Executive summary of UA poll shows many faculty want provost fired

The University of Arizona Faculty Officers just released to university faculty their Executive Summary of written comments that were included in last week’s poll on UA faculty confidence in the current administrative leadership. It’s not a whole lot of good news for either President Robert N. Shelton or Provost Meredith Hay, and you’ll note the call for Hay to resign or for Shelton to fire her and the unusual call for the Arizona Board of Regents to intervene. The entire summary is posted below, for those interested.

Re:      Faculty Poll Comments Summary

In addition to answering specific questions, over 700 respondents to the Poll offered thoughts in the Comments section.  We have tried to capture the main themes expressed in these comments in the Summary below.  All the Comments are posted, un-edited, at the Faculty Governance URL at

(http://fp.arizona.edu/senate/FACULTY%20POLL%20COMPLETE%20COMMENTS.htm).

We understand that the Poll was not perfect, that there were many other questions that could have been asked, but weren’t, and that the mechanics of carrying it out fell somewhat short.  Nonetheless we believe the response was substantial and the Poll valid, and that the message was clear:  there is amongst faculty much discontent at multiple levels.  A lack of transparency and honest open communication has resulted in a loss of trust.  The absence of a clearly articulated vision of what this university can and must be has left faculty frustrated and scared.  Decisions have been made without adequate involvement of the faculty and indeed the entire campus community.  These are but some of the things that must change if we are to heal the rift and move forward together.  As Faculty Leaders we will do our best to insist on those changes, and to make certain that the message of this Poll is heard and understood.

President Robert Shelton

President Shelton came in for a good deal of criticism in the comments, some of which cited him individually, and others which combined criticism of the President with the Provost, and/or high level administrators generally.

Some poll respondents simply recommended that the President be fired.  Those who fleshed out their comments had concerns in these areas:

· Better (not more) communication; less spin and more frank talk about the challenges we face and decisions made to address those challenges; clearer articulation of short-term (tactical) and long-term (strategic) vision.

· Lack of transparency in decision making; lack of consultation with faculty prior to making decisions; inadequate explanation/justification of decisions once they are made.

· Better representation of the UA’s mission and needs to the Arizona Board of Regents and to the Legislature.

· Better leadership in generating financial support , both from the Legislature and from alternate revenue sources.

· Bias towards science to the detriment of other core liberal arts disciplines.

· Need to reduce the number of senior administrators.

Provost Meredith Hay

Provost Meredith Hay has clearly become the lightning rod for faculty discontent with the University’s Transformation and budget reduction processes.  This discontent was clear in the numerical voting, and was reinforced in the comments that accompanied the votes.  Approximately one third of all of the comments mentioned some aspect of the Provost’s performance, and very few of those comments were supportive.

Many of the comments simply stated that the Provost should resign, or be fired.  Faculty who fleshed out their criticism of Dr. Hay focused primarily on these themes:

· Lack of transparency in decision making; lack of consultation with faculty prior to making decisions; inadequate explanation/justification of decisions once they have been made;

· Poor communication, which relates to the transparency issue but also includes a personal interactions which struck faculty commenters as “divisive,” “rude,” “acerbic,” and/or “disrespectful;”

· Lack of respect for faculty, including a failure to understand their contributions and concerns, in addition to the communication issues listed above;

· Poor leadership, as a result of the confluence of the above issues; and

· A bias towards science, to the detriment of other core liberal arts disciplines, in the allocation of budget cuts.

Central Administration

There was pervasive criticism of the role of central administration and how this affected the lives and economies of the faculty. Moreover, commentary questioned the size and the cost of the administrative machine wondering if this structure was going to be “transformed”. Thematic lines here also included:

· Downsize/transform the administration’s structure

· Cut the number of VP positions/reduce salaries at that level, that will help to save funds for academic related activities

· Perceived unilateral decision making= better communication and more input from faculty

· Perceived lack of clear vision from the administration, short and long term

· Change profile of administrative apparatus: fire mediocre professional managers, promote faculty members to engage in these functions

· Perceived culture of fear and intimidation in the administration dealings with faculty and staff

Faculty Governance

Many respondents indicated that shared or faculty governance at the UA has become less important and effective over the last several years.  Others call for renewed support for and greater participation in shared governance of the University.  General themes included:

· Without early and sustained discussion among administration and faculty, especially regarding investments and cuts, real shared governance does not exist. Several expressed the notion that faculty and administration should have equal decision making power relative to academic support.

· Proactive, rather than reactive budget planning must occur to avoid the constant giving money back

· At UA change is not often driven by stakeholders, rather it is top-down

Deans/Department Heads/Unit Directors

Comments on this thematic line seemed to highlight forward moving operations and some suggestions that current leadership should be replaced in some units. Other topics identified were:

  • A generalized perception of poor communication between Deans and units/faculty
  • · CLAS(College of Arts, Letters, and Sciences) related issues: restore previous structure, perceived conflict of interest with the current dean being also COS dean, remove current dean, de-centralize budget process
  • · More transparency in budgetary decision making, better involvement of faculty
  • · More accountability from deans and heads, more faculty involvement, creation of mechanisms that can ensure this
  • · Protect and promote COH and SBS departments and programs since they are among the units with the highest differential budget cuts
  • · Perceived climate of fear at that level (deans, heads), regular faculty seem unable to come together and is perceived as being left out of the decision making processes
  • · Streamline some administrative processes and offices to save money
  • · Incentivize top units in colleges to excel and to do a better job to retain key faculty
  • · A number of comments criticized and alluded to the replacement of several deans and heads (in the Colleges of Engineering, Eller, Arts, Letters and Science, Dean of Students, Medicine, Pharmacy, Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Dept of Astronomy). The closing of the Phoenix Med School to save funds was also suggested

Goals, Mission and Vision

The lack of a well-articulated vision and a sense that this vision must be broader than a mere focus on revenue generation were mentioned in multiple comments.  Given such a vision, there was support for decisive action that would allocate resources differentially based on excellence. Other themes:

  • Academic issues should be primary, with budget goals organized to support the academic mission of the university, rather than the other way around.
  • Leadership is required to rally the campus around a vision.
  • The university’s vision must extend beyond those activities that can most readily generate grant support.

Communication and Transparency

Many comments were directed at the issues of transparency and communication.  Most of these expressed frustration at the lack of transparency in all areas of university life.  Respondents expressed the need for not just more communication, but more honest communication.  A perceived lack of respect for input from all sectors of the campus, faculty, staff and students, was a common theme.  The following concerns were expressed often:

  • Decision-making at the highest levels needs to be transparent, to clearly spell out the reasons why specific decisions were taken, and the budgetary consequences of these decisions
  • Input from faculty should be solicited, listened to, and respected.  It should be sought before, not after, decisions are taken.
  • The vision of what the UA should be needs to be clearly articulated, and the unique role of universities needs to be better communicated to the public, and legislature
  • Better communication is needed, involving more direct contact between administrators and the rest of the campus.  Messages need to be clear and honest, with a lot less spin. Such changes are critical to improve morale, which is harmed by a lack of transparency, poor communication and a corporate management style

Differential Cuts/Budget and Investments

Poll respondents’ comments reflected concerns relating to the seemingly changing character of the University of Arizona.  The emphasis on investing in units that can generate revenue leads to questions about UAs strategic priorities;  and doubts about our ability to maintain excellence in the broad scope of disciplines required to have a world-class public research university.   Most comments reflected the following themes:

  • · The wide spread of budget cuts among colleges sends a valuing message that demoralizes those faculty who are part of the colleges with the highest level of cuts.  A sense of lost hope and passion for their work is the most striking reference.
  • · Little focus and/or importance was placed on the importance of quality undergraduate education, including its revenue generation
  • · While many faculty agree with the concept of differential cuts, these are most fairly made at the unit level, rather than the college level.  Academic units across all colleges should be evaluated using accepted and consistently applied criteria and metrics that judge quality and productivity.  There are many severely cut non-science departments that would likely be judged of higher quality than less severely cut science departments.
  • · Investment criteria should be generated from the bottom-up according to strategic priorities as determined by the entire UA community
  • · Reduce administrative infrastructure, including the number and salary of its personnel

· Improve accountability of administrators as well as faculty through meaningful evaluation.

Transformation

Many poll comments specifically mentioned the current Transformation Process underway. The comments essentially ranged from saying the transformation process was just fine as is to a call for Transformation to be stopped immediately.

  • One predominant theme in comments mentioning the transformation was a repeated call for more information, transparency and faculty input at every step of the way.

Teaching and Research

Opinions here were mixed, with a number of themes emerging.  Notwithstanding the variety of opinions there was strong support for excellence as the major goal:

  • More emphasis on the teaching mission of the university
  • More emphasis on the research mission of the university
  • More support for graduate students
  • Less support for athletics

Revenue and Funding

There were numerous poll responses that were concerned with revenue and funding for the university. The vast majority of these responses included positive suggestions of action on finding new sources of funding or ways to reallocate internal funds. And although there were several calls for restored state funding, poll responses seem to indicate faculty acceptance of the idea that the university will never have its state funding restored and must move to different sources of funding.

· One predominate theme in the poll comments about funding and revenue called for more reliance on funding from tuition, grants and endowments, moving the university towards a more privatized funding model with less dependence on state funding.

· A large number of comments echoed a repeated call for more transparency in financial decisions and direct faculty access to not only budget information, but also more direct faculty involvement in budget decisions.

· Poll comments indicate that many faculty seem willing to engage in seeking more grants and even helping to raise endowment funding, but need assistance in doing so and also need to be rewarded for their efforts.

· There were repeated calls for increasing efficiencies wherever possible, with many comments mentioning administration as a principle area for seeking financial efficiencies. Cutting administrative positions was also mentioned by many.

· Numerous comments asked for departmental and unit level funding to be tied to teaching whereby tuition dollars went directly to the units doing the most teaching.

· Several comments suggested permanently cutting entire units to support the stronger units or those most recognized for excellence.

Faculty Salaries/Tenure/ Retention

The issue of faculty compensation is on the minds of many, including the role merit should play in changes in salaries.  As is true for academic units, individual faculty accountability is important.  The following were mentioned multiple times:

  • · Faculty retention is not totally related to salary, but it does make a difference.
  • · UA faculty compensation must be compatible to our peer institutions
  • · Salary compression and inequities with regard to gender and discipline must be acknowledged and plans for correction defined
  • · Faculty accountability and performance should be tied to compensation; our Post Tenure Review system is not effective in distinguishing merit-worthy faculty
  • · Increase support to productive faculty; decrease support to non-productive faculty; faculty work-load models should be defined and used.
  • · Reduce administrator compensation and redirect to most productive faculty

Arizona Board of Regents

A number of poll respondents expressed a desire for the Arizona Board of Regents to intercede in the internal workings of the U of A. These poll responses were principally centered on three themes.

  • ABOR needs to look to a different way of considering the future of the universities rather than the corporate model.
  • ABOR needs to lead the fight in pressuring the legislature to invest in education.
  • Several comments directly asked the Arizona Board of Regents to remove the president and provost and appoint new leadership.

State/Legislative/Economy

Comments on this section highlighted the very tense relationship between the university and the Arizona state Legislature materialized in chronic decreased funding. Commentary also mentioned the problems emerging from this historical relationship and the reduced contributions of the state to the UA budget. Recurring themes were:

  • · More funding from the Legislature/improve state support
  • · Replace the state Legislature, vote for education responsible legislators
  • · Make legislators accountable at election time for underfunding higher education in the state
  • · Create better lobbying mechanisms, involve community as a whole
  • · Little optimism about future increases in funding from the state
  • · Finds ways for units to become financially self-sufficient
  • · Educate the legislators, use parents and students to showcase our strengths and needs

  • · Reinstate health insurance benefits for domestic partners and disabled dependents
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    One thought on “Executive summary of UA poll shows many faculty want provost fired

    1. Yes, this is true.  There is a lack of trust that is so large that future decisions on this campus are going to suffer from that lack of trust.  Whether fair or not (and I think such a firing is warranted), how can the toughest decisions yet to come be made by  a leader at the helm that we do not trust?  We need an Interim Provost familiar to our campus that people trust, that clearly loves the institution, and that will be able to make tough decisions after input, discussion, and with justification.
      No one here thinks that the solutions to our campus problems are easy.  Most just want to see that process for these decisions is fair, open, and well justified.  In the end, people can go along with that, even when it hurts a lot.

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