Friday, December 05, 2014

EKU President Benson on Eastern Standard

"Eastern is a School of Opportunity. 
It is the place where people came because they knew that they 
could get an education at a price they could afford. 
And to close that off, on people is not something that we want to do."
--Michael Benson

This from at WEKU:

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Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson appeared on a recent Eastern Standard radio program at WEKU. Hingsbergen and Dr. Benson’s discuss the president's goals and achievements since coming to Eastern in 2013.

Hingsbergen: What do you see as the future of tenure for Eastern Kentucky University professors?
Benson: Well, tenure for me is at the heart, really, of the academy. It’s a long-standing tradition. It’s one that is certainly at times assailed by various groups, whether its legislative groups or even governing boards. I think it’s part of the whole cloth of the university. It’s been around for a long, long time. Can it be refined and improved? Certainly it can be. And we’re going through a process right now in terms of post-tenure review and making sure that people continue to be productive, and contribute to the university. But as a principle, as I told the Faculty Senate last Monday, when I had a conversation with Richard Day and a faculty member after, that as an administrator, I really leave to the academic side of the house, particularly the Provost’s office and the Faculty Senate their governance, their of course, rank and promotion processes that they have received. My role is to get the faculty the resources they need to be successful. And tenure is one of those parts of that academic process that allows them to pursue their research interests, to prove that they are scholars and contributors to the university community. And again, you see states like Texas, Wisconsin, out in Utah we saw it, where legislators kind of take it on as an issue sometimes during the session. I haven’t heard much of a flare up here in Kentucky since I’ve been here. I’ve heard bits and pieces, but no real serious talk of taking a run at it.
Hingsbergen: Tenure is a practice here at Eastern.
Benson: Oh yes. Absolutely.
Hingsbergen: How does one achieve tenure?  Is it a matter of longevity, a certain amount of time in the position of professor?
Benson: Well, as you know, a faculty member will come in as an assistant professor in either a tenure or non-tenure track position. Different universities have different nomenclature or classifications. You can be a teaching professional with no aspirations to achieve tenure. But if you’re a “true academic,” if you want to get into a tenured slot, you’ll get into that assistant position and after a certain amount of time you’ll go through a peer-review process. If your department and your college grants tenure, then you get a rank advancement. And it usually goes, assistant, associate, full. We have another. We have foundation professors at EKU, which is another kind of recognition of faculty that have made a real contribution. A notable contribution. And our faculty do. They’re producing research. They’re teaching. And we hope they’re focused on community service. So a lot of things go into those decisions. And, again, that’s an issue that the department and colleges, I leave to them to make those decisions. Presidents rarely, if at all, get involved in tenure decisions. And that’s the right practice...

Hingsbergen:  The cost of education continues to be an issue with the amount of college loans that some of our students continue to take on. Where does Eastern sit in terms of the cost of an education and the issue of tuition? I’m sure it has risen. How much has it risen in your brief tenure so far? What do you see happening? 

Benson: Well, the Council on Postsecondary Education, their board makes the recommendation on what we are allowed to do with tuition. They really set the cap. So they did a two-year tuition cap at 8 percent. And this last year, we took 5 percent which was [what] the governor suggested and the legislature mandated that we should do. And they spelled out very specifically during tuition hearings, where those dollars were going to some of the increased costs we have - the fixed costs. We’re 80% tied to personnel, so anytime you want to do things in terms of adding new faculty lines, that money’s got to come from somewhere. And unfortunately, as the state support has declined in Kentucky for on-going budgetary needs - and we’re not unique, this is happening across the country – we’ve had to rely on what we do have. Public education is [funded] through property tax. So we have that kind of release valve, if you will, through tuition./ And it’s not an inexhaustible supply. I’ll state that categorically. It’s not that we can continue on the trend. And one thing that I’m trying to focus on and really preach wherever I go, is that Eastern is a School of Opportunity. It is the place where people came because they knew that they could get an education at a price they could afford. And to close that off, on people is not something that we want to do. So we will continue to focus on ways that we can be more efficient, that will raise more money for scholarships, that will continue to make the Eastern experience successful to all who want it.
Audio here.

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