The second town-hall style meeting was held today concerning the proposed restructuring of the Graduate School to split off its research-related functions into a separate administrative unit. (If this issue is not yet on your radar screen, it should be — see here and here).
The meeting was well-attended, primarily by folks from Letters and Sciences this time since L&S was the nominal sponsor of this particular event.
Provost Paul DeLuca built his pitch around the following contentions: (1) our “research structure is broken,” and, therefore, (2) only the creation of a new administrative hierarchy, headed by a Vice Chancellor for Research who reports directly to the Chancellor, can save the University from the threat of a major meltdown.
His presentation was low-key, measured, and reassuring in tone. In particular, he said all of the right words concerning shared governance, the importance of integrating the graduate education and research missions of the University, and the need to preserve the benefits already available under the current system (e.g., WARF funds for the Fall competition and graduate fellowships, and so on). It seemed clear that the talking points had been fine-tuned at least in part in response to feedback already received.
But as important to the audience as the things that were said were the things that were not said and the questions that were not directly answered. Without exception, audience comments and questions were skeptical, often sharply so. These included the following (paraphrased):
- Apart from the specific examples offered by the Provost (e.g., biosafety violations, AAALAC accreditation concerns, and federal grant compliance management problems), what evidence is there that the research structure as a whole is broken?
- What is the specific evidence that the proposed restructuring would fix the problems?
- If the problem is simply one of resources, why does it make a difference whether the resources are allocated within our existing framework or allocated to a whole new bureaucracy?
- Given that resources are tight, what will it cost in resources to reorganize?
- If the purpose is to ensure that one individual can focus his/her managerial skills on the complex problem of research management, why not simply create separate administrator positions for research and for graduate education, but both reporting to the Dean of the Graduate School?
In addition, it was noted by several from the humanities that most of the crises cited by Provost DeLuca were specific to the hard sciences. Where would humanities and social sciences research and graduate education fit into the new research structure, and would they be marginalized? Where would centers go that have natural ties to graduate education, outreach, and research? No one I spoke to after the meeting felt that this question had been adequately answered.
Interestingly, even some of us in the physical sciences felt that he had emphasized problems that seemingly concerned the bioscience and medical research infrastructure. Were we being asked to accept major disruptions and risks for reasons that had little to do with us?
If the audience’s skepticism could be summarized in just two questions, it would be these: Even if we acknowledge that there are some serious issues that need to be addressed with more resources and (undoubtedly) better management, where is the evidence that this proposal is the only solution worth entertaining, and how can we be certain that it would have the intended effect without unintended consequences for research and/or graduate education?
One question was not explicitly asked that perhaps should have been: What will be the precise mechanism for the formal participation of the faculty and staff, according to the principle of shared governance, in such a far reaching decision?
Merely being granted the opportunity to vent at a town hall meeting does not count.