Provost, faculty discuss workload at forum

January 29, 2013 | UToday
By Jon Strunk

During a forum for all Main Campus faculty Thursday sponsored by the Office of the Provost, Faculty Senate and the UT Chapter of the Association of American University Professors, Provost Scott Scarborough spoke to more than 200 faculty about the Main Campus strategic plan, “Imagine 2017,” and answered pointed questions some members of the audience had about new workload requirements.

To open the meeting, Scarborough walked faculty through the Main Campus strategic plan and highlighted the stakeholders from across the campus that helped identify some of the challenges and solutions UT faces over the half decade. He also focused on the various internal and external trends resulting in UT’s current projected shortfall for the coming fiscal year.

A dramatic decrease in state higher education funding caused by the 2007-08 recession was delayed two years of federal stimulus dollars and for a third year due to UT’s Board of Trustees using University reserves to buy time for the economy to recover.

At the same time, a decreasing student population in Ohio has resulted in enrollment declines at UT and other colleges, which have exhausted their ability to raise tuition and fees to cover the loss of state support. The result, Scarborough said, is an estimated $30 to $36 million shortfall for fiscal year 2014.

Asked how new workload requirements of tenured and tenure-track faculty teaching 12 credit hours and lecturers teaching 15 credit hours would help mitigate budget deficits, Scarborough pointed to three areas of savings:

1.) UT will need to rely less on part-time faculty;
2.) UT will need to rely less on visiting faculty; and
3.) UT will realize savings as some faculty choose to retire.

If UT does not rebalance the mix of teaching, learning and service to ensure the institution’s efforts are economically sustainable, then the entire organization is put at risk, Scarborough said.

Faculty at the forum raised concerns about class sizes; the synergistic relationships between teaching, research and service; the effects on younger faculty; and whether the additional time spent preparing for and teaching in the classroom would reduce time for supervising graduate and undergraduate education.

Scarborough said the cases where a class-size threshold is not met are intended to spark a conversation regarding how to move forward in that specific instance. In some cases, an exception might be granted, and in other cases steps such as collapsing two sections into one might be explored when applicable.

One of the things that an organization with the vast intellectual power of a university does very well is to think critically and identify the potential dangers with any strategic change, Scarborough said. But after all of the concerns raised are acknowledged, UT is still left with the same problem of an unsustainable economic model, he said.

Dr. Sanjay Khare, associate professor of physics and astronomy, told Scarborough that he believed some of the frustration departments feel could be mitigated by a better understanding of what other units of the University are sacrificing to cut costs. Scarborough agreed and said he would work to communicate that information.

Scarborough also emphasized that administrative cuts were always the first place — and the second place — University leaders looked to for savings. But after “nibbling around the edges” for years as higher education funding has declined, UT is to a point where it has to adjust the balance of faculty duties as well, he said.

Dr. Linda Rouillard, associate professor of French and vice president of the UT chapter of the AAUP, helped moderate the question-and answer session and told Scarborough that the UT-AAUP had conducted a study that showed over the past six years that University administrative costs had increased relative to instructional costs.

Scarborough pointed the audience to a recent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education where the paper conducted an exhaustive review of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and the balance between its administrative and instructional costs over the last decade, noting that Nebraska was fairly representative of UT’s circumstances over the same period of time.

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