Wednesday, March 06, 2013

There's a Plan, but is there a Vision?

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?

Apparently we will need to wait a little longer to find out.


Anonymous said...

It would be more transparent if they would just cut everyone by 10%. We all have experience with this process as we have had to do it on a college/departmental level the last three years with 3-6% cuts. There are no more paperclips to be saved or facilities repairs to be postphoned. Strategic in this case is increasingly looking like a synonym for political.

Doesn't make any sense to cut a huge part of your work force with the rationale that much of those savings will be used to bump salaries of those not cut. It doesn't matter to me if I get a thousand dollars more but now have to clean my office and wait even longer to have a computer or door handle repaired.

A fiscal emergency has not been declared so tenure track and tenured faculty can not be cut. All of this talk about closing programs in reality doesn't save any significant amounts of money because you still have the faculy on payroll. As folks leave or maybe retire early (heck why not, its like a bonus if your are almost in the barn) you could have programs kill themself off as instructional positions go unfilled.
Not sured what the task force is going to recommend but I wouldn't be supprised if president Whitlock and his hoped legacy as being a supporter of instruction, doesn't implement some of their recommendations. Heard UK's second year of planned fiscal/personnel blood letting never occurred - might happen here too if faculty get fed up enough.

Turner maybe thinking he is setting the new president up with a leaner institution and some money in his pocket but what he is really doing is giving him a school with a lot of disgruntled employees.

Anonymous said...

Transparency? Capacity? Reallocation? Strategic?

What is all of this double speak about anymore? Guess I am just getting cynical, but basically this is just the same old thing isn't it - people in power making unilateral decisions which will result in a place and conditions that they think will benefit them?

Anonymous said...

What do Bob Kustra and Stu Silberman have in common? Hmmmmm..... They both craved publicity. I had gone to speak with my advisor one day at the U.K. College of Education, and I asked him what he thought of Kustra. His response, "Isn't he the biggest huckster you've ever seen?"

Anonymous said...

So by the numbers it looks like we have added 126 administrative types who have created more buearacracy which required 230 more clerical folks to support their created work load. In the mean time we have released about 216 servcie and technical folks who help maintain the place (probably contracted out by the administrative folks and justified as savings) and hired 64 more faculty folks or about 8 instructors a year.

So here is the interesting part. Figure the average teaching load for EKU faculty is just over 3 courses which means each year we averaged adding about 50 course offerings to the catelogue or about 400 hundred courses during the 8 year time frame. I realize it is not a direct relationship but on average did we really need the equivalent of 1 administrator and two clerical staff members for every 3 courses we added via new faculty member?

Anonymous said...

When discussing increases in administration, "professionals" and clerical staff at EKU, it has been my experience that low level administration and even clerical staff create practices and policies which go through almost no review or approval process (compared to academic course changes) and are established not for the ease of use by faculty but for the convenience of their own administrative duties. If we want to start looking at "core mission" and "strategic" decisions, we need to start looking at how out of line some of these folks expectations and practices have become.

Not trying to be mean spirited or point fingers, but I can't tell you how many times over the years I have either had to explain practices or correct misunderstandings with new university clerical/professional folks due to turn over or else had clerical person I have never worked with make operational changes without talking to the departments which it impacts. I often feel like I am doing someone else's clerical job in order to make their tasks easier instead of clerical folks serving to make my job as a faculty member easier. I am suppose to be teaching, supporting my faculty and serving students, not reading a 30 page procurement card user manual or typing position postings for HR.

In the same token, not sure what to expect if these no faculty folks get RIFed. They have created such a thick insulation of bueracratic hoop jumping between need and action, we won't be able to get anything done without employing equal effort in cutting back the hedges of operational bueracracy.

Anonymous said...

Why 10 %? What was the justification for that specific amount? I am sure the Board of Regents who approved this have since gotten an earful from what appears on the surface to be a rather capricious and even calus mandate.

I thought we were selecting a president to make those decisions. Do we really need to candy coat the job that much in order to atract a quality candidate? What if we cut a program which the new president's vision perceives as necessary or even "strategic"!

Anonymous said...

Let the cuts begin, are you going to be pushed off the boat or jump in voluntarily. Staff folks with less than five years have got a pretty good idea where they stand come June.

I thought the idea was to try to encourage folks leave on their own in order to avoid RIF, but they you come to learn that not all voluntary reductions are going to approved, based on how much money they have in the pot to pay these folks off. So we are going to have to RIF folks regardless.

Unless you are on the verge of retiring anyway, you would be nuts to leave voluntarily. Current staff release packages would probably only keep you afloat for about three months once you throw COLA expense into the mix. Problem is if you leave voluntarily, you don't qualify for unemployment. Doesn't matter if EKU won't contest it, you still don't qualify because you left of your own accord. Better off to be kicked off the boat and have a couple of years of unemployement.