UA no-confidence poll: Responses from faculty leaders, UA officials, Regent president

Arizona is in a budget squeeze and it is threatening to crush higher education; Tucson Citizen photo
Arizona is in a budget squeeze and it is threatening to crush higher education; Tucson Citizen photo

The chair of University of Arizona faculty is taking personally the a faculty poll re: confidence in UA’s upper management, the president hopes faculty keep in mind that the state is really to blame, the provost’s spokesperson says much of the faculty upset is due to generalized anxiety about the economy, and the president of the Arizona Board of Regents says the complaints he’s heard center more on Provost Meredith Hay’s communication style than President Robert N. Shelton’s leadership. Such are the results of tracking down the other side of the UA no-confidence poll story.

Getting a phone call into the 16-hour-workday Shelton is like getting one into the Pope, but he’s always good with his Blackberry, so when I asked him what he thought of the poll, his response was quick, although short. (And, for the record, journalists don’t delight in someone’s suffering – at least not this journalist – so I hated to ask that question.)

“I’ve not viewed the poll.  I hope it provides context of the fiscal situation in Arizona.”

I can’t blame Shelton for not wanting to see the poll questions (which you can view here), and I wasn’t surprised he hoped people remembered that the state has cut the UA’s budget by $100 million over the past year, and is looking at an addition $50 million cut in January. Problem is, say faculty, it isn’t the cuts that are upsetting them – it is how the cuts are being handled.

Wanda Howell, chair of UA faculty and a university distinguished professor of nutritional sciences, is taking the call

Wanda Howell, chair of UA Faculty
Wanda Howell, chair of UA Faculty

for a faculty poll as vote of confidence on her as well, and she says she can’t argue with faculty being disappointed.

“It is my responsibility to listen to the faculty and the feeling they have is that (they) do not have a voice with administration. I’m willing to accept that they don’t think I can influence the administration, because, frankly, I haven’t been able to. … The problem is a matter of process. For instance, I personally completely agree with the idea of differential cuts and I’m not alone in the faculty on that, but I haven’t felt a real collaborative effort from the administration. They talked to us about the idea of differential cuts, but then, how it was decided that the cuts would range from 2 to 7 percent, that’s where the problem is. We (faculty) weren’t in those conversations.”

Howell’s department is in the College of Agriculture, which got a 5 percent cut, as did the College of Engineering. Regular readers of God Blogging (Hello to my five regular readers!) will recall that Social and Behavioral Sciences, the library, and College of Humanities got 7 percent cuts while UA’s golden children – the College of Science, business school and law school – got 2 percent cuts.

I was talking with the faculty chair from my car in the parking lot of a gas station, taking notes on the back of a print out on 5-HTP, which is a step up from taking notes on Dairy Queen napkins, which I’ve also had to do when a source called when I was away from my computer. She said she got a “heads up” that the administration would be announcing differential cuts “but I wasn’t part of that decision-making process.”

“I think the administration feels that if they discussed the general principle of differential cuts with the faculty that that’s enough,” Howell said. “It really isn’t. And there is a core group of faculty that have serious concerns and it goes beyond a small group of whiners. The results of the poll should be fascinating, though, because I don’t think it will be all one way or the other. As vocal as some people have been with concerns, there is at least as large a group who say they like what is happening. We won’t know until the results are in.”

UA Provost Meredith Hay
UA Provost Meredith Hay

Provost Hay would not answer questions about the poll, and referred me to UA VP for External Relations Stephen MacCarthy, who called me from his car on the way to today’s Regents meeting in beautiful Flagstaff. He had sent a lengthy e-mail prior to the call with links to all the written communication Shelton and Hay have sent out over the past year regarding the Transformation process and the need to end “business as usual.”

I can’t post all the links here, but there were 12 messages to the UA community from Shelton beginning with this last September and ending with this just last week. And that doesn’t count all the press coverage yours truly gave before the Tucson Citizen closed or the coverage in the Arizona Daily Star, the Wildcat or on Arizona Illustrated. I can attest that just the word “Transformation” made me want to hurl by the end of my time at the Citizen – how many different ways could I write, “There is no money, the UA is screwed, the Legislature hates education, get ready for layoffs”?

However, there were plenty of times I felt UA administration was being less than honest, and I think that’s what faculty felt. Sometimes, people just want the truth, no matter how awful it is. Example: When the Transformation was launched, Shelton said it had nothing to do with the budget. Then, about a month in, it started having something to do with the budget and before long, it had everything to do with state cuts.

Another example: When the Colleges of Letters, Arts and Science was first formed, the administration refused to call it a merger because they said each college would retain its own dean. As the deal progressed, however, it turned out that the executive dean – COS head Joaquin Ruiz – would have more money and power, and business operations among the colleges would be combined and …. it was a merger. (Higher ed reporters who covered this event at UA referred to it among themselves as the “non-merger-merger.”)

I asked MacCarthy about the claim that it isn’t what is being done at UA but how. His response:

“Look, there is a serious lack of revenue in the state. We’ve had to make some enormous cuts. We’ve eliminated lots of positions and that is hard to do in any environment… they are taking their anger and frustration out on the administration, but it is the legislators who are responsible for slashing the University’s budget. And a lot of this, really, I think is just angst over the economic situation in the country.”

It is true the legislature is slashing the UA budget, but it isn’t the Legislature deciding to give $12 million to hard sciences and only $600,000 to humanities/arts/social sciences. That is a choice of UA administration, and as Shelton said multiple times, it is evidence of UA’s investment into the areas they think they can do best, which can only lead folks who aren’t getting buckets of cash to think, “Hmmm, maybe he thinks I’m expendable.” In his campus memo explaining differential cuts and at a faculty meeting last week, he said the deciding factor in who gets extra monetary support from UA’s budget is a unit’s ability to bring in outside revenue.

Does that mean UA is going to turn into a graduate-focused, research-based university and let NAU and ASU take care of the undergraduates? Regent Ernest Calderon said in a phone interview yesterday (headed to today’s regents meeting as well) that people on the “soft” side of UA “have legitimate concerns.”

Arizona Board of Regents President Ernest Calderon
Arizona Board of Regents President Ernest Calderon

“UA is going through an identity crisis and those social scientists have a bonafide question – ‘Why am I not a priority?’ Candidly, I wouldn’t be surprised that the UA divested itself of a lot of undergraduate teaching … I’d hate to see it, but that might be their priority of how they can sustain what they want to sustain with the state continually cutting funding. They invested a lot of money over the last 50 years to be a research institution, but now without state money, how do they sustain that?”

Calderon said that he’s heard from numerous UA employees re: UA administration and that it isn’t a problem of generalized angst about the economy.

“Ten to 15 percent is angst, but I’ve heard from enough people to make me know it’s not just that people have angst over the budget or economy,” he said. “I’m glad the poll separates questions about the president and the provost, because I’ve heard people say the provost’s style of communication is the problem, not the president’s leadership, and if that is what the poll says, that will give (Shelton and Hay) information and help them make a decision. …

Let’s say hypothetically there was a really negative result around the provost, a result that your average bear could see, then what I would do, is in the review of President Shelton, I would bring that up and have him address it, does he believe it, if not, why? I think (the poll results are) fair game to discuss with him in his review because the buck stops there with him. … The survey could be a very valuable tool to help Robert refine his skills. He’s a smart man and he’s a man of good will. If there’s something for him to improve upon, I bet he’ll be the first to say ‘I want to do this.’ … I really believe in redemption.”

Not UA's Committee of Eleven, but a cool image, courtesy of this site
Not UA's Committee of Eleven, but a cool image, courtesy of this site

Howell said the computer program in which the poll is being conducted will almost automatically tabulate the number of responses and the average score on each of the 10 questions, and those results will be sent out through a department-head listserv by Monday for heads to distribute to their faculty. More detailed results – what Committee of Eleven Chair Michael Cusanovich calls “the shades of gray” – will take longer, especially the written responses.

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14 thoughts on “UA no-confidence poll: Responses from faculty leaders, UA officials, Regent president

  1. After reading the very insightful and well thought out posting, I think back to the basic concept – know yourself and be true.

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