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Ad hoc committee reports to president

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 12 - November 10, 1994

An ad hoc committee appointed by President Paul Torgersen to examine the rights, privileges, and interests of the affected faculty members in regard to the restructuring plan for the College of Education has made its report to the president.

The committee, chaired by Monte Boisen, was appointed pursuant to Section 2.11.3 of the Faculty Handbook. The committee's report to the president, dated November 3, is the final step in the governance process before the restructuring plan is placed on the agenda of the November 14 meeting of the Board of Visitors.

The restructuring plan has been discussed in all relevant university commissions, been recommended for approval by the University Advisory Council on Strategic Budgeting and Planning, and was passed by the University Council at its October 17 meeting.

The restructuring process was set in motion by a memo from Provost Fred Carlisle to the college last January to reduce its budget by 20 percent.

Following is the report forwarded to Torgersen by the ad hoc committee, beginning with the list of committee members:

Ralph Badinelli, Business; Monte Boisen, Arts and Sciences, Committee Chair; David DeWolf, Engineering; Charles Goodsell, Architecture; Eric Hallerman, Forestry; James McKenna, Agriculture; Tom Sherman, Education; Eliza Tse, Human Resources; and Anne Zajac, Veterinary Medicine.

SUBJECT: REPORT OF THE AD HOC FACULTY COMMITTEE TO REVIEW THE COLLEGE OF EDUCATION RESTRUCTURING PLAN (IN RESPONSE TO SECTION 2.11.3 OF THE FACULTY HANDBOOK).

The Ad Hoc Committee (here after called the committee) received information regarding the College of Education restructuring from the following sources:

1. The College of Education Plan

2. A College of Education Planning Process Chronology

3. University Advisory Council on Strategic Budgeting and Planning Resolution Concerning the College of Education Restructuring Plan

4. Comments by Associate Provost Hyer

5. Presentation by Interim Dean Worner

6. Minutes of Relevant Meetings of : The Commission on Faculty Affairs, The University Advisory Council on Strategic Budgeting and Planning, and The Commission on Undergraduate Studies

7. Comments from the faculty of the College of Education received by Committee members

The charge to the committee as mandated in the Faculty Handbook (section 2.11.3) was to "review the proposal in order to ensure the rights, privileges, and interests of the affected faculty." In response, the committee focused its deliberations on the processes by which the restructuring was conducted, the involvement of faculty members in these processes, the protection of faculty welfare, and the impact of restructuring policies and practices (or lack of policies), and decisions that may affect the work of the faculty into the future. The primary intention of the committee's discussion was to enhance the well developed College of Education plan. We agreed the College of Education plan seemed to be widely accepted throughout the Virginia Tech community and that it was produced with broad participation of College of Education faculty members.

In particular, the College of Education plan provides a clear and comprehensive picture of its transition from a broad-based, multi-faceted, and effective organization to a more focused and thematic program structure. The restructuring has been characterized by open and frequent communication, participatory decision making, and continuous opportunities for significant influence by all faculty and staff members in the College of Education, as well as students and alumni from the college.

The College of Education has extensively reviewed its resources and processes, posed a vision for its future, and begun the creative activity of defining its mission as a precursor to designing the specific procedures through which it will transform itself. The College of Education plan appears to fit well within the context of Virginia Tech's goals and recognizes the College of Education's responsibilities to address the tripartite land-grant mission of the university.

Introductory Observations

The College of Education has a rich record of success; its faculty and the programs they provide have been recognized nationally and internationally not withstanding its relatively short life (less than 25 years). The committee shares the confidence that the faculty of the College of Education has in itself, and believes that the college's tradition of excellence will lead it to contribute new achievements to the commonwealth, its children, and its citizens. This faculty's sense of commitment demands recognition and commendation. The College of Education has done its work remarkably well.

Several factors influencing the College of Education restructuring should be articulated. First, the restructuring was mandated by an imposed resource reduction. Many in the College of Education felt the reduction was unnecessary, unwarranted, and perhaps unfair. Second, the quality of the college's services was not questioned. In fact, nearly all programs and services offered by the College of Education have been recognized as among the best in the state and region. Third, there was no decrease in demand for services provided by the College of Education. The demand for most programs in the College of Education exceeded its capacity prior to its restructuring with projections that anticipated increases in demand. Fourth, the College of Education had no way to respond to the reduction mandate other than by reducing the size of the faculty and by eliminating and reducing programs and services.

For the most part, the College of Education has responded positively to these challenges. However, the pace of restructuring planning imposed by the reduction imperative has forced the College of Education to focus primarily on current issues. The opportunity for the reflection needed to plan an organization for the College of the 21st Century was not available until after the plan under review was completed. This planning for the future, now proceeding rapidly, raises concerns about faculty issues internal and external to the College of Education in three areas. We present these below as issues that must be addressed to ensure the rights, privileges, and interests of the faculty. Indeed, we believe these are issues that are central to the success of the university as a whole as we more broadly address the challenges of a dynamic world.

Faculty Development

In order for the College of Education (as well as other units in the university) to change successfully, it will be critical for the university to develop a set of principles to guide the necessary development of the faculty. We do not believe it is the task of this committee to define these principles and do not offer the suggestions below as a comprehensive set of such principles. We do believe, however, it is useful to illustrate the issues and tone that should characterize these values.

Faculty development should be continual. The dizzying pace of change that dominates the information culture in which we all live demands an orientation of renewal such that faculty development must be an ongoing component of academic life. Rather than a concept of "retraining," we must think of the university as involved in continual growth.

Faculty development should be voluntary and the result of positive choice. As a matter of practice, affected faculty members should be offered alternatives, reasonable time, and productive opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills needed to fill changing roles successfully. The processes by which faculty members may be selected for or choose to be involved in reassignment and/or development for new assignments should be articulated with the cooperation of the College of Education faculty and other appropriate faculties from throughout the university.

Institutional Responsibilities

The College of Education has produced a responsible plan to an institutional mandate. Before Virginia Tech can responsibly receive the College of Education plan, all of us who belong to the Virginia Tech community must understand and accept our obligations to ensure the success of the College of Education and its new commitments. The commitments made by the College of Education through its restructuring must become the commitments of Virginia Tech as well. Little attention has been given to the broader responsibilities that Virginia Tech must meet to support restructuring. The points made below illustrate our concerns, but are not intended as an exhaustive list of institutional responsibilities.

Virginia Tech must initiate involuntary separation of tenured faculty members only as a last resort. In the case of the College of Education's restructuring, it appears that involuntary separations will not occur because of early retirements and mutually agreed-upon reassignments. If, however, involuntary separations become necessary, then no new faculty members should be hired until faculty members who are being separated have been offered the right of first refusal of positions for which they are qualified.

Virginia Tech must be willing to support faculty development. Doing so may require negotiation or allocation of resources in order to support the dual activities of reducing now and preparing for tomorrow. For example, College of Education resources could be bound by inflexible agreements such as those made with Individual Transition Option Program (the early retirement/buy-out plan) recipients at the same time funds are needed for several faculty to develop additional capabilities for the College of Education's new mission. It must be recognized that the work of planning, preparing, and implementing the new College of Education must proceed side-by-side with meeting daily the college's current and continuing obligations to students, to schools, to parents, and to colleagues.

Virginia Tech must be willing to accept a narrower and more sharply focused presence in the education community in Virginia, the region, and nation. While the committee believes the restructured College of Education will be excellent, we do not believe its work can be done in as many places and serve as many people as in years past. Practically, this means that the university must be ready to say, "No, we don't prepare nearly enough science and math teachers to fill the needs of Virginia's schools. And, we aren't going to, either." Virginia Tech must accept the responsibility to explain what Virginia Tech is doing and why to a public that may not, at first, understand without special effort.

Virginia Tech must be willing to rethink the value and nature of faculty contributions and productivity. The university's responses to faculty members must be related to the purposes and missions of its organizations. In addition, the university must recognize the slope of a learning curve that will be inherent in the work of the College of Education as it changes. Virginia Tech must be willing to support what is new, different, and sometimes unsuccessful. Achievement can occur only when the fear of failure is absent. We must be willing to accept some failures to nurture eventual successes.

Consequences of Restructuring

The committee is convinced that there are consequences for everything Virginia Tech does as an institution. At this point, little consideration appears to have been given to the consequences Virginia Tech has faced or will face from the College of Education restructuring and other restructuring efforts. The committee is convinced that the university could lose valuable lessons if we view these restructuring efforts myopically or only through the haze of casual post hoc retrospective.

One consequence of restructuring is the opportunity to build elsewhere. Another is the pain suffered by those who are adversely affected. We must be willing to accept responsibility for both the positive and the negative consequences of shifting resources.

Virginia Tech must recognize the diminished capability that reductions bring. Simply put, we cannot continue to offer services at the same level with progressively reduced resources. While this seems patently obvious, not many of us are willing to accept this as a reality. We must force ourselves to specify what we will not do as clearly as we identify what we will do.

Conclusion

The committee has few reservations about the quality, purpose, methodology, and direction of the College of Education plan. We believe the College of Education plan can be strengthened by a change in the focal point from which it is considered. Understandably, the College of Education plan is internally focused and addresses concerns of immediate importance to the College of Education. At this point, we believe it is necessary to place the College of Education plan in the context of the whole university. This will allow us to enrich the consequences of the planning done by the College of Education faculty and to prepare Virginia Tech to respond successfully to other changes that will surely come.

The committee notes that this plan was not accomplished without substantial costs to the College of Education and to the university. The costs to the university include the loss of all of the services that the scaled-down College of Education can no longer provide. What the future costs to the university may be due to the fact that many clients will no longer be served is difficult to evaluate but will undoubtedly be high. A cost shared by the university and the College of Education is the funding of the early retirement/buy-out program which is an essential ingredient of this plan. There are costs to the faculty in terms of loss of productivity to those whose professional lives were dislocated because of changes in the mission of the college. Additional and enormous costs are the time and effort of virtually the whole faculty, which was involved in the long and difficult task of creating this plan. The eventual costs in terms of the emotional stresses associated with this restructuring process are incalculable.

The interests of the faculty members of the College of Education, who are subject to trendy expectations to accomplish "more with less," are not served by a widely held perception that the college will emerge from this restructuring stronger and more productive. The university should make clear to all interested parties that this restructuring will eliminate viable programs and leave the College of Education and the university with a reduced capability to serve the commonwealth. Although the process followed by the College of Education in developing this plan is an admirable example of cooperative planning and decision-making, the net effects of this restructuring cannot be seen as beneficial to the College of Education, Virginia Tech, or the commonwealth.

Because the way in which the proposed plan will affect the faculty members of the College of Education depends to a great degree on how the specifics of the plan are detailed and executed in the future, the committee approves the plan based on the expectation that the university will provide:

* An effective transition/early retirement/buy-out program and make every effort to avoid involuntary separation of faculty and staff members except in the most extreme circumstances.

* All reasonable efforts to support faculty members who agree to retrain and restructure their professional lives in the best interests of Virginia Tech. The support must include opportunities for training both on and off campus.

* For the development of appropriate policies within the college and at the university level to ensure that the evaluation of these faculty members fairly takes into account the effort and sacrifices they have made.

Once the College of Education plan is accepted, the work of implementing the college plan will begin. There are likely to be challenges that are now unforseen that the college and the university must meet to make the restructuring a success. These challenges should be addressed openly and directly with wide consultation and participation throughout the College of Education and the university. In particular, issues regarding faculty rights, privileges, and interests should be directed to appropriate functions of the governance system by both faculty members and administrators. The Commission on Faculty Affairs and the Faculty Senate should be consulted about problems and reported to frequently about the progress the College of Education is making to implement its plan.

To this end, we offer the suggestion that the university commit itself to reflect upon and resolve its values which will guide faculty development, its institutional responsibilities to ensure the success of restructuring activities, and its expression of the consequences of restructuring. With this commitment in place, the committee endorses the College of Education plan and your presentation of it to the Board of Visitors.