Friday, October 2, 2009

Who is Responsible for the Curriculum?

[Addendum Oct. 3. The post below appeared Friday 10/2, before we received the Executive Summary of the Faculty Poll Comments, sent by e-mail from the Faculty Center that same day. Having read the Executive Summary, we are at a loss for words - except for one: Magnificent.
Being at a loss for words is not usual for us. Our regular readers know that, and they know also that many of the things that were said in the "comments" section of the Poll were also said here, beginning last August. We mention that not by way of saying "we told you so" but to emphasize how important it has been for the faculty to have the "safe space" for discussion we first described in our initial posts. It is less important, going forward, to note who it was who said these things first, and where, than to point out who it was - more than 700 faculty members - who said them best, on the Faculty Poll. The Executive Summary of the Poll comments appear to us now as THE plan for going forward. Everything is there.
Our thanks, again, to the Faculty Leadership group (Wanda Howell, Lynn Nadel, Robert Mitchell, J.C. Mutchler, Michael Cusanovich, Javier Duran), and in particular to whomever it was who put in the hard work of coming up - so quickly - with that clear and comprehensive Executive Summary. That, dear readers, is what leadership is about.
Now, the following comments represent an attempt to synthesize some of the points made in the second FGLF meeting with faculty on 10/1. These comments appear to us now as focused elaboration on just a few of the items presented much more comprehensively in the Executive Summary. For those who did not receive it on e-mail, the Executive Summary is available in Renee Shafer Horton's Tucson Citizen blog, or in the online Arizona Daily Wildcat. ]

“The curriculum” in the broad sense means: everything we decide to teach, and excludes everything WE decide not to teach.
Who decides?
We decide curriculum.
The Faculty Senate homepage features the following statement: “Faculty governance at the University of Arizona functions under the Constitution and Bylaws of the General Faculty.” Article I of the Constitution: "The General Faculty has fundamental responsibilities in the areas of ... instruction and curriculum policy...”

If we have the authority to decide curriculum, then we have the authority to invalidate redefinitions of the curriculum that we did not authorize.

By "redefinitions of the curriculum," we are referring to distribution of budget cuts that result in de facto alterations of curriculum by redirecting resources away from units that can no longer sustain budget cuts without suffering loss of faculty, loss of programs - curricular damage - that may be irreversible.

That’s the thesis. Here are the arguments. We begin with two questions:

1) How do you read the phrase “fundamental responsibilities in instruction and curriculum”?
Does it mean some responsibilities or the responsibilities?
a) SOME responsibilities? (if it’s just “some” responsibilities in defining curriculum, who, in practice, has ever exercised “the others”?)
b) THE responsibilities? (that is, decisive authority, on an ongoing basis, for instruction and curriculum policy)

2) How do you understand the term “responsible”? Is it
a) responsible as in ‘obliged to perform duties assigned by a superior to an inferior, or by a parent to a child’ (as when mom says “you’re responsible for keeping your room clean”)? or
b) responsible in the legal sense of ‘answerable to,’ as in “the faculty is answerable to the executive administration and to the Board of Regents, the legislature and the Governor for maintaining a curriculum consistent with its institutional mission as a state supported land-grant university with responsibilities to (answerable to) the citizens of the State of Arizona?

If you answered “b” to both questions, you’re right. You’re in the right.

You’re right, even if Lynn says, “You’re playing with words.” Even if Robert says “You’re playing with fire.” We say, we’re playing our role. The role of the faculty to preserve, protect and defend the curriculum.
Preserve, protect and defend it against being redefined without the level of faculty responsibility required by our constitution and confirmed by statute.

We’re told, “Yes, but.”
“Yes but you can’t protect it against insufficient funds. Or against hostility from the legislature.”
Yes we can. And we must.

OK, how?

Marv says, “mobilize the students and their parents.” By that he does not mean to ask them to carry signs and write slogans with chalk on horizontal or vertical surfaces. He means let them know how budget cuts and “overcuts” – unauthorized budget re-allocations – are inimical and illegal:
1) inimical : harmful to education, and out of compliance with the statutory obligations of the State universities to provide higher education consistent with their mission;
2) illegal: illegal given the obligation of the legislature to secure funding adequate to support public education in Arizona at the levels of quality instruction in the curricula defined by those with the statutory responsibility and competence to do so, i.e., the faculty – not the executive managers of the faculty nor the Regents nor the JLBC. (Actually, this is part of the arguments made on our behalf to the Regents by the three presidents last week.)

How specifically?

Specifically, the graduate students are negotiating a “Graduate Students’ Bill of Rights” with president Shelton (see yesterday’s Wildcat). Next step? That’s right, an Undergraduate Bill of Rights insisting that students and their parents be given what they’re entitled to under state law. That they be given what they pay for. That they not be required to pay more and get less. That they not be told “We don’t have enough classes for your requirements.” Or “We’re changing the requirements so it’ll look like we have enough classes.” That students not be further distanced by distance learning, farmed out to cattle-car mega-classes, or told “you can do it online” (just like a video game!) And so forth.

We are aware that many of the views expressed above are shared by Robert Shelton. Where we disagree is on a basic point: our adherence to the principle that the Faculty must not relinquish its fundamental responsibility in matters of curriculum. Regarding the “core mission of the University,” Mike Cusanovich told us yesterday that it would take a lot of work to come to agreement all across campus on the definition of “the core mission of the University.” That may be true on details, but it’s not true of the big picture. On the big picture, the overwhelming sense of the faculty poll suggests that we do indeed agree that we were heading in the wrong direction. Which implies a pretty good sense of who, and how, to decide what the right directions are.
We close with Lynn Nadel's statement on "the essential core of the university" in his 10/2 interview with Renee Shafer Horton on her Tucson citizen blog; our readers may wish to add to what Lynn said, but we doubt that many would subtract from it:

“We become academics because we have a deep sense of what a university is,” Nadel said. “This isn’t an idea that started a few years ago. This is a 700-year-old idea, that a university preserves and enlarges human values. It is the life of the mind, but more. And it is that sense that the university at its core is being squeezed that is causing the angst. It’s fear that the essential core of what a university is, is being sacrificed on the corporate altar. The people who pay our salaries (the Legislature) seem to have a restrictive view of what a university is – as just a place to train people to get jobs. But a university is more than that. And the undercurrent of anxiety and anger is at least part about faculty wanting to know that (Shelton and Hay) are committed to protecting and preserving what a university is.”

The foregoing represents a synthesis of some of the points made at yesterday’s FGLF meeting. Their purpose is to encourage further reflection and discussion. In your comments, we encourage you to state your case forcefully, but not abusively. (Rules & etiquette for this blog may be found among the September posts.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Post-poll Faculty Governance Leadership Forum, Oct. 1

In the meeting this afternoon, new issues were discussed, along with important new facets of old issues, clarifications were offered, initiatives were proposed, all of which would be impossible to summarize here, although we will post whatever recapitulations of important points, followup comments, and new initiatives our readers wish to send in. Recognizing at the conclusion of the meeting the need to "keep the momentum," Faculty Senate chair Wanda Howell flanked by Michael Cusanovich and Lynn Nadel acknowledged that they are indeed in the process of creating a mechanism of their own, in the Senate, for online discussion to facilitate communication between FGLF meetings going forward. In the meantime, we will serve temporarily as a bridge, for those wishing to continue the discussion here, until the FGLF has their own online discussion space.
Readers new to the blog are invited to get their bearings by clicking on the previous post by Marv Waterstone below, and on the "September" archive in the right navigation sidebar for discussion of the issues that led up to the poll.

To Boldly Go

People are still using the Defender for valuable conversation about where the university is going next and how the faculty can be a real voice and power as the UA moves forward. As always, Marv Waterstone has valuable insight into the discussion, so we post his comments here along with the responses that have come in today. Please feel free to continue the conversation, but also attend today's faculty forum and make your voices heard in public, where they can really make a difference.
Also, click here for Renee Shafer Horton's promised analysis of the poll, which
includes an excellent interview with Lynn Nadel. We don't agree with Lynn's conclusions , but we always appreciate the fact that he's in the conversation.

Dear (mostly invisible) colleagues,

I’ve refrained from rejoining the ongoing discussions for a few days to let some events (the poll, the chalking “incidents”) run their course. Now that they have, with all of their ambiguous outcomes, it is time for us to really get to work to make some changes in the short-, medium-, and longer-term. Tomorrow’s faculty forum, hopefully, will be one productive step.

Last Friday (25 Sept), I met with the Committee of 11 (or at least a significant subset) to propose some concrete actions that might be taken under their auspices in each of the appropriate timeframes. Given the wide variety of existing faculty governance mechanisms available, the C11 seemed to me the most appropriate, given their charge. At the meeting, those present were receptive to the ideas, and I believe these issues will be taken up again at their next meeting on 9 October.

Here are some steps that I suggested merit our collective reflection and action. I have posted most of them on this blog in one form or another, but I’m hoping that they can now generate further action. They are all inter-related, but they can be prioritized:

Short-term: in order to stop the budgetary hemorrhaging we need to mobilize our most critical constituencies—our students and their parents—by alerting them, in the most specific ways possible, to the actual effects of the cuts so far and the likely impacts of any further budgetary excisions. In order to accomplish this, we need several kinds of data. First we need concrete data on increased class sizes, decreased course offerings, changes in time-to-degree, documentation of increased tuition and fees, and losses or decreases in ancillary services. I suggested this as a task that the C11 might take up. Second, and consistent with a recommendation made by an earlier commenter on the list (which also demonstrated our capability in this area), we need a district-by-district analysis of our allies and enemies in the legislature, and their political vulnerability. Once mobilized, our constituencies need to be able to engage in effective actions to change the complexion of the legislature by supporting those who support us, and by opposing those who do not. In the short-term, legislators need to be compelled to understand that cuts to higher education will carry a political price.

Medium- to longer-term: it is time, as many on this blog have noted, to face up to certain facts. Nearly ubiquitously, the support for higher education within the general public is generally low (just look at some of the comments that accompany campus stories at the Arizona Daily Star). We must make the attempt to change those views, or we will continue our ineluctable slide into penury and irrelevance. Again, some data may be helpful here. It would be worth our finding out if other, comparable public universities have been/are faring better than the UA. If so, we should endeavor to understand the reasons they develop and maintain more favorable relations with their constituencies than we do. I proposed to the C11 that some comparative information would be useful in this regard.

These data will take us only so far, however, and at best may suggest some tactical and strategic lessons that we can learn. In addition, we must now be much more proactive and effective in making a persuasive case for our existence and healthy viability. To make that case we need to accomplish two difficult (though by no means impossible) tasks. First, we must think deeply and carefully about the DISTINCTIVE AND UNIQUE contributions that a university (as differentiated from any other element of the educational enterprise) can and should make to society. What are the things that we, and only we, can do, and why should anyone care if they are accomplished? If we cannot make this case (and a member of the C11 raised this exact question), then we probably should drift into becoming an ITT tech with a middling football team, or a loosely connected set of corporate-funded (and owned) patent-seeking enterprises, and be done with it. But I think, if given the chance, we can such a case. Many of us have already thought long and hard about these matters, and strive to put our ideas into practice as best we can in our own pedagogy, scholarship and creative work. It is time to try to make those individuated efforts the heart and sole of our collective endeavors, and to transmit our passion and commitment to our various “outsides.”

Which brings me to the second task. We must change the relationship between faculty and administrators so that those of us at the “core” of the enterprise, rather than those who make the UA one of several transitory stops in their professional managerial resume construction (and who, necessarily reflect the corporatist, privatizing, bottom-line enhancing mentality that has failed us demonstrably and repeatedly all across academia), are responsible for articulating the appropriate vision, and for transmitting this message.

I have some additional specific ideas about some future actions, but since I’ve taken up enough of your reading time here, I’ll save them for tomorrow’s forum.

sandra said...

Thank you, Marv! Your voice gives me some hope. While I extremely disappointed at this moment with our faculty governance leadership for their lack of vision, I find in your voice a reason to want to stay here. You put it so well--the upper leadership is passing through, but we are the ones who live here. I think some polls have suggested, as I said somewhere above, that people in the state generally support education. In fact, one poll showed that people in Az would be willing to pay higher taxes in order to save education. I think that includes K-12. Some of their ambivalent attitudes about the university have to do with misconceptions about what we do and about things like tenure. People frequently like to sound off about that. The university spends little time trying to educate the public, though they do spend a lot of money hanging bill boards around town saying things like Pima Cotton Invented Here. We need faculty leadership. I mean real leadership--not apologists for the approaches of the status quo.

Lynn Nadel said...

Bravo Marv and Sandra. These are just the kinds of discussions we need. And Marv spells out the sorts of data we will need to bring to the discussion. He is absolutely right to stress that unless we can make the case for what a university, and only a university, adds to society, then we are lost. Let's get on that task immediately. I believe a shift in power between faculty and administrators would follow -- if and only if we accomplish the first task.

I also agree with Sandra's analysis of the tenure and exigency issues. I've just been too busy this week to think straight and expressed myself in oversimplified ways in recent posts.

Hope to see as many of you as possible at the Forum this afternoon.

Lynn Nadel

Anonymous said...

While I understand the sentiment that the University could not exist without faculty, as a staff member, I feel I need to make a few points. While EDUCATION could exist without staff members, the UNIVERSITY could not exist without staff members. Those of us who order your supplies, type your memos, create payroll, set up the technology for your classes, advise and process the graduation of the students in your major - the "little" people who help make the processes of the University work on a day-to-day basis - are also the ones who have been terminated in droves. The argument for the creation of CLAS was, besides the "logic" of it, the savings over $2 million dollars by centralizing services and eliminating University College (which was entirely staff members). As is apparent to anyone who has actually looked at University College's budget, the elimination of "little" people, and the salary increase Dr. Ruiz received (along with the costs of new signage, new letterhead, and the other ancillary costs of new schools), the net savings of all the changes is minimal. However, terminating all those "little" people has engendered fear and anger across campus among all the other "little people".

Is there anyone on campus who has examined the non-cuts to positions in the Admin building. Besides Dr. Garcia, has anyone making over $100,000 been "transformed"? Also, while we are discussing cuts to academics constantly, what has happened in student affairs? Besides the debacle of merging the cultural centers, renaming units and eliminating "little" people in the units (which has impacted the availability of programming for students), there seems to be one primary difference from a year ago. There are now new positions that have been created there - associate/assistant vice presidents, and associate/assistant deans seem to have sprung up overnight.

ALL efforts of the University must be examined, student affairs and academics. And they should be examined in totality - not separately. While I'm sure that the administration will argue that has happened, from the outside, it would not appear so. I do not believe there can be any sacred cows. Do there really need to be 4 biological science majors (with 2 separate departments) in the College of Science? Should the Outreach College and its administration really need to be a college? Is the existence of UA South and all its accompanying administration justified by the few hundred students in its 3 majors? How many Associate/Assistant Deans of Students and Associate/Assistant Vice Presidents of Students Affairs does the UA really need? Politically, these issues may be "off limits" - but if the entire University and its mission are being questioned, these should be discussed as well.

While cutting education is a much easier path for the state, cutting staff is the same easy path for the University. I am not proposing wholesale cuts to student affairs (as it is an invaluable unit in the University's effort to keep and retain students) or the elimination of more colleges at the UA. However, all that has been discussed on this blog is faculty - and there is much more to the cost of running the University than that.