Saturday, April 9, 2011

Should a System-wide budget plan precede program review?

I gave this statement, on behalf of only myself, to the Board of Regents during public comment last Friday:

I am Gregory Brown, and I teach History at UNLV. But for the past two years I have spent more time on the topic of academic retrenchment through program review. I chaired the UNLV program review committee a year ago which recommended elimination of 5 programs and consolidation of several others, and I serve currently on a national committee of the AAUP on exigency and program discontinuation. I speak to you today not about a particular program but about the process of program review.

I want to voice first my concern that at the past two meetings, the discussion by some members of this Board about terminating academic programs, including tenure-earning faculty, through a second consecutive program review has not matched the level of responsibility you carry – fiduciary as well as legal. I am deeply concerned that the idea of “program review” to eliminate faculty and staff has become misunderstood as an easy alternative either to considering financial exigency or even to combining program cuts with other budget reduction options. I therefore urge you to give more consideration to the consequences and liabilities for the System of a hasty program review timetable that would require campuses to propose program eliminations and issue layoff notices (including over 100 current faculty at UNLV) -- even before there is a state budget in place.

Secondly, I’d like to urge you to consider carefully the program reviews that have been going on for now over two years at UNLV and at UNR. By no means have these processes been satisfactory for faculty, but they have been governed by the Board’s mandate that the impact of retrenchment on students be minimized.

Faculty have worked and are working wherever possible with our administrations to consolidate functions and merged degree programs and even whole departments; both universities are now looking seriously at merging whole colleges – in addition, of course, to outright closures that could displace nearly 4000 currently enrolled university students.

From both my experience at UNLV and my reading of other retrenchment case studies, I can attest that consolidations and mergers of units on a university campus are never easy. Departments and colleges on a campus have distinct identities; their deans and chairs command the loyalty and pride of their faculty who often resist new leadership; and units have very different cultures, policies, curricula and even workloads.

But we in the faculty have been participating dutifully, if uneasily, in such consolidations, because we know they are one way to mitigate the impact on students, faculty and staff. Not only by cutting academic administrative costs but also by achieving economies of scale as faculty can teach across what had been previously disciplinary boundaries.

I urge the Board to study if similar approaches can work at the System level. We do not at this point have any System-wide retrenchment plan. Other public systems have enacted such plans when facing financial crisis before asking each individual campus to cut programs. I am therefore calling for financially sound strategic planning. This is not to call for the simple closure of campuses, which I oppose -- just as I have opposed simple vertical cutting of whole programs or departments that have been proposed on my own campus.

For the Board to give each campus its own cut target is simple, but such a strategy does nothing to assure that we maintain or improve our proportional balance across the System of instructional and research versus administrative and support functions. It does nothing to encourage or reward efficiency of academic administration. And, I fear, it is forcing us into excessive program eliminations that will not provide a viable curricular or financial foundation for whatever future our System’s campuses may have.

No comments:

Post a Comment