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Remarks to the Faculty Senate

  • Date: 02/07/2002
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • One of our colleagues recently told me about a story shared in one of our classes by a guest lecturer, the president of a local firm. He held up two pictures for the students to see - one picture was of embers slowly burning, and the other was of a blazing fire. He asked which they would prefer to deal with . . .

    . . . then he told them that he would prefer to deal with the "fire."

    When problems simmer under the surface, it is hard to get a handle on them and deal with them in a productive fashion. By contrast - when problems are out in the open - it is then possible to analyze much more effectively the source and the true nature of the problem.

    So embers burning slowly and out of sight - are not what he prefers. Rather - he told the students, "Let me know where the fires are - so I can deal with them- and solve the problems...."

    During the past few weeks I have received, and responded to, an increasing number of helpful and informative communications from the faculty. Among the insights I have gained is that despite of our efforts, we are clearly falling short in communicating to you and, especially, in listening to you.

    You have clearly identified a "fire," and I commit to redoubling our efforts in both - and I ask that you continue to share your suggestions and reactions.

    It also has become clear that some, perhaps many, of our colleagues feel that we have not placed the highest priority on our faculty. While I can assure you otherwise, it is obvious that our commitment has not been made as clear as I would like.

    So, please let me offer some tangible examples of our commitment to you, specifically in regard to some of the issues I first discussed with you this past October.

    At that time, as you may recall, I discussed several recommendations that I would carry to our Board of Trustees in response to faculty needs, and in light of increased student enrollment and the first of what would become two rounds of state budget cuts.

    Here is what is happening on those fronts:

    First, I continue to support efforts of our Planning and Budgeting Committee - working with the Provost and the Vice President for Business and Finance - to further identify the financial resources required to address issues of salary compression, as well as matters of salary adjustments that may be required for any "outliers" identified through our ongoing equity studies. Sources under consideration for such funding include additional revenues from Spring Semester enrollment, as well as potential additional cost-cutting and internal reallocations. Our goal is to make such adjustments by May 1, 2002.

    Second, I understand that the Academic Policies and Calendar Committee currently is considering a recommendation that salary increases include both an across-the-board increase and a merit increase. I am prepared to support a reasonable recommendation along those lines and to carry that recommendation to the Board at its February meeting.

    Third, I ask that the PBC continue to provide me with recommendations regarding the revenue adjustments that typically are included within the annual February budget revisions. Our understanding has been that those revenues would be used to address health-care cost issues, with a view toward maintaining current paid health insurance.

    I also want to thank the Faculty Well-being Committee for their ongoing diligence in reviewing health-care cost issues, and I look forward to receiving your recommendations on those issues on or around May 1.

    It is important that you remember that, at no time, have I suggested that the University's contribution toward health-care benefits be decreased. The only matter under discussion is how we manage the rapidly increasing costs associated with health care.

    Fourth, in addition to issues of compensation and health care, it is clear that many perceive that Faculty Senate's voice in our University governance structure needs to be raised - that there are issues that should be thoroughly discussed and reviewed by the senators. To that end, in discussion with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, I understand that this body requests to openly deliberate on the issue without my involvement or that of any member of my staff. I will honor your request and also will suggest that other members of my staff not attend the special meeting that you call for that purpose.

    Finally, let me reiterate my commitment to improved communication.

    Efforts to enhance our communication will focus on three objectives:

    1. Ensure that that we can all be better informed;
    2. Ensure that we can optimize the effectiveness of the good ideas and expertise that is resident throughout campus; and
    3. Ensure that we understand which matters are strategic necessities, requiring specific and prompt action - and which matters require more time for deliberation and assessment.

    Thorough and effective communication is never easy; and all of us must acknowledge that enhancing our communication will not be an effortless or quick process; it will require consistent effort and due diligence on the part of many people, myself included. And, it will involve some trial-and-error.

    I hope that you will come to regard this effort as something we must do, and that all of us will sincerely and earnestly engage in that process.

    You may recall that when I first came to The University of Akron, I shared my recollections, back when I was an assistant professor, of sitting in a faculty meeting and listening to the president of the university. To this day, what I remember most is being frustrated as he talked about the legislative agenda and the state budget and such similar issues, that seemed to not address any of my immediate needs or concerns.

    While I now understand how directly relevant those issue that the president was talking about are to faculty and how they go to the heart of higher education - I remember, vividly, feeling that he was unresponsive.

    It is, I am sure, how you feel today.

    So I must do better to connect with your concerns, at the same time that I try, as best I can, to share with you how our ability to deal with key issues is conditioned by that larger environment that is our state and nation.

    Thus, I will continue to do my best to present the "big picture" to you, and to attempt to be more specific about how that impacts each of the issues you and I care about - and to listen to and consider your needs more directly.

    Therefore, I am planning a series of roundtable discussions, during which members of the University community can meet with appropriate members of the administrative team to have an open dialog about common issues - such as the budget, the campus master plan, and technology.

    The first roundtable will focus on the budget and tentatively will be held during the last week of February. I will notify everyone of the specifics as soon as they are finalized.

    I hope that many of you will take part, and I hope that you will encourage your colleagues to join us.

    Thank you for your kind attention.

    I will be pleased to respond to your questions. Thank you.


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