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Letter of UNR Faculty Senate chair Erik Hertzik

11 Apr 2011 8:00 AM | Deleted user
To my fellow Senators and members of the UNR academic community:

During the past rounds of program cuts I, and past Senate Chairs, generally tried to develop a conciliatory tone recognizing the damage of proposed cuts, but also the respect we held for those involved with the process.  We did this in the interest of shared governance, which is practiced in both good and bad economic times.  However, given the intransigence of the Governor – who refuses to even consider alternatives – and a flawed system of prioritizing cuts, we can no longer sit back and passively accommodate the process.

The most recently announced round of program cuts are an unprecedented assault on academic quality, faculty rights (and to be honest all employee rights on campus) and the ideal – practiced for centuries – of shared academic governance.   Where in the past we clung to the veneer of shared sacrifice and informed decision making with the administration, we can no longer be complicit in the dismantling of the academy.   We have both an academic and fiduciary responsibility to the institution, state and our professions to reject both the content and process of what is unfolding across all institutions of higher education in the State of Nevada.  If we blindly sit by and fail to speak we are no better than regulators who turn a blind eye to environmental or fiduciary practices that have resulted in multiple disasters across the country.

The announced round of cuts made yesterday are couched with the phrase they “were identified after consultation with a faculty committee.”  Some may disagree, but this is at best an overstatement.   The current cuts – done in the name of strategic prioritization and on a forced schedule – are an arbitrary collection of items and the presentation of their effects has been less than forthright.   They also include priorities and process no Faculty Senate – nor individual faculty – should allow to stand without condemnation.   I recognize the cuts were largely forced upon administration by multiple external entities, but their implementation would include the following prospects:

·         In a state that leads the nation in K-12 dropouts and the lowest percentage of students likely to pursue post-secondary education, the current proposal effectively eliminates any advanced training for educators.  The collapsing of the College of Education into the more amorphous College of Liberal Arts could threaten basic accreditation and licensing of future graduates.  In addition, the announcement of this reorganization simply highlights the elimination of a few graduate programs when in fact multiple firings of tenured faculty are a far more likely consequence.

·         The current proposal seeks to eliminate Philosophy as a degree granting unit and really in any sense as a unit with complete disciplinary independence and rigor.  Combined with a similar proposal at UNLV, this “by the numbers” approach will leave Nevada as the only state in the nation where the works of Plato, Mill and Rawls will recede to some dark administrative corner.   While we might be accused of being “pointy headed academics,” such a rejection of the fundamental ideas of academic inquiry and civilization cannot be quietly vouchsafed by the academic community.

·         But numbers are seemingly ignored in the proposal to take $1 million from the Department of Mathematics & Statistics.  In fact, the total dollar grab from the department was not mentioned in most press releases from the administration.  Instead, the focus was on elimination of the graduate degree program, which at best might account for 20% of the total proposed savings.  What is left unstated is the more realistic outcome of eliminating nearly 40% of the faculty within the department.   Math teaches more students than any single department on campus.  It has been singled out for cuts in every round of “strategic review,” despite the fact it carries a higher student FTE ratio than any similarly sized or tasked unit on campus.   If this cut goes forward, UNR will spend nearly equivalent amounts on the salaries for the football staff as for a discipline that is central to the success of every student at the University and vital to the support of degrees in Engineering, the Sciences and Business.  To say such a proposal in any way accords with faculty priorities is simply wrong.
These are just a few of the implications of the new round of proposed budget cuts.  The current proposed cuts also contain an unprecedented assault on faculty rights and governance.   Previous cuts have eliminated such support and protection units as the Faculty Omsbudsperson, the Affirmative Action Officer and salary support in the Senate Office.   This latest cut removes 50% of the staff in the Senate Office.  This cut was made without any advance consultation or even the courtesy of prior notification to Senate leadership.  With more faculty facing the prospect of firings and with curricular review processes that place faculty in highly disadvantaged situations in terms of meeting biased review standards, such elimination of support staff who can assist faculty will only further weaken the voice of all employees on campus.    If tenure is to have no meaning at UNR we should honestly confront that situation and should not accept the loss of our individual rights without comment.

We are, as a Senate, at a disadvantaged position in terms of influencing decisions made by this (or really any) administration.  The President and Provost have unenviable jobs in making cuts, but to say faculty are active partners or that we can stand by while such cuts are enacted can no longer be supported.  We should not be accomplices in these actions and certainly should not have our actions used in any way to justify actions we may find repugnant.

Towards that end, the rigid adherence to vertical cuts has often been justified by a Senate Resolution passed in June 2008.  This resolution gave general support for preservation of programs which “have achieved national prominence and provide the most value to university constituencies.”  This resolution was developed when the level and length of the budget difficulty was not assumed to be as great as it now is and was also predicated on a belief that standards for vertical cuts would be applied in some sort of consistent fashion.  Neither assumption now holds.  To simply cling to the strategy, despite the changing circumstances, in my mind meets the pejorative definition provided by Emerson of “a foolish consistency.”   I will ask at our April meeting for a motion repudiating this prior statement as it is being used to work against faculty interests.

We should also consider a formal statement of repudiation of the Governor’s strategy and priorities concerning higher education.  The Governor has stated that higher education has “failed” in Nevada simply based on raw degree production.  This shows little if any understanding of how students come into or even graduate from the institution.  At the most basic level, this type of thinking creates a perverse incentive for the institution to ignore any standards and simply meet the mark cranking out degrees.   Thus, if Math is somehow holding students up in their progress for a degree – largely because the University now admits more students who enter the University with a remedial Math deficiency – we simply downsize the requirement and the degree.  As noted above, it is our responsibility to insure academic quality and to simply “go along to get along” with an elected official makes a mockery of our professional standards and responsibilities.   We are often told this may “offend the Governor,” but at what point do we not react to the more grievous substantive damage resulting from the Governor’s politically motivated assault on higher education in the state?

I will also ask for discussion concerning a request that our accrediting body – The Northwest Commission – be asked to return to campus to review whether our budget and programmatic cuts are of such magnitude that degrees from the institution be re-examined for basic academic integrity.  If the state desires to hollow out degree requirements, student preparation and the qualifications of faculty, then we have a fiduciary and ethical responsibility to make incoming students and peer institutions across the nation aware of the situation at the University.  I do not have a formal motion on this point, but it is an issue we should discuss.

As noted above, the Senate, the faculty, staff and students have willingly worked to meet budgetary strictures in a cooperative and constructive fashion.  However, the current round of cuts poses a direct threat to academic standards, basic employment rights and undercuts standards of cooperative governance.    These are my observations following yesterday’s announcements and I, of course, welcome a vigorous discussion at our April meeting.  I am sorry such a drastic statement is necessary, but we can no longer be complicit in our own demise.  Thank you for any consideration and your continued work on behalf of the academic integrity of the University.


Eric Herzik
Professor and Faculty Senate Chair

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