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December 19, 2009

In response to the budget crisis, the administration has begun to have open forums.  I have been to two of them in the last week.  One was held by the president and provost and the other by the deans of two colleges.  The administration seems to believe that these events will result in the faculty being reassured that the administration is on top of things and that progress is being made in dealing with the crisis.  Unfortunately, it did not work out this way.

The president tried to reassure tenured faculty that their jobs were not in jeopardy.  He essentially said that no tenured faculty member would be fired, but that every other class of faculty could be terminated if that was required to balance the budget.  He hoped, of course, that it would never come to that. The provost then added that untenured, tenure-track faculty would also be protected.  Given that the president and provost had spent the first part of the their presentation outlining the size of our potential budget deficit and the need to make vertical cuts in order to reduce expenditures,  their combined messages left their audience confused.  If no faculty were going to get the ax, how were they going to reduce expenditures?

A few days later, the deans had their open forum.  They showed many of the same PowerPoint slides that the president and provost had used to illustrate our financial fix.  We are a self-proclaimed, green university and recycling is being strongly encouraged.  The deans are evidently on board.  In any case, faculty know that repetition is a good way to get a message across to students. Although most of our administrators do not spend much time in the classroom these days, they evidently have not forgotten this basic bit of pedagogical wisdom.

The deans admitted that they did not have any plan to deal with the budget crisis.  This surprised many faculty.  They had come in droves expecting to get some answers about what was going to happen to them, their departments, and their academic programs.  What they got was mostly buck passing.  The deans blamed the central administration for sending mixed signals about what they could do.  One dean actually referred to the president’s and provost’s open forum and wondered what message they were trying to send about terminating faculty.  Could no faculty be terminated?  They also admitted that their initial plan had been to close departments, but that this had run into problems.  (This admittal reinforced the worse fears of some tenured faculty that their jobs were still on the line in spite of the president’s reassurances.) This forum ended with a plea from the deans to send them our ideas for how to deal with the budget crisis.

The deans’ forum left many faculty even more confused.  Why hold an open forum if you have nothing to say about what your plans are for dealing with the crisis?  How inept is our administration that they still have no coherent plan or even policies for dealing with the crisis?  Why are we paying these guys the big bucks when all they do is continue to ask for our suggestions?  They have been doing this for the better part of a year after every single forum or dear university/college letter. We have multiple Websites where faculty and staff can send money-saving ideas and suggestions.  What ever happened to all those previous ideas and suggestions?  We have definitely reached the bottom of the idea/suggestion barrel as was evidenced by some of the suggestions for making money proposed at this meeting.  (There is a whole blog there.)

What is wrong with the way the administration is dealing with the crisis?  They are claiming that the crisis as an unprecedented event, but they are continuing to conduct business as usual and mostly behind closed doors.   In short, it is complacency and secrecy that are the problems.  Instead of setting up a highly visible, university-wide committee to deal with the crisis, they continue to try to solve it themselves.  To quote George W. Bush, they see themselves as “the decider[s]” who will “decide what’s best.” They are not engaging faculty and staff leaders in a meaningful way in order to build a consensus about what should be done.  Instead, they continue to plot behind closed doors.  Their decision to do everything in secret has raised the level of paranoia of faculty and staff to unprecedented levels.  Rumors abound, and they, in most cases, will prove to be much more extreme and damaging than anything that is likely to happen.

So far the administration‘s open forums have left many faculty and staff even more confused than before.  It is time our administrators  tried something different, like treating the budget crisis as a crisis that we collectively have to solve.  We need to have administrators, faculty and staff working together for the good of the university and its students.  We need to do this in a way that is visible and transparent to everyone at the university.  We need to have a process for dealing with the crisis that everyone trusts and supports.  We need a solution, not more confusion.

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