Feedback and next steps for Academic Design Plan
Posted May 20, 2020
We are one step closer to an academic redesign proposal derived from substantial feedback and shared governance communication.
Executive Vice President and Provost John Wiencek has revised the original proposal from the deans after considering the feedback that was submitted and consulting with faculty from across the University. The revised proposal brings together intellectually related academic disciplines into an administrative structure with fewer colleges.
“Based on extensive feedback and significant cooperation involving deans, department chairs, Faculty Senate, University Council and others, I am happy to see how the revised plan moves us closer to a more sustainable structure that will serve students and our region well," Wiencek said. "The quantity and quality of the feedback was most encouraging, and it will most certainly result in a better plan."
The revised plan and summary of comments received has been submitted to the Faculty Senate, with a request for feedback in time to be included in the plan that President Gary L. Miller and Provost Wiencek will present to the Board of Trustees at its special meeting on May 29.
MESSAGES FROM PROVOST JOHN WIENCEK
Proposed Plan for Redesigning UA
Message sent to campus Wednesday, May 6
Life has changed substantially for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic brings the need to mitigate infection spread, improve detection and tracing, as well as find ways to carry out our work.
Beyond the virus itself, the economic impacts are substantial and will require us all to substantially change and evolve in response to this significant event. Our response is underway, as outlined below. This current challenge will require us to be flexible and open to new ways of fulfilling our promises. Let us review what has already been done and what remains to be done.
Why do we need to move so quickly? When I interviewed in early March, the draw on our reserves was moderate, allowing several years for planning and targeted growth which could bring expenses into alignment with revenue from enrollment and state subsidy. COVID-19 has dramatically changed the situation for all universities in the nation. Our draw on reserves for the next fiscal year is estimated to be 5-7 times of what it would have been if COVID-19 had not happened. This draw rate will place the financial health of the University in jeopardy by the end of next fiscal year if we do not take immediate action. It is our shared responsibility to take action now for the sake of our students and for the Akron community.
What do we need to accomplish? The total general fund expenditures for The University of Akron, including transfers for Athletics, debt service, the physical plant and other areas, has been approximately $325 million per year for the last few years. Our Interim Chief Financial Officer, Steve Storck, estimates that we need to immediately reduce the general fund expenditures and transfers by at least $65 million per year, which would imply a 20% reduction across the campus. In addition, there will be other follow-on effects if students do not occupy residence halls or purchase goods and services on campus. For this reason, we are nominally discussing reduction of the ongoing general fund in the 20-25% range.
Where are we now? The Deans, under the able leadership of Interim Provost Urgo, were working on this challenge prior to my arrival. I believe they have a good start to a plan that should be brought forward as our launching point. The plan reduces administrative overhead while enhancing the student and faculty experience and academic/scholarly excellence (including research and graduate programs) by seeking opportunities for collaboration. This plan, or one augmented by your suggestions and after review by Faculty Senate and University Council, will yield savings by bringing programs together that can share resources, stimulate new areas of growth and reduce the inherent overhead costs of maintaining administrative offices.
Our work will be guided by discussions that are not aimed at individuals or groups of people as targets for cuts or reductions. Rather, we will benchmark our expenditures to our national and regional sister institutions and invest appropriately in instruction, student services, academic support and institutional support. Our expenditures are reported annually to our Board and governmental entities within these functional areas of activity which support our mission. Our financial approach for rebuilding our budget will be to allocate that budget along these functional areas in a manner that brings us closer to peer-institutional norms (as a percentage of expenditures in functional areas), while appreciating our unique difference as The University of Akron. This approach will be applied to all areas, including Athletics and administrative overhead. We must also look for our opportunities for growth in subsequent years such as the 11 new online undergraduate programs, two graduate programs and three certificates that our faculty and colleges have established as part of the Akron Online initiative. We will begin working with University Council this week to set these relative expenditure allocations, which will in turn provide a realistic resource allocation (i.e. new budget) to all units throughout the University.
Next steps. We will frequently post updates to the plan as well as respond to your feedback on the Office of Academic Affairs website. We need your input and advice and have provided some options on the website, including a Brightspace discussion board and a more private feedback form. Please get involved; we need your feedback, advice and ideas.
In closing, I want to thank you in advance for helping us through this difficult transformation. I believe moments like this one will define the excellence of the University. We are on the rise and we will rise above this moment.
Executive Vice President and Provost
Summary of Feedback to Date
Sent to campus Monday, May 11
We continue to make progress towards meeting our goal of addressing the short- and long-term financial health of The University of Akron. We have been monitoring the feedback from all of you that has come in through the channels listed on the OAA website. The comments acknowledge the need to reduce the number of colleges. There are two major issues that are the subject of conversation.Message continues...
One issue concerns the LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education. Under the deans’ proposal, this college will be merged with the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences (BCAS). The alternative suggested by Faculty Senate Executive Committee and several constituents is to merge it with the College of Health & Human Services. No matter where it goes, the College will be called the LeBron James Family Foundation School of Education going forward.
The second issue is regarding the various ideas for the current College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering (CPSPE). The deans’ proposal was to have it become an institute reporting to the provost or to a chief research officer. Faculty Senate Executive Committee recommends appointing the faculty of the CPSPE to home academic units in chemistry, chemical engineering, or appropriate discipline and to keep the institute as an interdisciplinary research unit. This proposal has received the most comments by far, with many advocating keeping the polymer science and polymer engineering faculty together, ideally as a college, perhaps as a department or a school.
The College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering and the LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education are extremely important units having many external constituents. Thus, it is important to resolve the organization of these units as soon as possible.
We intend to collect feedback through close of business this Wednesday, May 13, 2020. At that point, we will review the feedback and provide a summary for the campus community. We are working with University Council and Faculty Senate leadership to lay out a timeline for next steps and appropriate shared governance to bring this reorganization plan to its final state by the middle of the next week. Please provide any additional feedback soon.
Thank you again for your participation in this process. It is vital that we make the best possible decisions now for our future.
Executive Vice President and Provost
Provost John Wiencek narrates an overview of the proposed budget framework and academic structure.
Submit your ideas, comments and suggestions lower on this page
Faculty Senate response
Faculty Senate Executive Committee met on Saturday May 2nd and Monday May 4th to review and provide feedback on the proposal for reorganization presented to the committee by the provost on April 30th. The committee reviewed the proposal with a focus on maintaining the academic integrity of the University.
This document outlines the issues discussed among committee members, and these issues are presented to the provost for consideration as discussion points.
While we understand the challenges that COVID-19 presents, we think that successful reorganization needs careful consideration, discussion, and clear analysis of costs and benefits. We look forward to further deliberation among various university constituents before decisions about reorganization are finalized.
Suggestions regarding Academic Reorganization
In reviewing the spreadsheet, the committee did not have any narrative with which to interpret the proposed changes. It is not clear if current departments listed on the same line are proposed to be merged, or only share resources. Below are some suggestions based on our interpretation of the spreadsheet.
- We recommend that the current College of Education would be a better fit with Health and Human Services. There are many examples nationwide of colleges that include health disciplines and education. This type of move has already been discussed extensively over the past two years among faculty. The College of Education prepares professionals to work with K-12 students in inclusive settings, with many students having various needs (e.g. students with disabilities or with mental health needs). Teachers are expected to interact with other professionals, such as school counselors, speech and language therapists, social workers, etc. Hence, having a School of Education under in CHP mirrors those connections between these various disciplines that we observe in professional settings. In addition, programs in Education have similar program requirements as programs in CHP, such as accreditation, licensure requirements, placing students in field or clinical settings, and working with supervisors in those settings.
- A lot of our discussion revolved around the unique mission of CAST and the regional campuses.
- CAST has unique programs and has been successful in helping students gain skills needed for additional education. These programs would be attractive to students who may be interested in adding credentials with the current recession. They have been successful in serving non-traditional students, first generation students, students from under-represented communities, and students who have different academic needs than students in other colleges. If we move these programs to other colleges, we need to make sure we keep the support services available to those students to be successful, and that the culture of the colleges where CAST programs are being moved adapt to the needs of those students.
- Regional campuses are vital in the current economic situation. Students will absolutely be considering the costs of education as they try to rebuild their economic stability. Some functions of the regional campus need to occur on the campus and be coordinated by the campus, such as the schedule. Our regional campuses run very lean and require a great deal of coordination between offices to create a slate of course offerings that meet students' needs in multiple majors.
- It is not clear to the committee how the Bachelor of Organizational Supervision degree will be offered under the provost office, and not in a degree-granting college. The BOS degree was very successful at Wayne College. One way to consolidate colleges is to combine CAST and Wayne College. Add a college of Applied Studies and Regional Campuses. Or Associate Studies and Regional Campuses. The advantage of keeping Wayne and CAST is that the faculty and staff there are focused on advising and retaining students who may require more or different types of support. Students can still be referred to these programs from other colleges if need be.
- Polymer Sciences and Polymer Engineering currently focus on research and doctoral education. They receive a great deal of resources from the University but have limited engagement in undergraduate education. The reputation of Polymers, and the research done by this unit, are of course crucial to the University. There should be an Institute of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering (or some similar name) at the University of Akron to facilitate grant activity pertaining to this subject area. Faculty who are currently in the College of Polymer Sciences and Polymer Engineering may be structurally reorganized into existing undergraduate academic units (probably Chemistry and Chemical Engineering) and granted membership into the Institute of Polymer Sciences. As a Fellow of the Institute, these faculty members can continue to conduct research and buy out portions of their teaching load with external funding. This structural change would result in a reduction of administrative positions and provide additional faculty who would teach at the undergraduate level.
Questions and Comments
- Which potential expenses associated with this current proposal for restructuring are anticipated? What are the anticipated net savings? How much of this proposal entails real savings rather than what appears to be removing current budget lines which are not actually current expenditures?
- Can the BOT make decisions to remove administrative lines without a full reorganization process? That would seem to be a faster and cleaner option. Or we could call this a “soft” reorganization or a change in reporting structure while we engage in a more thoughtful and inclusive process of examining the potential benefits and costs of different reorganization options.
- What does phase two of this reorganization look like? Does it include program elimination? We would like the proposal that is presented to faculty senate to include additional information about the implementation of restructuring in order to have meaningful discussion and informed input. For example, faculty are concerned about the implications of reorganization to the RTP process. How will this impact the RTP approval process at the department and college levels? We need to make sure that we don’t disadvantage faculty who may be moved under a new department or a new college with different procedures and guidelines.