Thursday, October 3, 2013

What Kind of University Do Our Students Deserve? Do We Deserve?

Over the past two years, I believe I have made the case that our university needs a change in leadership in order to realize its potential. Although I continue to believe that, I want to offer some rudimentary proposals that might contribute to building a university that truly works for our students, staff, faculty and administrators. Although I believe that some, if not many, of my colleagues likely share these views, I speak here only for myself.

First, there must be stability in the upper ranks of the administration. Chicago State’s senior management currently features an interim Provost, an interim Vice President for Enrollment Management, an Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (for the third straight year), an interim Dean of the Honors College and an interim Dean of Health Sciences. I believe that searches for permanent occupants of these positions should commence immediately.

These searches should not include some of the problematic elements of previous administrative searches: the positions must be advertised for a suitable period, long enough to generate a list of qualified candidates. The position descriptions should be precise as to required qualifications. For example, the industry standard for provost includes not just an earned doctorate, but a strong record in scholarship and teaching. Of the twenty-four job announcements for provost currently online, fourteen require an academic and teaching record that qualifies for appointment as a full professor. To summarize, the position is for a senior scholar-administrator, a person with a proven record of research, successful teaching and administrative experience. A look at the four other old Board of Governors' universities reveals that the qualifications of the provosts at Western and Eastern Illinois exceed industry standards, while the provosts at Governors State and Northeastern Illinois meet them. Does Chicago State University deserve less? I hardly think so.

Current job announcements for The Vice President of Enrollment Management require less academic training as they tend to emphasize successful experience in enrollment management. However, the industry standard is at least a Master’s Degree, with 4-10 years of experience in enrollment management. For this important position, the incumbents at Eastern, Western and Northeastern exceed that standard as they all hold the PhD. Again, does Chicago State University deserve less?

The people who constitute the Chicago State University community deserve the best upper management team that can be assembled. Getting the best, most qualified people requires careful attention to writing the job description, a thorough search that generates a strong applicant pool, and an ultimate selection that adheres to the posted job requirements. Does anyone think this cannot be done here? Does anyone think that we, as faculty should not insist on an upper administrative team with qualifications at least as strong as our sister institutions? Finally, let us fill these other interim positions with permanent occupants. This kind of instability simply does not serve out institution.

I also have some modest proposals to improve faculty-administrative relations and to ease the needless tension that surfaces too often around academic issues. I propose that programmatic and curricular changes should emanate from the faculty and that faculty expertise must be the prime consideration when evaluating and creating curriculum and degree requirements, and in the areas of hiring, retention and tenure. I submit that faculty are the authorities in their particular fields and that their judgment should, except in rare circumstances, hold sway in those areas in which they are experts. In return, faculty must take their tenure obligations seriously, especially in the areas of academic rigor, hiring, retention and tenure. I certainly have no desire to administer this university. I only want to have my judgment valued in areas I know something about.

In my estimation, the university has reached a critical stage. With our student population standing at 5700, we cannot afford any more enrollment declines. Chicago State has not had this few students enrolled since the 1960s. Should we continue on the same path? Or is it time to consider alternative strategies? I think the future of this university depends on how we answer those questions.

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