SUNY Fredonia provost proposes reorganization

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl SUNY Fredonia Provost and President of Academic Affairs Terry Brown, Ph.D. shared her ideas for reorganization with members of the college council last week.

In the face of significant financial challenges, SUNY Fredonia Provost Terry Brown, Ph.D., has embarked on an important undertaking: an entire reorganization of academic affairs that could save the college over $1 million. Importantly, Brown explained at last week’s college council meeting, the change could have many other benefits for faculty and students. Today, she will meet with cabinet members to make her decision regarding reorganization.

During the meeting, Brown explained that cost reduction, as important as it is, “may be the impetus (for reorganization), but there are other benefits that go beyond that having to do with a vision for academic affairs.”

The current structure, which is shared by most colleges and universities across the country, “was designed in the last century, for the last century,” and involves many costly layers of administration. She said Fredonia’s current structure includes a provost, two associate provosts, four deans, two directors, two associate deans, 23 chairs, assistant and associate chairs, program coordinators and 31 secretaries and office assistants.

Besides being a costly system, the current structure involves many layers of communication that sometimes resemble a game of “telephone,” Brown pointed out. “When the provost tells four deans, who tell 23 department chairs who tell hundreds of faculty, the message isn’t always delivered as I said it,” Brown explained, giving just one example. “What can happen is that the provost and dean can be too removed from the students and faculty who are impacted by our decisions.”

Brown’s ideas for reorganization are based on several conversations, meetings and workshops with many groups of faculty and staff. Her vision is based on their ideas and hopes that Fredonia:

¯ becomes student-centered and focused on teaching and learning,

¯ encourages faculty and students to think, learn and work across disciplinary boundaries,

¯ encourages and supports collaboration among disciplines to launch and develop new programs and to transform the curriculum and

¯ prepares students to succeed in a rapidly-changing world.

Brown emphasized that, in the new structure, “resources and workload should be distributed equitably to support the central mission of teaching and learning.”

Currently, Brown is reaching the end of phase one, the deliberation phase, which began on Feb. 1. For the past three months, she has invited input from six academic affairs forums, workshops, a reorganization website, webinars with faculties from other campuses, a 15-page frequently-asked-questions document, email updates and numerous meetings with faculty, staff and students to discuss reorganization.

On Monday, Brown proposed her plan for reorganization to the University Senate for an advisory vote. She proposed a new system that involves six schools (with no departments), run by full-time directors who oversee faculty coordinators in charge of programs and curricula. The directors of the following proposed schools would report to the provost: School of Music, School of Education and Human Services, School of Visual Arts and Humanities, School of Social Sciences, School of Business and the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. An alternate plan that involved two schools (music and business) and 12 departments that would save approximately $1 million was also presented to the Senate.

According to University Senate Chair Michael Scialdone, Ph.D., the Senate voted on Brown’s original resolution of six schools and another resolution proposed and successfully petitioned by a Philosophy faculty member. A total of 48 votes were cast (one member abstained) and both resolutions failed by two votes and four votes, respectively.

With these results in mind, Brown will meet today with Fredonia President Virginia Horvath, Ph.D. and cabinet members to make her decision, which will be enacted as soon as July 1.

Referring to the six-schools model, Brown estimated a savings of $1.6 million and additional benefits including more connections and opportunities for collaboration among disciplines. She noted that fewer than a dozen universities nation-wide have adopted this model, but those that have, have done so with great success. She added that Fredonia would be unique within the SUNY system if this model was adopted, and that the provost of SUNY was very positive and supportive of this change.

“When I think of Fredonia, I think of what might be possible,” Brown said to the council. “Is this another renaissance of what we become? I do believe that these types of organizations are the future. More and more universities are going to say that they are no longer able to sustain the layers of administration that they have. They can no longer be successful with the silos they have in place and the moats around disciplines. What they need are many more bridges and connectors among the disciplines. I do believe this is the future.”