The University of California at Berkeley Wednesday morning announced a major initiative aimed at maintaining educational quality while addressing serious budgetary concerns. Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in a campus message that the university faces “a substantial and growing structural deficit, one that we cannot long sustain,” and introduced what he called a comprehensive strategic planning process to establish a “new normal.”
“We must focus not only on the immediate challenge, but also on the deeper task of enhancing our institution’s long-term sustainability and self-reliance,” he said. “This is a moment not just to stabilize our finances, but also to consider our future as a leading institution of higher education. The guide for this effort has to be our core mission: to enhance the educational experience we provide to students while maintaining our commitment to access, to increase the support we provide for groundbreaking research and scholarship, and to align our public outreach with 21st-century societal needs.”
Dirks said the Academic Senate, deans and administrators have been analyzing their budgets and programs for months and must now transition to comprehensive planning in the same collaborative spirit -- even though some of the process is sure to be “painful.” Every aspect of Berkeley’s operations and organizational structure will be under consideration, according to the memo, including:
Controlling staffing levels and adopting staff hiring “discipline” that mirrors that for faculty positions.
Improving support for teaching and research while redesigning work processes to achieve greater “efficiency,” such as the previously adopted end-to-end review of research grant proposals.
Making investments to improve fund-raising capacity.
Achieving additional revenues through the Berkeley “brand,” land and other assets, such as through licensing.
Working with senate leaders and deans on the redesign of some academic structures, including strengthening some areas, narrowing the focus of others and combining units.
Expanding online offerings and enrollments in University Extension, as well as professional and other master’s programs that earn revenue.
“We realize that many of you will want to know more, and have many good ideas to offer for our consideration,” Dirks said. “In the months ahead, we will be engaging with faculty, staff and students in order to share more detailed information, answer questions and solicit suggestions. You will also hear more from the leadership of your school, college or administrative unit as work on the initiatives broadens and deepens across the campus.”
Changes will start to take effect this summer, though significant academic and administrative realignments will take longer. Updates will be posted on Berkeley’s website.
“This endeavor must not be interpreted as an abandonment of our commitment to a public mission nor [of] our efforts to advocate for increased public funding for higher education,” Dirks said. “We are fighting to maintain our excellence against those who might equate ‘public’ with mediocrity, against those who have lost faith in the need for higher education to serve as an engine of social mobility and against those who no longer believe that university-based inquiry and research have the power to shape our society and economy for the better.”
He added, “What we are engaged in here is a fundamental defense of the concept of the public university, a concept that we must reinvent in order to preserve.”
Due to declining state funding and other factors, Berkeley expects an operating budget deficit of 6 percent this year, or about $150 million. Officials say that while that is manageable in the short term, trend lines call for proactive sustainability measures.
Adding to the list of recent, high-profile sex assault allegations in the sciences, a new article in Science details a controversial case in anthropology. Brian Richmond, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, allegedly assaulted an unnamed museum research assistant at a conference in Italy in 2014, and the case went public at last year’s meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in St. Louis. The account triggered additional allegations of misconduct, and Richmond is now working off-site as the museum investigates the accusations against him. Richmond denied the assistant's allegations to Science, calling the encounter consensual.
The assistant says that after a night of drinking, she woke up in Richmond’s hotel room with him on top of her, kissing her and groping under her skirt. She says she could not have possibly given consent; he says he stopped as soon as she asked him to. The first of several museum investigations found that Richmond had violated a policy against relationships between supervisors and subordinates. The museum says it gave Richmond a “zero tolerance” warning, but he says he’s been asked to resign.
One of Richmond’s former mentors at George Washington University also launched an informal investigation into his colleague’s past, which yielded additional allegations of unwanted sexual advances from other women. As a result, Richmond resigned from the Koobi Fora Field School in Kenya, which is affiliated with George Washington. (The colleague, Bernard Wood, a professor of human origins at George Washington, says Richmond was told he was no longer welcome at Koobi Fora.) Richmond told Science that while other relationships in question have been consensual, “I regret that I was not sensitive to how my academic position could impact the dynamics of consensual relationships.”
In December, the Natural History Museum sent a memo to all staff saying that it had asked an outside firm to review its sexual harassment policies and roll out training. Science’s story recalls a widely cited 2014 survey of anthropologists suggesting widespread sexual misconduct at field sites, as well as a number of sexual misconduct cases in fields including astronomy.
By the time a new president greets the faculty or grants the first media interview, he or she has probably experienced professional and personal upheaval. Scott D. Miller offers advice for ways to make it all go smoother.
Baylor University is facing new criticism -- much of it from its own students and alumni -- over a statement by President Ken Starr expressing concern for victims of sexual violence, The Dallas Morning News reported. Many noted that the president released the statement on Super Bowl Sunday, a time when many wouldn't notice. Many say Baylor continues to avoid tough issues related to sexual assault, especially when allegations involve a star athlete. Many are speaking out using the Twitter hashtag #baylorscandal. Others held a vigil on campus Monday night (see photo at right).
Eastern Illinois University on Monday announced the layoffs of 198 civil service employees, the Associated Press reported. The move is the latest in efforts by public colleges and universities to deal with the failure of the state to adopt a budget and provide funds. Others who work at Eastern Illinois will face one furlough day a week. If the university starts to receive state funds by March 12, the layoffs will be rescinded.
Despite their affinity for the colleges and universities that they govern, too many boards have not found ways to add important and consistent value. As we wrote in a previous article for Inside Higher Ed, they are mired in mediocrity.
The good news is that we have seen a continued increase in the number of boards that recognize they can and should be better. To do this they must: (1) recognize how average they currently are (no small feat), (2) have the will or desire to improve and (3) chart a path forward. What follows are strategies that have proven successful for many boards with which we have worked.
Look in the mirror. The first step is recognition. Boards must focus attention on themselves and how they govern. Possibly because they are composed of volunteers, many boards don’t see themselves as sufficiently knowledgeable about governance or believe they lack the time or expertise. Thus, they are not prone to asking themselves questions in any intentional and systematic way about how well they are governing. Without a first step of looking in the metaphorical mirror, they’re stuck.
Gather some data and do something with it. Boards expect their college or university to make decisions based on data. They should demand the same of themselves. It’s important to ascertain how trustees view their experiences serving on the board. That can be done using short and simple surveys or full-blown assessments conducted internally or with outside experts. The key is to discuss the results of the data and act upon them.
Here is a simple strategy to get started: ask board members to (anonymously) provide a letter grade for the board’s overall performance. Calculate the GPA and display the range. Then ask, “If you could only do one thing to improve that grade, what would it be?” You can also ask, “What do you find most fulfilling about serving on this board?” and “What do you find most frustrating?” (Again, you should ask anonymously, so people can be forthright.) Discuss what trustees say and how to build on what’s fulfilling and fix what’s frustrating: “What would success look like? How might we close the gaps between where we are now and where we want to be?”
Talk about governance expectations. Boards can benefit tremendously by talking not only about their committee structures and the number and length of the meetings but also about the fundamental values that guide their work. How well does the board value participation, preparation, transparency, teamwork and accountability? What are the important and often unstated values that should shape its governance work? How closely do they match reality? For example, some boards say they value participation, yet they have a history of barely making a quorum.
A good practice is to create a Statement of Mutual Expectations for serving on the board: what the institution can expect from trustees, what trustees can expect from the institution and what trustees can expect from one another. Such a statement may list trustee guidelines for comportment, attendance, philanthropy and confidentiality. It may also include an institutional commitment to ensuring appropriate and timely information, as well as transparency about crucial incidents on the campus, the student and faculty experience, and financial documentation.
Intellectually engage the brains. A goal of all boards is to tap the collective brainpower sitting around the table. Those brains are best engaged when the work is intellectually challenging -- which might not be the case often enough. As one of us, Cathy Trower, wrote in the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges’ Trusteeship magazine (March-April 2015), “Send trustees a reading or two along with questions they should think about as they read. This way, trustees arrive at the meeting having done some critical thinking and prepared to discuss matters appropriately and thoughtfully.” Such work requires presidents and board leaders to think hard about the agenda and its content to ensure its relevance and level of engagement.
Good questions to go along with reading materials and reports might include: About what are you most optimistic? What has you most concerned? Are essential elements of the issue not addressed in the reading? What assumptions underlie the reading’s conclusions?
Good questions must be important and require thought. Posed in advance, they keep the focus on what matters most, help trustees think critically and ensure that they add value as thought partners with the administration.
Develop governance experiments. While boards share much in common, they also vary tremendously in size, structure and, more important, their cultures. Thus, boards should experiment with what practices work well for them given their current contexts and agendas.
Boards should develop experiments in good governance and see if they work. For example, you can increase the number and frequency of joint committee meetings on key topics (such as enrollment and finance or academic affairs and facilities or technology). Or you might develop new task forces on emerging strategic challenges or opportunities and invite nontrustees to participate. Start and end each session with an executive session to put key issues on the table. Disallow rote committee reports and instead have trustees read reports or meeting summaries prior to attending the board meeting. Set up the boardroom with round tables that seat six to eight trustees each instead of a huge table that doesn’t allow good line of sight.
In some instances, these strategies work well; in other situations, they have limited positive effects. Try something and test it; try something else and test that, too. Figure out what works for your board.
Ensure that board leaders lead. One of the contributors to mediocrity is when presidents believe they cannot invest the time in board improvement. Sometimes this happens when presidents feel they need to lead both the institution and the board because board leaders are overcommitted or don’t understand their leadership roles. Presidents cannot fulfill both roles effectively for very long. Board leaders need to demonstrate that they can and will lead the board and invest the time in doing so. Effective board leadership, particularly the chair, is essential to progress.
Create continuity and bridges between meetings. The episodic nature of board meetings significantly influences board performance. For many independent institutions, trustees show up on campus three times a year in order to “govern,” too often with little institutional contact in between.
A good practice is for the board chair, a committee chair or an administrator who is in front of the board to remind trustees of what happened at the last meeting and inform them of what’s happened since. Then toward the end of the meeting, the board chair should take a few minutes to summarize what occurred (and ask, “Did I get that right?”), discuss implications and describe what trustees can expect next.
Some boards are experimenting with having a conference call between regularly scheduled meetings for the purposes of updating trustees on what’s happening on the campus and to keep them engaged between meetings. In addition, many boards hold committee meetings via teleconference between regular board meetings to work on vital matters.
In conclusion, boards mired in mediocrity too often are satisfied and fall far short of effectiveness. In contrast, boards that add value continue to evolve. They grow tired of the status quo. They understand that governance as usual will not help propel their institutions forward. Boards should develop what management experts Jim Collins and Jerry Porras call a “positive restlessness” -- and be never quite satisfied with their performance.
After all, the world is complex and ever changing. Like the institutions that they serve, boards must ask questions, learn from experience, adapt to changing conditions and continually improve.
Cathy Trower is president of Trower & Trower, Inc., a board governance consulting firm. Peter Eckel is a senior fellow and the director of leadership programs at the University of Pennsylvania’s Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy.
Concordia College, in Moorhead, Minn., last week announced cuts that would eliminate a number of programs, many of them in languages. The cuts eliminate programs in Latin, Latin education, French, French education and German -- along with classical studies, classics, health, humanities and Scandinavian studies. College officials cited low enrollments and the need for budget savings.
But now the college is facing a strong backlash from students and alumni, The Star Tribune reported. Many note that Concordia may be best known for Concordia Language Villages, summer immersion programs. Concordia says that program will not change, but many question how a college can promote its summer programs in languages while eliminating them from the academic program. Latin teachers are lobbying against those cuts. And many are backing a petition with the name We Want Our Majors Back.
Officials at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth have launched new campaigns to discourage heroin use after two students overdosed in recent weeks, one of them fatally, The Boston Globe reported. Increased heroin use on campus in recent years has resulted in a number of deaths and attracted more attention from campus health officials.