• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.


Switching Modes

The fall and spring semesters are over.  Summer sessions have begun and effective with the Memorial Day weekend, the rhythm of my job changes.

June 9, 2013

I’m switching modes.  The fall and spring semesters are over.  Summer sessions have begun and effective with the Memorial Day weekend, the rhythm of my job changes.  The number of meetings is reduced, the contact with faculty and students is unfortunately more limited, preparing personnel recommendations becomes the central focus, and our official work week is reduced by one hour. 

The one hour reduction is that we close Friday’s at 4 PM instead of at 5 PM.  Psychologically, if I am able to take advantage of the change, the hour does make a difference.  I just feel that I have more of the day available to me and that the pace has actually moderated.

More importantly, I actually have the time during the summer to prepare key tenure and promotion recommendations.  On one level my job in this area has become easier and on another level much more difficult.  What is easier is a result of a tenure and/or promotion review process that works very effectively in most cases.  Individuals who deserve tenure are recommended and in other cases, the individuals are not reappointed after 3 or 5 years or they leave of their own accord, recognizing that their skill set and the needs of Hofstra aren’t a good fit.

Where the job has become more difficult is when needs change and a person stands for tenure in an area where the student enrollment has declined substantially.  Shifts in enrollment continuously happen over time.  In my years as a business school dean, enrollments were very robust, they since have declined nationally, increased, declined again (undergraduate) and increased again (graduate).  These are shifts in national trends.  The classic example has been engineering where often the supply of engineers was most robust, at a time when the demand had declined.  The key, of course, is the time lag – when a student decided to major in engineering is typically before or in the first year of college and when the student graduates 4 or 5 years later, the business climate and the need for engineering can have changed dramatically.  The same is true of a faculty position.  When a person starts his or her faculty appointment, there is a need and another tenure track position is fully justified.  Five or six years later, the enrollment picture in a particular major or majors can change dramatically.  A much needed line turns into a line that really isn’t needed.

What do you do in situations like this? Do you tenure a good person in an area where there is no need and perhaps even no likelihood of need for a significant number of years?  Or do you not tenure the person and reallocate the line to an area of growing and robust demand.  On a theoretical economics level, the choice is clear.  Resources should be allocated as efficiently as possible and lines should track demand whenever possible.  On a personal level, the decision is tougher—the faculty are not interchangeable and moving a line to an area of greater demand, requires a change of faculty.  In some cases there is no choice, the demand is not there and there are more than enough tenured faculty to meet existing and even increased demand.   In other cases, there are significant retirements in the area, or signs that demand is increasing, or new programs that attract new students and a new develops where initially no need was anticipated.  And then there are the areas in between. Faculty in a department with declining needs often know what is happening in the moment. It manifests itself in fewer majors, in reduced class size or in courses that don’t run due to insufficient enrollment   But since none of us come with a crystal ball and the ability to tell the future in precise detail, we don’t know for certain where these are trends about to change or that will continue to worsen.  And yet the decision needs to be made.

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