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Faculty Senate » University Day 2003

Faculty Senate President's Message


Bruce Sorte
University Day 2003

First congratulations to all the awardees, this ceremony each year injects enough enthusiasm and OSU pride into me to easily make it through a tumultuous year. Thank you to the Chancellor who deserves a parking space at OSU for his support and regular visits. What a treat to have a new president, who when I asked him for agenda items for our summer Faculty Senate planning session, he said it is a bit early for me to have an agenda, how about if I just come and listen. After guiding so many of the faculty senate presidents through this day and all the others, Vickie has given us a most appropriate set of challenges to develop new relationships with our colleagues. Also, thank you to all the people who provided the displays this morning.

I was going to speak today on breaking free from convention and bureaucracy, however, my partner pointed out that 90% of my presentations for the last three years have had that same theme and she was ready for me to move on. So please substitute Considerations for Beyond Closure as a title.

I thought that I might approach these comments as I do with my work as a community economist and hopefully provide you an idea or two worth your attention this year. In those county level studies, I describe, model, and shock the county economies. Then I visit with a number of folks in the community and ask them to consider some changes to cushion the shocks.

OSU's current situation is similar to those counties. It has a great tradition, significant strengths, and is being shocked pretty hard by some events which it has no ability to affect, and by some that it can affect.

Last Monday, September 8th in The Oregonian, Jonathan Weisman, in summarizing a recent Federal Reserve study, said; "The vast majority of the 2.7 million jobs lost since the 2001 recession began were the result of permanent changes in the U.S. economy and are not coming back...businesses have stepped up automation, sent jobs overseas and produced more while employing fewer people...that means the labor market will not regain strength until new positions are created in novel and dynamic economic sectors..."

Since computers became commodities, I have been asking folks what those novel sectors might be. I have yet to receive a response that is robust enough to give my children the same opportunities that I have enjoyed.

Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone and Francis Fukuyama in the Great Disruption provide ample evidence and analysis that people in the U.S. are becoming progressively more disengaged from their neighbors and society. Our social capital, and so our support systems, are declining.

Douglas North, Nobel laureate in economics, suggested that; "The central puzzle of human history is to account for the widely divergent paths of historical change…despite the immense decline in information costs and despite the implication of neoclassical international trade models that would suggest convergence (however) there is enormous contrast between economies (North, 1990; 92)." He explained the differences due to the different institutions or rules of the game in each country. If an investor is concerned that their investment will be appropriated or destroyed, they will not invest. Despite the current war in Iraq and the terrorist attacks, institutions in many countries are becoming more predictable.

With the signing of each new free trade agreement, we move closer, although by accident, to what will in the end be a noble goal - the international convergence of real wages and the only way to really address terrorism. This will be a tough transition for the U.S. and the demands on our teaching, research and outreach have just been extended almost beyond imagination.

If we apply shocks to the OSU model like Oregon's highest unemployment rate in the nation, a robust system of direct democracy that can block legislative policy and taxes, declining real wages, increasing mortgage interest rates, and a declining comparative economic advantage of a university education, what might happen? We can anticipate more and more undergraduate students will chose to do their lower division studies (classes where tuition plus state general funds often exceed costs), at community colleges or online and come to us for upper division classes, (where costs typically far exceed revenues). LBCC's tuition is much less than half our resident undergraduate tuition and less than a third of our Division of Continuing Education classes.

Our State funding will not be there to help. We will move to a year round legislature either formally or informally and stop using the term "Special" to describe the intermediate sessions. We have planned a Faculty Senate Forum with Bill Lunch and Jock Mills to discuss State politics in more depth this Thursday and I hope that you can join us.

Even public and nonprofit fundors will increase their expectations for quick results that are consistent with their values and interests. Federal agencies will continue to cap or eliminate indirect costs. As more counties experience fiscal problems, their ability to cost-share Extension funding will decline. Pushed into corners to reduce budgets by these types of difficulties, OSU will struggle to maintain the very foundations of the institution, like tenure.

If even a portion of these events are ahead or already here, although we are in a good position to cushion these shocks, we will need to change some directions. Professor Ahbrams once told our child development class that when you do seem to be making progress in a situation, do the unexpected and you will be surprised at how often it works. Some of the suggestions that I would like you to consider would be unexpected, yet, I have watched them work in other settings.

Consider for this year focusing only on making each individual action and interaction and making it as close to ideal as possible. Forget what you are doing next, and forget how it will be perceived in political and marketing terms. Forget the metrics and, when we get back to checking them, we might be surprised. They might take an initial dip, yet, they will come back much stronger.

Consider pursuing the boldest and most committed students and faculty and deemphasize our use of the terms "the best and the brightest". At least define best and brightest each time it is used.

Consider fighting the move to treat degrees like tickets for a job and moving students through here as quickly as possible, instead of what can be the single most profound experience many people will ever have.

Consider a real commitment to interdisciplinary study and research. Increase our credit requirements for graduation, instead of decreasing our credit requirements, so we can build a solid disciplinary base and then test and apply that base through sequences in other disciplines. Assure we are rigorous in scholarship and that no procedural barrier can stand in the way. Consider reaching out and redefining what faculty means to include community college faculty who are literally becoming our faculty as they can provide more than half of our undergraduates' educations.

Consider reversing our movement to eliminate the tuition plateau so exploration of different topic areas, like that child development class I mentioned earlier, and interdisciplinary work is affordable.

Consider making every class even more rigorous so we regularly approach ideas so fast and so hard that students want to be prepared and must be creative to satisfy their sense of who they are.

Consider sending a significant portion of the funds from the Budget Allocation Model directly to faculty so you (as faculty) look forward to more students because you will know the resources, and so will the interesting colleagues who will be assisting you with the extra students.

Consider eliminating indirect costs and moving ahead of the pack of research universities with an all direct-cost model.

Consider working at the county level with the very independent personalities that are Oregonians to build one Oregon and avoid the natural tendency to ascribe blame and, every time blame is raised, challenge it with a broader perspective.

Consider recognizing that every person here, no matter their rank or classification, has the responsibility to do exemplary work, to challenge weak decisions, lead in areas where they are uncomfortable and risk trying solutions without precedence. Reciprocate that commitment with at least rolling contracts and reassignment when jobs are no longer affordable or relevant.

Thanks for tolerating this staccato bit of thinking. I reduced these comments from five to three pages and the justification and examples for each consideration are what I removed. I would be happy to discuss any of them in more detail with you, as I have done with many of you already. The Faculty Senate committees and EC have been receptive to working on some of these ideas and, as an example at the first Faculty Senate meeting in October, I will announce a new fixed-term task force with a difficult and important charge that includes all fixed term faculty. We need to broaden our initiatives and I ask you to be even bolder. When you reach a roadblocks call us. And remember, as much as we need some redirection, most of what we do needs to remain the same. OSU still has the strong core of what changed my life 30 years ago - you.

Finally, when I finished my Bachelors degree, my dad asked me the only question he has ever asked me about my studies - So now how will you repay the public for that education? Even with our State's difficult times and our greater reliance on tuition, the general public are providing us significant support. We and our students owe the public a great deal and, if we are to pull out of this spiral of disengagement and isolation, we must do the public good. We can use your professional creativity and volunteer efforts and we can use the problems you create by being bold, so have a great year and thank you.