Pending academic cuts have faculty concerned for university's future

2012-03-01T12:00:00Z 2012-04-12T15:48:57Z Pending academic cuts have faculty concerned for university's futureBy EMILY CHRISTENSEN, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Proposed academic cuts at the University of Northern Iowa have yet to be made public, but those on campus are already talking about what they may mean for the university.

UNI President Benjamin Allen is expected to announce the cuts next week following additional meetings with the Faculty Senate and United Faculty. However, Adam Butler, a psychology professor, said most faculty already know what the administration has presented to faculty leaders based on the criterion shared with United Faculty representatives.

"The only thing that was said was that the administration was proposing cuts to programs that had graduated 10 or fewer majors in each of the last five years," he said. "Some of those programs seem to be pretty integral to the notion of a university. Sometimes there are small programs on campus, but programs which are nevertheless necessary to call yourself a comprehensive university."

Butler wouldn't say which programs are at risk, but said, in general, programs like philosophy and German rarely have a large number of graduates. He said he would "be ashamed to have a university without a philosophy department."

Cathy DeSoto, the United Faculty president, said union representatives requested a copy of the proposed cuts and consolidations as part of the discussion regarding how layoffs and recalls would work should they be needed.

"The reorganization that they've proposed, if it went through, it would eviscerate the university," she said. In a statement released to the press today, the United Faculty said the cuts would eliminate undergraduate degrees in "fields as diverse as physics, geography, religion, philosophy and teaching of English to speakers of other languages."

She said that the faculty union has shared the information with colleagues. Department heads have also begun talking with faculty who could be affected.

Butler called the latest round of cuts "the proverbial last straw."

"This has been growing for a number of years. There doesn't seem to be any vision from President Allen on the future of UNI in this rapidly changing and increasingly competitive higher education landscape," he said.

According to a United Faculty survey taken this fall, more than 83 percent of the faculty responding said their morale has declined since arriving at UNI, with more than 41 percent strongly agreeing with the statement.

The entire faculty has been asked to gather Friday afternoon. Butler expects if a quorum is present, a vote of no confidence will be brought to the floor. The Teacher Education Faculty senate, which represents about 180 faculty, Tuesday passed a no-confidence vote in Allen, Provost Gloria Gibson and the Board of Regents.

Butler said it isn't even the proposed cuts that have faculty most upset. It is the process by which the administration reached those decisions --- largely without input from faculty.

"This is not a new trend in leadership for President Allen," Butler said. "Leading up to this year morale was low, as low as it's been since I've been here. Nobody is confident that President Allen can lead us forward."

Butler, who used to work as an organizational psychologist, said that kind of atmosphere could have a significant negative impact on recruitment and retention of quality faculty.

"You cannot have a demoralized workforce and simultaneously expect them to perform at their best," he said.

However, Spencer Walrath, the Northern Iowa Student Government President, said no matter how upset faculty are about what is happening on campus they need to engage in civil discussions, especially when communicating with students. Walrath wrote on open letter to faculty in the student newspaper expressing his concern. He said while most faculty have had open and honest discussions with their students others have resorted to anger and name-calling.

"I had a number of students come and complain to me. Some were even crying because of the things faculty said, calling the president names, their tone and demeanor. They said the tone of the conversation frightened them," Walrath said, adding that he has not witnessed any of these exchanges.

Butler said many faculty members are talking to students about the pending cuts but he questioned how many, if any, have engaged in that kind of conversation.

"It's all hearsay, and we've played the game of operator before," he said. "Even just in informal conversations with faculty I have not heard people speak disrespectfully or disparage the administration personally, only complain about their performance and lack of leadership."

Copyright 2015 Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. dta44
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    dta44 - March 02, 2012 1:04 am
    AnonymousCoward – the impact of an academic department is not just the number of majors it produces. Several departments rumored to be on the chopping block, in this article and elsewhere, have very high enrollments in the Liberal Arts Core, and several are necessary for other departments’ curriculums. Removing faculty in these departments will have unintended consequences elsewhere. Also, several of these departments have been quite successful bringing in outside grants to fund research involving undergraduates and graduate students. In addition, in many cases a “major” is simply an emphasis area or concentration, i.e., a collection of existing classes put together to provide structure (and marketability) to a student’s curriculum at little to no additional cost. Some departments provide more of these to students to provide more options; others don’t. Many faculty are shocked by the simple-minded analysis that seems to be done by those making decisions. This follows a multiyear pattern of administrative decisions containing serious flaws that could have been addressed if only there had been some input from those outside a small group of upper administrators.
  2. dta44
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    dta44 - March 02, 2012 12:36 am
    Class of 993 – If UNI were a business, what would I do? Thanks for asking. I’d focus on the core mission of the “business.” In this case, it’s education. Places to look for cuts?

    As others have noted, President Allen has guided us through an increase in administrative bloat. He has cut himself off from faculty, to focus on…supposedly being the public face of the university, lobbying for resources, donations, etc. (which apparently hasn’t been working). In the process, he has over-delegated his work within the university, especially in academic affairs, to several additional upper administrators, and this has cascaded down to middle management as well. In 2005, we had 92 employees classified as “Executive/Managerial”; this increased to 112 in 2009. (This is using UNI’s own published data.) Administration’s response? To say that some “Executive/Managerial” employees were really “Professional and Scientific,” not “Executive/Managerial” and subtracting these employees from their “Executive/Managerial” numbers, while not making this “adjustment” for previous years so they could claim a decrease (although we’re talking about the same people, same positions, same salaries). Several administrative functions that were part time, or were handled by faculty, are now full-time administrative positions. Cutting just, say, 10 administrators times $150,000 each in wages and benefits (conservatively) equals $1.5 million/year.

    Also, if you spend 10 years as an administrator at UNI, you can step down and keep your administrator’s stipend (it’s pro-rated if you step down before 10 years). There are people walking around campus with 6-figure salaries because of jobs they had years ago, in some cases decades ago. Perhaps we could stop this practice. Also, many universities, especially of our size, have department chairs (a faculty member who leads the department for a set term, typically for a course release and/or small stipend) rather than department heads (administrators who receive administrative salaries). Many faculty favor a chair system. Administrators tend to favor additional levels of administrators below them. At, say, $20,000 savings for each chair vs. head, times over 30 department heads, yields total savings of over $600,000/year.

    This just for starters.
  3. mfbrown
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    mfbrown - March 01, 2012 8:51 pm
    The opinions expressed in this article don't seem to be entirely straight shooting either. According to this article from the Des Moines Register,

    The programs under consideration of cutting are those that have graduated 10 or fewer students in the last 5 years, not 10 or fewer each of the last 5 years. If someone can tell me how it makes sense to keep multiple tenured faculty around when they could go years without graduating a single student, I'm willing to listen.

    And things like Philosophy, which is used as an example isn't even on the DMR list. Furthermore, programs like physics (again used as an example) aren't being completely eliminated, the B.A. degree is. There's still going to be a B.S. in Physics.

    No one, not the admin, NOR the faculty speaking to the media are giving straight answers here. As a UNI alum, I am afraid of what I'm going to read in the news next week, but am anticipating a major confrontation between the administration and the faculty that will do nothing but harm the University's already damaged image. At least, please let someone use plain facts...
  4. kornpett
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    kornpett - March 01, 2012 8:44 pm
    Dog said: "Faculty are using a lot of hyperbole and emotion laden claims. And many, like Butler, are largely driven by having kids in the lab school."

    Can you refute anything in the article?
  5. Dog
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    Dog - March 01, 2012 7:32 pm
    Faculty are using a lot of hyperbole and emotion laden claims. And many, like Butler, are largely driven by having kids in the lab school.
  6. tooconfused
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    tooconfused - March 01, 2012 4:15 pm
    I was of the understanding that UNI's administration was not releasing details of proposed budget cuts until next week so that the faculty and staff that may be impacted and the general university population could be notified first. I believe the faculty union and the faculty senate were in a closed-door confidential meeting with the details.

    I find it disturbing that UNI's Faculty Union President, Catherine DeSoto, is releasing this information to multiple news organizations before the information has been released to the general university population first! How can Dr. DeSoto criticize UNI's leadership when she has no ethics herself?
  7. Justfortoday
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    Justfortoday - March 01, 2012 3:25 pm
    Academics need the funding far more than athletics. There are plenty of ways to make cuts that would make sense. If any part of UNI is not producing revenue in excess of expenses, they should be put on financial probation. I hate to see athletics put by the wayside, but we all know that the athletics are not money making ventures. Make the cuts where the true excesses exist.
  8. AnonymousCoward
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    AnonymousCoward - March 01, 2012 2:57 pm
    Why will eliminating majors that fewer than 10 students take "eviscerate" the University? That's like saying the loss of a store that practically no one shops at will devastate a community. Just because the majors, and perhaps some academic departments, go away, that doesn't mean that the elements of those subjects that are necessary to other degrees won't or can't be taught. Faculty who are experts in them will remain at the institution, and will just be incorporated in another department.

    In addition, if the other two state institutions offer the same degrees as those being cut, students may very well be better-served by attending a robust program there than a lackluster one at UNI.
  9. class of 993
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    class of 993 - March 01, 2012 2:28 pm
    Something for staff to think about. If you owned a business and you had a division that brought in 100,000 in revenue but cost you 200,000 to operate what would you do?? Allen is taking a business approach to this situation. It funny how we have heard that NU is the backbone of the university and that it is an education college but potentially dropping a program that graduates 10 or less will eviscerate the University...can you overly say dramatic.
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