ISU-AAUP Fall Forum
The Presidential Search and the Campus Community
Wednesday, November 28, 3:30 pm
Dede II, HMSU
Vice President, ISU Board of Trustees and Chair, Presidential Search Committee and
Chair, Presidential Search Committee
Chair, Analytical Department and
Former President, ISU Faculty Senate
President, Wright State University
Although the ISU constitution grants the faculty primary authority over curriculum, instruction and academic structure, when it comes to financial matters, the administration at ISU is granted greater power vis-Ö-vis the faculty. With regard to day-to-day operations and acquisition of financial resources, it makes sense to assign this responsibility to individuals who pursue these tasks as full-time work. Faculty ought to be primarily engaged in the core tasks of the university: research and teaching. In the long term, however, it is crucial to recognize that resource allocation decisions are the essential determining factor for curriculum and academic structure. If the faculty is to exercise effective authority over these areas, it must be integrally involved in budgetary matters.
A practical mechanism for this would be a Standing Committee for Budgetary Matters of the Faculty Senate, complemented by similar committees established within the constituent parts of ISU (colleges, schools or even departments). Faculty committees for budgetary matters are critical components of governance at many U.S. universities. Faculty involvement in budgets is also strongly recommended by the AAUP as an essential extension of primary authority in the areas of curriculum and academic structure: "The allocation of resources . . . is central in the formal responsibility of the governing board, in the administrative authority of the president, and in the educational function of the faculty" (AAUP, Policy Documents & Reports, 10th edn. Washington, DC: AAUP, 2006, p. 137; emphasis added).
In recent experience the faculty role in budgetary matters at ISU has been diminished. Although committees and faculty assemblies across the University have authority to review and recommend budgetary decisions, this authority is at best weakly exercised. Evolution to governance practice in which a faculty collectively defers to an administration on budgetary matters is understandable. To effectively exercise authority requires an intimate knowledge of budgets, and faculty members are deeply engaged in other work. In a world where the objectives and governing philosophies of faculty and administrators are aligned, deference to administrators regarding budgetary decisions is fine. But when there are differences between faculty and administrators regarding curriculum and academic structure, this deference amounts to capitulation to the goals of administration in the long term. If faculty guidance of the institution in its areas of primary authority is to be effective, faculty members must exercise greater influence over budgetary matters.
To rectify this situation, two kinds of changes are needed. One is a change in attitudes and assumptions. Faculty should expect to play a greater role in the budget, and administrators should assist in this by genuinely considering faculty input and by cooperatively providing the financial information required. This amounts to a cultural shift within the institution. The second kind of change is administrative. Work on budget committees is very demanding and needs to be recognized as an official duty on par with other faculty responsibilities. I propose that the University establish a set of standing committees staffed with faculty members and charged with the complete range of budgetary matters facing the institution.
Yet even without structural changes, a stronger faculty voice can and should be asserted. The essential step is to reinvigorate faculty work on budgetary matters through the existing system of standing and special committees. For example, on both college and university levels, administrative affairs committees have advisory authority on such budgetary matters as new faculty hires and allocation of faculty lines among departments. Both faculty and administrators need to take this advisory authority more seriously, in order to begin the process of cultural shift that is needed for greater faculty voice in budgetary issues. Faculty working on administrative affairs committees need to develop the kind of expertise that improves governance in financial matters and provides a foundation for effective long-term administrative reorganization.
Consider the following scenario as an illustration. The administration has recently attempted to eliminate the departments and programs of study in the areas of philosophy and physics. They cannot do this unilaterally, because the faculty collectively has primary authority in such matters. If the faculty is not convinced that these changes are in the best interests of the University, then the Dean, Provost and President cannot themselves force the change. That power rests with the ISU Board of Trustees, which has ultimate legal authority over University policy. However, if the administration controls the allocation of financial resources, they can deny these departments funds to replace faculty members who retire or otherwise end their employment with ISU. Over time the attrition of faculty lines effectively forces remaining faculty to either increase their workload, to degrade the quality of their programs, or to cede to administration wishes and close the programs. In the recent past this occurred in the departments of economics, environmental health, humanities and sociology. Substantive faculty advisory authority in this area might have prevented such "creeping elimination" of viable programs.
Another example is recent salary and other expenditure decisions pertaining to academic programs and competing allocations. Over the last half-decade, annual salary adjustments received by the faculty and staff serving academic programs have not kept pace with inflation, effectively lowering their real incomes. Yet large sums have been allocated for consultants, buildings and a variety of special projects. ISU administrators made these decisions with little input from faculty. This power would be moderated if faculty were consistently engaged in budgetary matters. To replace departing colleagues, departments would be turning to faculty committees in collective governance as much as to administrators. The faculty collectively would weigh the advantage of special projects against the advantage of attracting and retaining faculty and staff through pay incentives. The outcomes might be the same or not, but the process would be more collegial and certainly better considered from the perspective of academic programs and curriculum.
Naturally, the process of financial analysis and budget formulation requires interaction with administrators at the appropriate level. Administrators have essential perspective on resource limitations and other financial matters that must inform the work of faculty budget committees. At the same time, administrators must be informed of the needs of college level programs and desired directions of development as expressed by the faculty collectively. Ultimately, the use of dedicated committees for budgeting would be more effective than the current system because faculty members would be informing each other of competing needs rather than having these competitions mediated indirectly through departments' independent interaction with the administration. This would, in turn, enable the faculty to more effectively exercise responsibility in areas where it has primary authority.
Richard Lotspeich is Associate Professor of Economics and former President of the ISU - AAUP chapter. A more comprehensive version of this essay is available on the website of the ISU Chapter of the AAUP.