The Chair’s Comments at Town Hall Meeting

July 7, 2008
  • July 2, 2008

    William C. Follette, Chair, Faculty Senate 2008-2009

    I appreciate the remarks made by President Glick. Before I proceed I want to express my disappointment in political process that has led to this point where we are asked to make decisions that feel more like Sophie’s choice than merely managing a budgetary shortfall. I have serious concerns about the well being of those already affected and those who will be, whether they are administrative or academic faculty, staff or students. At the same time I want to express my gratitude for the collaborative approach taken by President Glick and Provost Johnson.

    Let me briefly describe where I think we are in the process of considering additional reductions that will in all likelihood affect statewide and academic programs at our university. First, I believe no tenured faculty will face terminations now or in the future. I also believe that non-tenured, tenure track faculty who are making good progress by all traditional standards have reason to feel relatively secure. That is not because position reductions are not permissible under System code and university bylaws, but because I believe we can reach the necessary goals without resorting to such measures if we approach the problems with creativity and dedication. I also believe that the abrupt actions that have affected primarily administrative faculty will , if necessary, be conducted in a more consultative manner. Be aware that with the economic future so uncertain, I could be incorrect in these assessments.

    Does that mean that business will be conducted as usual? The answer is clearly, no. There are likely to be significant changes in how some of us are asked to address the mission of the university, and not all of those changes will be to our liking. Some of us will prefer to explore buy-out options or look elsewhere for our futures. You can and should consider what is best for you and your families.

    What does the immediate future hold? I am certain that the teaching load policy adopted by the Board of Regents as implemented by the Faculty Senate in 2005 will be scrutinized closely. That policy is available on the Faculty Senate Homepage and the Faculty Senate Blog. The basic policy is a 3+3 teaching load with reductions allowed for graduate training and other extenuating circumstances. If the teaching mission of the university is to be fulfilled, and it will be, it will entail some of us teaching classes formerly offered by LOAs or lecturers. Some of us will see specialty programs dear to us disappear as our efforts are redistributed to meet the essential institutional needs fundamental to the academic success of our student body.

    How will curricular decisions be made? Here is where we are indeed fortunate to be at UNR in these unfortunate times. The code of the Nevada System of Higher Education and the University Bylaws provide the rough outlines of a procedure for those decisions to be shared by the upper administration and the faculty. Unlike the indefensibly late notice given to the university that necessitated July 1 action for notices of nonrenewal, the curricular review process has time to be designed and refined with faculty input.

    The code and bylaws give approximations to procedures. In conversations with President Glick and Provost Johnson, I believe that their value is that the academic programs, that is the curriculum, belong to the faculty and Provost. It is up to us to decide how to address the a budget that has only 86% of our expected base in a way that attracts, retains, and graduates students with high value degrees while we continue in the creative and research activities that characterize excellent universities. We will not be the same university while sustaining these cuts. We can be a destination university that sustains excellence in those areas we define as central to our mission.

    So that there is sufficient time for questions, I will not elaborate the different ways in which program reviews could occur. I will just say that by code and bylaws as well as the preference of the president and provost, this will be a collaborative process that closely involves faculty at the program level and then likely a committee made up of equal numbers of faculty and administrators who will make recommendations to the president. Discussions about the process are under way. I fully expect this process to begin intensively as soon as faculty are back on campus and decisions will be made not later than December 1. Everyone wants to know their future as soon as possible. Many programs and departments will know much earlier that disruptions will be minimal.

    At some point programs at the grassroots level will have to evaluate how they meet whatever criteria are eventually defined as appropriate. Programs will do one of several things. A program could conclude its efforts could be redirected for a greater good. That would not mean faculty agreeing to fire themselves, but rather propose how to best distribute their efforts. It could also ask “what mortal dares questions our greatness?” Or it could say – here is our case for sustaining as we are, realigning ourselves to be more effective given the evaluation criteria, or even growing.

    I want you to consider two scenarios. The first is one where we rise to the occasion and do the best we humanly can to optimize the outcome for our colleagues, institution, its mission, and its students. The second is that we reject any approach to this self-assessment and then watch as the Board of Regents and the legislature plot our future. I am quite certain I know which of those options I prefer.

    We are human, and to some extent what is expected of us is akin to asking us what appendage would we like sacrifice to save the body. No option looks good. Some of us will be unable to make any decision, and we then risk even more dire consequences. This is not even a zero sum game. It is a circumstance where we minimize overall harm and search for ways to enhance programs that will capture the attention and admiration of our community, state, and colleagues around the world. We are not alone in this fiscal dilemma. California, Tennessee, Kentucky, and other states also face severe economic crises.

    During this curricular review, I want to remind you that the Faculty Senate Office is at your service to give you guidance on your rights. That said, I believe that we can make collaborative decisions in this process that minimize damage to individuals and the institution. We could not ask for a more supportive or collaborative administration during these difficult times. That does not mean there won’t be disagreements. There are unpleasant decisions to be made. It does mean we can make it through these times by providing the vision and collaboration lacking outside the walls of our university.

    I look forward to your input in elaborating the process. Thank you for your grace in this time of duress and your empathy for those of us who have been and will be impacted by these impending changes.


  • Chair’s Letter to the Faculty

    June 25, 2008

    Colleagues:
    We have known for some time that the escalating budget crisis in the state would fundamentally alter our university unless the state leadership developed a strategy to adequately fund higher education. Last week President Glick held a well-attended town hall meeting where he said that earlier cuts exhausted our ability to absorb any additional shortfalls without affecting people, services, and programs. At that time he couldn’t be specific about what cuts would occur because the state budget analysis was not done and the legislative special session had not met. Last Friday preliminary budget projections were reported and they were grim. The special session still has not convened, but time has run out and additional required cuts have to be implemented because the Board of Regents policy requires up to a one year notice for faculty whose positions are being eliminated.I have waited to send this message to you until colleagues affected by the budget cuts have been notified. Earlier today these notifications were made as President Glick said in today’s letter to you, the entire faculty. As chair of the Faculty Senate I participated in many of the meetings that addressed how to meet the budget shortfall. The senate’s role was to suggest the principles it thought should direct these decisions. Those principles were adopted by the administration and were the yardstick by which decisions were made. My role in these conversations was to be available to express the faculty’s position where I thought I knew it and to observe the process so that I could assess its apparent fairness.

    As of today, our campus is different. People we know have been informed they will be losing their jobs. Some are relatively new to campus and others have been here for many years and are well-known to the campus community. The decisions were done to do as little harm to peoples’ lives and the university’s mission as possible. There were sensitivities to not filling vacant positions where that solution was available. Retirement incentives are being developed. Open academic faculty lines are, from my perspective, gone. Strategic new hires will be considered consistent with the principles that guided how to address the shortfall.

    I want to comment on some of the realities I observed. First, anyone in the community who glibly says that when budgets need to be reduced, you just let people go are either cut from a different cloth or have never had to look a dedicated employee in the eye and say that he or she will no longer have a job at a place the person loved working. As one who attended these meetings and knows our administration, I can attest to the anguish deans, provosts, vice presidents, and the president experienced when abstract conversations finally turned to the names of real people or to functions of the university that will no longer be served because they are not as central to the mission as others are. This will be little comfort to those who are losing their jobs, but I believe the campus and state should know that what has been done today has taken a significant personal toll on many members of our campus in addition to those whose positions are being eliminated. I am saddened by these events and suffering of people we all know.Second, the process represented another example of the reality of shared governance that exists on this campus. The president and each member of the administration at some point actively sought my opinion on a wide variety of issues. These were delicate but frank conversations where agreement and disagreement were met with mutual openness and respect. I have been in contact with senate chairs from all the institutions in the state, and no one has described a process that was as inclusive of faculty input as ours has been.However, there are still economic challenges we face. Today’s reductions and the elimination of open faculty positions are unlikely to meet projected state revenue shortfalls. It may be that elective retirements, legislative or executive action or a change in the economic health of the state may address our budgetary needs. Those are unknowns at this point.

    In his letter earlier today President Glick said he will be seeking discussions with the campus community about how to address other reactions the university might take to this crisis. It is possible that academic units or individual faculty will be affected by future cuts. Everyone is open to consider any thoughtful options for addressing the shortfall in ways that spare human capital. This is an opportunity to think creatively about how we might reorganize our institution to create innovative, efficient structures that promote our mission. Any discussion of the curriculum demands faculty input and President Glick and our new Provost, Marc Johnson would not have it any other way. Neither would the faculty senate. It is quite possible we will find new ways to conduct the business of the university. If procedures and structural impediments interfere with creativity and innovation, then I believe those practices should be modified or eliminated. If any aspect of the curriculum needs to be revisited, then it should be. If strong departments or programs can be enhanced with new collaborations, then let us make it happen. If you have ideas, I will do all I can to make sure you have a forum at which you can share them. Not all ideas are created equal, but it is better to present them than miss the chance to present the one that could have made a real difference.

    President Glick will stand up and take the heat for the decisions made today and in the future. That goes with the job, and he has always stepped up to the responsibility. I will tell you that in my view that is not fair. He has always asked for more control over the budget. I don’t know when or if the state will grant that control. In the meantime, we can offer him our support and counsel. There have been and will be times where we disagree, but if ever there were a time for collaboration and a willingness to do so, this is the time and these are the people.

    In addition to this email, I will post this letter on the Faculty Senate blog. There you can enter comments, ask question, and make suggestions. You can also contact your unit’s senator or me directly.

    Respectfully,
    Bill Follette
    Chair, Faculty Senate 2008-2009


    The Budget

    May 29, 2008

    The Budget

    As you have doubtless read, the governor is proposing large budget cuts that would have far reaching effects if implemented as proposed.  The senate leadership has been in discussions with the administration regarding the budget cuts.  The budget figures are a moving target with a variety of ideas coming and going across the state.  You will be receiving a draft of the principles the senate leadership is proposing to help guide our input as the discussions unfold.  Those principles need your input.  I hadn’t intended to raise this issue until the June Senate meeting where the Interim Provost, Jannet Vreeland will give a brief overview of the budget issues.  However, today the Chancellor released a statement that will surely get your attention along with everyone at the university.  The statement is available to the public at http://system.nevada.edu/05.29.08-Regents-RE-Budget-Cuts-FINA.pdf   You should read it but understand that the solutions proposed are only examples to make clear the possible magnitude of a proposed 14% if it were not strategically considered.  That said, if cuts were implemented as described at this point it would be disastrous.

    It is time to takes these issues very seriously.  However, many scenarios could significantly change the landscape.  Among the things not known are whether there will be a special session of the legislature or whether any events in the fall state election will lead to any reforms in the tax structure. Of course, no one knows when the business cycle will improve.  However, at this point there is little doubt that we are facing difficult times.

    I have two points I want to make.  First, so far the administration has been open and collaborative in discussing the budget.  This is a gratifying affirmation of our earlier experiences during budget talks.  I expect that to continue.  Second, this is a time for the senate itself to represent our constituents.  All kinds of budget information and misinformation will be in the press.  Some will be accurate and much will be premature or out of context.  The senate is a representative body.  Senators should establish and maintain open communications with constituents so that they will turn to you for accurate information when it would be easy to become strident or stressed.  From time to time I will send announcements and information to the entire faculty.
    Let me say as Chair, the new Executive Board has been providing thoughtful counsel.  As the discussions continue, some conversations will be confidential as unedited ideas are floated for discussion.  These include conversations with administrators, the Executive Board, and Regents.  Others will be open and widely shared.  These are trying, threatening times.  I appreciate advice and value your support.  More will follow.


    Welcome to the 2008-09 Faculty Senate

    May 16, 2008

    To the new senators, welcome to what I hope will be an interesting and engaging experience at shared faculty governance. To our continuing senators, I hope that you will have found your “sea legs” and will become even more involved in enhancing the functioning of the senate at UNR. Our president, interim provost and incoming provost have all been active members of faculty senates during their careers, and each demonstrates a notable willingness to collaborate with the senate. As chair, I sit on the President’s Council, while the chair-elect, Elliott Parker, sits on the Academic Leadership Council. More than at any other time in my memory, the faculty, though its senate, has access to the administration as the university grows and evolves. As you know, the senate is advisory to the administration. The degree to which that advice is influential is dependent on how thoughtful it is, not necessarily whether our advice is consistent with preexisting ideas the administration may have. I genuinely believe we can influence many important decisions about how our campus functions and matures.

    A wide variety of issues will present themselves to the senate this year. Some we can anticipate while others will manifest themselves with little notice. Before you now are the recommendations from the Academic Standards Committee. These recommendations were outlined at the May senate meeting, but action on the recommendations were tabled until the June meeting. These recommendations are crucially important to the academic functioning of the campus. You must thoughtfully consider your position on each of the recommendations. You may accept them in part or whole, reject them in part or whole, or modify them as the senate deems appropriate. Regardless of the senate’s decisions, I want to thank the members of the ASC and the chair, Louis Marvick. The Faculty Senate blog is a reasonable place to “think out loud” with the other senators about these recommendations.

    Speaking of the blog, it is in its infancy. It will be up to the senate as to how to best utilize this tool. As chair I have no special interest in keeping the blog closed to only senators or necessarily make it open to all faculty. That is a discussion for the whole senate. Senators can start their own blogs as well. My interest is in helping the senate succeed in its mission. It remains to be seen as to how a blog can best facilitates that goal.
    In order to keep this post brief, I will raise only one last issue. As you are probably already hearing, additional budget cuts to higher education are likely. At this point, I believe UNR is already running as leanly as it can. That means that if additional cuts must occur, it is likely they will have serious consequences for the university. The senate will keep as involved in any budget discussions as we can. Last year we participated in a plan that was intended to preserve positions and classes. The administration actively sought our input, and we agreed on strategies the Board of Regents ultimately accepted. We will again be involved in those discussions. By the time we next meet, the Board of Regents will have met, and I will give you an update. In the meantime, you might want to begin discussing this issue with your constituents.