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.

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