Has the Opportunity for Transparency and Shared Governance
Already Passed Us By?
In the P-12 world, especially since KERA, springtime budget cuts and staffing reallocations have been common place. Every March, teachers and other support staff await news of whether their positions will be funded, or if they will be "pink slipped."
Underpinning that decision-making was a philosophy, which we in the Fayette County schools would repeat out loud. "Don't touch programs that directly impact students." It guided the tough choices that had to be made. The positions of folks who worked directly with students were much safer, if you will, than those who supported that instruction. In that way, the school district was sure to support its core mission - assuring student success.
If there is a similar philosophy guiding the work of EKU's Strategic Reallocation Task Force, it is less apparent. The Task Force is looking broadly to increase efficiency, cost-containment, and focus on core mission. That certainly sounds good, but I'm not sure what it really means.
This sort of reorganization is relatively new to EKU. But not completely.
Ask any "old timer" about the brief administration of EKU President Robert W. Kustra (1998-2001) and you get raised eyebrows and a reference to "The April Fool's Day Massacre." According to Bill Ellis's History of EKU, the issues back in those days were pretty much the same as today. Kustra, an Illinois Republican politician who had served as Lt. Governor, entered the presidency with a $13 million cushion from President Funderburke and began to concern himself with campus culture, shared governance, increasing enrollment, student retention, and technology.
Believing he had a mandate from the Board of Regents, on April 1, 1999, Kustra unilaterally and apparently without warning, announced a restructuring that he claimed would save a half million dollars. Despite his stated support for shared governance, the news shocked the campus community. A few discussions with a retired Vice President about the project did little to prepare the faculty for a immediate reorganization of nine colleges into five, and the reaction was huge. Amid the reorganization, Kustra created two new Associate Vice Presidents.
A firestorm developed and the April Fool's' Day Massacre moniker was born. Stricken faculty members rebelled, claiming that they had not been a party to any discussions. Kustra had apparently followed the "Administrative Playbook," telling the Deans that "no decisions have been made" and leading them to believe that change was not imminent - then dropping the bomb unexpectedly. Kustra defended his position, claiming that Eastern needed to get in line with its benchmark institutions by the end of the fiscal year.
Kustra had hoped the faculty would quickly put the matter behind them. "He could not have been more wrong," Ellis wrote. The issue turned into an on-going discussion, in the Eastern Progress, around the departmental coffee machines, around campus, and off. Before long the Progress began to ask, "We're reorganized, but where's the money?" Funderburke's $13 million cushion was pretty much gone. Kustra's promotion of athletics, and the reorganization, coupled with the "Buck Study," which was meant to provide pay equity, only added to the confusion, and perhaps provided the means for administrative obfuscation. The university entered a period of instability and by his third year the faculty was considering a vote of no confidence. Then on Valentine's Day, 2001, with a year left on his contract, Kustra resigned. During an informal gathering he said, "I created a few people who took me off their Christmas card list, you could say."
The lack of transparency in 1999 cost the university. What will be the result of the current Task Force's inability to get to a point where it could share specific information with the campus in advance of the Board of Regents meeting scheduled right after spring break.
It appears that once the plan is presented to the Board, it will move toward being "a done deal" rather quickly - much like Kustra's bomb. We can see this one coming, but no one knows what it will look like when it arrives.
As previously reported, Martin & Hill's study of the factors that drive costs at public universities underscored the importance of shared governance in universities' budget decisions.
Those who hold the purse strings have a natural incentive to hire more employees like themselves...Sharing decisions about hiring and other spending across different types of people, including faculty, administrators, and governing-board members, [Martin] said, acts as a natural check and balance, ensuring that no individual side's interests rise to the top.
But the study highlights a staffing trend, seen over two decades, of colleges' hiring more administrators than faculty. Universities reduced costs by hiring part-time instructors instead of tenure-track faculty, while hiring relatively more full-time administrators, the study shows. In 1987, the ratio of tenure-track faculty to full-time administrators at public research universities was 0.96, a balance of about one-to-one, with a slight tilt toward administrators. By 2008, however, the ratio of faculty to administrators had fallen to 0.56, reflecting a strong shift toward administrators.
Over that same time, the number of tenure-track faculty per 100 students at public research universities grew by 3 percent, while the number of part-time faculty per 100 students grew by 60 percent. Meanwhile, executive and managerial staff at those institutions increased by 9 percent per 100 students and noninstructional professional staff grew by 57 percent per 100 students.
EKU was not immune to this trend.
From 2004 to 2011, EKU reported the following increases and decreases in the number of positions by category.
- Executive/Administrative and Managerial: +44
- Other Professional: +82
- Clerical and Secretarial: +230
- Technical and Paraprofessional: -165
- Skilled Crafts: +63
- Service/Maintenance: -51
- Faculty: +64
These categories can be misleading in some rare cases (i.e., where a "Director" has no budget and no reports and arguably should show up under "Other Professional" rather than Admin), but overall, it mirrors the national trend. This bureaucracy has only been built over the past decade. Now that cuts have been mandated, will this administrative bloat come under the microscope? Or will we simply try to save money by eliminating our least expensive instructors (who directly serve students), while driving up class sizes? Opinions differ, even among members of the Task Force. Off the record, one member expressed serious doubt that the Task Force would reduce many, if any, administrators, while another believed there would be reductions, even if those reductions did not occur this spring, but were planned reductions over the next year or two.
Martin & Hill argue that the optimal ratio of faculty to administrators should be should be 3:1. According to the most recent data I've seen, at EKU it is more like 1 1/2 :1. As of the Fall of 2011, EKU reported 426 administrators (those in the Exec/Admin/Manag and Other Professional categories above). The faculty numbered 626.
One can disagree with the findings of the study, but one thing is clear, there are universities operating efficiently and successfully with a much leaner administration. It can be done. It is being done by others.
We have a plan. Set aside $23 million. But is there a vision?
Some faculty had hoped that the Presidential Search Committee, also chaired by Turner, would set the course by calling for a President with a proven track record of success as a university president - a scholar who understood the critical importance of teaching and service. But that guidance did not come. Instead the search committee cast its net widely, setting the qualifications low enough that another politician could be considered.
Lacking a vision for the future, how can one tell if the cuts that will be recommended by the Task Force are likely to be fair and ultimately effective? For faculty, the test is likely to be whether significant administrative reductions are in the mix.
Will EKU become a leaner and more nimble? Or will personal relationships among top administrators and those who support their positions trump Chairmen Turner's desire for a new kind of business model?