Thursday, February 18, 2010

What is maskirova again???

So I was recalling a conversation several years ago with my now retired department chair about why he purchased so much copier paper during the year for the department. He told me that he had learned that an underfunded university like ours didn’t function like other institutions. Rather we employed a Cold War era barter economy with department chairs having different commodities to barter with each other. Our department’s stock and trade was copier paper. When we needed pens, or clipboards or chalk, we had a Fort Knox supply of copier paper. Copier paper dependent departments knew in those days we were the OPEC of copier paper. This Soviet style economy, though not ideal, did serve its purpose.
The current regime is implementing its own Soviet era tactics, the most obvious being ‘maskirova.’ For the non-Russian speakers, maskirova is the Soviet doctrine of tactical deception. If you want your enemy to believe you have more aircraft than you do, build some out of balsa wood and when they are gathering intelligence, they will see what looks like airplanes. If you want visitors to a university campus to believe that all is well what better way than wide screen televisions in all of the buildings. The televisions are part of the deception that all is well. We are financially stretched. Morale is not even low, it is non-existent. Our accreditation is purportedly at risk because of more than a decade of mismanagement by the Board of Trustees. And our students are facing mounting debt in a down job market that is not offering the benefits that university degrees once did.
Maybe the maskirova will convince the world that we aren’t what we are perceived to be. Maybe we will continue like the past two regimes on a building spree while we ‘right size’ (spelled downsize) and hire more administrators earning more than $100,000 per year. Maskirova could be vital in the contracts that are awarded and the people that are hired. It is refreshing to see a regime with an appreciation of Russian military history. Who knows, maybe there is an interest in 18th Century French history as well.

Where have all the polticians gone?...Long time waiting...

Last spring we were promised two things from our Trustees--a new leadership (or manager) for CSU, who would bring us political connections in Springfield, an insider who knew how to get funds from politicians, and southside ministers who would be bringing how many --400? 1000? a million? voices to campus who would shout "Amen" as a reminder that we need to remain the southside community college under "local" control. Well, except for the appearance of that veritable bulwark of politicians in the front row sitting with Rev. Finney et al. at Convocation in October I haven't seen or heard much of either. Anyone who cares to can enlighten us as to how our esteemed university managers are making their promises reality. At the Town Hall meeting with the faculty it seems there was more emphasis on micromanaging programs and cues (and counting how many students use the library) than on any information of what was being done to milk our state or for that matter our decidedly local "connections." In the meantime, look what Governors State just got:

Federal job training money headed to Illinois
Chicago Tribune, February 13, 2010

Illinois is to receive more than $8 million in federal money for job training initiatives.

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris on Friday announced the funding from a Department of Labor grant program. Illinois is to receive two grants, which the senator's office says are meant to provide job training in health care and emerging industries.

One grant for $4.9 million is to go to Governors State University in University Park. Another $3.4 million grant is to go to the National Council of La Raza in Chicago.

Burris says the awards will "ensure that Americans receive first-rate training in health care and other emerging industries that will lead to good paying jobs and security for families across the country."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Leadership or management

So just when I was about to comment on our administration's use of parking lot usage as an indicator of faculty productivity, I read a story about a faculty member at the University of Alabama Huntsville who killed three of her colleagues and wounded several others during a shooting spree at a departmental meeting. I then realized that maybe the low level intimidation of faculty here is not so bad, yet. We are fortunate that none of our employees have vented their frustrations with the CSU work environment through gunfire. The part of this story that scares me is that I understand the frustration of a poorly managed work environment and fortunately have never been angry enough to do injury to anyone. If nothing else the events in Alabama remind me that leadership, especially in times of crisis, is critical to creating a safe work environment. Managing is simply not good enough. Employees must be inspired and it is only leadership that inspires. Managers simply hire and fire, implement programs and duck accountability where possible. Managers in the academy justify their existence by meeting attendance and report generation. They simply don't inspire and encourage their subordinates and colleagues to excellence. I am saddened when I hear of such incidents in university settings because obviously, the premise of intellectual debate has failed. It fails in large measure because of an absence of leadership.
In this period of transition, euphemistically referred to as "right sizing", we will all bear witness to whether CSU finally gets the leadership it deserves or the management it is accustomed to.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Communication at the U of I: a step toward transparency

This was a letter sent to U of I Alumni which contains an invitation to the alumni "to stay connected" to the process of budget cuts and program reviews in this difficult time. Nota bene: they are actively seeking suggestions from their alumni! Anyone else think that this might be a model for CSU's administration with regards to alumni and faculty?

Sent: Fri, February 12, 2010 4:59:50 PM
Subject: Letter to Illinois Alumni

Dear University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Alumni:

Due to an excessive delay in the payment of our appropriation by the State of Illinois and uncertainty over what lies ahead, your university is facing unprecedented fiscal challenges. In the coming weeks and months, we will be taking a critical look at all aspects of our campus operations, re-examining everything from our administration to small academic units assembled years ago to meet specific needs. An extensive review process will underwrite each decision we make, and every decision will be strategic - designed to transform your university to meet the challenges of the future.

We know that you will have great interest in our work and the resulting decisions, and we invite you to stay connected to the process. Indeed, as we explore the options available to ensure our continued excellence, you may well hear that we are reviewing your college or program. We have created a Web site called Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois as a resource for everyone in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign community. By visiting the site, at, you can stay informed of the latest information and activities, and we invite you to offer your ideas through the site's virtual suggestion box.

A final note: we hope also you will urge the Governor and members of the Illinois General Assembly to reach an early solution to the fiscal crisis that now holds Illinois in its grip. As we move forward we pledge to you that all of our decisions on the financial challenges facing this campus and the University of Illinois overall will be guided by our land-grant mission of excellence in teaching, research and public engagement.


Robert A. Easter
Chancellor and Provost (Interim)

Richard P. Wheeler
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs (Interim)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Response to some earlier questions

Just the Facts

In response to speculation about a so called “merger” with Daley College, here are the facts (thanks to Dr. Grim): The College of Education was asked to consider different models of how candidates can be certified. One of the models presented was a “blended” model which is a cross between a traditional certification program in 4 to 6 years and a fast-track resident teacher program in 15-months. The point was to encourage programs to streamline their course offerings and the timing of those offerings to move students through the pipeline more efficiently. In the same meeting (probably the CAS Education Council), but on another topic, ideas that came out of the big meeting with the community college administrators that was hosted by the COE were discussed. One major idea that was shared was that CSU programs might consider dual enrollment mechanisms with community colleges. The point made by the CC administrators was that a student whose home institution is a community college would be considered CSU students in terms of transfer. Likewise, CSU students could take courses at the community colleges and earn an Associate of Arts as well. This option was just an idea that was food for thought. These two topics were distinctly different trains of thought; who knows where the Daley connection came into play. There is no formal merger or study on “blended colleges. ”

Updates about the HLC have been provided to the Faculty Senate, and to all who come to these open meetings. Two faculty members sit on the HLC task force, Dr. Musial and Dr. Potluri. Several faculty members have had the opportunity to read the first draft of the report, including Dr. Beverly, Dr. Searcy, Dr. Musial, and Dr. Potluri. Any questions about the process can be referred to them. Questions about DACs being ignored should be directed to the Faculty union representatives, who will certainly take appropriate actions if the contract has been violated or DACs ignored.

The new screens in the buildings are there to increase campus-wide communication—something that students and faculty have been asking for and a concern commented on by past HLC teams ( Each college will have the opportunity to place announcements on the screens, where students will, hopefully, find the information they need in a format they are used to looking at.

Student concerns will always be taken seriously, as they should be, though students who misrepresent the truth will be held accountable.

Reorganization is being done in an attempt to create a more efficient use of resources. A quick skim of recent Chronicle of Higher Education publications among other media will reveal that across the nation, many, many universities are laying off staff, furloughing faculty, eliminating programs, not replacing retirees, and reorganizing in response to the current economic climate.

Robin Benny

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Town Hall: heard/not heard

For anyone not able to attend the President's Town Hall meeting with the faculty last Thursday, there was standing room only and a largely sober discussion about the state of the university as it pertains to faculty. I for one appreciated the fact that this was a less formal and more open meeting than I have attended in the past. In general, Dr Watson told us we were "dreaming" if we thought we could remain doing what we were doing and that "everything is on the table" for change or cuts. There was time for questions, but not enough time. Unfortunately, after an announcement and discussion that CSU, in spite of its straightened circumstances, would look into the possibility of supporting 100 or so Haitian college students, there was no getting back to questions about the university. There is still more to discuss so I am putting down what I heard and what I did not hear (but wish I had). Anyone else in attendance please feel free to make your own comments, or offer clarifications, etc.

What I heard (in no particular order)
  1. Dr Watson began by chiding the university for not voting in the primary election (in case you hadn't noticed all the reminders on your voicemail--I never remember the university administration being so concerned that we vote--makes you wonder if they had someone in mind for you to vote for, but of course they never said that). I also did not understand what Dr Watson meant when he said the university needed to participate in "governance" at the state level--something about how "if we don't govern ourselves, we will be governed by others"? Did anyone else get this? Does this mean we need to support government officials who will support CSU? If anyone has a clue please clarify.
  2. Dr Watson used the new euphemism, "right-sizing," as opposed to "down-sizing," to say the university has to cut jobs. In the next 6 months people would be fired and all programs, all parts of the campus would be scrutinized for cuts; some people who retire or leave the university will not be replaced, the cues override system would be reviewed. When asked, he said he is committed to keeping full-time teaching faculty in the majority rather than move to having more adjuncts, and he does not believe that "furlough" days will work to off-set the financial problems.
  3. CSU has two strategic plans, one that Dr Watson does not like and one that he does. He wants to review a strategic plan and implement it with follow-up accountability. No mention at this time of whether faculty participation would be the usual "advisory" position or whether the university will use this as a chance to implement shared governance in a meaningful way.
  4. Dr Watson weighed in on curriculum matters. He and the Provost have reviewed the curriculum of departments and programs across campus. He said he was shocked to find that some programs do not require their M.A. students to do a thesis. He wants most of the M.A. programs to make a master's thesis mandatory and he wants to see this implemented soon or those programs will face further "review." He was likewise shocked to find that there are programs that have no B.A. senior thesis in place and he wants to see that rectified.
  5. Dr Watson commented that he doesn't see a majority of students using our library and claimed it to be "under-utilized." Considering he put forth no statistical reasons for saying this, I wondered where he was coming from with that particular statement. My own observation (as non-statistical as his) is that I have never seen so many students using the library--computers, study space, reading in the cafe. Kudos to the untenured librarian who braved a challenge to Dr Watson's observation and chastened him and the faculty present who snickered at his comment as she defended the fact that there are a lot of resources in the library and that the librarians are more than willing to help both faculty and students.
  6. On a more positive note, Dr Watson noted that CSU has an 85% retention rate this fall for first time freshmen. He linked this to an early alert system and 90% faculty participation.
  7. Regarding Distance Learning, Dr Watson said we are operating only at a capacity of about 20% and that all departments need to become committed to on-line education. One faculty member who teaches on-line questioned whether we can truly develop distance learning classes when we don't have reliable technology on campus what with banner and blackboard being up and down for a few days that week. Dr Watson's technology officer spoke at length about trying to improve the system. The point remains, until there is a stable system in place any "dream" of CSU as a center for distance learning will remain that.
  8. The Accreditation team is pulling things together to the satisfaction of the consultants right now in line for the March Higher Learning Commission "focus visit." No specifics were given, but we were assured that different campus constituencies were asked to review the team's documents and those comments have been considered.

What I did not hear (and wanted to ask)

  1. At his on-campus "interview" in the spring last year, Dr Watson said that one of the reasons he was the best choice for the president's job was that he would use his many contacts in Springfield to bring money to CSU. Since there was virtually a bulwark of politicians in the front row at the Convocation in October a week after he took office I was hoping he would tell us who among them had stepped up to become our new Emil Jones, i.e. godfather of the university.
  2. I was also wondering how much money our Trustees were pledging to the university this year from their own pockets or what they had promised to raise for the university or whether Dr Watson had asked them to pony up anything at all.
  3. I wondered whether faculty would continue to be utilized in the governance structure at CSU as merely "advisory" or whether they would have a meaningful place in decision-making?
  4. Regarding his comments on the curriculum, I wanted to ask Dr Watson if his dream of having all our students do senior thesis projects was intended to set a department up for failure or to set students up for failure? I'm not clear on all the details, but did we or did we not lower admission standards last year at the badgering of Trustee Finney who saw it as a quick way to raise enrollment? A student does not just sit down in their senior year and write a thesis. And while a capstone course or undergrad thesis is something we all would like to see in place, I would notify Dr Watson that many of our non-traditional undergrads have defected from departments to finish their degrees through the university's Board of Governors program. There is still too much of a mentality of a degree as a piece of paper to get by any means and get as quickly as you can. And will the university guarantee that it won't cut courses for low enrollment so that students can be guaranteed that the content-area courses they may need as preliminary for their thesis are available? Maybe on the topic of curriculum development, it is the administration that needs to be merely "advisory."
  5. Regarding a comment made early on in this meeting by a faculty member who said that "not all faculty are against you Dr Watson." I would clarify that many faculty were against the way in which Dr Watson was hired and many faculty were and are cynical about the Trustees and the use of the state university system as a political patronage pit among other things. I do not believe, however, that there is anyone among the faculty who wants to see CSU fail and for that we are working with Dr Watson.