No word yet on UPAC decision
November 16, 2010 3:04 PM
As an uncertain state budget looms, the University is looking to save $1-1.5 million annually amid an $18 million budget shortfall through massive restructuring of its colleges while cutting six administrative positions next year.
The University Planning Advisory Council will submit its initial recommendations to reformat SF State's eight current colleges into six to President Robert Corrigan early this December. Although UPAC will not recommend cutting programs, departments or faculty, cuts may still be in the University's future pending next year's state funding.
"What your situation is that it's not the taxpayers that are subsidizing your education, it's faculty and staff on the campus that are subsidizing your education," Corrigan said. "You can't do that for very long and maintain a high quality faculty."
The proposal will be some variation of one of the four proposals currently before UPAC that would merge the current eight colleges on campus into six. The projected $1-1.5 million in savings, which is equivalent to 10-15 full time tenured faculty or about 200-300 class sections, will come exclusively from cutting the positions of two deans, two associate deans and two college development officers.
Corrigan would not identify which positions would be the ones to go, but with the amount of CSU funding in next year's budget unclear and the University at risk for a midyear budget cut, faculty are concerned UPAC's proposal will be a precursor to more sweeping changes in public higher education.
"Going from six to eight colleges is just the tip of the iceberg," said SF State President of the California Faculty Association Ramon Castellblanch. "We could see much broader changes than that. There's a distinct possibility that we could see discontinuation of programs, which could change the very nature of the University and higher education altogether."
The 12-member committee of administrators and faculty has generated significant unrest on campus this semester and both teachers and students have questioned the representativeness and transparency of the council, which operates in closed meetings and, since May, did not have a voting student member.
"This process is not as open or deliberative as necessary," Castellblanch said. "That's not what we need in a situation like this because of how high the stakes are."
UPAC and Academic Senate Chair Shawn Whalen said proposed savings will not come from cutting departments or firing any teachers, which may come as a relief to some. Still, it is unclear how hard state schools will be hit by next year's budget and programs and faculty may still be at risk in 2011.
"The six-college structure is something we need to do first before we consider things that are more challenging," Whalen said.
Council under fire
Castellblanch sat on the committee in the spring as a non-voting member. He objected to the closed meetings and lack of faculty involvement in the process and subsequently withdrew his membership.
"The CFA decided we didn't want to participate in a way that would add legitimacy in the process," Castellblanch said. "We were admonished not to share the discussion in the room (and) we were concerned about the closed nature in which the committee was operating. Given the magnitude of the issues before UPAC, the faculty really needs to be part of the deliberation."
UPAC provided opportunities for public contribution by offering ways to make suggestions on its website and through email and hosted two open town hall meetings this fall. Whalen said the decision to hold closed weekly meetings was made to prevent members from being scrutinized over everything they said.
"We didn't want to be broadcasting ideas people were just tossing out there because we didn't want to get people upset needlessly," Whalen said. "On the other hand, we didn't want to have spotlight on (the committee members) because we wanted them to be able to participate and feel like they weren't risking their reputations with every contribution they made to the committee."
Still, the nature of the meetings did not help public perception of UPAC and there has been confusion over what college restructuring will mean for staff and students as the issue progresses.
"We are concerned as students and deserve to have a say in the concepts (UPAC is) working on," said ASI VP of University Affairs Flora Nguyen, 21. "Getting information to students and faculty (from UPAC) is very difficult when they're in closed session and there is no representative to report back."
Council members were chosen by Corrigan from a list compiled by the Academic Senate. Students have wanted a voice in UPAC after its only student member graduated in May and ASI's request for the appointment of a student member was granted.
"After the second town hall meeting, a lot of the board members were very concerned about the lack of representation," said ASI President Cynthia Ashton. "No matter what, there must be a student representative on that board."
Corrigan said he did not want to bring in a new student representative in the middle of the initial round of reviews but that a student will be brought on for the next phase.
ASI's appointee, Amanda Chamsi, will sit on the committee in its sessions going forward after the initial December recommendations are made.
Cuts still loom
Although UPAC does not have the authority to address cutting departments and faculty, the notion that the six-college structure is likely a predecessor for bigger changes is something most parties involved agree on.
"There is a massive restructuring of public higher education altogether in California," Castellblanch said. "Given what the stakes may well be, we need a strategy that recognizes the broader issue and takes advantages of resources both on campus and in the legislature."
Whichever way UPAC proposes to set up the six colleges, it will be the first of many steps in the process of streamlining the University in response to a crippling reduction in state funding.
"The University is changing dramatically and a lot of people don't recognize that need for change," Ashton said.
The degree of change will ultimately depend on the state legislature's decisions and its prioritization of higher education.
"It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better," Whalen said. "We haven't had any conversations about establishing a hierarchy of academic programs that we would recommend keeping or recommend discontinuing, but I suspect at some point we'll have to be doing that kind of work. Until you know what the limitations of the budget are, nobody wants to have that conversation."
Over the past five years, the University lost $62 million in state funding and this was the first year in which the school did not hire new faculty, according to Corrigan. Even after UPAC's proposed savings, SF State would still face a $16-17 million shortfall and is at risk for a mid-year state budget cut.
After the council's initial recommendations this winter, the Academic Senate would likely have to consider bigger changes to make up for the remaining deficit.
"Next year, regardless of what the government does and the legislature, we've still got an $18 million problem," Corrigan said. "We're still addressing significant shortfalls and every million dollars is significant savings. We've also got to look at areas where perhaps there's not as much of a priority there for a program as there is for something else."
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