Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Musical Deck Chairs

So I mentioned in an earlier post that the Titanic deck chair reorganizing continues unabated at CSU. Most recently the College of Arts and Sciences became the latest beneficiary of guidance from on high. Apparently the university has been informed that it has too many administrators and that it needs to reduce the number forthwith. This is curious because one might think this is somehow related to a constrained state budget or maybe ineffectiveness of the previous “right sizing” efforts. Maybe the university is spending too much on administrators and reducing their numbers will save the university money which could be used for any number of other purposes. Sadly, no. This reorganizing will not save any money, combine like disciplines to improve scholarship, reduce workloads to allow focus on core activities nor will the university become more efficient or streamlined. The only benefit will be that the Illinois Board of Higher Education can tell the state legislature that the number of administrators has been reduced and that the higher education machine is now running more efficiently because everybody knows that administrators don’t contribute anything to a university’s function. However, it would have been helpful to inform the discussion to have something in writing, outlining 1) what problem is being solved by reorganizing, 2) what data supports the construction of that problem as a problem 3) what outcomes are being sought to establish that the problem has been solved and 4) what resources will be made available to mitigate the unforeseen consequences of this solution.
Well run institutions use the written word to communicate messages. Regimes past and present at this institution has been reluctant to communicate clearly in writing about what is expected so I am not surprised when the desired outcomes are not achieved.
Faculty and administration should have a productively adversarial relationship because they serve different purposes. However, in this case it is administrators as a class who are being unfairly targeted. Yet it appears to be partially self inflicted. During the past regime in an attempt to weaken the Civil Service and the Union, many employees were reclassified as administrators though clearly they weren’t. Now the proverbial chickens have come home to roost. Instead of focusing on weakening the union or Civil Service good leadership looks into the future and asks itself about possible repercussions of its actions.
So here the university is reorganizing the Colleges of Arts and Sciences to eliminate three department chairs. Lumping English, Communications, Media Arts and Theater with Foreign Languages and Literatures doesn’t make much sense seeing as it was done before and failed. Why then would the university repeat something that has failed? Oh wait, I forgot. This isn’t about whether the university looks or acts like a university; it is about something else.
So instead of aligning Art & Design with Music because they are both humanities or History and Philosophy with African American Studies because AFAM has only one faculty member and the program is always ‘at-risk’, let’s be more creative. Let’s reorganize the departments alphabetically. There are currently twenty four departments, degrees or programs in the college. If there were no more than four in each unit, African-American Studies, Anthropology, Art and Design and Biological Sciences would form one department. A second department would be Chemistry, Communications, Computer Science and Criminal Justice. The third department would be composed of Economics, English, Foreign Languages and Literatures and Geography. The fourth department would be comprised of History, Liberal Studies, Mathematics and Media Arts. Music, Philosophy, Physics, and Political Science would form the fifth department. And rounding out the half dozen A-Z departments would be Psychology, Sociology, Theater and Women & Gender Studies. Since disciplinary affiliation has no import here using a numerically symmetrical approach is as valid an approach as any.
Or the college could be aligned by size. There could be one or two huge departments with the bulk of students or faculty and there could be a smaller department with no degree programs like Philosophy, Anthropology, Theater, and Communications.
A third option is to have the departments be randomly distributed through a lottery process with a pre-determined department size of no more than five disciplines per department.
Maybe a musical chair rotating department structure would work. So divide the faculty in the College into five groups. Create five departments, A-E. In year one all of the #1 faculty are in Department A. The next year they rotate to Department B. That way the university can tell its political masters that it is changing things and nothing is the same as it was. That way we can look innovative and distract them from any of the institutions other shortcomings like repeat audit findings.
All of the foregoing suggestions are based on the premise that the administration is unwilling to manage the university as a university and is only interested in maintaining its dysfunctional administrative structure and behavior. Since reorganizing isn’t based on cost savings, organizational efficiency or disciplinary improvement why not try something different.
The administration could look at how the university got to this point and adjust accordingly. If there are employees classified as administrators who shouldn’t be, RECLASSIFY them. If there are that many who can be reclassified, then I imagine that tinkering with the academic side of the university would be unnecessary. The regime could request in writing from the IBHE exactly what they want, create the paper trail and provide transparency. The continued use of ‘oral tradition’ style communication is inappropriate for public bodies. Once the request is received, then the university has something to respond to. Currently it is a shot in the dark with no real target in sight. And then in a bold move the regime could dispute the conclusion that the institution has too many administrators and challenge the IBHE to justify its conclusions. With a thoughtful analysis the regime may be able to refute the conclusion of the IBHE of too many administrators and turn the request back.
I am deeply concerned at unneeded chaos in academic affairs. Most of the criticism this university receives and has received historically has nothing to do with the academic performance of our students or professional accomplishment of the faculty. That would include the graduation rate criticism as well. The criticism has centered around administrative incompetence and it feels like here we go again. The university has demonstrated repeatedly over the past two decades that it does not manage its resources well and this is just another example. The resource here is time. The dean and department chairs have invested countless hours in an endeavor that does nothing to improve the academic activities of the university. The faculty, students, and alumni of this university suffer collateral damage from administrations that either have no experience managing a university, do not appreciate the core activity of the university or are unwilling to fight to protect the integrity of the university by telling its masters they are wrong. The expression ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result’ applies to institutions as well as individuals.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Where has my data gone???

So as a long time observer of our administrations, Board of Trustees and the general operation of the university, I was dismayed by a comment made by the CEO at the last BOT meeting; namely that the university has relinquished through attrition its Institutional Research function to another state university. With the former Vice President retired, the Associate Vice President departed and the department administrative assistant re-assigned, the university has sought outside assistance in fulfilling a critical and often overlooked activity. As of the last BOT meeting, Southern Illinois University is now providing the Institutional Research support that the university had provided for itself since 1996. So what’s the big deal you might ask. The university has various reporting responsibilities. We send mandatory reports to the US Department of Education, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), the Higher Learning Commission, the National Collegiate Athletics Association, the various public and private grant awarding agencies and organizations, and various academic accrediting bodies. Institutional Research also supports internal activities like program evaluation. Every academic program conducts a periodic evaluation. One of the elements of that process is provided by IR. For example, numbers of majors, numbers of degrees granted, number of minors, number of credit hours etc. Without that data the program evaluation can’t be conducted. Thus when the IBHE requests evaluations of university programs, the university can only tell them it’s waiting on the data that it had been able to provide for itself since 1996 and is no longer able to provide. Institutional research is an area that provides not just data, but methodologically rigorous analysis of the data that is collected by various offices and departments on campus. Those who know little about research design and data analysis might believe IR is only about querying some mystical cloud database. It actually is a bit more than that as many faculty can attest given their decades of research experience.
So imagine my surprise, given all of the corporate speak of the current administration, that the university had gone to what can only be considered a competitor institution to prepare reports that this institution is responsible for. This exposes the soft data based underbelly of the institution in this way. There is no guarantee that every flaw, defect, imperfection, strength, and asset will not be transferred to an institution that competes for the same state resources. I simply cannot envision IBM turning over a critical function to Apple because it allowed that function to wither. It begs three questions. Did the administration appreciate the importance of the institutional research function? Second, what sort of leadership was exhibited in allowing the department to disintegrate through attrition? Finally, why weren't faculty, especially those who teach research methods and/or statistics, asked to assist the university in a time of need? I am sure those who have years of experience working with data sets, conducting data analysis and teaching students about these topics could make a vital contribution and protect the data integrity of the institution. This is troubling not just in the short term but in the long term institutional exposure given a competitor now has unfettered access to the university’s data. One might imagine such an institution cherry picking the university’s best students or seeking out other valuable assets and making a tenuous situation more untenable.
Or I could be completely wrong about this and it is all normal and part of an as of yet undisclosed process of re-engineering the university into something other than a university.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A different path???

So the inexorable march toward becoming a junior college continues. The pending reorganization of the College of Arts and Sciences appears to be providing evidence that the regime wants less of a university and more of a two year institution. Instead of making the bold move of creating two divisions, Humanities and Social Sciences, the College is shuffling departments or parts of departments into other departments. The first question I would ask is what problem is this solution addressing. If this move is being made only for financial reasons, I would challenge the administration to remember what the core function of a university is. If this is just about teaching students, like at a junior college, then it makes perfect sense to lump programs with little disciplinary affinity together. This bottom line of course satisfies administrators who seek fairness in the distribution of cuts not recognizing that administration only exists to support the core function of the institution. I realize administrators don’t like hearing this but they can’t do my job. I can do theirs. Parity or professional equity in terms of importance doesn’t exist. That hard truth plays out in the shadowy ways many administrators attempt to exert their authority. I have long since tired of hearing how hard and how long the recently added highly paid support personnel have been working to clean up the mess left by their predecessors. It is in these moments that I realize these new administrators lack the corporate memory of long serving faculty and thus fail to realize these words have echoed through the campus before. It was under the prior administration that new administrators came onto campus promising to clean up the mess of the prior regime. Now 12 years on, the newest additions to the administrative support ranks parrot the same words and frankly, those words ring hollow. For all of the bluster of the CIO, our technological infrastructure is virtually unchanged. Deck chairs have been rearranged and tasks from now defunct offices taken over by ITD with little productive effect. The audit report and its fallout are indicative of continuing administrative failure. The normal creative tension between administration and faculty has degenerated into low intensity conflict. I suspect most faculty who pay attention to such things would say they have no confidence in the regime to effect the change necessary to keep the university out of receivership or at worst off the auction block. And I would imagine that most administrators realize that faculty have little or no confidence in their capacity to right the ship. Let me provide a recent example. When President Daniel was here, around 2001 or 2002, I spoke to the VP for Finance and suggested the university partner with a couple of banks to provide accounts and debit cards for students. This would give many of our students an opportunity to have a bank account, learn the responsibilities of personal finance and have direct deposit of their financial aid reimbursement. Of course, the past administration couldn’t deliver on this fairly simple idea from a lowly faculty member. Now, 9 or 10 years later, there is the Cougar Card. There are a couple of problems with this system though. First, students weren’t consulted on this project in any substantive way. The paternalistic hubris of this is clear to me. It follows in a long tradition of administrators thinking they act “in loco parentis” when dealing with adult students. Second, there is no option to decline participation. This runs counter to how mature organizations function. And now the newest administrators wonder why our retention is so low? Here’s a clue. Stop treating adults like children. Treat adults like adults. Check the inflated egos at the door and collaborate (good faith shared governance, not symbolic gestures) with those who hold the corporate memory of the institution in order to inform your decision making. Surrender your need to be in charge and lord over faculty. Be the administrators that high functioning universities employ and break with the shameful tradition of administration at this institution, the tradition that has damaged and continues to damage the brand of our fair institution.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Audit report thoughts

So the earthquake of the state audit report hit and now the tsunami in the form of the press coverage has struck as well. Running every 30 minutes on CLTV, the university, now under new management, continues its tradition of honoring the rites of spring with its fascinating tales of financial and operational mismanagement. Continuing to regale the citizens of the State of Illinois with the reasons that the university didn’t properly account for appropriated funds or manage its Purchasing Cards appropriately, or why it maintained a negative balance in the Student Activities account or didn't manage university contracts in accordance with federal guidelines. And if these and similar tales of university behavior sound all too familiar then you would be experiencing deja vu all over again. What is new and not so new is the response of the university to the latest chapter of university mismanagement? Here are two. First, the university is told by its CEO that the institution asked the auditors to dissect the inner workings of the institution and lay its entrails out for all to examine. However, quoting from the recent Tribune article, ‘...Holland, however, said it was a routine audit and auditees "do not determine the scope of our audits."’ So this was a standard audit with the expected results? Why would the CEO try to publicly spin this as something out of the ordinary, knowing that statement could be easily refuted by the Auditor General? Second, in the political world that I have some experience in, whenever a public body or agency experiences a negative event like the audit report then it is imperative that the agency head contact all of the agency’s legislative and executive branch allies to inform them of the situation, strategize about responses and ensure that when the media does contact the legislators they are not blind sided by the reporter. Apparently that didn’t happen in this case. Again quoting from the Tribune article, “He (Senator Maloney, Chairman of the Higher Education Committee and CSU alumnus) was unaware of the audit until contacted by the Tribune.” This should never happen. Finally, if this was just a routine audit what would an incisive forensic audit yield? Is it possible this audit is emblematic of a dysfunction beyond the capacity of all but the most capable leader? The challenges facing this institution will not be solved by someone because they are local and “know everybody.”
Systems must be put in place and a culture developed to ensure those systems function as intended irrespective of turnover. Systems should always trump personnel. Sound systems in a functional culture will work to counter frequent changes in personnel as is common in administration.
I am curious how the next chapter of public coverage of CSU will unfold but sadly I believe this story will remain the same.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rites of Spring

So as I was driving on a beautiful, crisp spring evening, I was reminded of those quaint events that mark the rites of spring. Baseball’s opening day, perennials bursting forth from the ground seeking the light and warm of the sun, clocks springing ahead and of course the posting of the university’s annual audit report on the Auditor General’s website. Spring brings us news of how well the university is being financially and institutionally managed. Last spring brought great news to the university. Under the direction of Interim President Pogue, the university reduced the number of audit findings from 20 to 13. Most notably this was done in spite of Dr. Pogue being prevented by the BOT chairman from hiring a Vice President for Finance. One could only imagine how much greater the improvement could have been if the Interim President was allowed to do his job. So it was widely anticipated that another 35% decrease in audit findings was in the offing as the university right sized and set off on its new mission. Sadly, it was not to be. Under the direction of the current CEO the university’s audit findings jumped from 13 to 41 with 11 repeat findings from the previous year. This means that the university not only did worse in its overall management according to the audit report, it repeated 85% of the errors from the previous year. By way of comparison, the University of Illinois system with its three campuses, $2 bn budget, and 72,000 students amassed 43 findings with 29 repeat findings during its FY 2010 audit. So it appears that any assertions by the regime that he would have the university cleaned up in six months were misguided and foreshadowed what would become another failure of BOT appointed leadership
So, you are probably asking for some context about the audit report. First, it covers the previous fiscal year. The most current report for FY2010 covers the period July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010. Second, the findings are divided into three categories; Government Auditing Standards, Federal Compliance and State Compliance. Third, the State Auditor General contracts with firms on a rotational basis so one set of auditors doesn’t work with an agency or institution for too long. Fourth, amounts of money are not what generates findings, it is the absence of internal controls, non-compliance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or non-compliance with applicable state and federal laws or regulations. Finally, the report indicates findings that are repeated from the previous year(s). Repeat findings are not necessarily indicators of mismanagement. Providing background is imperative in understanding the meaning of the findings.
From these three categories the breakdown of the findings provides some insight into the continued dysfunction of the institution. There were four Government Auditing Standards findings, twenty-four Federal Compliance findings and thirteen State Compliance findings. Twenty-nine of the forty-one findings were designated “Significant Deficiency/Noncompliance.”
I point your attention to four of the forty-one findings as being typical of the dysfunction of the university.
In Finding 10-14, the auditors found the University did not have systems or mechanisms in place to ensure federal funds are not spent with vendors barred or suspended by federal agencies.
Auditors discovered in Finding 10-22 that the University did not comply with provisions of the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments of 1989. The university is directed to provide specific information to students and employees annually. This university didn’t do that. A fairly simple act of communication eluded the institution.
One of the most oft repeated criticisms of the university is its low graduation rate. Somehow during this year, the regime didn’t submit its graduation rate data (Audit Finding 10-26) to the US Department of Education. As this has been a federal requirement since 1992, how would something this significant have slipped through the cracks?
And in the area that disturbs me because of the life safety implications there is Audit Finding 10-38. A curious repeat finding from the previous year, the auditors found the university was not compliant with the Illinois Campus Security Enhancement Act of 2008. As the only employee certified by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency as an Illinois Professional Emergency Manager (IPEM) I have on several occasions commented to the Board of Trustees that the university did not have a National Incident Management System (NIMS) compliant Emergency Operations Plan. I warned the Board that there could be consequences both short and long term if this wasn’t addressed. The Board was told by the Police Chief, that I was over qualified to speak about the university and that the institution had complied with all legal requirements. I believe this repeat finding repudiates the statements made by the Police Chief but more critically points to a pattern of mismanagement that could endanger lives. I am sure you can understand how serious this finding is especially given this urban university is bisected by freight rail lines and a major expressway. There is actually more to NIMS compliance than simply stating to the BOT that a plan exists and an IPEM doesn’t know what he is talking about.
So seeing a threefold increase in the number of findings from the previous year caused me great concern. Of course the regime responded in all of the expected ways, many of them the administrative equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.” Using personnel turnover is always convenient but irrelevant. Turnover is a function of the quality of leadership. High turnover brings to question whether the leadership is up to the task of motivating and inspiring people to their best or whether threatening and berating subordinates is the order of the day. The regime has responded that it wanted to know all of the flaws, defects and imperfections. This is a peculiar request of the external auditors. Instead of requesting that the internal auditor go over the university’s practices, the CEO requested the external auditors be particularly incisive. Is this historical revisionism, given that the Chicago Tribune is likely to excoriate the university again or is it sound management practice? This practice of course, gives opponents of the university more ammunition in their war of death by a thousand paper cuts. It raises more questions than it answers, especially given there were 11 repeat findings from the previous audit.
One of the best questions I have learned to ask in difficult situations is what happens next. Any leader worth his weight would recognize his/her limitations, take responsibility and offer their resignation. Clearly, the task of righting the direction of the organization is beyond them and instead of continuing Titanic deck chair rearranging, a new type and style of leadership should be sought. Good leaders recognize when it is time to leave and don’t wait to be asked to go.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Some Thoughts

Given the most recent post by Corday, I have been thinking about issues like “shared governance” and “consultation” for a number of days. Of course, the two are intertwined, there is no possibility of shared governance without consultation. The question seems to be, do we have either on this campus?

Another dismal set of audit findings underscores, I think, the fact that the old ways of doing business at Chicago State do not work. There is now too much scrutiny, too much political pressure, and too much public notice taken of Chicago State’s various problems. At this point, the institution is facing a set of crises that, if unresolved, will, at best, continue to adversely affect the entire university community, and at worst, may result in the school’s closure. I believe a serious commitment to a more democratic, consultative process on campus would help address some of our most troublesome issues.

For the past several years, our administration (and I include the Trustees here) has worked assiduously to shield itself from criticism over the school’s academic problems. Our dismal graduation rate? The fault of faculty and advisors. Poor performing students? Bad teaching. Concern about the rigor of academic programs? Impose by fiat meaningless academic requirements like senior theses and “mandatory” M.A. theses. Students unhappy over treatment in various administrative offices? The departments and faculty do not adhere to a “customer service” model, or alternatively, display banners that proclaim “students first” while continuing to make their experience in the Administration building as unpleasant as possible. Faculty unhappy with search processes that they feel do not recognize their concerns or result in the hiring of the best qualified candidates? Hire the candidate you want and give interviews to the press blaming “disgruntled” faculty members for causing problems in the search process. I could go on here, but this list seems representative.

How has all this worked? Quite well from the standpoint of dumping the blame on the faculty. Unfortunately, the school is now on the defensive, trying to improve a graduation rate that represents the efforts of a minuscule number of students while doing nothing to increase admissions standards. Meanwhile, the public believes Chicago State to be little better than a community college, with unqualified faculty teaching badly. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no concerted attempt to counter the prevailing narrative, or defend the faculty, by presenting figures that paint a true picture of Chicago State and the students it serves. Perhaps most important, the atmosphere on campus is toxic, with neither faculty nor administrators trusting one another.

The Orwellian corporate-speak sloganeering that attempts to mask actual conditions on campus reflects what seems to be the reality of governance at Chicago State. Because of the union contract, our administration must convene various committees that include faculty. However, these committees are constantly reminded that their role is strictly “advisory” and, on some occasions, admonished not to exceed their contractual “charge.” The perception among many faculty is that members of the committee then work diligently on the issue or candidate only to see their recommendations ignored by the administration. This interface between faculty and administrators, of course, reflects the actual practices of “shared governance” and “consultation” on this campus. In fact, consultation here seems to mean that you grudgingly and impatiently listen to faculty committee members (who after all do not have the “administrative knowledge” to make a good decision) then do what you wanted to do in the first place. When criticized, you then claim that you “consulted” with the essentially “disgruntled” faculty.

This desire to control these processes and to shape, or ignore, committee recommendations that are ostensibly reached through consensus reflects, I think, an administrative model that sees power concentrated at the top in a hierarchical structure (much like a business). As other posters on this blog have pointed out, however, universities are not corporations, and the decision making process should not be viewed, or operate, as a zero-sum game.

I am unaware of any faculty on this campus who want to see this institution fail. That means faculty are willing to work together with our administration to do what is best for the school, and especially its students. Although some faculty are critical of a variety of administrative proposals, these objections, while inconvenient, are important to shaping policies that serve the entire university. Although likely apocryphal, a quote attributed to Attila the Hun fits here: “a king with chieftans who always agree with him reaps the counsel of mediocrity.”

I would argue that this model of consultation has served the university poorly. In particular, groups with expertise in certain academic areas, although consulted in a figurative sense, have ultimately found their voices silenced. Since good management utilizes all its resources, this is a risky course of action. For example, our own board regulations acknowledge the expertise of the faculty and its responsibility for curriculum. Why then does the administration see fit to make unilateral decisions regarding the curriculum? As an extension of that expertise, CSU faculty are likely in the best position to determine who will be successful teaching here as well as who will make a good colleague. Why then, is the faculty not allowed to rank candidates? Why does the administration insist on hiring its own choices without any explanation? These practices, while technically permissible, are hardly desirable. They contribute to faculty demoralization and cynicism about the motives of the administration.

I would urge the administration to abandon the practices that have been demonstrated to be ineffective. No need here to reference Einstein’s definition of insanity, but I think it is time to take a new approach. Ideally, this approach would include the faculty in a more meaningful way. At a minimum, faculty should have primary responsibility for developing curriculum and specifying degree requirements. Faculty should also have primary responsibility for recommending candidates for faculty positions. These recommendations should rarely be overruled by administrators, and only for compelling reasons communicated in writing. Finally, faculty input should be prominent in the hiring of administrators. Using the faculty as a resource instead as treating them as a group of miscreant children might result in better hires and a more stable administrative environment--which might improve performance and generate fewer audit findings. This does not have to be viewed as a diminution of administrative authority, rather it represents a commitment to utilizing the university’s resources to their maximum. The paternalistic and largely punitive management approach that defines this university culture, an approach directed toward faculty, staff, and students must be abandoned if we are to have any hope of success.