A skeptical audience for restructuring

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.

– GP

This entry was posted in Graduate School, Letters and Sciences, The University System, The UW-Madison Campus. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A skeptical audience for restructuring

  1. Joe says:

    You are exactly right: PROCESS matters. How and whether we have adequate opportunities to shape any restructuring is critical. This thing looks like it got way too far before having real input from a broad group.

  2. DRW says:

    GWP has done a good job of capturing the mood and concerns presented yesterday by faculty. I attended both of the town meetings. The powerpoint presentation at the second meeting was changed since the first to address some of the concerns presented at the first meeting. It came across as lip-service. Provost DeLuca gives the AAALAC compliance example of the new WIMR building to address rodent research concerns at the Med School. It sounds like it was a Med School problem, not a campus problem. Biosafety compliance came under FPM. Why is the grad school being singled out when the problems existed in other divisions?

  3. A Concerned Student says:

    I attended the Town Hall yesterday too. What struck me most, and what some speakers hit on immediately, was the seeming failure of the Provost to present the audience with evidence of due diligence concerning the SOURCE/SOURCES of the ‘cracks’ in the current organizational structure. The Provost did elaborate on the negative outcomes we have seen in the past six months that GWP noted above. However, the cause/causes for those problems are NOT AT ALL CLEAR.

    I do not believe the Provost provided ANY EVIDENCE to suggest that the current structure (whereby the research and graduate education missions are administered through one individual, the Dean of the Graduate School) is directly responsible for those outcomes. There are clearly bottlenecks present in the current organizational structure, but those must be ascertained and diagnosed first, before prescribing treatment – particularly one as harsh as an amputation such as this.

    Mr. Provost – I kindly remind you that correlation does not mean causation.

  4. Lydia Zepeda says:

    At yesterday’s forum, three things were clear:
    1. a decision has already been made to implement this new structure
    2. no data was collected and no analysis done to support this new structure
    (anecdotes are not data and “thinking it over” is not analysis)
    3. there would be a significant shift in resources to support this new structure

    One would expect such a structural change would have to stand up to at least the scrutiny that any grant proposal would:
    1. provide evidence (not anecdotes) to support the hypothesis, ie the change in structure
    2. provide a budget and budget rationale that clearly shows the proposed work can be done.

  5. Kirsten says:

    I agree that the presentation wasn’t convincing. The problem wasn’t identified well, and the solution doesn’t seem to match the problem – which makes me think there’s something else going on here. I hate to say it, but this looks an awful lot like a power grab by the central administration.

    The Graduate School has been very successful in many ways, and if some aspects of research funding management need to be streamlined, I don’t see any good reason that it can’t happen within the Graduate School. At the very least we should really explore that avenue before talking about breaking it up.

  6. Gregory Tripoli says:

    I believe that our current structure is the secret to what has made our University a great research institution and that it would be a grave mistake to undermine our system with the proposed changes. Graduate education is about research and research is leveraged by graduate student participation. Together, and unabated by the bureaucracy and politics of the schools and undergraduate education process, we have been able to build many of the finest centers of research in the world and produce disproportionally large numbers (compared to many other institutions) of leaders over a wide breadth of disciplines. At the same time, our undergraduates have not only been given the opportunity to learn about the current state of the art from the perspective of those who are defining that state, but to also become aware of how that state is changing and the culture of and joy and satisfaction received by those who institute that change.

    This all happens, because at the UW, research and graduate student education are treated as the symbiotic partners that they truly are. They are partners motivated by a common culture of innovation, growth and leadership that supersedes the politics of the moment and those of the basic education process. This enthusiasm bred in the culture of the Graduate School infects the other schools and colleges is a magical way…don’t ruin it!

  7. DTT says:

    The posts above are right on. The provost has not made a compelling case for this change. One other thing that is disturbing is that sense of uppermost urgency; the provost indicates that this problem must be addressed now and we cannot afford to wait years. As was pointed out above, the process DOES matter. If this is so urgent, then the administration must provide evidence to the faculty, perhaps the ad hoc group or the faculty senate, but preferably to all of us, and allow us our voice. That is our right, as part of the shared governance of this great university.

  8. GWP says:

    For those who missed it, a fifth town hall meeting as been added to the schedule:

    Tues., Sept. 22 4:00-5:00pm 1106 Mechanical Engineering
    Wed., Sept. 30 4:00-5:00pm 180 Science Hall
    Thurs., Oct. 1 4:00-5:00pm 1345 Health Sciences Learning Center
    Wed., Oct. 14 12:00-1:00pm Ebling Center, 1st Floor, Microbial Sciences
    Friday, Oct. 23 1:00-2:00pm 3650 Humanities

    (To access 3650 Humanities, cross the pedestrian bridge over Park Street.
    Turn right through the open area of the building. Immediately on the left
    is room 3650.)

    I think it is telling that only this belated addition appears to invite participation and feedback from our colleagues in the humanities who have at least as much at stake as anyone in the restructuring issue. The inferrence by many I have talked to is that the original “oversight” was either calculated or at the very least egregiously tone-deaf. Are there other possible explanations? If so, please share them here.

Comments are closed.