A lone voice in support of restructuring – and a response

Late last night, someone signing as “Elmer Fudd” posted the following reply to this article:

This is just silly.

To anyone who has written and managed research grants at the UW in the past few years, it is clear that there need to be some serious changes. The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (RSP) is seriously overwhelmed, and the Graduate School is just not doing a very good job at crucial research proposal and grants management tasks.

All to often, there have been serious “close calls” of losing a grant, violating terms of grants & contracts, etc. And the burden of these missteps almost always falls on the faculty and staff who bring in research grants.

To those in the University Senate who are complaining about this: give me a break. This is a really good idea, and the only reason people are complaining is the typical knee-jerk reaction to change that always comes out of faculty governance.

Let the Chancellor do her job. Let the Provost do his. A new VP for Research would be tremendously helpful, and align the UW with our peer institutions — finally — in this critical area.

So, at last, we hear from the other side. And yet nothing in Elmer Fudd’s remarks adds anything substantive to the discussion beyond the theories that

  1. the Provost and Chancellor know best, dammit, and
  2. shared governance is a hindrance to getting things done.

Unfortunately, these arguments will do little to sway a skeptical university community. Especially here at the University of Wisconsin.

We are skeptical for a reason. We have heard over and over again what the Provost WANTS. And over and over we have heard the same problems cited as the justification for what the Provost WANTS. The standard litany includes compliance issues, problems with grants processing, and biosafety. To a very large constituency on this campus, these specific management issues do NOT make a prima facie case for a wholesale restructuring of the Graduate School.

Recall that the present system does work very well for a great many scholars and researchers on campus. It should not be surprising that those individuals feel like they’re being run over, and yet all they keep hearing is “compliance, biosafety, and RSP.”

Substitute “yellowcake uranium, aluminum tubes, and mushroom cloud” and you start to see some interesting analogies to how this case has been presented so far.

What we have not heard, despite repeated direct questions to the Provost at town hall meetings, in this forum, and elsewhere are clear, non-evasive answers to the following points:

1) RSP administration of grants has already been improving because of much-needed attention (and new resources) being given to that specific organization. And this is being done WITHIN the current structure. HOW does the Provost’s plan solve any remaining problems with RSP in a way that CANNOT be accomplished without such a sweeping (and risky) reorganization?

2) Biosafety and compliance issues are important. But many of these are traceable to management issues within specific units (including, I believe, Provost DeLuca’s own School of Medicine). HOW and WHY has the Provost concluded that HIS plan is the ONLY plan that will solve these problems cost-effectively and WHY IS HE NOT EXPLAINING THESE THINGS TO US?

3) We have been decidedly more successful than our peers in staying at or near the top in federal research dollars. So what, exactly, are the Provost’s and Elmer Fudd’s arguments for wanting to “align the UW with our peer institutions”?

4) Why did it take the Badger Herald (in this article) to finally extract the first public estimate from the Provost of what the restructuring might cost?

5) Where is the actual plan? What is the timeline? How will the plan solve specific management issues? What will be the short- and long-term side effects, and how will undesirable side effects be mitigated? How will our extremely successful symbiosis between research, education, and outreach be protected from collateral damage? The Provost’s PowerPoint (at least the one we have seen so far) is NOT a plan, it’s a sales pitch for a very complicated and expensive new machine, and Elmer Fudd chides us for asking what’s under the hood.

6) ABOVE ALL, how is it possible that the Provost thought it could be a good idea to try to do an end-run around a 100+ year tradition of shared governance on this campus? What does that say about his grasp of the campus culture outside of the School of Medicine?

It is widely known by now that the Provost’s original timeline had the new Vice Chancellor for Research scheduled to be in place by the end of this month (October). It is widely understood that the town hall meetings were an afterthought designed to limit the political damage from an ill-conceived top-down approach to implementing a plan having sweeping consequences for the campus.

Apart from Elmer Fudd, I have not heard a single colleague among faculty, staff, or students express satisfaction with the explanations and justifications that have been given by the Provost so far concerning either the process or the desired outcome.

But wait: it is rumored that one person at yesterday’s town hall meeting spoke out in favor of the plan.  Okay, so make that two individuals, with the caveat that Elmer Fudd might, for all we know, be the same person.

– Bugs Bunny

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2 Responses to A lone voice in support of restructuring – and a response

  1. uwh says:

    I heard that the rumor is actually true and someone did speak out in favor of the plan. I’ve also heard speculation that there were plants in the audience (not the green leafy kind).

  2. research geek says:

    Thanks very much for this site. I’m a PI and in the academic staff assembly. I was floored by the almost complete lack of details in the “plan”. I could not even tell what problems were ostensibly being solved. Please keep you the flow of information. I’m working with colleagues on the ad hoc academic staff committee to do a little data collection on the perceived problems with the current structure. I’m hoping that these discussions can be evidence based.

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