Minutes Reveal Administrators’ Influence
Official minutes from the College’s main governing faculty body are shedding light on the controversial department changes that were announced in mid-September.
Notes taken from the Governance Committee (GC) that stretch back to 2009 show the roles of Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Earl Lewis and University President James W. Wagner as well as the evolution of the committee that advised Dean of Emory College Robin Forman.
Roles: Provost Earl Lewis
When Forman announced that the College was phasing out several programs and suspending admissions to select graduate programs, many students and faculty members saw the plan as strictly belonging to him. Higher administrators like Wagner and Lewis, Emory’s chief academic officer and Forman’s boss, remained largely silent.
In separate interviews with the Wheel, Wagner and Lewis have said that Forman has the authority to make such decisions and was the key visionary. However, notes from GC meetings also show that Wagner and Lewis were already laying the groundwork for serious structural changes within the College before Forman came to Emory in June of 2010.
The GC first received an official report on the College’s budgetary problems in late January 2009. A report from the Faculty Senate to the GC shows that Lewis believed that “significant structural alignment in [the] next three years” was necessary.
In a follow-up interview with the Wheel, Lewis explained that he has known about the on-going process behind the department changes for some time and has seen “many ideas float for the better part of three years.” Lewis said that while Forman indeed has a vision for the College’s future, the mechanics to begin considering structural changes were already in motion before Forman’s arrival.
Lewis said Forman and Lisa Tedesco, the dean of the Laney Graduate School, presented numerous ideas to him, all of which were discussed and challenged. Lewis also says he feels “comfortable” with the process behind the department changes since faculty members entrusted their peers to be on the Governance Committee, which, in turn, trusted another committee.
“By the end of the day, I hired deans to be deans,” Lewis said. “They are the chief executive officers of their schools and colleges. Once I have raised my questions, and they have provided answers, I have fully supported the decisions they have made and continue to do so.”
Some have characterized Lewis as a lame duck Provost of sorts since he is retiring at the end of this year, and many faculty members do not see him as an effective avenue for redress. Lewis disagreed.
“To be honest, what has occurred is final,” he said. “Even if I were staying here, it would still be final. This is not timed with my exit. If it had been, I would have been smarter and left [already].”
Roles: President James W. Wagner
In that same report from the Faculty Senate to the GC in January 2009, the minutes on Wagner’s position are minimal and read: “Cut inferior, boost superior.”
A source familiar with the January meeting said that Wagner had been talking about department changes to the College for a few years and, in the context of limited resources, aspired to boost “excellent” programs using the funds from others.
The use of the word “inferior” suggests that there were “bad programs” in the College, but the assumption is wrong, said the source.
“There was nothing bad,” the source said. “That’s what has made [the decisions] so difficult.”
One year later at a College faculty meeting in January 2010 and six months before Forman’s arrival at Emory, Wagner gave a presentation titled “Going Forward: a Strong Institution Adapting to a Challenging Environment.” According to minutes from that meeting, Wagner assessed the College’s “resource situations,” spoke about investing “first in quality that brings distinction in faculty, students, staff, programs and facilities” and called for “imagination, creativity and opportunities to ensure that Emory fulfills its responsibility as a leadership institution.”
Wagner questioned where the College should invest its resources, “what is essential, excellent or can become excellent” and how does one evaluate the “excellent and essential categories.” According to the minutes, Wagner spoke about growing “essential, excellent programs” and cited the closing of the Dental School in the early ‘90s as an example of wise reinvestments to elevate the College’s status.
After the presentation, the floor was opened to faculty for questions.
The first faculty member asked how to encourage excellence and identify excellence, a question that has been a point of controversy in the current debate over the department changes.
Wagner said that program directors, chairs, deans and trustees all had roles to play and cited Princeton University as an excellent university without a medical school, public health school, business school or law school.
“[Princeton’s] excellence is narrow,” he said, according to the minutes.
Towards the end of the meeting, a faculty member responded to Wagner’s point about “essentiality” and said that all forms of knowledge are valuable in a liberal arts education. The faculty member then asked Wagner to clarify “excellence” and “uniqueness.”
Wagner responded that the College should take a “global perspective” and that while “all forms need to be preserved,” that preservation doesn’t pertain to every institution.
“The question is where does Emory contribute best,” Wagner reportedly said.
The Evolution of the College Faculty Advisory Committee
In response to criticisms about not working with faculty members, Forman has pointed to College Faculty Advisory Committee (CFAC) as the trusted faculty body that advised him. Many, though, have questioned the legitimacy of CFAC since its discussions were strictly confidential.
The origins of the CFAC stretch back to December 2008 under former Dean of Emory College Bobby Paul. Sources say that members of the original committee were directly appointed by the dean based on their past experiences as department chairs.
Technically an “Ad Hoc Committee” not governed by the Governance Committee, CFAC was created to help Paul address the College’s financial situation, which was under serious duress in light of the global financial crisis that constricted university endowments across the United States.
The committee first appears in the minutes of the GC in the January 2009 meeting, when the committee was briefed on the College’s troubled finances.
When the GC reconvened a month later in February, it laid out the official responsibilities of CFAC before passing a resolution to make it a sub-committee of the Governance Committee.
In broad terms, CFAC was “to determine procedure, to help reorganize administratively, to rethink our educational model inherited from the 19th century and to see what our peers are doing,” according to the minutes.
With regards to the decision process for “cutting programs,” the minutes show that the faculty members on GC at the time believed such decisions were “administrative, not faculty decisions, but Govcom [GC] has an advisory role in the process to avoid shock and mediate the effects of tough decisions.”
In recent weeks many faculty members have contested the notion that the decisions to cut programs is an administrative decision.
When Forman addressed more than 100 faculty members at a special meeting in early October, many faculty members felt their rights and governance over the curriculum, as defined in the Faculty Handbook, had been violated. Under Article IV, Section 1, the Faculty Handbook states, “The faculty of any school or college shall have jurisdiction over the educational program and the internal affairs of that division, instruction, schedules, and degree requirements.”
The GC then voted unanimously to make CFAC an official sub-committee that would report to them. CFAC would be responsible for “Policy related to the Emory College Budget, setting planning priorities that adhere to and uphold the mission of the College, determining the sustainability of all programs and initiatives [and] acting in a proactive rather than reactive capacity and exercising reasonable foresight to establish a state of preparedness.”
The GC set priorities for faculty nominations to CFAC, with a focus on “experience in managing budgets,” according to the minutes.
After February of 2009, CFAC does not appear in the minutes until the Governance Committee’s fourth meeting at the end of September of that year. The minutes say that a member of GC “gave a short report based on his participation in the Financial Advisory Committee.” While it is unclear if the notes that immediately follow are a part of that report, the minutes reflect discussion on budget cuts, “returning more tenured-faculty to the classroom, changing enrollment and revisiting need-blind enrollment.”
Specific reports from CFAC occur on Feb. 3, 2010. Micheal Giles, the chairman of the CFAC since its inception, attended the meeting and reportedly said that CFAC had reviewed planning documents from each department in the College and external reviews of selected departments in addition to meeting with the graduate school “in preparation for recommendations … about the potential closing of departments.”
Around this time period, the GC was discussing the role Physical Education (P.E.) has in accordance with general education requirements. According to the minutes, Giles reported that CFAC recommended that P.E. should be the first department to close “because it is neither essential, nor excellent,” language similar to Wagner when he spoke to the faculty the previous month.
When one faculty member asked “whether the financial impact of P.E. is substantially greater than other departments,” Giles replied that the decision was not entirely based on finances and that all other departments on the list would have had a greater impact on the College’s “liberal arts core.”
The other departments that were considered had budgets in the range of $1.2 to $1.3 million, similar to that of the P.E. department, Giles said according to the minutes.
While Giles said that recommendations were not entirely based on finances, Paul said CFAC was only “providing the financial advice,” according to minutes from the GC’s following meeting later that February.
The Re-Visioning Committee, he reportedly said, was responsible for “innovative ideas for the delivery of undergraduate education in the 21st century” and “what we would do if we re-designed the College from scratch.”
A source familiar with the meeting said that the two committees were not working on quite the same issue and that the latter was focused on how the College would use resources if they were available.
Fall 2010: Forman at Emory
In the time period between February 2010 and the GC’s meetings in the Fall, Paul retired as dean of the College and was replaced by Forman, who officially started the July before school began.
Giles returned to the GC that November at the request of the committee to begin discussions on what role CFAC should play moving forward, according to the minutes. He reportedly said that the GC should consider selecting new members for the committee, since the current members had been serving for 2.5 years. Giles listed “strong credibility with both faculty and the Dean” and “the ability to keep strict confidences” as key qualifications, according to the minutes.
The following spring in 2011 marked an important transition for CFAC.
Minutes from a GC meeting in February show that Forman wished to transform the committee from “short-term necessity to a strategic, long-term trajectory.” The following month the GC discussed how CFAC’s charge should be modified in light of Forman’s request.
In a prophetic moment one faculty member expressed concern about CFAC’s confidential discussions despite being a subcommittee. The minutes read: “GovCom is seen to be responsible for a committee while being kept in the dark about its work.” Another committee member assured the faculty member that he sits on CFAC as the representative from Governance Committee.
When the GC reconvened in the fall, again members expressed concern about CFAC’s confidentiality in their August meeting. In addition to finding nominees to eventually replace the current CFAC members, the committee suggested that another member from GC sit on the committee, in an effort “for closer communication…”
The GC secured a list of faculty candidates for its September meeting, according to the minutes, and laid out qualifications to be on CFAC. The minutes read: “candidates should not currently hold positions that might be perceived as representing a conflict of interest, an effort should be made to preserve representation of Lecture Track faculty, and it is desirable, though not imperative, that more than one CFAC member not be from the same department.”
While the minutes do not expound on what constitutes a “conflict of interest,” a source who wished to remain anonymous said that those faculty members who presently held chairs of departments and program directors were excluded. Previous experience as a department chair or program director was preferred though, according to the source.
The following spring (2012), Forman attended the final meeting of the academic year in April. According to the minutes, the GC heard the position of the CFAC, which believed that “it is preferable to contract in some areas in order to provide for the possibility of enhancement and creativity in the future.”
Forman, then, identified the criteria for programs to be maintained. Excellence and national distinction, importance to the undergraduate curriculum, interdependency with other units, contribution to Emory’s broader mission and how the program fit in the College’s overall vision were all mentioned, according to the minutes.
When the Governance Committee met this fall on Sept. 6, Forman briefed members on his presentation that would outline the department changes at an upcoming faculty meeting.
Minutes from the meeting show that Forman did not divulge the specifics of his plan to the GC. Instead, Forman only said that the College would be “phasing out of some programs to free up resources to support and strengthen other areas.”
Forman also noted that “the personnel goal will be to move faculty to new departments … and a similar goal is in place for staff,” according to the minutes.
The College would go on to announce the specifics of the plan one week later on Sept. 14.
Minutes from the Governance Committee’s meetings from Fall 2006 to Spring 2010 are available on Emory’s website. The remaining minutes are available to faculty only on Blackboard. A faculty member provided copies of those meetings’ minutes to the Wheel. A source says that after Spring 2010, the Governance Committee decided that upon reviewing the policy of other universities, it did not seem appropriate to make minutes available to the public.
— By Evan Mah
Photography by Jason Lee
Update 2:16 PM: Links to the meetings’ minutes have been attached to all citations.