Sunday, April 11, 2010

The President's State of the U address

Is available here:

Nothing surprising but also not much that is reassuring. The Prez has still not enunciated a clear definition of priorities beyond vague commitments to maintaining excellence.

"We know that we must become leaner, nimbler, and more productive in order to survive current and future budget shortfalls--but this must not happen at the expense of the University's academic strengths or comparative advantages."

"We need to know your top priorities and those programs at the bottom of your list, what you hope to strengthen, and what you are willing to cut." Citing Peter Drucker, he calls this "planned abandonment."

The Prez refers to the "economic value" of research and calls on us to be "aggressive and entrepreneurial." He proposes a Wal-Mart style practice of units cutting their costs by 2% a year for five years. Welcome to the corporate U.

It seems that instead of presenting sound proposals for redefining our priorities, there is a real danger of increasing workload for faculty and ever higher undergraduate tuition rates. If this is what "new normal" means, we'll pass.

The Prez assures us that the decisions about charting the U's future will not be made in a top-down fashion, but the composition of the U's steering committee, which is packed with high-level administrators, is a bad sign. Will decisions be made based on the ability of units to attract grant money (a market logic, although a screwy one since many grants don't actually cover their total costs) or based on their contribution to undergraduate teaching and research (note: much excellent research is done without huge grants)?

Will the admin impose a series of across-the-board cuts, leaving it to the colleges to make the tough decisions? FRPE called for an audit precisely because we need to know how the different parts of the University fit together and how revenues and expenditures contribute to our core missions. Without that, how will we adjust to a sustainable "new normal"?

Perhaps it is a bad analogy, but it seems like the U bought a McMansion when we were flush with state funds (2008 was our highest ever). We were living beyond our means, thanks to the U's strategic positioning effort to become a "top 3" research institution, and now students, staff, and faculty will pay the price. Meanwhile, CLA's sabbatical policy is inferior to that of many small liberal arts colleges (e.g. Gustavus Adolphus).

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