Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Administrative Bloat and Managing Faculty-Administrative Conflict; Address of J. Paul Robinson, Chair of the Purdue University Faculty Senate

Shared governance from the faculty side tends to be a lonely business.  The institutional voice of faculty governance tends to work in isolation.  Though some universities have sought to reduce the isolation of their institutional faculty governance units, most still tend to work in relative isolation, at least relative to the sort of cooperation and collaboration networks that haves been developing among administrators and boards of trustees that have been developing among university organizations.  Within CIC universities, there have been some efforts made to provide a space for developing faculty research/teaching networks, developing administrative leadership skills from within faculty ranks, and for collaboration among CIC university faculty senates.

J. Paul Robinson, SVM Professor of Cytomics, Professor of Biomedical Engineering Chair, Purdue University Senate

It makes sense for CIC University Faculty leaders to engage in more vigorous sharing of experiences and approaches to shared governance issues and perhaps to work together toward shared approaches to meeting these issues. This post takes a stab in that direction by highlighting the University Faculty Senate at Purdue University. Like Faculty Senate leaders elsewhere in the CIC, Purdue faculty leaders are seeking to respond to frustration from various senators about administrative bloat, and difficulty with managing faculty-administration conflict.  The Chair of the Purdue University Faculty Senate, J. Paul Robinson, has been kind enough to share two documents that might give some perspective on issues at Purdue that can affect all faculty governance organizations. One was a presentation to the Purdue Board of Trustees, and the other an address to the Purdue Faculty Senate.

There area lot of lessons here for Penn State with respect to its governance, its relationship with administration and the form and nature of its engagement.  It suggests the great extent to which our isolation, insularity, and our reticence has impeded the sort of robust and positive exchanges that contribute to the joint construction of a more aggressively and cooperatively forward moving institution. One thing worth emphasizing from Professor Robinson's Report that especially resonates at a Penn State increasingly obsessed with the financial impacts (and costs) of its operations and prone far too often for its own long term good to indulge in the characterization of faculty as a cost item on the fnancial ledgers rather than as the engine (and really the only engine) that produces value at the university.

Faculty impact every aspect of the institution. However, we are a moderately small group of individuals in the big picture. If you consider the graphic below, dividing Purdue into 4 groups of individuals, faculty represent the smallest group. However, if you consider the impact that faculty have, their contribution to the total income of the institution is very significant indeed. It is of course obvious that it is the faculty who deliver the education and bring a very significant share of funding to this institution. (J. Paul Robinson, Chair University Faculty Senate, Purdue University, Report by the Chair of the Senate to the Board of Trustees on the State of the Faculty, July 2012)

Here is Professor Robinson's presentation to the Board of Trustees:

Report of the Chair of the Senate - BOT meeting July 20, 2012
J. Paul Robinson, SVM Professor of Cytomics, Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I would like to introduce the vice chair of the senate Professor David Williams.

This short introductory document is meant to be only a précis for you. I ask that you spend some time evaluating the attached document. The recent decision to hire Governor Daniels as our 12th president has as you already know, generated greatly diverse opinions across the campus. It is important to state that the faculty universally expects that the nature and philosophy that has made the academy a great place of learning and discovery, will be maintained. Purdue has also had many "transitions" - this particular transition period is a big concern to faculty - we are in a delicate period while our competition is still moving forward.

I have already had productive discussions with the Governor and he has made it clear to me that he is prepared to educate himself on the nature of the academy and that his goal is to encompass it. I have emphasized that the faculty see Purdue as the vesting instrument of their collective reputation. Things that significantly impact faculty, surely impact the education we deliver, and the discovery we make.

I do want to refer to a couple of figures. The area of the blue figures is proportional to the number of individuals. Students are the bulk of our population, then staff, administration and finally faculty. Now let’s look at the distribution of income in red. Again, the area is proportional to the numbers.

IMAGE (Purdue: Numbers at Purdue in $ (millions)
Faculty (1827) Grants and F&A ($336 Million)
Administration (2057) cash/gifts ($35)
Staff (5681: Service 2476; Clerical 1156; Extension 286; Prof 1763) Aux Enterprises ($285)
Students (39, 637) fees and student aid ($578 plus $170 = $748)

The second largest return on investment at Purdue, is faculty grants. It is important for the Board to fully appreciate what that means. Faculty are responsible for teaching our 40,000 students. We do this, at the same time as writing the hundreds of grant applications that bring in that $400 million. $60 million dollars of that by the way, goes to the administration – not the faculty. Let’s call it the faculty’s yearly gift to Purdue!

I hope this helps the Board gain a better understanding of work distribution at Purdue. When you hear the Provost telling you how successful Purdue is – start thinking “faculty do that”. When the VPR tells you what a great job he has done bringing in grant money – think “faculty actually do that."
You won’t see real administrative cuts at Purdue – but you do see faculty positions not filled because of budget cuts. Administrators have unlimited budgets to support empires of administration. At the same time, I live in a department of 22 faculty with a total of 2 support staff who support all the faculty, and all the grad students. Teaching is one thing, but competitiveness for grant funding is like an extreme sport these days – it is demanding takes every ounce of brainpower to compete. Without support it’s even harder.
Senior Administration              No cuts
       Level 2 Administration     No cuts
       Level 3 Administration     No cuts 
- - - - - - -  - -  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  -
Deans                                        Cuts (100% education delivery)
Department Heads
Over the past 10 years there has been a 58% increase in administration while faculty lines have grown 18% (see slide). We are not utilizing our resources effectively. You see the impact of the last decade in this next figure – a severe reduction in graduate teaching assistants in green with the load going onto the faculty. In the supporting document you will see another figure that shows a reduction in total teaching entities at Purdue over the last decade. 
IMAGE      (Administrative positions increased 58% over the past 10 years. Faculty increased 18% )
IMAGE (Growth of administration is correlated with a steady raise in tuition fees; This graph is backwards if your goal is to spend more on education.)

I hope that the message that I have presented gives you all some cause for reflection and a sense of faculty concerns.

Professor Morry Levy addressed the issue of a faculty seat on the board. I support this position as do a great number of faculty. We have a student member, who provides for the board with real time intelligence on our student body. That same real time intelligence from a faculty member would I believe balance the board in a way that can only strengthen the institution.

I hope that the Board and the next president will continue to be open to faculty input. Governor Daniels has certainly committed to me his intention to listen to the faculty. Administrators come and go but faculty live with the good or bad policies left by the leadership. Faculty are here because they want to lead and influence the next generation of leaders. What we do want, is responsibility at leadership levels, we want integrity and we want administrators who don’t hide behind administrative barriers.

Finally, I want to thank the board for the time you put into Purdue. I encourage you to visit with faculty and on occasion hold an open forum. Faculty don’t always understand the decisions made by the Board. We will not always agree, but one of the most important aspects of academic life is the ability to question and suggest solutions. You have a couple of thousand really smart faculty at your beck and call; they are not exactly free, but you are already paying them so I encourage you to engage them as much as you can.

Thank you.

Here is the presentation to the Purdue Senate:
University Senate Chair presentation September 10, 2012
Good afternoon Senators and visitors
Thank you for your service to the students, faculty and staff of Purdue University. Thank you

also for your confidence in me to work with the administration on the many issues facing us. I encourage you to communicate your thoughts to me on any issue. In this report to the faculty I will be saying some things that may make some of you uncomfortable but I think that they have to be said.

This is most definitely not a normal year. Indeed, I predict that the next 9 months will be rather different and there will probably be faculty who are going to be very unhappy and those that are fine with changes likely to affect all of us.

I recently addressed the board of trustees and provided them with my assessment of the role of faculty and the role of administrators. You all have access to this document on the senate website. I believe I made it clear that this institution has moved gradually toward a position where faculty are more tolerated, than venerated. A 58% increase in administrators over the past decade is disturbing. What is more disturbing is the fact that we as faculty, have less resources to deliver the education demand that represents about $750 million of the $1.8 billion in revenue this institution bring in. Combined with the grant income that is generated by faculty, well over 50% of the revenue of Purdue university is a direct result of faculty effort.

Despite that, over the past few years, virtually every department on this campus has seen a constant stream of cuts. Indeed, there are a number of department that actually have a lower budget today, than they had 3 years ago. Yet, last year Purdue achieved a bonus because of the large number of foreign students entering the institution paying a premium.

The story we hear is that the university has done a stellar job of containing costs resulting in much self- directed kudos to the administration. I am sure that this is the message that has been communicated to the incoming president.

So what do I see as being wrong with this story? First, I think that it’s somewhat bogus. I don’t know for sure, but something is not right. How can an institution see a huge increase in administration, a reduction in total teaching individuals over 10 years, a bonus in foreign students, significant increases in research funding and all we see at the faculty and department level are cut, cut, cut. I am starting to identify some examples of where I see inconsistency and I will point out in good time. What I would appreciate from many of you is first hand data on how your departments have responded to the continuous cuts. I am currently requesting the same information from every administrative unit of the university. I intend to present a report in a month or two that documents the cost of operation, the number of positions, the increase in hires and an overall faculty evaluation of these units. I have made official requests for data and I will be requesting the BIER committee to work towards a goal of a better understanding of how administrative units operate and how they have been affected by the cuts that I believe have reduced academic departmental capacity.

I know that one of the things utmost on your minds is what will be the impact on Purdue of the next president. I think it’s rather odd when I think about it, but most of the previous presidents of Purdue probably visited once or twice before they became the president. What they knew about Purdue was obtained from a few senior members of the administration and probably the board of trustees and they may even have met with one or two distinguished professors. The advantage they had was that they had all spent a lifetime in academia – they knew every nook and cranny of academia, they knew how to read between the lines of administrative speak, they had often been department heads, deans, vice provosts, or even provosts and they knew exactly how to work the system and achieve their goals. We accepted them not really as equals, but we were mostly content to follow along or not with the amazing new strategic plans that befell us all upon new leadership. We memorized the new key words that reflected the new regime like “preeminence”, we did wholesale substitutions for “Discovery” to “Discovery with Delivery”, spent the required number of faculty hours repaginating and re-organizing our school strategic plans, and hoped that the President would do great things for our institution.

And then we ended up with a politician as president. He had no background in the comings and goings of academia – he had never been a department head, or a dean. He probably never taught a university course, and probably never delivered a final exam to a bunch of students. He certainly never went through the tenure process, and he certainly did not grow up in an ivory tower although he did spend some formative years in one or two. So, where does that leave us?

First, I would say that Mitch Daniels will know more about this institution, its high and low points, will have met more faculty and thought much more about the nature of the institution than probably all of the previous 5 presidents combined. He will have had 6 months to work out what is going on behind the scenes trying to work out what is reality and what is not. We as faculty, will have had the most access to a future president in the history of this institution. It is incumbent upon us to make the most of that. Every one of the voting faculty senators will have the opportunity to meet with Mitch and talk with him before he becomes president. Every one of you will have had several months to carefully consider and develop suggestions for improvement or change to any aspect of the institution. If you want me to consolidate those suggestions you can always send then to me - many already have. One thing that I hope he will do, is encourage the next governor of Indiana to appoint a faculty member to the Board of Trustees just as Mitch Daniels did at IU.

There are only a very few top level institutions that have taken on a professional politician as president – not that anyone who claws their way to the top of a university is not a consummate politician anyway. But there are clearly advantages and disadvantages. So here is the way I see it. Mitch Daniels is making a strong attempt at being open minded in his evaluation. He is allowing himself to be scrutinized by the faculty and he has so far been forthcoming in his responses. He is a very accomplished individual and the bottom line is that I, as a faculty member of a great university want him to succeed. If he fails, we will all fail with him as many of you will still be here when he leaves in 5 years. That really is a key issue isn’t it – we as faculty are mostly focused on the long term. This university is what gives us the credibility we crave as academics – you would not be here if you didn’t care about academic status. All I can say is, he had better succeed in maintaining the standards of this institution. That is the least I expect.

Now, it would be wrong of me to not bring up some concerning issues that the senate is going to deal with this year. The core curriculum is winding its way through the system. It’s not a matter of what your opinion of going in this direction is – it’s a matter of us making sure that the outcomes are acceptable to us. Each college and our regional campuses will have to weigh everything carefully as they work their way through the issues. The proposal to move Purdue to a trimester system is still on the books. If it ends up being a reality, there is no doubt that this will have a lot of impact on the faculty. It is likely to change the employment status of almost every member of the faculty. Other decisions made recently will also have a large impact on the university and the senate. The agreement to hire an additional 107 faculty in the college of Engineering over the next 5 years will increase the number of engineering senators by about 5%. That will mean a gradual reduction of several senators from other colleges. It will also put major pressure on the infrastructure of the university.

The senate leadership has received notice from a large cohort of faculty from one department for a request for comprehensive review of issues surrounding the behavior of a number of administrators over what I will call “combat” between faculty and administration. All I will say on this particular issue is that this is not going to be a one act play. Administrators cannot act irresponsibly and they most certainly cannot get into “win at all costs” mentality.

Indeed, I believe it is time to have a wholesale change in the management of the entire university grievance system. It is currently run by administrators for administrators. Faculty are in fact at the mercy of a system that has become inherently unfair. The perception that the faculty committees have any influence is clearly questionable. While there is an ombudsman for students who have troublesome issues, there is no ombudsman for faculty. As it currently stands, the only group that assists faculty with support is the Purdue Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The members of AAUP spend an enormous amount of time working with faculty. I strongly advise faculty members who find themselves in conflict with department heads, deans or administrators never to meet without an AAUP rep present to witness the meeting. I am going to be proposing that an ombudsman be appointed who reports only to the president and who cannot be manipulated by other administrators, but has the power to insist on administrative compliance with regulations and can also negotiate in a reasonable manner. I will of course be requesting this based on the knowledge that Purdue must severely reduce the number of administrators it currently has– I am absolutely not asking for an increase in administrators – but a significant reduction and realignment to get back to a reasonable balance. Replacing 5 or 10 administrative positions with one ombudsman seems to be a reasonable initial solution.

Last year, then Senate Chair Morry Levy announced the appointment of a committee to review specific cases of possible prejudicial treatment of faculty. A number of cases have already been added to the docket. I have confirmed the continuation of this committee chaired by the past chair of the senate. The committee has been charged with reviewing the grievance policies, dismissal policies, and the role different administrative groups play in faculty conflicts. The committee will report its recommendations to the Senate for amending current policies and procedures for fairness as well as compliance for ericboth parties in the best interest of the University.

The last think I am going to say at this point on this issue, is that over the past year, there has been a very disturbing trend of the administration to hire lawyers to either protect the sometimes bad decisions they are making or put undue pressure on certain faculty. This trend of bringing in lawyers at early stages,. can only be viewed as wasteful at minimum and draconian at worst. If leadership needs to consult with lawyers on so many issues, perhaps there needs to be a new set of leaders. I believe if the alumnae knew what the university’s legal bills were for the past year alone I think that there would be a misunderstanding that the university has too much money – or alternatively, too few leaders who can negotiate fair and reasonable settlements. While I hesitated to bring this issue up in public, it appears that the only way to get something serious done about this is to address it here on the senate floor. Administrators are highly paid individuals and should be chosen for their ability to keep the wheels turning, facilitate the educational and research missions of the institution and, if we could only hire the best and smartest, bring some innovative ideas to the table. Perhaps it’s time to review many of our senior administrators. If the faculty demand incredibly high standards for their hires, should we not demand the same intellectual standards from our administrators? It’s good to have continuity, long- term knowledge of the institution and even a long track record as a faculty member, but there should be no basis for hereditary administrative peerages. I will say the same to faculty – pay attention to your role as faculty and make sure you are pushing the intellectual limits and not dragging down the standard. We too have a major obligation to ensure that faculty are not asleep at the wheel.

I want to end of a positive note even tho’ I have aired some necessary dirty washing.

I was initially uneasy about the selection of Mitch Daniels as our next president. I kept my mouth shut – I was actually in Europe at the time of the announcement. In the mean-time, I have had the opportunity to spend many hours with the next president. I no longer have any concerns as to whether Mitch Daniels will listen to the faculty. He is listening. I have no concerns that he will not have the absolute best interests of Purdue University in everything he does. I don’t suppose I will agree with all his actions, and it’s highly likely that if we don’t agree we will put up a pretty decent fight to change his mind. But what I do know is that if we as faculty want Purdue University to increase its national and international recognition, then we will continue to do what we have been doing for years – be tough but fair teachers, publish high quality papers on our discovery in top journals, and be recognized for the academic excellence that we the faculty have sole control over. If we do that, then let’s hope Mitch Daniels flies the Purdue flag and uses his influence to raise a few billion dollars to allow us to keep the cost of education down, but the quality high. This is my hope and expectation for our next president.

I thank the senate for your patience.

J. Paul Robinson, SVM Professor of Cytomics, Professor of Biomedical Engineering Chair, University Senate


  1. So many seeming parallels to Penn State in terms of the disproportionate administrative bloat amidst faculty losses. Have you considered conducting a similar analysis Larry? It would be very informative for the university as we prepare for the presidential transition.

  2. I agree; it would be useful to have this information. I suspect, though that what we may discover is that while the central administration has been more conscious of the need to be careful in bloating, unit administrators--deans and their equivalents--may be showing far less self control in developing an administrative architecture that they can use to substitute their staff for faculty in governance. The result not merely bloats administration and increases operating costs but also serves to weaken shared governance at the unit level.