Academic Partnerships, “False EMU” in the news, and finding a concluding “hook” to my book project

EMU is in the news once again for the wrong reasons, and interestingly enough, the latest problems are helping me find a conclusion to the book I’m working on. But before I get to that, let me try to explain a bit what’s going on here.

One of the things that happened at the end of the Fall 2016 semester (thanks in part to the knuckleheads who were in charge of the EMU-AAUP back then) was the administration entered into a deal with an operation called Academic Partnerships (AP). AP agreed to market nationally an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing program (BSN) along with an online Bachelors of “General Studies” program. In exchange, AP would collect around 50% of the tuition collected from these online students. As I wrote back in February when I went to an informational meeting on all this, I saw a lot of problems with this arrangement with AP, and the new leadership of the EMU-AAUP had LOTS of problems with the deal. The new EMU-AAUP leadership said that the arrangement with AP goes well beyond marketing and that ultimately, AP would be doing a lot of the teaching and curriculum work of these courses under the name of EMU and without faculty control, The administration has argued this isn’t happening and isn’t going to happen, that AP is just marketing.

The administration didn’t want to negotiate this at all, so the EMU-AAUP essentially took them to court: that is, a labor arbitration process where a judge/arbitrator hears the case and makes a ruling. I know that was in process, which might explain the timing of the EMU-AAUP’s PR campaign right now. So far, that campaign has been pretty effective. The Chronicle of Higher Education picked up the story here, “Faculty Members at One More University Push Back at Online Programs.”  Here’s a longish quote from that article:

As an online program manager, or OPM, Academic Partnerships has contracted with Eastern Michigan to market and recruit students for its online programs. Typically, OPMs — which also include 2U and Pearson Education — build a college’s online enrollment and bring in more revenue than the college arguably could bring in on its own. But critics argue that such partnerships can result in a lower-quality education and fewer consumer protections.

According to a recent report on the industry from the Century Foundation, “the involvement of a third-party — particularly a profit-seeking entity — in providing services so intertwined with the actual teaching and learning … presents potential risks to quality and value in the education.”

That “recent report” from the Century Foundation is perhaps something more interesting to me and my work on MOOCs than most quasi-casual observers of this arrangement with EMU, but among other things, OPMs are a lot more common and far-reaching than I thought. It’s pretty damning of the deal EMU has made, but also of the deal that many many universities have made.

Also in the press today is this piece from Michigan Public Radio, “Faculty unions fight EMU online degree contract with ads.” EMU’s spokesperson/PR guy Geoff Larcom is quoted saying that EMU won’t be using any AP “coaches,” and he went on to say this:

Larcom says initiatives like this are necessary, because Michigan’s population of college-bound students is projected to shrink over the next decade.

“Regional universities like Eastern Michigan, like our peers, are needing to think of ways to further enhance revenue,” he says.

Just as a slight tangent here: first, whenever anyone associated with the EMU administration says anything about the institution’s finances and then they don’t say anything about how much money EMU wastes on athletics– particularly football– I stop listening. The bottom line is the upper-administration and the Board of Regents cannot have it both ways. Second, universities like EMU need to recall that we are a state-operated and non-profit university and our main purpose is to educate students. We’re not about generating “revenue” generally, and if Michigan’s population of college-bound students does indeed go down over the next decade or so, then maybe EMU should think more about graceful strategies for getting smaller rather than “growing revenue.”

The story also got picked up by this piece from EdSurge, “Professors Take Out Ads Protesting Their University’s Online Degree Programs.” I came across this piece because Larcom posted a link to it on the EMUTalk Facebook page– he offered it as an example of how this article demonstrates faculty input and control in the process. I don’t think that’s what it says at all, but let me quote from the end of this article because I think this is what Larcom is referring to here:

“They wanted to know, ‘Do you really need letters of recommendation for students?’”[Ronald Flowers, Department Head of Leadership and Counseling in the College of Education] recalled. But he said he always pushes back in such situations. “Our faculty make the decisions about who gets in, and that process hasn’t changed at all.”

“There’s been a perception that Academic Partnerships has dictated some things,” he added. “But I’ve been in the room when we’ve had conversations where I’ve said, ‘This would threaten our academic integrity and we won’t go there,’ and they’ve said, ‘Fine.’”

He said that the charges made in ads placed this week by faculty groups about the university’s arrangement with Academic Partnerships are “not accurate.”

“I appreciate the concern about the nature of privatization of public education—I get it,” he said. “We don’t dispute that it’s a good conversation to have. But it shouldn’t necessarily be a conversation stopper.”

For union leaders, though, the biggest concern seem to be what might happen as these for-profit entities move closer to the academic core.

I suppose you could read Flowers’ recounting this exchange with AP as an example of how faculty (though in this case, I’d say administrators since a Department Head at EMU is technically not a faculty member but an administrator) can “push back” against AP. But the fact that this relationship with AP requires any faculty to “push back” is a huge problem. And all it would take for AP to get their way on lowering the standards is a less forceful administrator– which is why I think the EMU-AAUP’s fears are valid. It’s also the conclusion of that report the CHE article links to, “The Private Side of Public Higher Education.” One quick quote from that report relevant to this quote:

If institutions—public and nonprofit alike—are not careful to monitor these contractors, students and taxpayers who thought they were working with a relatively safe public institution may find that they have been taken advantage of by a for-profit company. More so than other contracting arrangements, OPMs represent the outsourcing of the core educational mission of public institutions of higher education, threatening the consumer-minded focus that results from the public control of schools.

But what about your MOOC book? Oh yeah, that. If you’ve read this far, I guess I can go into that a bit…

My book project has the working title “MOOCs in Context” and it’s about the rapid rise and fall of Massive Online Open Courses viewed from the instructor experience (I interviewed a bunch of people who created and taught MOOCs), the student experience (I took a bunch of MOOCs and write about that), and also from the historic experience (I compare MOOCs to previous technical innovations in distance education.)  I guess I have two basic arguments: first, there has always been a disconnect between what MOOC providers hoped/thought MOOCs could be and what MOOC students and faculty hoped/thought MOOCs were. Second, MOOCs are not “completely new” (a claim made repeatedly by MOOC providers and pundits); rather, they are part of a long history of distance learning technologies that have happened in higher education in the U.S. over the last 150 or so years.

I’ll spare the details for now, but MOOCs “failed” in the sense that they will not be altering the way that higher education works in the foreseeable future. They will not, as some pundits predicted just a few years ago, close down universities. But a lot of what I’m trying to do in the last chapter of this book is to ponder the “fuzzy future” of what comes after MOOCs. It’s obviously tricky, but one of the things I think the “MOOC moment” should teach us about the future of higher education is to be weary of the “transformative” promises of for-profit entities like AP. So from my point of view, this EMU “current event” story will fit in well with the end of my book. We’ll wait for what the arbitration says, but I hope it’s a happy ending.

 

Why I’m voting for a Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP

While the national election is over (though of course the fight in many ways has just begun), there’s a very local election here at EMU that’s still going on. The election for members of the Executive Committee of the EMU-AAUP, which is the union that represents the faculty, is currently underway (the deadline for voting is November 21 at 5 pm).  Making it all the more interesting this year is it’s actually an election with a choice (I believe in the last couple of cycles, the leaders of the union were unopposed), and it’s an important one because of events on campus.

I’m voting for the “Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP:” Judy Kullberg for President; Ken Rusiniak for Vice President; and Mahmud Rahman, Charles Cunningham, and Tricia McTague for at large members of the Executive Committee (EC). I have a lot of respect for what Susan Moeller and Howard Bunsis and the rest of the incumbents have done with the EMU-AAUP over the years, but I also think it’s time for a change. I think the Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP people can bring that change.

This post gets a little wonky for anyone who is not at EMU– maybe for anyone who is not on faculty at EMU. So for any non-locals who decide to read on here, sorry about that in advance.

Continue reading “Why I’m voting for a Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP”

EMU attempts to cut costs by focusing on the little things and ignoring the obvious problems (you know, like football)

Everyone at EMU received an email from interim president Don Loppnow with the subject line “Campus message: Dining services,” but what I really think this message is about is the title I have for this post. In the nutshell, one of the “budgeting by a thousand tiny cuts” measures the EMU administration has decided to take is to outsource dining services. The talk of this has been going on for quite a while now, so this is hardly a surprise.

I have to say I’m confused by the potential benefits of all this. Loppnow’s email claims that everyone that EMU now employs in dining services will remain an EMU employee in dining services with the same contracts and what-not. Plus an outside vendor will bring in all kinds of new food options– food trucks!– and do all sorts of renovations to dining halls and all of that. Well, where’s the cost savings then? It sounds more like an act of creative bookkeeping combined with a willingness on EMU’s part to give whatever outside vendor the profits from their food truck et al enterprises.

I guess what I’m saying is I don’t completely disagree with the administration’s move to outsource this stuff and there are a lot of other institutions like EMU that already do this– though Michigan prisons outsourced their food options too, and that’s worked out not so great. EMU claims an outside vendor will invest “millions” in upgrades over the course of the contract, however long that might be. But again, this move doesn’t seem like much of a budget cut in the sense of actually “saving” money; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyplace where the administration has given an actual dollar figure on how much money EMU saves in this move.

Anyway, here’s the passage of the email (I include all of it below) that I initially skimmed past that made me spit up my coffee when I read it again this morning:

It is important to note that Eastern’s overarching institutional priority is to provide our students with a solid educational and research experience – one that will lead to successful careers upon graduation. While our current food services operation and employees do an excellent job, food services is simply not the University’s core mission. Educating students is.

LOL! LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL! LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL! LOL!LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL!

ROTFLMAO!

Hmm, I wonder what other things EMU spends too much money on that is clearly not a part of our institution’s mission to provide students with a solid educational and research experience? Who else is doing an “excellent job” but is doing work that is simply not a part of our core mission?

Jeesh.

Look, if EMU wants to outsource dining services because they think we’ll get better food for slightly less cost for us (and obviously a big profit for whatever vendor wins the contract) and if everyone actually does keep their jobs, then I have to say I’m ambivalent. The EMU-AAUP’s argument has been that dining services people will end up losing their jobs and/or not be in a bargaining unit anymore and it will result in lower quality food, the administration’s argument is the opposite. Both of these arguments are predictions.

However, a) there is absolutely no way that the overall budget savings from this plan are going to make a difference in dealing with out of control spending from sports, and b) while dining services might not be a part of the “University’s core mission,” it’s a hell of a lot closer to that mission than football.

Continue reading “EMU attempts to cut costs by focusing on the little things and ignoring the obvious problems (you know, like football)”

An Open Letter/Blog Post About Sports at EMU

Dear Interim President Loppnow, Incoming President Smith, members of the Board of Regents, Heather Lyke, and anyone else who is interested (not to mention everyone associated with EMU– students, faculty, staff, alumni, etc.– who thinks it is time to do something different with football specifically and athletics generally):

Hi, how’s it going? I’m fine, thanks.

Now that my winter semester is completely wrapped up and I’ve had a chance to catch my breath for a week or so, I thought I’d take a moment and respond to the open letter (open email?) you sent out last week (which I include in the “Read More” section at the bottom of this post), and I also thought I’d share some thoughts on the interview EMU Athletic Director Heather Lyke gave on Michigan Public Radio last Friday, April 29.

First off, let me say that I like football, I really do. I don’t love football or any sports honestly, but I do like to watch football on the weekends when it’s on, I like basketball, it’s fun to go to a Detroit Tigers game, and so forth. Second, I see the benefit of sports for students, even in college, in terms of comradery, discipline, teamwork, school spirit, and all of that stuff.  That said, I also think student athletes and their fans would get these benefits if we competed in a lower-level division or even as non-scholarship clubs. Heck, I saw these benefits for the kids when my son was playing on a soccer team in elementary school.  But I will agree there is a benefit to “the sports” in general.

Third, while the funding for sports at EMU is more lopsided than at most universities, it’s bad all over. There are only about 25 or so universities in the top division where sports is more or less a profitable or break-even proposition, and, at least according to this USA Today site on NCAA Finances, all of the schools in the MAC are subsidizing more than 50% of the cost of sports with general fund revenues. Heck, of the 231 schools listed in that USA Today page, 151 of them pay at least half the costs of stuff like football with tuition.

So yeah, in response to the HBO Real Sports special featuring EMU’s over-spending and losing ways in football, I feel your pain and I understand the administration’s and the athletic department’s desire for a full-throated defense of the program and the refusal to change. But damn, if you are going to stick to football at EMU, you need to do a better job defending it.

Your open letter, the one sent around by Loppnow et al, is completely unresponsive to the joint report presented by student government, faculty senate, and the union. I mean, I can understand why you all don’t agree with that report, but “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO” is not a counter-argument. And do some math: if we’re spending $27 million a year of tuition money on athletics, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to praise the athletic program’s success at raising $430,000 in fundraising efforts.

Then there’s that interview with Lyke. Jeesh, talk about being in a hole and thinking that the solution is to keep digging. Most of her answers were just random word salad nonsense, as in “The demand [for football] is in the belief that its a value to the university. The pride that it does bring back, and the qualities that intercollegiate athletics teaches young people, I think are irreplaceable.” Seriously, what does that mean?

I get it, there are some simple facts on the ground that are hard for Lyke to dismiss, but her inability to handle this is staggering. It turns out that the guy interviewing Lyke, Lester Graham, has a child attending EMU. At the 4:35 or so mark in that interview, Graham asks flat-out “how does my EMU student benefit” with EMU being in Division 1 athletics.

Lyke responds “What your student gets, you know… when you chose Eastern Michigan, and the time that they chose they knew they had division 1 athletics–”

“–not a factor,” Graham interrupts. “Was not a factor.”

Then Lyke, digging furiously, says something like “Correct, so it’s, um, it’s not a factor in wether or not they um they… you know, I would hope that that student find value in adding diversity to the, you know, landscape and the culture of the university. There are kids that have unbelievable talents in all sorts of things. We have an unbelievable forensics team, we have an unbelievable slam poetry team at Eastern Michigan, we have fabulous art…” and so forth.

Graham pointed out that none of these things have anything to do with support to the athletic department, and Lyke goes back to the earlier statement that we are not thinking about getting out of the MAC or football, full stop.

And then there’s this “diversity” thing, which does appear to be Lyke’s way of saying that college athletics brings a lot of African American students to EMU who otherwise wouldn’t be here. This is a particularly weird claim and it makes me think that maybe Lyke has never actually been on campus at EMU, because if you went to places on the main campus (besides the administrative building, Welch Hall, or maybe a press conference of some sort), you’d see a lot of diversity of students who have zero to do with sports.

Anyway, just to wrap this up, I’d like to make some suggestions to anyone who might be reading this.

First, if the administration, the Board of Regents, and the Lykes of the world really believe that EMU should keep spending this much money on football, then you all need to get some evidence on your side and you need to make a better argument than you’re making here. “We are going to stay in football and in the MAC because we said so” is the logic of a toddler, and people running universities and getting paid as much money as you are all being paid to do this work should know better.

If it turns out that the reason why you are all saying what you are saying is because there are no logical reasons for staying in Division 1 football (and I suspect this is the case), then I think it might be time to take a deep breath and figure out an eloquent way to exit big time sports and save face. I understand Lyke’s point about how EMU has commitments to the MAC through about 2020 so we can’t just pull the plug, but you could start talking now about the “strategic and added value” move to a different conference, to re-emphasizing different sports, and so forth.

And I have to say that if you think about this for a moment, this is potentially a huge opportunity for all of you administrators, board members, and athletic director-types. This is a chance to stand up to the “arms race” in college athletics and to finally say “enough is enough.” This is a change to do something bold, innovative, smart, and brave, and this is also a chance to truly cast EMU in a more positive light.

Finally, to the rest of the EMU community who thinks we spend too much money on sports: we can’t just let this go. If there is going to be any change at all (and that’s still a big if), we need to keep reminding whoever will listen that we’re spending too much money on this stuff. Big-time sports might make sense at the University of Michigan or Michigan State, but they don’t make sense at a place like EMU.

Thanks for reading and have a good summer,

–Steve

Continue reading “An Open Letter/Blog Post About Sports at EMU”

And one more thing about football: location matters

This is sort of a “PS” to the post I had the other day about EMU on HBO Sports:

The joint report issued by the Faculty Senate, the EMU-AAUP, and EMU Student Government is getting some ripples of attention in the mainstream media. I don’t know what the chances are that these efforts succeed, that EMU really does drop football entirely and instead joins a non-football conference like the Horizon League (if they would have us, I have no idea how that works), but I like that the fight is underway.

There was a good article in the Detroit Free Press by David Jesse, “EMU in the market for new league for football?” I wanted to specifically highlight this quote from the EMU-AAUP’s Howard Bunsis:

“Culturally and geographically, EMU football will simply never succeed from an attendance and financial standpoint… It is a losing proposition — always has been, and always will be. We hardly raise any money for football, and our attendance is the lowest in the country. Some of you believe that we are close to succeeding, if we just throw more money at the situation. This proposition is insane.

Another way of putting it: we live in the shadow of Big Blue.

Culturally, EMU is not entirely a “commuter campus” (because there are a lot of people who live on campus or within about five miles of it), but we definitely have a lot of students who drive in from one of the various Detroit suburbs and then go home. We also have a lot of students (maybe the majority? I’m not sure) from working-class backgrounds who are working too many hours to pay the bills. Go to any “service industry” kind of place in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area and I’m betting that at least 25% of the people working there are students at EMU. And we also have a lot of non-traditional students, 25+ year-olds with families and kids and the like. None of these people have time for or interest in football.

Geographically, we’re around seven miles from the University of Michigan’s campus, and if you are a college football fan– even one attending EMU– there’s a better chance you will root for the Wolverines rather than for the Emus Eagles. After all, the Wolverines are one of the most successful football programs in the history of the sport, period. Why wouldn’t you root for them? (Unless you went to Iowa as an undergraduate, but I digress).

Just to give you an example of what I mean: my son is finishing up his freshman year at the University of Michigan. He could have bought student section tickets for football before school started, but he has very little interest in sports so he passed. And yet he ended up buying tickets to a couple of the early games this last fall (when tickets are comparatively easy to get), and he’s likely to get season tickets next year. Why? “Because that’s what everyone does,” he said, “everyone” meaning all of the people he has been hanging out with in his dorm.

The culture at Michigan is essentially the opposite of EMU. You’re an “outsider” oddball if you take no interest in things like football there. Even very very casual fans like my son get swept up in the excitement of it all. Plus the students who attend the University of Michigan are the most traditional of traditional college students: 18-22 year olds from upper-middle class/wealthy backgrounds who are all living very near to campus and who generally have a lot of free-time on their hands.

The point is it’s not just that EMU can’t compete in the MAC; it can’t compete in the neighborhood.

Update: Just to give you an idea about how seriously the administration and the Board of Regents is taking the recommendation of this report from the faculty and the students, here’s a copy of an open letter to the EMU community:

Open letter to the Eastern Michigan University
campus community, alumni, friends and supporters

In the past several days, there has been considerable media coverage of reports that indicate that Eastern Michigan University is considering eliminating football, or reducing support for football by dropping down to a lower division of the NCAA and by dropping out of the Mid-American Conference. These reports are not based on any solid factual information. We have absolutely no plans to eliminate football or move into any other division or conference.

We are pleased to be a member of an outstanding conference, the Mid-American Conference, where all of our sports and our talented student athletes have the opportunity to compete at the highest levels with neighboring institutions in the Midwest. Any headlines or claims that Eastern is considering dropping football, or reducing our support of the program in any way, are false.

We are 100 percent supportive of our current Athletics administration, particularly Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Heather Lyke. She has assembled an outstanding support team and we already have seen positive results in terms of continuing Eastern’s championship traditions in a number of our sports, as well as in many new initiatives to increase revenues. As an example, year-to-date, fundraising has increased by nearly $430,000.

Two-and-a-half years ago, she hired an outstanding football coach in Chris Creighton. Now entering his third year and with the majority of the team now made up of his recruits, we believe the best is ahead in terms of on the field and academic performance. We believe very strongly in Coach Creighton and his efforts to rebuild the program.

We want to collectively reiterate that any notion, suggestion, or headline that in any way suggests Eastern is considering eliminating football or moving into another conference or division, is absolutely false. We will remain proud members of the Mid-American Conference football family for a long, long time.

Sincerely,

Interim President Donald Loppnow
President-Elect James Smith
Mike Morris, Chair, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Mary Treder Lang, Vice Chair, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Michael Hawks, Chair, Athletic Affairs Committee, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Dennis Beagen, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Michelle Crumm, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Beth Fitzsimmons, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
James Stapleton, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
James Webb, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents

EMU is the poster child for spending on college sports out of control on HBO Real Sports Ep 229: “College Costs”


Once again, EMU is is the poster child for out of control spending in sports, this time on the HBO show Real Sports in a story reported by a guy named John Frankel. Eastern comes out looking pretty bad, and in reality, I think the actual situation right now is even worse.

While the trailer suggests this is mainly about Eastern, the episode is at least as much (if not more) about Rutgers in New Jersey. They’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars right now in order to buy their way into contention in the Big Ten (which, logically, is now 14 universities). In the last 12 years (at least according to the guy they interview in the show), Rutgers has lost over $300 million on college sports. Making matters all the worse is Rutgers has spent a ton of money on coaches that they’ve had to fire and buy out. Though one thing Rutgers potentially has going for it is since they are the enormous flagship university for the state of New Jersey, they might be able to pay off a lot of that debt thanks to alumni and just being a part of the Big Ten.

And they also talk to the president of Paul Quinn College, Michael Sorrell, and how they gave up on football. I think Sorrell makes great arguments and I love the fact that they turned their football field into a small farm/enormous garden to grow food for campus, but given that Paul Quinn College has under 300 students, I think the comparison between it and Rutgers and EMU is pretty thin.

Those problems with this report aside, it does captures a lot of what is going on at EMU and what has been going on here for years. HBO interviewed EMU professor and EMU-AAUP former president/former treasurer (I’m actually not sure what his role in the union is right now) Howard Bunsis. According to Frankel (and I guess Howard), EMU has lost $52 million in athletics in the last two years. “For all the spending, Eastern Michigan has not had a winning football season in 20 years. It’s lone claim to fame? It draws the smallest attendance of any team in all of top tier division one football. Yet this year, the team outfitted the team in three different helmets and three different uniforms, and paid its coach more than anyone else on campus.”

They did an interview/feature of a student named Kelly Adams, someone they described as a “non-traditional student,” which is of course a pretty typical student at EMU. I’m not sure she added a lot to the discussion other than to put a name and a face with what I think is a pretty typical student at EMU.

And Frankel interviewed Interim President Donald Loppnow, and his answers were pretty, um, bad. Frankel asked about Ramone Williams, the EMU student who was in the news in late 2015/early 2016 because he was homeless, living more or less in campus buildings and in his car. Loppnow said something like “a lot of our students have difficult circumstances.” Then Frankel asked about the EMU Food Pantry that has opened up– I think just this last semester. It went like this:

“And how much funding does Eastern Michigan provide for the food pantry?”  Frankel asked.

“At this point it’s strictly through donations, but we’re looking at building it into ongoing service.” Loppnow said.

“So that’s zero.”

“I wish that we could do a lot lot more to address these needs.”

“But you’ve got the money, you’re just spending it in a place that isn’t helping those in need.”

“I understand what you’re saying” said a visibly uncomfortable Loppnow. “It’s part of the overall debate, and frankly, we will be funding these areas that you indicated.”

Mark Maynard has a good post here where he quotes from a long news story where EMU Regent Jim Stapleton claimed that the board was looking at “everything,” including football. The Freep has a story here with the predictable “not planning on cutting athletics but all option are on the table,” but at the same time maintaining the idea that participating in division one athletics is an “investment” by the university. MLive followed with a story of its own and the usual hater of all things EMU comments.

But here’s what all these stories are leaving out and why I’d argue this situation is even worse:

EMU is in the midst of a budget crisis. It’s been a rumor for a long time and was the subject of an email from none other than Interim President Loppnow earlier this week where he announced that there wouldn’t be across the board but “strategic” budget cuts across all units.

What the EMU administration hasn’t been talking about is this current budget crisis is essentially a self-inflicted wound. It’s not a result of cuts from the state– that funding I believe has been fairly stable or slightly rising for few years– but rather the result of everyone on the Board of Regents and in Welch Hall believing the unrealistic projections in terms of enrollment and tuition dollars that were being presented by President Susan Martin and Provost Kim Schatzel. Well, now these two– both of whom come out of business backgrounds, mind you– are long gone: Martin retired, and Schatzel wrapped up her term as provost/interim president in December and is now the president at Towson University in Maryland.

So, what we’re looking at here is a financial crisis that is the result of bad management by the university’s top leaders and negligent oversight by the board. Maybe this latest of many stories about money pit that is athletics at EMU will truly make the powers that be take a “hard look” at the football team and such. More likely, the new president and the BoR will double-down on football, and we’ll be cutting past bone in academics yet again in the name of looking at “everything” and making “strategic” cuts.

And do not even get me started on the DID crap! (Though I’ll be blogging about once the dust there has settled…)

Update:

There was a joint report issued by the EMU Faculty Senate, the EMU-AAUP, and EMU Student Government about the budget woes at EMU and the ridiculousness of EMU athletic spending. I uploaded it as a slideshare.net document here. Lots of charts and graphs, and the recommendation is EMU ought to get out of the MAC and join the Horizon league which doesn’t require us to be in football.

 

So, what do we know about EMU’s new president, James M. Smith?

The super-duper secret search is over and with much surprise and little notice, the EMU powers that be/Board of Regents announced a new president on Friday, James M. Smith. Of course, by “super-duper secret search,” I mean the (IMO, bad) decision by the board to do a not at all open search and to use the same head hunting firm the University of Iowa used to hire its current controversial president J. Bruce Harreld, a business wonk with no notable academic experience and who recently suggested that unprepared teachers ought to be shot. And of course, this was also a search where the faculty senate and the EMU-AAUP made the (IMO, bad) decision to not participate in the search process based on some sort of high road principle involving taking one’s ball and going home that I still don’t quite understand.

But that’s all over now, and it looks like the main fear most of my colleagues and I had, that this super-secret would result in a president who had negligible academic experience or was clearly a political/crony hack or whatever, it looks like that hasn’t happened.

So who exactly is this James Smith guy?

Well, “James Smith” is a pretty tough name to Google (one of my colleagues suggested that might have been one of the reasons why the board picked him), so a search like “‘James M. Smith'” controversy” is pretty useless. The same cannot be said about a search like “‘John Fallon’ controversy” now, though it’s worth remembering my searching about Fallon back in 2005 didn’t turn up anything either.

As far as I can tell, the basic bio EMU has provided is about right. Smith is president of Northern State University in South Dakota, which I will admit does sound like a made-up name for a university (a “northern” in “South” Dakota? Really?) and he’s been there since 2009. Northern is like Eastern in that it seems to be a regional university that comes out of the normal school tradition, though it’s a lot smaller, like 3600 or so students. Smith has been looking to move on for at least a couple years; he was a finalist in the presidential search at Murray State in March 2014. Before Northern, he was Vice President for “Economic Development” at Bowling Green State; before that, he was dean of BGSU’s Firelands College; before that, he had various administrator/professor gigs at Indiana-South Bend and Texas A&M; and before that, he got a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Miami (Ohio); and even before that, he was apparently an elementary school teacher and principal. In short, the board definitely did not hire someone from outside of academia.

I think there are two potentially interesting issues that could come up between now and when Smith officially takes over in July. First off, EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller sent an email out to faculty the other day saying that they “are researching whether the contract violates the terms of our union contract regarding tenure and rank.” The union and the administration have been wrestling for several years (or so it seems) over the ways that administrators who are also tenure-track faculty get promoted and such while in administrative roles, and it was a bit of a controversy last year when for a couple of administrative positions (including one I applied for) the search committee brought in candidates from outside who would have to be tenured into a home department. In at least one case that I know of, the department said they wouldn’t give that person tenure.

I suspect at the end of the day, the Board will get its way. But this really has been an issue in recent years in that I can think of at least four (probably more) folks who were hired in as an administrator who subsequently (and in most cases, rather quickly) crashed and burned and then had to resort to a position as a tenured professor, and that has often enough caused some trouble. We don’t just hand out tenure like it’s a forgone conclusion, even at a place like EMU where the requirements for tenure and promotion are modest. So to just automatically give Smith tenure especially given he was hired in secret with zero involvement from the faculty in the department where he’d be tenured– well, that’s more than just a paperwork formality.

The second thing I wonder about is Smith’s wife, Connie Ruhl-Smith. As far as I can tell, she too is an academic interested in academic leadership, and she seems to be a reasonably active scholar. What is her role at EMU going to be? According this 2011 article, at Northern State she was the “director of special initiatives;” is that going to happen at EMU? How would EMU’s policies about employing relatives figure in? I guess we’ll see this as it evolves.

But on the whole, it looks to me like Smith is a pretty good hire. The scary thing about any kind of hiring is you never really know how it’s going to work out until it’s too late to undo it all, but I’m cautiously optimistic that EMU’s new president will probably work out.

EMU in the CHE for all the wrong reasons, again: More secret presidential search follies

The latest news in the EMU presidential search process is it was one of the topics in this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, “In Search for College Chiefs, Faculty Input Can Feel Like a Mere Formality.” It’s behind the paywall, but let’s just say I “have my ways” and I did read it.

First off, the best observation in this CHE piece is not in the article itself but in the first comment I read, one signed by James H. Finkelstein. To paraphrase: the problem with what the EMU Board of Regents is doing (along with a lot of other boards since this article is about this trend at lots of other schools) isn’t that it’s a confidential search; it’s a secret search. A confidential search would be one where there’s no public information about the search leading up to the finalists, but once everyone knows who the top three or four candidates are, there is some kind of public “presentation” of these finalists to the university community. A secret search is one where there’s no public information at all, not about candidates who applied, about finalists, ad nothing about the final interview process. Someone just opens a door one day, introduces the new president, and that’s that.

Now, I don’t think anyone has a problem with a confidential search. If you are a mucky-muck provost or president or dean or whatever and you are looking to make the jump to president at a place like EMU, you don’t to give your current employer the impression that you’re on the job market. Everyone knows that; heck, it’s the same thing for most faculty looking to move from one job to another. But by the time the search is down to finalists, I think it’s fair to say there isn’t much need for confidentiality.

Look, we’re not picking a pope; we’re trying to hire the president of a public institution that involves tens of thousands of alumni, students, staff, faculty, and administrators who all deserve to have at least some role in the process. And frankly, I’m suspicious of a finalist who doesn’t want contact with people at the university and beyond the hiring committee before taking the job.

Second, I think this article does a pretty shitty job characterizing Martin’s presidency and departure. A quote:

The search at Eastern Michigan comes on the heels of two presidencies that ended in controversy. Susan W. Martin, who resigned in July, had been reprimanded by the board for having an “inappropriate” alcohol-fueled exchange at a public event. Her predecessor, John A. Fallon III, was fired, in 2007, amid outcry over the university’s bungled response to a student murder.

There is a lot of pressure to get this one right, and regents say a closed search provides the best chance of that.

This is a classic example of a journalist bending reality to fit the argument they want to make: that is, the last two presidents were so controversial that now the board has to do a secret search to “get this one right.” So much for the objectivity of journalism, right?

Say what you will about Martin’s presidency (I thought she was pretty good, certainly the best president I’ve dealt with at EMU) and you can even say what you want about the board reprimand over some kind of drunken argument (though I think that was mostly a bogus hack job promoted by some former board members who wanted her out). But there was zero connection between Martin stepping down as president and this reprimand, none, and to suggest that there was a connection– that is, that this reprimand is what lead to Martin resigning in disgrace– is slimy.

They get Fallon about right though.

Third, I hope that the Faculty Senate does take search chair/BoR member Michelle Crumm up on her offer to add faculty to the committee. As I wrote about before, I think simply walking away from the search entirely is a dumb and pointless protest. In my view, faculty could make a lot more difference by participating in the search committee and, simultaneously, advocating for at least some openness in the process.  And as Crumm points out, two more faculty on the committee would mean three out of the twelve members of the committee would be faculty. That’s a hell of a lot better than none, even if the search remains secret.

 

Hey EMU-AAUP & Faculty Senate: Quitting the Presidential Search Committee is a bad idea

A little less than a month ago, I wrote here about the problems of the EMU presidential search being conducted by the Board of Regents essentially in secret: that is, instead of bringing in candidates for a public vetting process of one sort or another, the search committee is going to do their work and at some point, they’re going to hire someone and that will be that. I think that’s a bad idea for all kinds of different reasons and my take is that the committee ought to bring in finalists to do some public presentations. They could easily do that because by the time they’re down to the three or four people they might want to hire, the cat is out of the bag about who is applying for the job for everyone. As far as I can tell, this could still happen but it’s not likely.

Anyway, there have been a couple of articles as of late in mLive about all this. Yesterday there was “Faculty tension mounts as EMU’s private presidential search moves forward.” And then this morning, it appears that the EMU-AAUP and the Faculty Senate have “doubled-down” on being tense and/or mad about the search process, as reported here, “EMU faculty members may abort advisory roles if presidential search kept private.” Here’s a quote:

Citing a lack of shared governance over the Board of Regents decision to conduct a confidential, private search, Howard Bunsis, the treasurer and spokesman for the EMU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the school’s all-union council voted to pull its lone representative from the advisory committee.

Judith Kullberg, a political science professor and the vice president of the faculty senate, also said the faculty senate would vote to remove its representative on the advisory committee if the board didn’t change the process to give faculty members the opportunity to vet potential presidential candidates.

She added that the faculty would not add two additional members to the advisory committee, which board chair Michelle Crumm suggested as a solution to the faculty’s complaints about its lack of representation in the presidential selection process.

That’s dumb.

I understand and even agree with Bunsis’ and Kullberg’s basic point about faculty governance, and like I’ve already said, I think they should at least bring the finalists to campus not only for the sake of the EMU community but for the sake of the candidates. I think we owe these people a little more information about what they are getting themselves into, and I don’t see how any of the potential presidents could get much insight about EMU if they only encounter people on the search committee.

Unless the plan is to hire Schatzel, though if that were the case, it seems to me they could have just skipped the search process.

But one thing is for sure: for the faculty to take what input they might have in the process now– and again, the board chair wants to put more faculty on the committee, which would indeed give faculty more input into the process– and throw it away is just dumb. It’s a pouty “I’m going to take my ball and go home” kind of ploy that won’t work because– surprise surprise– it ain’t the faculty’s ball to take home.

So I hope they rethink this. Go ahead and keep voicing opposition to the closed search process and keep pointing out that faculty ought to have more of a role here, I have no problem with that. But giving up the seats on the committee as a protest is just plain dumb.

EMU News: When should concern turn to panic with the presidential search?

Loyal readers of EMUTalk.org will note that that site is no longer: the account has officially expired, though I still own the domain name and it is redirecting now to emutalkarchive.wordpress.com. It’s a free wordpress install that is a complete archive of the site, nine years worth of posts and comments.  And I suppose it could become a “real site” again, if need-be.

But as I always said, one of the main reasons why I hung it up at EMUTalk.org is I felt like it was all my voice and I already have a blog, one where I intend to keep posting the kinds of things I used to post on EMUTalk.org. Which brings me to my point, the EMU presidential search.

EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller sent around an email this morning with the subject line “EMU Presidential Search to be done in SECRET!” It sounds the alarm about the search process for a new president at EMU. You can read the whole thing after the jump, but here’s how she starts in her opening paragraph:

On Monday, September 14, 2015, Regent Crumm sent an email to the campus community announcing that the search for the new EMU President will be a closed one.  This means that the entire President search will be done in secret.  We will NEVER know who the candidates are – we will only know who gets the job in the end.

And then it kind of goes on from there.

But the added concern/panic factor is the EMU Board of Regents is using Parker Executive Search to find candidates, the same head hunter firm that the University of Iowa recently used in its hiring of a new president. And my alma mater has ended up hiring J. Bruce Harreld, a guy with no academic leadership experience, though he apparently knows a lot about fast food. In other words, the worry is we’re going to get stuck with a similar kind of business wonk, and not a particularly distinguished business wonk at that.

I’m of two minds about all this.

On the one hand, the EMU-AAUP has a way of leaping to conclusions, and I don’t think we should panic quite yet. Presidential searches are never “open” affairs. When EMU hired Susan Martin, there was a process where an executive head hunting firm vetted candidates and somehow we ended up with four BoR approved finalists (I can’t remember how they did that). Then the candidates all gave presentations and there was opportunity for faculty, staff, students, alumni, etc., to give input. But it was just input; at the end of the day, the Board of Regents hires the president.

As Moeller points out in her letter, the University of Michigan hired its current president completely in secret, which is the process I think they’ve always had. In other words, the board is saying we’re just following “standard practice.” Don’t get me wrong, I think the BoR should seek input from the campus community. But to me, Moeller’s argument against the way they did it at Michigan, that– “please note that EMU is not the University of Michigan”– isn’t persuasive.

As for Parker Executive Search: this is a company that does a lot of these kinds of searches, and the real problem with the sham hire the University of Iowa did for its president is the state of Iowa. It’s a long story, but all accounts suggest a political hack job that has a lot more to do with the (Republican) Governor and (Republican) chair of the state board of regents and their dislike of the University of Iowa and the Democratic voters in the county where the University is located. Plus there’s a complicated scheme in the works in the state to redistribute some of the money that U of Iowa brings in now to the other two state universities. In other words, the politics here in Michigan generally and at EMU in particular are very different.

On the other hand, this does have a whiff of something that could go bad fairly quickly.

I think one of the reasons why Susan Martin got off to a good start as president were the candidate forums brought the campus together and gave folks at least the impression that the board was listening to them. Skipping that process entirely could be bad for everyone, including both the Board of Regents, the search committee, and whoever it is they decide to hire. I mean, that’s why Iowa is getting such bad press right now; does EMU (and the Parker firm for that matter) really want to have similarly bad press?

So I guess I want to hear a little more from the powers that be about how the search is going to happen before I panic and/or send out emails WITH LOTS OF CAPITALS! But I think everyone agrees no one who cares about EMU ought to wait too long.
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