The University Record, November 9, 1998

President sets tone for retreat

Editor's Note: President Lee Bollinger, Provost Nancy Cantor and many faculty met in late October to discuss "The Future of the Faculty and the University."

By Jane R. Elgass

“No faculty member should leave the University because the teaching and research environment is better at another university.”

That statement by President Lee C. Bollinger set the tone for a retreat held in late October on “Issues at the Intersection: The Future of the Faculty and the University.”

Some 70 members of the instructional and administrative staff attended the retreat, which focused on six major topics: supplemental faculty; values and vision of the University; contributions of research faculty; support for interdisciplinary efforts; integration of teaching, research and practice; and Can we do it all?

In opening remarks at a dinner the evening before the retreat, Bollinger noted that a number of “forces are seen to be dissolving the fabric of the academic world as it was when we began,” adding that the fact that the group would be discussing the future of the faculty was in itself revealing.

“What makes this institution so appealing,” he said, “is that there is a definite community that values something different from what the rest of the world values. Something magical happens to students when they come here, and they are loyal when they leave. They cry on the steps of Angell Hall. You don’t get that over the Internet.

“We strive for a preeminent faculty,” Bollinger noted, “but at the same time must be flexible. The ideal is that no faculty member should leave because the teaching and research environment is better at another university. I’ve been told by some faculty who left that they regretted it.”

The University must support and enhance a culture in which people say, “I just couldn’t have a better intellectual, academic, teaching life,” he said.

Securing adequate resources to help support that environment is one of the biggest challenges faced by the University, the president noted, adding that the basic structure of recent increases in state appropriations “are leading to an environment in which we hope to get 1 to 2 percent more.”

The resource gap between the U-M and its private peers is widening, with some of those institutions seeing their endowments grow by 20 percent while the U-M’s has increased by 5 percent.

“We have to set our sights high, we have to think about huge gifts,” Bollinger said, citing a $1 million challenge program instituted by Stanford University trustees. “We have to start thinking differently [about private gifts].”

While Bollinger sees “an incredibly bright future” for the University, “the gap between the identity of the institution and the public image of it is a very serious issue for us. We’re far better than our image.”

Day of stewardship

B. Joseph White, dean of the Business School, characterized the retreat as a “day of stewardship.” “President Bollinger and Provost [Nancy] Cantor have made it clear that academic excellence will be the focus of their administration,” he noted. “There are extensive discussions every day about critical faculty issues in units, in the administration, in faculty governance. This is an opportunity for us to come together,” he said, citing the primary goals of the retreat:

•A thoughtful and simultaneous focus on the future of the faculty.

•Identification of future actions that could foster faculty development.

White said the issues identified in the retreat “will give us a broader perspective on the issues we should address,” enabling the University to “achieve an orchestrated approach to solving the issues. The University is highly decentralized,” he noted, “but well knit together. It takes an orchestrated approach to make progress here.”

The not-too-distant past

Paul Boylan, dean of the School of Music and vice provost for the arts, briefed the participants on significant changes that have taken place in faculty appointment procedures since 1965.

In those days, many department chairs were appointed without much consultation. Affirmative action changed search procedures, mandating participation of faculty in addition to broadening the pool.

When he was appointed dean in 1979, Boylan noted, then-President Harold T. Shapiro was concerned about the deterioration of the quality of the faculty and took several actions. This included adherence to a tenure clock, which some units had not observed; written statements of criteria for promotion and tenure, emphasizing high standards, especially at the associate and full professor levels in professional schools; approval of all senior appointments by the president (previously done by the deans); and the assembly of four or five evaluative letters from individuals’ peers.

The “great turbulence” in 1979–81 prompted by Budget Priority Committee reviews of academic and non-academic units, fostered “a much more rigorous review of recommendations for promotion or tenure by the central administration,” Boylan noted.

More rigorous standards took a strange twist at the School of Music, however. “Very high, clearly defined standards had an unseen result,” Boylan explained. Some teaching activities, such as required keyboard literacy classes, could not be done by traditional faculty, so the School hired “career lecturers” to perform that vital role. That recently has become a clinical track, recognizing the responsibilities of those individuals and allowing them “fuller participation in the business of the school.”

“As I reflect on these changes,” Boylan stated, “I do foresee ongoing evolvement in the nature of the professoriate.”

On values and the future

The University is dealing with a “tug-of-war” that pits its desire to maintain “a faculty of integrity and excellence with the need to be responsive, and to change and grow as what we are trying to accomplish in the University changes,” Provost Nancy Cantor told retreat participants.

In discussing the future of the faculty and the University, however, the values held by individuals and the greater institution must be identified and incorporated into the discussion.

“What do we really mean when we define ourselves as a great public research university?” Cantor asked. “We have, perhaps, a unique burden” because few other institutions describe themselves in this manner.

Throughout its history, the provost noted, the U-M has asked such questions as “Who are our students, our faculty and our staff? Where do we come from? What are our passions, our talents and our expertise? What are our roles?”

“These issues are not new to us, and I would argue that it is actually vital to this institution that we continue an examination of who we are, who comprises this great institution, how we do our work and then how we come together,” Cantor stated.

Cantor noted that when David Hollinger was here for the Graduate School’s 50th anniversary celebration, he indicated that the U-M had a “historical imperative to be inclusive and wide-ranging in who we are and in what we work on, what we teach, what research we do, what service we do . . . a special burden to do everything reasonably well.” This ties closely to the nature of the University’s “publicness,” the provost noted.

“This need to do everything reasonably well is, I think, very much at the heart of the question of who we are as a faculty,” Cantor said. “In fact, we do not want to do everything reasonably well, we want to do everything ‘greatly.’ So that is a real pressure on us, and I want to put that out for your consideration as we start to think about the future.”

Also related to the public nature of the University “is a sense of permeability between the boundaries of the community we create and the community we are intimately hooked into, both in the state and more broadly. We have a constant national intent and an extensive definition of who we are that goes beyond our immediate boundaries,” Cantor explained.

Changes in the composition of the faculty also must be reflected in any discussion of the future. Cantor cited data from the American Association of Universities that point to a faculty that is, among other things, more diverse, less stable, more spread between practice and theory, more interdisciplinary, less full-time, more split between teaching and research. “This changing profile has repercussions for how we interact as a faculty.”

Cantor sees the “many nested communities within this large institution” as another important shared value at the University. The various communities are fairly autonomous and empowered to act on their own, allowing the University to play out the historical imperative of inclusiveness in multiple ways.

With this autonomy and empowerment, however, we must ask, “What is the public good that is left in the University?” Cantor said. One public good is tenure, which historically has signified “a devotion to a common fate, a sense of belongingness to the University as a whole, a loyalty.”

“It really matters, then, as we diversify the faculty in every possible way, both in its stability or lack of stability and in its narrowness of task orientation within a particular nested community, that the faculty now becomes an integrated part of the whole,” she said.

The question, Cantor added, “is how to preserve that sense of loyalty to the institution and to the fate of the institution when you are bringing people in and out on short time periods, when people have external involvements, and so their lives are not as intertwined and the interdependence is not as clear.

“The loyalty of the institution to the individual also may be perceived as less,” Cantor noted, exemplified by such things as short-term contracts, different levels of participation in governance and different sets of rights and responsibilities.

“So, whereas we may believe that we absolutely need the kind of diversity of expertise and passions and accommodations to different aspects of the demands of the external world,” she said, “within the institution we have to be aware that it is changing the nature of the community that we have on the ground in the institution.

“Preserving some sense of community is the key to how we keep together the great public research university. But we need to recognize that creating that sense of belonging and loyalty is not going to be easy, in part because we are asking our faculty to do so much more.”

The most important value for Cantor, however, is flexibility. “What is really unique about the Michigan experience—for all of us, faculty, students and staff—is that we learn that our first assumptions . . . are indeed only that, first assumptions, and that our neighbor, colleague, mentor or peer can teach us something else about how to construe beauty or expertise or smartness.

“In other words,” Cantor said, “what we have always valued at this great public research university is an openness to change our mind about what is interesting and what is valuable and what is good and what is quality. This diversity of perspective-taking is at the core of the creativity and liveliness of this institution.

“The hardest thing to do,” Cantor stated, “is to learn to value the contributions of someone else who is not doing exactly the same job we are in exactly the same way,” adding that we “must be a whole lot smarter about understanding what is interesting in the work that our faculty does.”

Retreat grew out of APG discussions

The late October retreat on “Issues at the Intersection: The Future of the Faculty and the University” grew out of discussions by the Academic Program Group (APG, a group comprised of the deans and the provost) in February 1998 about faculty issues at the U-M.

B. Joseph White, dean of the School of Business Administration, was asked by Provost Nancy Cantor to chair a planning group to design a meeting of faculty leaders and deans to consider the future of the University and faculty.

The letter from Cantor and White confirming faculty and staff members’ participation in the retreat stated in part:

“Our goals in convening senior academic leaders from across the University are two-fold:

“The first is to ensure that there is thoughtful and simultaneous focus in the schools, colleges, research units, central faculty governance bodies and central administration on the future of the University’s most important resource, our faculty.

“The second goal is to provide a means by which we can begin to identify future actions that will foster the maintenance and enhancement of the University and faculty excellence.

“We believe that continued development of excellence at the University of Michigan requires a high degree of cooperation among members of the faculty, their representatives on executive committees, other faculty governance bodies, deans and the University’s leadership.”

Retreat participants included APG members; senior members of the provost’s staff; members of the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee (AAAC); a faculty member from each school’s and college’s executive committee; and representatives from the clinical and primary research faculty.

The planning group included White; Sheila Feld, professor of social work and AAAC chair; Hugh Montgomery, professor of mathematics and a member of the LS&A Executive Committee; Judith Nowack, assistant vice president for research; Karen Gibbons, chief of staff, Office of the Provost; Diane Vasquez, administrative associate, Human Resources & Affirmative Action; and Jeff Frumkin, director of academic human resources. Catherine Lilly, manager, Information Technology Division, was the retreat facilitator.


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