Faculty Senate - Q&A

Edward J. Ray, President
Oregon State University
October 8, 2009

Q. You suggested that the divisional structure will be put in place. When will we know what the details of what items are or aren’t going to be under whose authority and so on?

A. Within the next week or two at the most. I suspect we plan to get things out pretty fast. I had a colleague who was a dean of education. She convinced me sometime ago that as faculty we tend give handouts and then start talking. And when you give handouts people stare at the handouts and they don’t listen to you. So, the idea is that you save the hand outs until after you’ve had a chance to say what you want to say.
You’ll see the very detailed description of where we are now and what we aspire to look like in 2025, connected to the speech and on the website. And over the course of the next week and then beyond that as more becomes known, through the Provost and my office, we’ll send out a lot of details. So you’re not going to have to wait very long.

Q. I notice that many of your parameters are aimed at quality and diversity and all of these great things. You also have a goal of virtually doubling the number of the students and I think tied to that, doubling the faculty. I was wondering where that comes from and why that’s important?

A. It’s really interesting. I alluded to it in the speech but actually if you look at our aspirational peers and look at what’s their average size. One of the things that doesn’t come through on a snap shot in a table, is that they haven’t moved outside that range very dramatically in any case.
The schools that we would agree are the top 10 land grants or we would agree more generally the top public universities are somewhere in that ballpark, 30,000-40,000 students.

I came from a university that was frankly less collaborative and where boundaries are less porous than they are here but by their sheer size and scope, it was possible not only to put together teams of wonderful colleagues to collaborate on things but in any given project area but to always achieve critical mass. And that’s really the aspect of size I’m most interested in terms in our research and innovative capabilities is to simply be of a size where we can achieve critical mass in any major programmatic or research area that we want to take action and those attributes are shorthand for what it takes it to do to be able to do things, to capture scale and scope economies that are being realized at the larger public and land grant universities.

Q. I attended the UC Berkeley and worked out of couple of the others, UMichigan and they all stopped at that size because the legislature said that enough is enough. They felt that any larger campuses would be ungainly and impractical and they were land locked. I think there is a negative limit here. But they all had the endowment and facilities and the state built up those facilities. Is the state going to double our classroom size and auditoriums and all of that in the next 15 years? I don’t see that happening.

A. I think again the state is not going to be the answer. I’ve said that before but I don’t think it’s in our interest to low ball our aspirations to what we think the state is comfortable is doing. I think it’s not only important to challenge ourselves but we put a challenge out there to the state and the people of Oregon that says that if you want us to compete with the best and to serve this state as comprehensive research universities are able to do in other states, this is what we have to try to accomplish and the state needs to be a key player in that
I think actually you’re right in one part and not in the other.

I think a lot of universities of that size were not told by the legislature they can’t grow. I think sometimes that there instate political pressures from others that they want in on the action and they want some of that growth.
I think the part of what you said that I would certainly agree with is you can get too big. And that’s where the Michigans, and Ohio States, and Minnesotas and Texas’s of the world find themselves having lots of discussion about did we go too far? I’m talking about what I think apart from the political pressures, apart from the complexity of the bureaucracy, what kind of scale in general do we have to have to get critical mass in any important area where we think we can make a contribution and start adding up the pieces in terms of faculty needs and then the nature of the student population to get there pretty fast.

That other aspect that you didn’t mention where I talked about 25% of our students being graduate and professional students rather that where we are, is another dimension of that. If you are involved in a research enterprise you understand the critical role that graduate students, and here, I’m glad to say even undergraduate students, can play in the research enterprise. But you need critical mass in a number of dimensions.

Q. I really appreciated the comments. You did allude to one that I thought was intriguing and that was the general state wide conversation around higher education with the incumbency of the land grant university, our regional campus in Cascades in Bend. As we grow our state wide influence, is there any hint or structures around the state wide conversation to increase that student population, to increase the diversity of students that participate in this campus. Are there any hints of that piece of that puzzle?

A. Actually at least for us, I know I threw out a lot of numbers. I’m a numbers guy but I talked about 20-25% of our student population should come from historically underrepresented groups. And life has taught me we’re not likely to ever get there unless 20-25% of our faculty also comes from underrepresented groups by 2025. And I think that’s going to prove to be true for the state. What the state has focused on are two elements, one that relates a little bit to that. The changing demographics of the state suggest we going to have to be more effective at not only attracting but retaining to graduation students from underrepresented groups but also that from the state’s perspective, the expectation is, if you heard of 40-40-20, the idea is to try to double the number of college students in the state by 2025. So I’m talking about 50-70% increase for us in a world in which the state continues to talk about a 100% increase. That talks about the need to have a more effective distribution of student enrollments among the institutions that are operating within the state.

One other thing I touched on and didn’t spend a lot time on is we have to get better at retaining through graduation students from historically underrepresented groups. We’re not in a good place and so if we are ever going to achieve the kind of numbers for retention, 6 year graduation rates and aggregate that I talked about, we got to do a lot better in students in historically underrepresented groups. That’s part of our, that burden is on us as well as everyone else.

Q. You mentioned you would look to faculty senate for guidance in terms of furloughs and forgoing raises. Could you just expand on that?

A. I can expand as far as I can only because I have limited information. I wish I had all the answers. Let me to explain it to you this way. Back in July, 2009, when the whole system was talking about furloughs days, the Governor had asked for them. Some of the unions were beginning to negotiate. Faculty unions were already preparing for it. SEIU was already negotiating. I left a meeting in which I thought that everyone agreed on “me too” which means that what ever gets negotiated, we would all try to be compliance with that. Obviously we would have to talk to our faculty and staff but that would be the direction we would try to go.

Since then, suffice it to say, things are not as unanimous as they seemed to me several months ago. The Board, I think, is still struggling to figure out what it wants to ask the institutions to do and what authority. Some have challenged the authority of institutions or the system to, for example, to impose furlough days. So, there’s that element of ambiguity. Some universities don’t seem to care, if I can characterize it that harshly, about what happened in the SEIU negotiations. They just kind of want to do their own thing. I need to hear from you, I mean this is the honest conversation, I need to know how you and other colleagues feel about this issue of furloughs assuming we get keep the money if we do take furloughs.

I think common sense tells you if there are furlough days, there are savings that can reduce the shortfall and funding that can reduce the positions that have to be eliminated. One would presume that would reduce the number of our colleagues who are going to lose their jobs. So that’s a conversation we have to among ourselves. Are we willing to sort of share the pain in that sense of maybe having less so that fewer colleagues will lose their jobs? Well, not every university is at that place. I don’t honestly contend to know where we are.

Now there’s another wrinkle. And the wrinkle is that the state has not been declarative about whether we would keep the money if we took furlough days. I don’t how many of you remember it but I think it was right of the end of last weekend of the budget session, the system was slated to lose another 13 million dollars and the Governor vetoed that specific action. Well my understanding is when that action was proposed, it was not viewed as a budget cut but rather capturing compensation savings that would accrue through the Governor’s request for furlough days working its way through out the system. So, there certainly were some in the legislative process who felt that what we took in furlough days since it would be in reduction in compensation expenses, ought to go back to the state to help close the state budget gap.

Obviously I’m not exciting about asking you or discussing with you about taking furlough days so we can transfer money to other agencies. So, we’re trying to get some clarity about how do we make sure people understand what they are being asked to consider. I’m very comfortable having a conversation if it’s understood we can use that money to deal with our own budget difficulties within the university, help colleagues save jobs. I think that’s an important conversation for us to have but I got to know the rules of the game before we can get there. And trust me I know you’re frustrated. I would have preferred to start this conversation a month ago but I’ve got to get answers before we know exactly what the circumstances we are we dealing with.

Q. My question is with regards to the quality of education we’re providing for providing of our undergraduates and graduate students. I hear your plan but at the same time I’m also concerned about class sizes. I teach a class right now of 200 students, Intro to sociology. I know from the literature that that kind of learning environment doesn’t work. No matter what I would do that learning environment is not conducive for them to getting to same level of lets say as honors college student who’s taking the same class in a class of 20. I think these disjunctions and these inequalities need to be really addressed on this campus of some students getting a really good education and others paying the same fees as other students and not getting an education that is not of the same standard. It’s not the fault of faculty. It’s really to me the fault of the system we’re imposing on the faculty to try to teach larger and larger classes to satisfy this growing population of students that is coming in.

And so I hope you’re taking that in consideration as you move the model towards the larger university and so forth. We also to take in consideration the fact that our student population deserves a quality education here where they get to know the professors and where they get to have experiences that are like the honors college and that should occur to everyone on campus, not just a certain set of folks.

A. In fact you all have heard me on other occasions talk about the fact that one way I’ve described it is that we are community of overachievers, everybody keeps taking on more and more and that’s not sustainable. We will work ourselves to exhaustion. So when I use a phrase like we need to narrow the scope of what we do - that kind of trips easily off the tongue but I mean that.

We have to need to narrow the scope of what we do. So it’s not about piling more kids into the same classes and asking you to do more. It really is about saying what are the things that we’re not going to do, the class sizes are small, they’re not justifiable, they’re not really attentive to what we need to be doing in preparing our graduates to be successful in the world in which they are going to graduate into. It’s not just about the same old same old, cut staff, and increase class sizes. That’s one of the reasons why you look at that number, for example, having to expand to 783 to 1300 to 1500 faculty. I’ll be honest with you. I find that pretty daunting but I think it’s right.

So part of what we have do if we are being honest with ourselves about what does it mean to realize our aspirations is try to be as explicit as we can even on the parts we haven’t quite figured out how to get from here to there. We have to recognize they are real challenges. That’s why the one area that I announced we are going to start investing in – we’ve got to start creating those faculty positions. The other thing I’ll say to you, I’m always saying our graduates our most important contribution to the future. We’re not going to have the kind of success we need to have in retaining students through to graduation if we just keep piling them in larger and larger courses and expecting you all to more and more. We’ve got to figure out a better a way to get there. It’s not just a matter getting rid of some positions and then asking everyone still standing to take responsibility for more and more students. Yeah, I get it and I get it’s a real challenge for us and it won’t get lots in the shuffle.

Q. I appreciated your comments and I like a positive optimististic long range view of where we are going. My graduate students will tell you I’m more of optimist than I should be at times. But it’s not easy for them, it’s not easy for us. ne of the other expressions: You’re not lost if you know where you are going and hope for best and prepare for the worst. We see a federal government spending double, close to double what they are taking in. We see grants are growing but in this context we may expect that they may not continue at the pace it has and it may go the other direction. We see state a government that is going to be struggling very mightly financially for the foreseeable. We know these numbers are going to lag the general economy and so on. While I think it’s wonderful to talk about the vision of grandeur and growth, what about the plan vs. the hopes?

A. I think the reason I gave the speech I gave rather than here’s how bad it is, I’ve been to the mountain top, here’s what we headed toward is this is gut check time. Everyone here has heard me talk about top ten. Now you know how daunting it would be to achieve those attributes or something well on way in 15 years. And the question is: are you in or are you out because if you’re out, we’re going nowhere.

I can talk about the things we are doing now and I think they are consistent with doing what we control in the ways that are consistent with getting us where we want to go. I talk about doubling research grants and contracts. The figures I quote ended June, 2009. The stimulus research dollars aren’t part of that. Actually, I expect to see a really big bump this year and then we’re going have to realize that bump isn’t going to be there every year. But the numbers for the 6 year period ended June of 2009 when very little stimulus money of any kind has really gotten out the door and been distributed so I don’t think they’re distorted about that situation.

I think the state is going to continue to struggle but again the sort of answer I gave before. We ought not to just challenge ourselves. We need to challenge the state. Part of what I hope that people would say, yeah, I really like the idea of us being like that. What do I do to help make that that happen? I want to get the state to decide it gets it in terms of that vision and what it could mean for the state and decide it wants to step up.

But I’m going to reallocate and invest money, how to grow our revenues through out of state and international student enrollments, through growing our portfolio, through continually working to improve our fundraising capabilities. I will do everything I can to move every dial that doesn’t rely on the state and I need people to get excited about that’s where we want to be and we understand it’s not a “gimme”.

So, I didn’t start out saying it’s really bad, here’s what it’s going to look like in 15 years because you know what? there’s no way it’s going to look like that in 15 years unless we start making really hard decisions now about how we are going to manage our affairs differently and the things we getting right, to do them even better over a sustained period of time whether the state steps up or not. We can’t wait for the state and we can’t do on the back of our students and their families. So we got to take control of the things we do control and we aren’t going to succeed collectively if we can’t buy into a common vision of what we think this institution is capable of being.

Q. This goes to the doubling the size of the faculty over next 15 years and increasing the size of the student body considerably as well. And I appreciate that goal and as you said, I’m with you. But right now we engaged in an exercise we’re reducing the departments in the university probably by a 1/3, maybe even more than that with this minimum department size of 20. And I think what we’re going to be doing then is we’re going to be moving into very large department in the future as we increase the size of the faculty. And we’re going to be moving away from a department structure that looks like the peers we are aspiring to be like. We are going to end up with a university without some traditionally academic departments like maybe English and Chemistry because they don’t meet currently the 20 and I’m just throwing those out as examples. I don’t know if those two actually are. Is there any sort of possibility of adjusting that and looking of ways we can reduce the cost currently of maintaining departments while not doing such drastic consolidation of departments, especially in CLA and Science?

A. Actually, the whole business of creating business centers is in part to reduce costs at the department level. I mentioned up to 50 positions saved and the only reason that’s doable is because instead of having a fiscal officer, having a personnel officer, having the normal compliment of staff that one has in a department office, we’re looking for ways to consolidate the provision of services so the demands at the unit level on the administrative side are reduced. That is the idea, trying to reduce those administrative costs with the divisional structure. The hope is that, the expectation is, that in fact we are going to figure how to do less of everything in every college and more in a collaborative sense with the expectation that that’s going to save on cost. In terms of departments, we’re not to be going to be moronic about this. You look at what the core units are of any great university, we’re not going to eliminate them because we decided they were too small. I would hope if anything, there may be some things we decide have to grow.

Another perspective, I would share with you, without naming names, we have a department here, a very good department, that has 7 faculty in it. I came from a university where I did something like the strategic investment program we did here with the interdisciplinary initiative. And over a 3 year period, gave support for 13 programs. The most outstanding proposal we got, we got in the first year. It was competitive, colleges, departments, everyone was involved and a group of peer colleagues decided what the best proposals were. The best proposal was from a very traditional department, a discipline you would know, that decided that to be really great, to move to the next level of excellence, they were maybe 25th in the nation but to ever hope to get to the top 10 in the nation, they had to go from having 12 sub fields in their discipline to 4 and they had to pick the 4 that they believed it would be important to be an important voice in 10-20 years going forward because they were simply too small to be excellent in 12 things. They had 75 faculty in that department. We have 7 in ours.

I think there are, we talked about these issues of scale. I think we need to have a serious conversation among ourselves about what are the scale and scope capabilities you have to have to excel, not just be really good but to actually compete head to head with the best nationally. What do you have to look like? I think we’re going to find a lot of really small things doesn’t ever get you anywhere. You can do what you do well but you’re never going to be able to play on a national stage. So, we going to have to make some hard decisions. But again I don’t want us to get caught up in what’s the magic number. I don’t think there’s a magic number. I have my own sense of what are core disciplines in the arts and science and I’m not interested in seeing them disappear because they fall below some magic number. The first question I’d ask is why are they so small given their centrality to the mission of the university? It’s a more complicated conversation but I appreciate what you’re asking about.

Q. I’m wondering if you view the divisional structures as transitional or transformational. And the way I describe that is that in 5 years do you see the divisions taking on increasing importance and the colleges decreasing importance? I’d say that would be transformational if the colleges were dramatically changed. Or transitional where this divisional structure is a way to cause the colleges to think differently about what they do and once they do that, then the importance of the divisions may decrease over time. What do you think we will look in 5 or 7 years or whatever?

A. Well I actually the divisional structure will be an enabler of change. I am a big believer of form should follow substance. And I think that the very fact that creating divisions will create possibilities that perhaps will be to benefit of the colleges or to their collaborative purpose. So, I don’t know where the center of the gravity will end up. I’d be stunned it was it exactly the same in all four so if you know, the crude question to ask is this all about turning colleges into four divisions. The answer is no. The answer is I think there are synergies and opportunities to maybe change the interior architecture by creating these forms but anyone who has been around the academy any length amount of time knows there are many tribes, and many customs, and many cultures and norms and to the extent we’ve identified particular colleges to try to work together for a common future, I would want to see what they are able to evolve toward.

So, I don’t start with a presumption that five or ten years from now we’re going to have four divisions and no colleges. I think the degree of the relative autonomy of colleges within divisions is going be driven by their own sense of what takes it to be successful and I wouldn’t require every body to have the same relative balance of power between colleges and divisions. But I do expect it to save on costs but with an intention we really are primarily focusing for those purposes on what can be accomplished in the academic sphere in term of courses, majors, minors, collaborative new areas of instruction, new areas of research and discovery.

So, I’m looking for that to be more of a dynamic force for going forward than figuring out how to solve this year’s or next year’s budget problem. And I think it’s going to take longer for each of the four to get a sense or how they want to go forward and how they can be most successful. It’s not going be figured out in the next couple of years.

Q. You identified that one of the unfortunate realty is that we have to shed some 300 positions in the relatively near term in order to deal with short term problem. And yet, I think I also heard you also want invest up to 25 new faculty positions but you identified them to go into an area that’s other than the 3 signature areas. Can you share your thinking on that please?

A. Maybe it’s because I’m an arts and science guy and if I get the rest of you mad, I apologize. I actually think the arts and sciences are fundamental to everything else. What I didn’t say is wilily-nilly put 25-30 faculty positions in the art and sciences I said that are related to the three signature areas. I think it make sense to think about positions whether that chemistry or physics or sociology or psychology in the arts and sciences but my expectation would be that as those positions are defined, there would be expectation of the chairs and the deans to speak to how does that strengthen the core support for our moving forward in the three signature areas. And then I talk about subsequently positions specifically within the other divisions that are clearly focused on advancing capabilities in those signature areas so it’s all really geared with how does this relate to our efforts to be successful in those signature areas? It’s not a free pass.

Q. And I have nerves like everyone else in the room about change. So, that’s where my question is coming from. You tell us and we heard it from a lot of different people that we increased our research profile by 100 million dollars in the last six years and you are motivating or suggesting as a motivation for reorganization for some kind of unrealized potential in synergy between groups. Does that mean that you think that at 100 million we are stagnating somehow in research? Because things are working pretty well, it seems to me and I think the nerves comes from the fact that people are doing well in research in the present configuration and we’re not quite sure you’re telling us we can do a better job if we reorganized ourselves.

A. I’m looking forward, I’m not looking back. I’m pretty awed by the 100 million. And if you look at our faculty, faculty FTE research dollars per faculty FTE we lead our peer group. We actually lead the group that we identified as our aspirational peer. So, the notion that we’re out to get more work out of the 783 who are here and the others are fixed term that are aligned with research projects is a little nutty. But I think going forward it’s not a matter of could we go do better if we replicated the past. I think we are talking about areas for us going forward that we haven’t been as purposeful on focusing on in the past and so I’m asking for us to think about organizing our activity going forward to address that agenda to maximum effect. Also, understanding we’ve got to grow our faculty resource base because they have been extraordinarily productive. So, the notion you’re going to just ask them to do more is nuts.

So we need to have more faculty in areas aligned with and let’s remind ourselves where those areas come from? I said at the outset when I talk about becoming a top ten land grant six years ago, I said we would never get there if what we tried to do is was replicate what the top ten are doing now. Because while we are doing that, they’re moving on. We’ve got to place our bets. We have to decide what are best in, what do we have the potential to be a leader in it’s going to be important to be a leader in 10-20-30 years from now. That’s where those signature areas come from. We’re not going to follow the pack and try to catch up while they are moving ahead. We’re going to try to get to the future faster than they do. That means we have to be being more focused where we put our resources. We need to enhance our faculty capabilities in those areas because everyone is running full out now.

And the divisional structure will help us I think collectively stay focused on what are the core areas where we can think we can be more effective going forward. But it’s not about a blame game that somebody underachieved in the past. Maybe we could have wrung more productively out of those people but as I said we among the nation’s best in what we’ve done. It’s not about what we did in the past and but so what are we going to do over the next 10-15 years and how do we position specific set of things in the next 15 years as successfully as possible.

 

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