With the anticipated June 30 retirement of Provost Kathleen Enz Finken, the executive board of the Cal Poly Chapter of the California Faculty Association (CFA) believes it is an appropriate time to reconsider her seven-year legacy and, by extension, the legacy of the current university administration.
We do this with the hope not only of informing the search for the next provost, but also to set the groundwork for a new working relationship with the administration in which shared governance regains its former standing.
The ideal of university management is designed to be cooperative in nature; something not currently reflected in the university’s top-down management disposition.
In the past, administrators understood that it was the faculty with the disciplinary expertise and the direct connection to students who were best situated to ascertain the direction of the university. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the university administration has taken the opportunity to gradually reduce the role of university faculty in decision-making. With the sometimes-misleading narrative of resource scarcity, the university has increased class sizes, and has endeavored to concentrate more decision-making authority and overall resource management into the hands of a few administrators, resulting in low faculty morale and an increasing concern for Cal Poly’s future.
What now drives the direction of Cal Poly is branding and budgets — often to the detriment of students.
Broad metrics like graduation rates and the university’s approach to “brand management” often hide the deep-seated issues of faculty pay and the increasing number of administrators. One of the main points of contention between the CFA and the president and provost, a point echoed by the Academic Senate, is the disparity in pay levels between faculty and administrators as well as the increasing number of administrators.
A recent report by the president to the Academic Senate indicated that over the past year university compensation for its administrators saw an increase of 1.8% and that it only increased its spending on faculty salaries by 0.8%. This past year, the administration even proposed (and, after union push back, abandoned) lowering the summer teaching pay of tenured and tenure-track faculty. The administration often trumpets the “value” of a Cal Poly education, but it does so without acknowledging that such value is based on the collective low salaries of faculty.
This is all in the face of the fact that Cal Poly faculty face an already high and increasing cost of living in the Central Coast making it difficult to attract, hire and retain new tenure track faculty, not to mention making the situation of lecturers even more financially precarious.
Faculty salaries are only one side of the coin, however.
The university administration has continued to increase the number of university administrators. In spite of a 2015 Academic Senate resolution imploring the university to freeze administrative hiring and to restore an appropriate student-faculty ratio, the university administration has continued its trend of hiring more administrators while backsliding on faculty tenure density.
In the same report mentioned above, President Armstrong noted that the number of administrators at Cal Poly is continuing its historical increase while, according to the CSU’s own data, the headcount of faculty at Cal Poly actually decreased by one over the past year.
Moreover, colleges have seen a substantial increase in the number of mid-level administrators who are doing the work of well-paid college deans who spend an increasing amount of time off-campus raising money. We are thus left with more people being paid to do the jobs that fewer administrators used to do while faculty face larger student enrollments.
Traditionally, a university has been a community devoted to the intellectual development of its students rather than a factory turning out entry-level workers whose success depends on the goodwill of large donors and industry.
With the increasing size, power and scope of the administration, the response to many critical issues has been to spend money on more administrators or hire outside consultants. The administration’s approach sells short the capacity of the university community, which encompasses all faculty, staff and students, to get together and have difficult but important conversations about where we are going and how we can get there.
The best ideas are not imposed from above but emerge from broad consensus after difficult and even contentious conversations. The CFA looks forward to a more community-focused administration led by a new provost who will listen more and mandate less. In an environment of shared governance as well as collective celebration, the Cal Poly community can thrive.
Submitted by the 12 members of the executive board of the Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo Chapter of the California Faculty Association.