volume 39, number 3
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Letters to the Editor

Paul S. LaFollette, Jr., Associate Professor of Computer and Information Sciences, College of Science and Technology

February 23, 2009

 

To the Editor,

I have been reflecting over the past few days on the presentations that Temple's Provost and CFO made to the Faculty Senate last Tuesday.  I want to share my thoughts with you. I am troubled by two interconnected themes.

Provost Lisa has announced some proposed changes in Temple's administrative structure, and asked for help from the faculty, especially those faculty most directly affected by the restructuring, in designing and coordinating the changes. Such a request, up front, in advance of final decisions, is most heartening.  It is consistent with the kind of respect for faculty opinion that the current administration has been talking about over the past couple of years.

I believe that most of the faculty join me in wanting to support activities that will ultimately be in Temple's best interests.  It is, of course, in our own best interests that Temple survive and prosper, but beyond this, many, probably most, of us have deep love and respect for the institution that is and has been Temple.

However, before I can embrace and support any proposed changes, I need to be convinced of two things.  First, I must know that changes in institutional structure which could well have substantial impact upon Temple and our students in years to come, are not being undertaken in precipitous fear under an unreasonable deadline, but rather are being made in the context of careful, deliberate study.  It seems to me that the restructuring of our collegiate structure is not something that should, or needs to be, rushed into by the arbitrary deadline of March 1, nor with concern only for the fiscal savings that such changes may (or may not) enable.  If, on balance, these changes are indeed demonstrably best for Temple, not only in terms of finance, but in all possible terms, then I am enthusiastic, even anxious, about embracing them, supporting them, helping to bring them about.  But I have as yet no evidence that this be the case.

And this brings me to my other concern.  CFO Wagner has done little to convince me of the need for the fear that appears to be motivating Temple in this proposed restructuring and in the mandated (and to me apparently arbitrary) forty million dollar budget contraction. His arguments, as I understood them, consisted of "Things are bad everywhere, therefore they must be bad at Temple.  Trust us on this." The numbers he presented were not substantiated by hard data, but rather, as he agreed with one of his questioners, were the administration's best guesses.

While I have no reason to doubt the administration's ability to make good guesses, neither have I any reason to believe in that ability. We are a community of scholars, and it is in our nature to make judgments based on evidence, not on the basis of a paternalistic appeal to authority.  "Proof by assertion" has never been a demonstrably accurate means of validating truth.

I do not question or dispute the authority of the Board and administration to set policy, to establish the budget, to make any of the kinds of decisions that they are legally empowered to make.  They do not, however, have the authority to compel the faculty's uncritical support of the decisions they make.  Yet, the support of the faculty will greatly facilitate Temple's implementation of such choices.   I would strongly urge President Hart, Provost Lisa, CFO Wagner, and the Board of Directors to enlist the faculty's help by DEMONSTRATING the need for them.  Provide us with the data that we need to make informed, scholarly decisions about the wisdom of such proposed actions as budget cuts (including who should bear them), merging and restructuring of the schools and colleges, and other similar activities.

I believe that we all want to be supportive of Temple's plans for meeting upcoming challenges, but we need to be enlisted thoughtfully, as scholars, not drafted in fear as uncritical inductees.

Paul S. LaFollette, Jr.,
Associate Professor of Computer and Information Sciences
College of Science and Technology