars in the Academic Affairs budget under a line item that said "Faculty Appointments," and this money was used for cohort hiring. This year, the money was a rebate, presumably freed up benefit money, from Centrally Monitored Funds. 

Dean Samian addressed problems with the funding source as follows: 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.

In a nutshell, Dean Samiian was saying this: the funding from Centrally Monitored Funds, and I'm assuming this applies as well to the line item in the budget that Provost Covino inherited from Jeri Echeverria, does not represent a permanent funding stream. It's only a starter. Therefore, at some point down the line--and when has not been made crystal clear--the funding will come from level B, i.e,, the schools and colleges. 

As is the case with thermodynamics, there is no free lunch. Eventually, and probably soon, Level B pays for the funding, so the extra money from the Provost isn't a 1/2 "free" hire per cohort position forever. There is no loaves and fishes miracle here. The hire reduces Level B funding in virtually the same way that any regular hire would. The difference is that departments have a lot less say in who they hire and the provost a lot more.

The funding problem applies to any hire, cohort or non-cohort, and that is why the motion before the senate applies to all hiring.

2. If the Provost wanted, he could release the extra money from Centrally Monitored Funds straight to the schools to increase their hiring funding. 

This, I suppose, is obvious. And I could imagine a provost soliciting proposals at the department level which might encourage interests already established (such as Sean Fullop's start-up program in cognitive science) or to encourage new interdisciplinary study. However, this would acknowledge the superior expertise of the faculty in their respective fields and empower them. This is obviously not on the agenda of the current administration. 

It is hard to lead people if you have no confidence in them. This is why we have management, not leadership.

3. Departments were never consulted on cohorts.

I mean this in two ways. First, they were never consulted about the general idea of cohorts. I rather doubt that the deans were. Much more likely was the directive, "Let there be cohorts," and LO, there were cohorts. I mean it in a second way as well: they were not generally consulted about cohort categories. For this I refer you to my blog on the Senate meeting of April 19. Readers of this blog may chime in, pro or con, in the comments below, and I hope they will.

4. For some departments, cohorts have worked, for others, they have not. 

Read the Senate testimony from Senators and chairs and take it all for true. All the more reason to let individual departments and schools initiate cohort hiring if they see the benefit and let departments who have other needs, fill them in the usual way. Nothing in this motion eliminates cohort hiring. It only eliminates cohort hiring and regular hiring through funding sources outside level B, i. e., we go back to the model in place when Jeri Echeverria was provost.  

5. The Provost's claim that we should not be following a mechanical model in funding hiring is unpersuasive.

At the Senate meeting of April 19, Provost Covino said:

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.

Well, why shouldn't allocation models be mechanical? Hiring obviously should not be mechanical, but perhaps the allocation process, which is sensitive to all sorts of factors, including student demand, if mechanical, is not so in a stupid way; and when the data changes--such as a drop in student demand or method of delivery--the allocation changes. For the Provost's argument to be persuasive, he'd have to show a flaw in the allocation model designed by Brandt Kehoe--and Brandt was one smart physics professor--and before him, Helen Gigliotti, one smart physical chemist. The place to exercise judgment is within the bounds of a rational allocation model--not to shoot from the budgetary hip, without regard to the effect on allocations down the line.

We have been taught not to like the word "mechanical." It is not an evil word. The system of proportion representation that governs the House of Representatives is mechanical. I don't want to give Montana 10 more Congressmen this year to prevent it's being mechanical, and the only reason I can see to reject a rational allocation model is to favor some schools over others. To that we can apply another word designed to get a knee-jerk reaction: "discrimination."

6. Cohort Hiring has been turned down, according to reports I've seen, by Sociology, Linguistics, and Communication. English will be deliberating on the issue.

[I received the following addition, from Kevin Ayotte, Communication, a few hours after putting up this blog:

Because I think that it is imperative that all participants in this university-wide conversation represent their positions fully and fairly, I want to make one clarification about the situation of the interpersonal communication search within the Health Cohort.  Dean Samiian was the one who proposed putting this position request in the Health Cohort in the hope of having the search approved.  I do not want to give the impression that the College of Arts & Humanities requested a non-cohort position and the Provost slotted it into the Health Cohort.

The details above do not, however, in any way impact the department's decision regarding the cohort hire.  Our concerns re: the constraints that would be placed upon the search and our curriculum are the same.  Moreover, I certainly do not perceive this chain of events as Dean Samiian's endorsement of cohort hiring.  I spoke with her about the search request and it was initially proposed for the Health Cohort because the current structure of cohort hiring is the only way that Colleges/Schools can get access to the full funding the university has available to hire new faculty.  If hiring funds were allocated fully to the College/Schools per the current resolution in the Senate, this would not be an issue.  Dean Samiian has resubmitted our request to see if a search without a cohort requirement will be approved, and I will keep everyone updated.

If I've missed anyone, please chime in.

In summary, the imposition of cohort categories and the funding of hires, outside of Level B, ought to be rejected. This kind of management is of one piece with eliminating schools, disenfranchising departments and schools, hiring faculty to perform academic functions directly under the direction of the provost, appointing task forces rather than going through Senate standing committees and the University Budget Committee, "declarative" consultation, throttling the flow of information, and all of the other tactics and initiatives we have seen this year that centralize power over instruction and curriculum in administrators.

If we want to remain a faculty, in any meaningful sense of the word, all of this has to be fought, and right now, the front line is this resolution on hiring.  

1 comment:

  1. In addition to all the reason listed to oppose these kinds of hires, here are three more: 1. Such hiring creates a feudal power structure, with a liege lord at the top doling out funds only he controls. If you don't please this power, no $ for you. 2. New faculty entering departments, knowing their position is 50% centrally controlled, will be at least 50% centrally controlled themselves. This will erode collegiality and departmental structure as the seat of faculty allegiance and power in what is hailed as "shared governance." 3. In budget-cutting times, if faculty are tenured they can be eliminated only if whole programs go. With the 50-50 hires, will tenure still offer any protection? And what still remains is the unanswered question: WHY do hires have to have funding split between colleges and the provost?