Open Letter to the General Faculty

by Faculty Senate President

Achille Messac

 

 

 

Dear Colleagues,

 

PROGRESS -- THANKS: Material progress is being made in faculty-administration relation, and shared governance.  As Senate President, I take this opportunity to thank some administrative leaders who have contributed to this turn of events. These include Provost Bud Peterson, Vice Provost Prabhat Hajela, Vice President of Human Resources Curtis Powell, and Vice President of Research Omkaram Nalamasu. The interaction with V.P. for Finance and CFO Virginia Gregg, and Acting Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education Lester Gerhardt has been more challenging. The former involves resources and handbook procedural issues; and the latter involves tuition policy related issues. I hope that it will be possible to report progress on these fronts, too, at some future time.

 

SURVEY EXPOSED GOVERNANCE ISSUES: The present encouraging situation is the result of our sustained effort over the past eight months to address important governance issues that had been exposed by the first administration of the Chain of Command Survey.

 

CONSULTANT UPDATE: Over that same period, a communication consultant was retained by the Chairman of the Board to help us face those challenges. She recently provided an update to the senate. That effort has thus far been practically of little or no usefulness.

 

CONSULTANT HAS NO IMPACT: Also, over that same period, the senate has worked with the administration to have meaningful successes. Unfortunately, the consultant work thus far has been largely irrelevant, and will likely be of limited positive impact. Both the timing and the focus of her work have missed the mark. I take this opportunity to respectfully suggest that she change her focus from "the modus operandi of communication channels", to an "amplified understanding of the notion of shared governance". Additionally, no recommendations after eight months of work is also unfortunate.

 

SUCCESSES, CHALLENGES, CONSULTANT FINDINGS:

Let me summarize below (i) examples of successful work with the administration, (ii) current challenges, and (iii) an examination of her preliminary findings -- in contrast with our recent survey of 180 faculty members.

 

SUCCESSES

*********

 

Specific examples of accomplishments include:

 

1) INTERACTION: Reversal of the tone of interaction from a highly   
   charged negative one, to one of mutually respectful engagement.

 

2) HANDBOOK: Remaining handbook issues have been resolved, leading to    
   senate, President, and Board of Trustees approvals.

 

3) HR: Resolution of various issues with HR, and progress on others in
   a mutually understanding framework.

 

4) PROVOST: The provost has been as much a partner as I could have
   hoped, within the framework of his responsibilities.

 

5) MIDDLE STATES Reaccreditation Report: The faculty senate requested
   many changes in the report, which would better reflect the
   governance challenges.  All were made, and accepted by the President   
   of the Institute.

 

6) LIBRARY issues have been put on track to be addressed, hopefully, in
   the short term; by explicit presidential directives, and
   implementation by the Provost.

 

7) MID-SEMESTER ASSESSMENT: We are on track to addressing this issue,
   which our students tell us is very important to them. It's up to us
   to see this issue to fruition this semester. Students, faculty, and
   administration are working on this issue in full cooperation.

 

8) STUDENT ADVISING/MENTORING: Here again is an issue that both faculty
   and students feel needs urgent consideration. We are making   
   progress. I hope that we will take the tangible first steps by the
   end of this semester. Students, faculty, and administration are
   working on this issue in full cooperation.

 

 

CURRENT CHALLENGES

******************

 

1) President -- Senate interaction

 

2) Board of Trustees -- Senate interaction

 

3) Tuition related issues

 

4) Planning and Resources issues

 

5) Ways for faculty to proactively help address many significant
   challenges (e.g., research revenue, dependence on tuition, help
   increase undergraduate and graduate application pool, nurture
   administration-faculty partnership).

 

Our mutual willingness/eagerness to help address these and other issues is critical.


 

*******************************************

****     COMMUNICATION CONSULTANT      ****

*******************************************

 

** Progress going forward

     -- Consultant work has no positive impact

 

The interviews started in May 2005, and were to have ended in the first week of August -- according to the August 5th memo of the Provost to the senate president.

 

Unfortunately, 9 months later, no recommendations are made, and no date for receiving any has been provided. In addition, requests to the communication consultant to communicate her results to us by leaving with us a copy of her presentation were rejected -- a surprising decision.

 

GENESIS: This effort is a direct outcome of (i) extensive discussions I had with the Chairman of the Board in April 2005, (ii) a following discussion between the Faculty Senate Executive Committee (FSEC) and the Chairman of the Board, and (iii) in a direct way, the results of the first Faculty Chain of Command Survey.

 

INTERVIEWEES -- Although Ms. Shipley's work originally involved only interviews of faculty (since this was the problem at hand), she later included staff -- a decision that may further obscure the meaning of any future findings.

 

 

**************************************

****   SURVEYS CHARACTERISTICS    ****

**************************************

 

SENATE       CONSULTANT

SURVEY       SURVEY

 

 149          37  Tenure and Tenure-Track

                    (37 = 20 Administrative + 17 Non-Admin.)

 

  12           8  Clinicals

 

  18           0  Librarians, Research, and Retired

________________

 179          45  TOTAL FACULTY

________________

 

 0            14  Staff

 

Anonymous     In-Person/Telephonic

 

<Self          <Randomly Selected

Selected>       with "Guidance" provided>(?)

 

"Governance"   "Communication"  <<Examination PERSPECTIVES

 

 

**************************************

*** SENATE SURVEY -- KEY FINDINGS  ***

**************************************

 

Increasing Favorability:

 

40% Dean of Graduate Education     

43% President    

47% Provost

54% Faculty Senate <<***Singled out by Consultant***>>>

 

67% Dean of Undergraduate Education

68% School Deans 

76% Department Chairs <<****Different conclusion by Consultant

84% Center Directors   

 

SUMMARY - Faculty Survey:

 

The key messages conveyed by the respondents:

 

1) The administration should make a greater effort to join with the
   faculty to address issues of governance.

 

2) The faculty should recognize the tangible and significant progress
   that has been made under the leadership of our Institute President.

 

3) EMPAC offers potential opportunities, and also poses significant
   concerns/challenges.

 

4) The senate/faculty and the administration must engage in meaningful
   dialog.

 

5) The position of Provost should grow into that of a Chief Academic
   Officer -- more in line with that in a top tier university.

 

6) The Senate should put greater emphasis on issues that concern
   younger faculty, as well as on issues of research effectiveness.

 

7) The Board of Trustees has a greater role to play.

 

 

******************************************

*** CONSULTANT SURVEY -- KEY FINDINGS  ***

******************************************

 

Comments provided

 

  Dean of Graduate Education  -- NONE

  President    -- NONE

  Provost   -- NONE

  Faculty Senate   << Incomprehensive

 

  Dean of Undergraduate Education -- NONE

  School Deans   -- NONE

  Department Chairs    << Contrary to Senate Survey

  Center Directors   -- NONE

 

SUMMARY -- Consultant Survey:

 

The key messages:

 

1) Characterization of various "communication" procedures.

 

2) No Recommendations are made (after 8 months of work).

 

3) Faculty-administration communication is good according to some, and
   top-down according to others.

 

4) Difficulties in communication with Department Chairs (At variance
   with senate survey findings).

 

5) Senate does not adequately represent faculty.  (A single-faceted
   view of a multi-faceted situation).

 

The senate minutes of 1-25-06 offer more detailed information. The senate survey did reveal that the effectiveness of the senate directly depends on the administration's willingness to empower it.

 

CREDIBILITY: Given the greater statistical significance of the senate survey, one might reasonably conclude that the senate survey results are more credible.

 

Keep in mind that the consultant firmly declined repeated requests to leave a copy of her presentation, which makes a detailed examination of her "communication" to the faculty impossible. That decision from a communication consultant is a bit puzzling. It does not seem to be a good way to communicate on such an important issue.

 

******************

 

In sum, we are forging ahead with meaningful progress in our interaction with the administration -- while the communication consultant work has unfortunately been largely irrelevant in that pursuit. Some mid-course correction in her effort (from "communication" to "governance") is called for, if her work is to have a positive impact.

 

Finally, in an effort to sustain the positive momentum, I invite all faculty to lend increased support to the many important administration initiatives.

 

These issues will be on the agenda of the senate meeting tomorrow. All are invited.

 

Respectfully,

 

Achille Messac

Faculty Senate President