President Shelton, in his memo of Sept. 9: “Across the board cuts would be the quickest route to mediocrity.”
But who are you going to let define “mediocrity”? Meredith Hay?
Has she now clawed her way up to mediocre? By what standards? By what evidence? World-class university provosts are distinguished by their qualities of leadership.
President Shelton in his memo of Sept. 9: “From the very beginning, our commitment as a campus has been to ensure that in these dire financial times we protect and strengthen the University of Arizona's world-class programs. That principle has provided the underpinning for all our budget decisions."
We agree. Who could disagree with protecting world-class programs and, we would add, world-class scholars, even if they’re housed, as is often the case, in programs that may, overall, fall short of world-class.
But who do we let decide what qualifies as world-class, mediocre, and everything in-between?
Shelton and Hay tell us “You decide.” Meaning us. The decisions should be made, we are told, at the level of each academic unit in consultation with its dean.
A Death Panel in every department.
A panel to review the files and say, “This one is terminally mediocre; he has to go.” Or “This one is borderline; we’ll give her a year to show signs of life or we’ll have to pull the plug.”
Horrible idea? Guess what, it’s already in effect. It’s called Annual Performance Review and Post-Tenure Review. The law is there, it just hasn’t been applied.
Don’t ask for peer-review, don’t ask for shared governance, if you’re afraid to use it. Meredith and Gail are not afraid to take over the power we’re afraid to exercise and defend.
Solid, objective assessment standards do exist. We have them in our university-wide guidelines for P&T and annual performance review. Those standards have been worked out with all the clarity, detail and faculty input you could ask for. We just don’t apply them.
Or sometimes we don’t. And sometimes we apply them badly. We find excuses to disqualify standard assessment criteria, or make exceptions, or substitute bogus criteria for real ones. Take the example of Suzie (not her real name).
“Suzie was elected President (by a small clique of mutually-supportive mediocrities) of a prestigious professional society (that no one ever heard of) on the basis of her outstanding research and publications (that no one has read, not even her mom, anymore), published in the most respected venues in her discipline (but which have had no impact on anything—except her career management).
Instead of pulling the plug on Suzie, she gets a promotion, a raise, and eventually maybe a high administrative post.
In contrast, the UA really does have plenty of genuine world-class programs and authentically world-class scholars, measured by authentic standards, the only ones that count – external standards which overlap with the internal ones (referred to above), national and international standards and even the global standards of the ARWU (Academic Ratings of World Universities).
So when they ask for volunteers to the Death Panel in your department, go for it. Just don’t call it a Death Panel – call it a Sustainability Panel, because that’s really what we’re talking about.
After review at the department or program level, files go to the next level up (dean’s-level committees in most cases) where peer-review can be more exacting and more objective.
But wait. What’s wrong with this picture?
Hold on. Before you sign up for service in Sustainability or waste management or whatever you want to call it, we need consistency and reciprocity if this exercise in shared governance is to have credibility and teeth. If Robert Shelton’s and Meredith Hay’s criterion for program “protection” at the UA is world-class quality, then before buying into their plan, we must insist that they, too, submit themselves to the same criteria and the same standards.
And that they provide world-class leadership.
Not the mediocrity of acquiescence papered over and whitewashed, but excellence.
Excellence measured by evidence, results, and positive outcomes.
Positive outcomes means gains, not losses – losses measured in how much you give up, how much you give back, how much you cut.
Cutting is the easy way out. Don’t quibble about differential cuts or cuts across the board; losing is losing.
World-class presidents and provosts are the ones who don’t lose – or who lose the least.
[The views expressed in this post are those of one member of Team Evelyn and do not necessarily represent those of the whole Team.]
PS. This post was written before we saw the opinion piece in the Arizona Star by Regents Professor Oscar Martínez entitled "Poor Leadership, funding is bringing down the UA."
- Click here for Prof. Martínez's statement.
- Click here for the Tucson Citizen blog (Renee Schaefer Horton) reporting on that story.
- Click here for the view of the UA Graduate Student organization "Gradstudents for Change in Arizona.
- Click here for the Arizona Daily Wildcat update (9/11). Brian Roy and Shain Bergan (Managing editor of the DW) have published a podcast on the "UA's budget crisis, unrest within the faculty, and a vote of 'no confidence' in Shelton and Hay that staff have said may come in the near future."
- And here for light on the story from the Arizona Desert Lamp, written by Evan Lisull, a UA undergraduate and former columnist for the Arizona Daily Wildcat.
Post-postscript 9/15. Evan Lisull has posted a rare photo of an actual UA Death Panel. Read his commentary here.