A Message from Paul LaFollette
By Paul LaFollette
Faculty Senate President and Associate Professor of Computer and Information Sciences,
College of Science and Technology
I had originally planned to write an article describing the various achievements of the Senate and its Steering Committee during the previous academic year, but suddenly we are half way through this semester and it seems better at this point to look at what we are currently up to, and our hopes for further activities.
Over the summer, as many of the Steering Commit-tee as possible made ourselves available to meet with the Provost and President as needed to continue dialogue about Temple’s financial challenges. From about mid-summer on, the FSSC had several meetings with Provost Englert in which, at his request, we focused on a variety of proposals for re-structuring various academic units at Temple. These meetings have continued into the term. On October 18 we will be having our annual autumn re-treat with the Provost, and the entire agenda will be devoted to the matter of proposed re-structuring. The expectation is that following this retreat, Provost Englert will produce a “white paper” outlining the proposed changes, and offering an explanation of the benefits that such changes might bring to Temple and our students, and also any projected negative effects that these changes might cause. It is our understanding that this “white paper” will then be the subject of scrutiny and comment by the entire faculty, and ultimately final decisions will be made by the President and Board.
The process to this point has been slow, largely because the faculty members involved want to be sure that they understand the effects, intended and unin-tended, beneficial and costly, that such re-structuring may bring about. Quite frankly, many of us are skeptical as to whether there is any real financial sav-ings to be had in the longer run, and whether there might not be better ways to benefit our students. And this brings me to the real point of this article.
Before we re-arrange the department chairs, we need to begin looking at the hard, deep down, fundamental, buried in the foundation question. And that question is not “What is Temple’s mission?” nor “What was Temple’s Mission” nor even “What should Temple’s mission be?”. Rather, it is time to ask “What expressions of excellence can Temple afford to pursue?” and “To whom do we owe that excellence?”. If we can answer these questions, we can then choose a mission that is both possible (first question) and ethical (second question). This needs to be a discussion that includes the board, the administration, the faculty, and our students. It needs to be direct, honest, and crystal clear. It needs to unfold in an atmosphere of trust in which neither financial information nor agendas are hidden. It needs to be slow, deliberate, inclusive, and it needs to start now with the expectation that it will still be in progress when the new president arrives.
Could we really do such a thing? I think we could. We actually came quite close in many ways when President Hart first arrived and set in motion the development of the “Academic Plan.” The President has said that after five years, she believes it is time to re-visit the academic plan. I concur. However, this time I am arguing that the process needs to include the development of a deep understanding of both those things that a public university must do, and those things that Temple in particular can afford to do. We need to identify those requirements of a university which are truly non-negotiable, those aspirations which we should let go of because we can at best afford to bring them to mediocrity, and then to apply our resources to those goals that we can bring to excellence. And we need to do it together.
At this point I want with all my being to tell you my ideas about, for instance, the non-negotiables. But I will not, because my ideas about any of these things are as unfounded as those of anybody else. And they will remain so until we actually have the kind of discussions that I outlined above.