:: APRIL 28, 2004
rare Senate meeting, MSU faculty deliver a message
Administration criticized for not seeking their views
By DANIEL STURM
When 700 professors gather together in a lecture hall, the mood of the
event is worth noting. Michigan State University’s Academic Senate
met in Wells Hall last week for the first time in 15 years, and the
mood was decidedly argumentative.
The meeting was organized to discuss plans to relocate the College of
Human Medicine to Grand Rapids and Provost Lou Anna Simon’s proposed
restructuring of the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Daniel Sturm/City Pulse
crowd of 700 MSU faculty members listens at the first Senate meeting
in 15 years as Jane Turner, who oversees first- and second-year
students in the College of Human Medicine, argues that the plan
to educate some of them in Grand Rapids makes little sense. “When
we’re talking about the opportunities in Grand Rapids, we’re
talking about the opportunities in research and in clinical activity,”
she said. “First and second-year students don’t get
much of either one.”.
will hold two public forums on the College of Human Medicine on
Thursday, April 29, 9 a.m. to noon and 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., in
the Kellogg Center auditorium on campus.
The Board of Trustees will vote on moving major parts of the college
to Grand Rapids on May 7.
room of tenured and tenure-track professors illustrated a symbolically
broader demand for more faculty input in important university decisions.
In a large lecture hall, some faculty stood quietly, reflecting on points
they wanted to make. Others looked at neighbors and laughed at the excitement
and novelty of their first Senate meeting.
The university bylaws contain bureaucratic obstacles that made such
faculty oversight discussions (which are common at other universities)
difficult to organize at MSU. The Senate chairs, Simon and President
Peter McPherson, sat at the front of the hall, wearing unreadable expressions.
They read the minutes of the last Academic Senate from 1989.
When the floor was opened to discussion, poor communication between
faculty and administration was a key point. American history Professor
John Coogan gave the example of an MSU colleague who was recently offered
a one-year post as Japan’s delegate for the United Nations Refugee
Council in Geneva. Coogan said this was “precisely the sort of
position I would have assumed the university would want its faculty
to chase after.”
But when the colleague requested unpaid leave to work for one year,
she was turned down by the dean’s office. The colleague then decided
to quit, giving up a tenured position, to accept the opportunity.
Coogan quoted from an e-mail the colleague had sent from Japan: “The
thought of giving up a tenure position is a very scary thing. It breaks
my heart. John, I am truly angry at the way MSU treats its most loyal
faculty. It’s beyond stupid. It’s insane.”
He then addressed the audience: “President McPherson, I’m
sure, believes she’s wrong. And I’m sure provost Simon believes
she’s wrong. The problem is […] that she’s leaving.
MSU is going to miss her for decades. We need to do something, because
I don’t want to lose more colleagues like this.” At the
end of the meeting, I observed Coogan’s unsuccessful attempt to
discuss the case with McPherson further.
Five days after the Senate meeting, Coogan said he was glad to see that
his speech has made a difference. “Dr. Simon instructed one of
her people to fix the situation,” he said. “I give the provost
full credit.” He said his colleague is currently reconsidering
her decision to leave MSU.
The drama and tension in the air on this day was a spillover from the
April 16 Board of Trustees meeting (Provost Simon reportedly left in
tears), during which several professors spoke vehemently against recent
administrative decisions to reorganize and eliminate programs in the
Colleges of Arts and Letters, Human Ecology, Communication Arts and
Sciences, and Social Sciences.
At that meeting, the Department of Zoology chairman, Fred C. Dyer, strongly
criticized the administration for failing to adequately engage faculty
members. He saw it as part of a broader pattern indicating “a
basic lack of trust between faculty and central administration.”
Daniel Strum/City Pulse
MSU President M. Peter McPherson and Provost Lou Anna K. Simon listen
as faculty members voice their grievances at the first Senate meeting
in 15 years.
that the only recognized faculty input in the restructuring of the liberal
arts programs came from a few hand-picked “focus groups,”
in which others reported a reluctance to speak freely because recordings
would be handed directly to the administration.
Whether this concern was well-founded, the very idea of faculty members
being placed in such a situation represented an “appalling situation
for a university,” Dyer said.
Dyer also criticized the lack of faculty input in the proposal to relocate
the medical school. In spite of the far-reaching consequences of such
a move, he said most professors and staff learned of it only after reading
Similar to the Board of Trustees meeting, during the two-hour Academic
Senate one often heard humanities professors speak on behalf of the
medical college, and vice versa. The pace and style of the proposed
restructurings had apparently unified a broad cross-section of faculty
who would otherwise never attend the same board meeting. Expressing
the overall mood, medicine Professor Howard Brody (a columnist for City
Pulse) warned: “Inadequate faculty participation reflects a broader
problem across campus.” Brody’s comments, which were strongly
applauded, also addressed the concerns of medical students.
Philosophy Professor Richard Peterson presented a proposal that the
Faculty Council review and assess the faculty role in the College of
Liberal Arts reorganization by the end of the fall semester 2004. Peterson
said he worried that if the university went forward without faculty
input, the results could be devastating. “There’s a real
possibility of a downgrading of arts and humanities at this university,”
he said. Since the future of liberal arts is at stake, it’s important
that the faculty has an opportunity to make clear what it thinks the
future of liberal arts education would be.”
The Senate unanimously passed Peterson’s resolution, as well as
a second resolution to form a Committee on Faculty Voice, which would
examine faculty input in governance.
Epidemiologist Nigel Paneth, who initially contacted the Executive Committee
of Academic Council to call for a Senate meeting, warned that if the
university did not carefully avoid “pitfalls,” the medical
school could lose its accreditation during its move to Grand Rapids.
The Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which evaluates the medical
programs of 126 U.S. medical degree-granting institutions, would not
tolerate poor teaching standards during a transitional period, he warned.
“The same doctor will be operating on you in 10 years,”
said Paneth. If they do a poor job, “the excuse that we were in
a period of transition” would not work.
Aron Sousa, an assistant professor at the Medical School, criticized
Michigan State University for not releasing any financial spreadsheets.
“If the college is to move, it cannot do so under false assumptions
and with skimpy resources.”
Don Bowersox, a supply management professor who led the committee assigned
to assess the medical school’s expansion, said the committee had
gathered financial data but has not released it.
Bowersox defended the decision, saying that there were too many uncertain
variables to make exact quantifications. “In due time, all the
numbers will be laid out.”
The only economic assessment that has been made public comes from a
study conducted by the Lansing-based Health Management Associates, a
firm hired by an ad-hoc committee of Lansing-area officials and private-sector
representatives who are concerned about the potential loss for the local
economy if the medical school were to move.
The firm’s March 8 report concluded that the move would likely
result in “numerous significant negative implications for the
East Lansing/Lansing community” and would be a “blow to
the prestige of the community.” It stated that the College of
Human Medicine’s departure would impair area hospitals’
abilities to recruit top specialists, and result in a need to raise
the costs of medical treatment. While the relocation would be “highly
beneficial” for Western Michigan, it would negatively impact the
Lansing area economy and raise expenses for the remaining College of
Osteopathic Medicine. The $25 million in state funds that the college
receives annually couldn’t be withdrawn from the Mid-Michigan
area “without doing harm,” the report said.
Finally, the assessment questioned MSU’s assumption that it will
receive $20 million to $40 million in financial support from wealthy
Grand Rapids donors each year. “We have not received anything
that would tell us where these funds would come from, how these funds
would get to MSU, what conditions might accompany such contributions
nor how firm the commitment is.”
With these uncertainties in mind, the Academic Senate also approved
the creation of an Oversight Assessment Committee to evaluate the Medical
School’s expansion in terms of finance, accreditation, faculty
support, programmatic quality and its impact on MSU and the Lansing
The committee will consist of seven faculty members — four from
the College of Human Medicine, one from the College of Natural Science,
one from the College of Osteopathic Medicine and one designated by the
Executive Committee of Academic Council.
Following the Senate, faculty members referred to it as “a success,”
although some doubted whether the administration will take the recommendations
made by the newly formed committees seriously. Sheila Teahan, a member
of the American Association of University Professors and a driving force
behind the movement for more faculty input, called the meeting “momentous.”
She said it had sent out a powerful message to the administration and
had expressed that the faculty was “taking the university back.”
Teahan was confident that between the explosive April 16 board meeting
and this Academic Senate, the administration had finally gotten the
message. “We have a long way to go in creating and implementing
effective protocols for faculty governance,” Teahan said. “But
we’ve made a start.”
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