Notes on CUSF mtg, 16 Feb 17 at Univ of Baltimore

Notes on CUSF mtg, 16 Feb 17 at Univ of Baltimore

University president Kurt Schmoke welcomed faculty representatives to the UB campus and noted the benefits of having the law school and undergraduate classes on the same campus.

Provost Darlene Smith noted that, with only 6,000 students, UB was “a public school with a private feeling,” based mainly on small class sizes. She described UB’s students as the most diverse in USM. The graduate and undergraduate divisions are about equal in size. Yet, overall, the school is suffering from declining enrollment.

Jason Weiss, chair of the faculty senate, described in detail the constructive functioning of shared governance at UB. Each college has its own faculty senate that sends representatives to a separate all-university senate. This approach permits department-level issues from being resolved by smaller groups and the all-university faculty senate to focus on issues that concern the school as a whole. Stephanie Gibson, UB’s representative on CUSF, added details that corroborated Jason’s presentation.

Joanne Boughman described a process now underway whereby USM policies are being systematically reviewed.

CUSF chair, Robert Kaufman, introduced the meeting’s featured visitor, James Brady, chairman of the USM Board of Regents. He noted that this meeting represented the first time that a BoR chairman had taken time at a CUSF meeting to participate in Q&A with faculty representatives.

Although Brady presents an imposing image when not smiling, he proved to be surprisingly accessible when he smiled. He opened his remarks by commenting that, because he had been married for some 45 years, he was not a stranger to criticism and was confident that he could withstand our pointed questions.

He opened his remarks by describing what were, in his view, five major challenges to higher education in Maryland and across the nation:

  1. The “value proposition” posed by high tuition costs
  2. The “cost-benefit ratio” test being applied to higher education
  3. Confusion over the meaning of “shared governance”
  4. Attacks on academic freedom, which he viewed as absolutely essential—and guaranteed by the tenure system
  5. Inclusion and diversity

As chair Robert Kaufman had framed the day’s discussion, he rolled all of these questions into the larger one, “What is the role of the university in the 21st Century?”

Following are highlights of his answers to questions posed by CUSF members.

He stated unequivocally that he believes strongly in the value of the humanities in a university’s curriculum in preparing students for success in life.

He gave as an example his own experience when he attended a small liberal arts college in Westchester County, north of New York City. He admitted that, as an accounting major, at the time, he felt somewhat out of step with other students. While he was pleased that his “practical” major provided him with skills that enabled him to move directly after graduation into good jobs in the accounting field, he insisted that he benefitted during the rest of his life from the four years of history, philosophy, foreign language and other humanities courses that he had been required to take.

Brady summarized succinctly his view by saying, “the idea that students dictate what they should learn is absurd.” He insisted that designing curriculum and imposing course requirements for graduation was the responsibility of faculty.

He coupled this idea with a related one that was discussed at some length, the current notion that university students needed “safe spaces” on campus to protect them from unpleasant experiences. Brady insisted that “universities are meant to challenge students, not to make them comfortable.” He went further, adding that “when universities treat students as customers, they send the wrong message.”

On the topic of shared governance, Brady was similarly straight-forward: “The idea that shared governance does include responsibility for curriculum is a no-brainer.”

Several meeting participants expressed concern that the ratio of adjuncts to
full-time faculty was rising across USM. Jay Zimmerman from Towson pointed out that, as the number of adjuncts rose, the burden on the remaining full-time faculty members increased because they were obligated to cover a growing amount of non-teaching service functions, to the university, to their departments and to the community.

When asked if he had in mind an upper limit on the adjunct-to-faculty ratio, Brady replied that, while he understood the problem, he had no specific number in mind.

Regarding management style, he described his preference for “management by walking around and visiting employees in their own work spaces.”

Brady struck a contrarian note when he stated clearly his belief that, “in general, higher education is not so unique” as faculty and administrators claim it to be. Based on Brady’s own long experience in the private sector, he insisted that there were many issues thought to be unique to higher education that were, in fact, endemic to society as a whole.

AS an example, Brady and CUSF representative Beth Clifford sparred on the issue of “micro-aggressions.” Brady was skeptical, believing that university students should be sufficiently tough to hear challenging opinions and confront unfamiliar experiences. Beth countered his view with examples of students who took comfort from her office, openly designated as a “safe space,” to confide troubling issues. She believed that having such places available could prevent some students from dropping out due to destructive peer pressure or similar problems.

Brady concluded his remarks by stressing the need for all members of the USM community to communicate more effectively the real value of higher education. He alluded to the danger that legislators and/or voters may undervalue higher education and, as a result, become reluctant to support it adequately—or to apply inappropriate evaluation criteria.

He added here his belief in the importance of Maryland’s Historically Black Institutions (HBI), which the general public may understand poorly. He insisted that they serve an important function, but that they cannot remain as “museum relics” from the history of higher education; accordingly, he believed that they should gradually increase their non-black student enrollment numbers.

Even though Brady had answered questions during the lunch break, additional comments and questions remained at the end of the meeting. When asked if was willing to reply to email correspondence to address questions for which we hadn’t had sufficient time today, he expressed his willingness to do so. Joanne Boughman, who serves as the BoR’s gatekeeper for meeting agendas, promised to forward email addressed to Chairman Brady.■

 

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