Administration and faculty are butting heads over the requirements set forth by the administration on how the faculty should organize departments, the rationale used to decide these mandates and the cost estimates the administration have presented.
The administration is requiring that each department have at least 12 full-time equivalency faculty, meaning those with too little must join other departments. A full-time faculty member teaches six courses a year, so two part-time faculty teaching three classes each would count as one full-time faculty. The larger departments will mean less department heads and administrative associates, resulting in estimated savings of roughly $751,853 in the Academic Affairs budget, according to interim Provost John Wright, who presented a departmental restructuring report to the Faculty Senate on Feb. 4.
Each college’s self-organization is the next step in the academic reorganization of the university, which began in August 2010 when USM President Selma Botman announced that budget deficits called for a rearrangement of USM’s structure.
Administration are facing opposition from some faculty who believe the projected savings are overestimated and that forced departmental mergers will hurt academics.
In an e-mail sent last week to Botman and John Wright, provost and vice president of academic affairs, Jerry LaSala, chair of the Faculty Senate and the physics department, criticized Wright’s position on the 12 FTE faculty mandate, as well as the figures and methods Wright used to calculate the estimated savings of the academic reorganization.
“I recommend suspending any further action on academic reorganization until realistic, verifiable projections of actual cost savings can be demonstrated,” wrote LaSala in the e-mail.
“What I’m asking the provost for, and other faculty have asked, is a little bit of flexibility in the number of 12 full-time equivalency faculty,” said LaSala, who also said some consolidations with less than 12 FTE faculty could still save money and make academic sense.
Wright’s rationale for having a 12 FTE faculty minimum partly comes from a comparison of the department sizes of 56 similar institutions. The average FTE was 13.85 for the other institutions, but the median was 9.15.
“It is startling that they want to raise our minimum to higher than the median of our peer institutions, which means we will have very large departments,” LaSala said.
Jeannine Uzzi, professor of classics and faculty senator, agreed. “The provost, frankly, does not have a reasonable rational to support the demand for the departments to have no fewer than 12 faculty,” she said.
LaSala said that although in many cases larger departments are fine, it doesn’t always make sense. “Forcing combinations that are less academically rational or combinations that might actually diminish the identity of programs is a problem I see, and that’s what we want to avoid,” he said.
“There are many faculty who feel that this is being imposed on the faculty without them being heard. And this is affecting their morale,” LaSala said.
According to Wright, savings will come from fewer department heads and administrative assistants, who may be reassigned to other places in the university.
Some faculty have pointed out that this wouldn’t end up saving USM money overall. “If you move AAs out of the academic part of universities and put them in nonacademic, that’s not to say they aren’t needed there, but there’s no net savings for the university,” LaSala said.
Wright said the money saved would be re-invested into Academic Affairs and make the structure more sustainable in the long run. “I see no ways that this would take away from academics at all,” he said.
Michael Hillard, senator and professor of economics, said he thinks Wright failed to put together clear evidence that showed the saving.“It didn’t sound like a cost savings at all. It sounded like a cut in the programs we have.”
In LaSala’s e-mail, he also criticized the administration for not appreciating the importance of AAs.
“You assume that the AAs have so little to do in small departments that having one take on what was the work of two is trivial. You should really look in on what any AA does in a day,” he wrote.
Uzzi echoed the sentiment. “I think AAs are incredibly important for students, because they are the first point of contact,” Uzzi said. She said the departmental consolidation takes AAs away from faculty and students.
The provost and faculty members even disagreed on whether or not he accepted one of their college structure proposal.
The College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences submitted a proposal to Wright in December. The proposal had three interdisciplinary divisions — performing arts, social sciences and humanities — with programs or majors in each division. The programs would send representatives to the division level committees, with the hope of creating more interdisciplinary opportunities by having leaders from different programs interacting more.
“The provost, in his original mandate, had indicated that groups of fewer than 12 faculty members wouldn’t be able get compensation for their chair person,” said Jeannine Uzzi, professor of classics and faculty senator.
“We always knew our chairs wouldn’t get compensation.”
Uzzi said Wright rejected the idea because he didn’t think it would agree with the union contract.
“The primary problem with that is it doesn’t comply with academic departments and academic department chair structure, preferred by [the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine] and preferred by the University of Maine System,” Wright said.
He said some senators asked if they could compromise and use co-chair instead of program chair in order to comply with union, and he said he would consider it.
“I think this is a win-win situation. With that culture, there’s some people who are stuck on the term ‘program leader’ and aren’t willing to budge,” Wright said.
“I approved the college structure, and if they wanted the division structure, I said that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that at all.”
Wright is planning on meeting with the college on Feb. 18 and could rectify any communication issues then. “I don’t think all of the faculty members know I’m willing to compromise on their proposal,” he said.
“I think its workable. And by the end of the day, I think we will come together and get this done. I’m optimistic.”
He did say, however, that even if they established a division structure, they would still have to follow the rule of 12 FTE faculty. Wright said he could consider some exceptions to departments with particularly large numbers of students, like in communication and media studies.
The changes, which will be finalized by Sept. 1, will not affect the majors offered, according to Wright. However, the university will begin reviewing programs this spring and looking at majors graduating less than five students a year.
“Are all the faculty happy about this?” said Wright. “Of course not.” He said the purpose of the reorganization is to create a sustainable structure, ensuring that majors remain strong, with a leaner administration.
“I wish I had a million dollars,” he said. “My job would be a lot easier.”