Clarifying UM faculty senate’s stance

By Dianne L. Hoff, Special to the BDN
Posted Feb. 06, 2009, at 6:28 p.m.

Recent stories and editorials in the Bangor Daily News have highlighted differences of opinion between the chancellor’s proposal for “transformational change” and the University of Maine faculty senate’s response. After running a balanced news story on Jan. 29 describing the careful deliberation and thoughtful process through which the faculty senate brought its resolution forward, the BDN followed with a Feb. 4 editorial praising the chancellor’s efforts and accusing the senate of prematurely refusing to consider the plan. As president of the UMaine faculty senate, I want to clarify our point of view.

The chancellor and the senate actually agree far more than they disagree. These are tough times, and we know the university system cannot continue with “business as usual.” The senate supports the chancellor’s drive for bringing about change, however, we differ on the process and the premise of his proposal. Here’s why:

No members of the faculty were included in the process before the chancellor rolled out his plan. Although the chancellor makes much of a representative task force, the plan specifically charges it with overseeing only one of three major change “arenas.” He says all topics are on the table, yet his staffers are already meeting at universities laying out intended plans. The chancellor could have engendered greater confidence by establishing a clear process to engage university expertise and ideas in all three interconnected arenas.

We question the plan’s apparent momentum toward further centralization and homogenization of the seven universities. Chancellor Richard Pattenaude’s proposal looks too much like former Chancellor Joseph Westphal’s ill-fated course of action. It featured an enormous increase in system office employees and a new, expanded office building. The expenses of the system office soared — costing taxpayers more than the Fort Kent, Machias or Presque Isle campuses. Intending to save money by centralizing services, campus experts were moved to the system office at higher salaries. Meanwhile, the universities had to backfill and support the cost of compa-rable positions on their campuses.

Worse, these centralized services do not work well. The software project known as “PeopleSoft” or “MaineStreet” has run more than $10 million over projection, and it fails to meet the needs of students and faculty. In addition, the system’s centralized admissions center cannot keep up with UMaine’s volume of applicants. The resulting backlog has made it necessary for our campus to pay overtime to avoid losing good students who might go elsewhere.

The Orono campus has been asked to bear its share of budget cuts, and for the past decade has consistently met its targets. It has also expanded its student body, increased external research grants and secured private gifts. Vice President Janet Waldron has imposed an extraordinary level of discipline to ensure that UMaine is not a fiscal problem within the system. And she has also achieved new records in energy efficiency. Frankly, the budget failures are not in Orono. Nevertheless, the UMaine faculty senate recognizes the importance of achieving the goals proposed by the chancellor. We are simply asking for the opportunity to participate in significant ways to this needed transformational work.

The faculty senate worked with thoughtful deliberation to identify constructive suggestions that will lead to greater cost savings and stronger universities. These appear in its Jan. 28 resolution, and include the following:

Strengthen the unique functions of the flagship campus and reaffirm the important metropolitan and regional missions of the others.

Wherever possible, centralize services at the campus best suited to the task.

Dramatically downsize the system office and reaffirm its core functions of oversight and governance.

The vitality of the system depends not on the size of the system office, but on the quality of the flagship university and the unique strengths and statewide coverage provided by all of the universities within the system. The faculty of the University of Maine believes the steps above will streamline operations, save resources, strengthen educational quality and bring about the kind of positive transformation the chancellor seeks. We stand willing to be part of the solution, which can only happen if we are part of the process.

Dianne L. Hoff is an associate professor of educational leadership and president of the faculty senate at the University of Maine.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/02/06/opinion/clarifying-um-faculty-senatersquos-stance/ printed on September 16, 2014