How Temple Spent Our Summer 'Vacation'
Many faculty do not visit Temple’s campus during the Summer, though that hardly means we’re on vacation from May to August. Those not teaching summer school are busy drafting articles and books and/or putting together grant proposals and/or developing new courses and/or revising old ones. Those of us teaching summer school do what they can to squeeze those activities in. Your Humble Editor labored to find time for his research in the midst of teaching and administrative work as he piloted a Study Abroad program in London with the indispensable help of our Education Abroad Office and my colleague, Shannon Miller. It was a wonderful six weeks, and I was very lucky in the students I had. But I imagine you are less interested in a verbal slide-show of my travels—by the way, I highly recommend the London Review of Books Café near the British Museum — than in the important decisions made and initiatives launched by Temple this summer.
This is not to say that the we were frozen out of all these discussions and decisions. For instance, many participated in the various committees involved in the Master Planning process; here, the Provost made great efforts to involve the faculty, though we have yet to see to what ultimate effect. Howard Spodek of CLA was kind enough to share with me his notes on the subcommittee devoted to Temple’s need for space for teaching and research. These notes suggest that a real dialogue took place here, with faculty drawing on their irreplaceable experience as faculty to suggest how Temple could improve its use of space. This subcommittee also informed faculty about some of the bad effects of Temple’s space crunch—for instance, how it prevents some students from graduating in a timely fashion.
However, it pains me to observe that including faculty seems to have been more the exception than the rule this summer. This must change, and not just during the summer.
This decision was made with no consultation with the faculty. In addition, Provost Dai decided to change the Academic Calendar without any conversation with the faculty. Among its features is the option for four-week summer terms and a week-long Fall break the week before classes end, changes that have pedagogical implications that speak directly to the prerogatives of the faculty. Finally, and most importantly, the Provost declared that tenure files had to include eight outside evaluators, a decision he made without any discussion with the faculty. This doubles the number required by many colleges, and since the decision applied even to those who had already assembled their files, it left many chairs and promotion and tenure committees scrambling to find new evaluators and heightened the anxiety of already-anxious candidates for tenure.
There is reason to hope for improvement. President Theobald and Provost Dai have been generous in making themselves available not only to the FSSC but also the Faculty Senate, The Faculty Herald, collegial assemblies, and, through President’s Theobald’s lunches, a broad selection of faculty. The same has been true of administrators involved in matters as diverse as De-centralized Budgeting and Student Feedback Forms. In a frank and constructive meeting on October 1st, the FSSC discussed with the Provost our concerns about the decisions made over the summer and together we broached how to better the communication between administrators and faculty, especially around such crucial matters as the tenure process. This way, administrators will have a better sense of the issues the faculty expects to be consulted on, and faculty can grasp some of the difficulties and contingencies that face administrators as they need to make certain decisions at certain times. This would also lessen the likelihood of a misunderstanding as news of a decision spreads. At the least, better communication would clarify where we disagree about areas of shared governance, an improvement over the mutual suspicion that leads to guesswork about each others’ motives, rarely charitable, that has been true of the faculty-administration relationship at Temple for time out of mind. Let us hope that the inauguration of President Theobald this week marks a new era in this relationship.
But ex post facto dialogue, however welcome, is no substitute for prior discussion. And no amount of administrative face-time can compensate for a lack of genuine consultation. This includes a host of matters, both specific policy changes and fundamental questions about Temple’s mission. Among them is the release of selective SFF data to students, which was approved by faculty in an administrator-led committee but was simply announced as a fait accompli to the Faculty Senate during one of the final sessions of last year. Another is the Provost’s plan to bulk up merit-based aid, in part to boost our US News and World Report ranking. These students are a fine addition to Temple’s ranks, but many faculty are concerned this will de-emphasize the Conwellian Mission, although the Provost has argued that an improvement in Temple’s academic reputation will ultimately yield more resources for these students as well, as he articulates in my interview. Finally, on tenure: Of course, the Provost has a role to play in tenure decisions, but the TAUP contract, collegial bylaws, established practice, and common sense all insist that changes here should be made in consultation with the faculty.
We must also work to ensure that attempts to include faculty are truly representative. Lately, the administration has asked the Faculty Senate Steering Committee to provide names for new committees. The administrator in charge then selects from that list as well as faculty that may or may not be on it. One example is the new Academic Priorities Advisory Committee, which will advise the Provost when a new program seems duplicative, a possible effect of colleges seeking to exploit the credit-hour-generating incentives of de-centralized budgeting. Some faculty representation is better than none, for sure. But there is a significant difference between faculty ultimately selected by administrators and those elected by their colleagues. We, of course, prefer the latter. In a similar vein, we must insist that the ongoing discussions about Gen Ed include faculty beyond the GEEC. Ditto for the discussions that should follow from the proposed standards for Online Education suggested by the Distance Learning Standards/Guidelines Committee.
Then there are two of the outstanding issues at the heart of shared governance that emerged last year. The first is the faculty’s having a substantive role in reviewing Deans. While both the President and Provost have gone on record supporting this idea, we have not yet seen proposals from the administration as to how this process will work and when it will be initiated. The second is the need for budget committees in each of the colleges and schools to address the opportunities and challenges of de-centralized budgeting. While my own college has such a committee, many do not; and it’s crucial that each academic unit have one and that it be stocked with faculty elected by their peers, not selected by the dean; be provided with the data it needs to give informed advice to deans; and have its advice taken seriously. The lack of these committees in many colleges points to a broader and deeper problem—that many of our collegial assemblies are still hamstrung by guide-lines handed down by a prior administration that subjected bylaws to the oversight of university counsel and that increased the power of deans over these bodies. The FSSC has written to President Theobald asking that he repeal these centralizing and burdensome regulations so that collegial assemblies become what they should be—headed and run by the faculty themselves.
Of course, if we ask for more shared governance, we have to be ready to shoulder the responsibility if the administration satisfies our requests. When we leave empty seats on important committees like the Educational Policies and Procedures Committee, it sends a message to the administration that we are not fully committed to service. I understand why many of us are leery of serving on such committees. They are time-consuming; they often seem to have little or no effect; we receive little or no reward via merit for service, especially when compared to what we receive for research. But if we do not serve on these committees, we have no chance of making them consequential or reversing the dangerous trend away from shared governance that results in decisions being made without our input, decisions that shape our lives as scholars, teachers, and citizens of the Temple community.
I have recently been reading issues of The Faculty Herald from the 1980s and 1990s, courtesy of the archives handed to me by my predecessor, David Waldstreicher. There are certainly ways that Temple has improved since those days, while some things seem not to have changed at all—the front page from February 1996 that talks about the coming of Responsibility Centered Management and also addresses that perennial problem known as The Ambler Perplex. But the evidence seems clear that faculty were feistier back then in protecting their prerogatives. We could do with a bit more of that in 2013.
I am not suggesting we all be available for meetings over the summer, but members of the Steering Committee, including the President, Vice President, and Secretary can be reached. During the summer, we all need to keep a weather eye out for what’s happening at Temple; and during the Fall and Spring, we need to be actively involved. Like Neil Young says, “Rust never sleeps,” and as this summer proved, neither does Temple. We faculty have to shake off our slumber, too, or we risk becoming rusty ourselves. •