The University Record, June 6, 1994


English prof plays ‘fast and loose with the facts’

It has been fashionable for over a decade now to decry the growth of university and college administrators, especially when that growth is seen to have taken place at the expense of faculty growth. Much of this argument is misplaced, I think, but it can be thoughtful. Unfortunately, occasionally it is thoughtless and mean-spirited.

I view the article by Professor Cecil Eby on the May 23 Faculty Perspectives Page in these terms. Rather than discussing University policy, he chooses to attack two individuals personally.

When arguments about University policy become personal attacks, we have gone too far. In attempting to strike a clever satiric tone, Professor Eby insults two of the University’s most able administrators. And he plays fast and loose with the facts.

Lisa Baker and Frank Williams, the two new associate vice presidents (not vice presidents) whom he attacks, have brought creativity, intelligence, and great energy to our joint endeavors over the past four years. I am extremely proud to have been able to attract them here, prouder still to be able to reward their outstanding contributions with well-deserved promotions two months ago. Dr. Williams (Professor Eby will be relieved to know that he has now been awarded his doctorate) has brought experience gained during a successful career with the College Board, and Ms. Baker similar experience gained as a staff member in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. I’m sure that everyone who has worked with these talented people shares my high opinion of them. I know that the executive officers have come to rely on their expertise and advice.

I have taught English at the college and university level for 22 years (like Professor Eby, I have a Ph.D. in English), and during the last 12 of them served as an administrator. I currently teach in the same department as Professor Eby. Both as a faculty member and an administrator, I have worked with dedicated, committed people, people who contribute daily to the continued success of this University.

Unfortunately, I have also encountered both faculty and administrators who display the easy prejudice of Professor Eby. Faculty complain about the growth of administration. Administrators complain about the lack of productivity among faculty. In my opinion, both sides miss the mark. I prefer to reflect instead on the contributions of the vast majority of people in both groups and to focus my thinking on the future of higher education and the challenges we all face.

If the University of Michigan is to prosper, it requires the energetic participation of faculty, administrators, staff, students, and alumni. We should not allow ourselves to descend to petty bickering or personal attacks. Instead, let’s all commit ourselves to a thoughtful, spirited, and creative colloquy about the future of this wonderful institution.

Walter Harrison,
vice president for university relations

SACUA’s use of survey to evaluate deans ‘fatally flawed’

As a member of the College of LS&A faculty, I recently received the tabulation of responses by LS&A faculty to the survey instrument distributed by the SACUA Academic Affairs Committee to evaluate the dean.

I have devoted much of my career to collecting and analyzing survey data and believe that surveys are one potentially useful source of information in the evaluation of faculty, administrators, programs, etc. To actualize that potential, however, requires that the survey be conducted in a way which can yield valid estimates of the attitudes or beliefs of the population being surveyed.

In this regard, the SACUA survey is fatally flawed. To validly characterize the opinions of the LS&A faculty, the survey would either have to be responded to by a high percentage of the faculty as a whole or a high percentage of a sample of the faculty selected randomly or by other probability methods.

The SACUA survey was distributed to all faculty but only 235 or 25 percent responded at all, and 10 percent to 50 percent of those responding failed to answer any given question in the survey. Thus, the results for any item generally do not reflect the views of the entire faculty. Since no questions were asked about the characteristics of respondents (e.g. rank, area of study, race/ethnicity, age), there is not even the possibility of comparing the composition of the respondent group to the overall composition of the faculty, although this is no substitute for achieving a high response rate and using probability sampling methods.

If surveys are to play an appropriate and useful role in the process of evaluating deans, they must be conducted in a manner that can yield valid estimates of faculty opinion. It is possible, relatively inexpensively, to select a random or probability sample and to achieve a high response rate from that sample. I hope SACUA might consider such an approach in the future so that faculty opinion regarding the dean, or other matters, might be validly estimated.

James S. House,
professor of psychology and director, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research

New health affairs post expected to lower costs

In the most recent issue of the Record, the Faculty Perspectives page included a column by George Brewer attacking the appointment of a Vice Provost for Health Affairs, the result of a redefinition of the position of Vice Provost for Medical Affairs and a reorganization of that office.

This position was redefined with the full participation and cooperation of the deans of the health-related schools (Medicine, Dentistry, Public Health, Pharmacy and Nursing) and the director of the University Hospital. Health care reform will call for increasing cooperation in both education and research by all of the academic units which deal with health care. This restyling of the position from a primary concern with the Medical School and the Hospital to one which will work directly with the provost and the deans of the health-related Schools is, I believe, an effective way to deal with a very uncertain future.

Had Professor Brewer consulted with me about this position before submitting his article, he could have presented the facts with greater accuracy. And he would have learned that far from adding costs, this redefined organization results in lower costs. Moreover, it should lead to the University being better positioned to deal with the dramatic changes which are anticipated in the health care delivery system.

Professor Brewer assails the administration for not consulting with the faculty before taking this action. This is a misleading characterization of actual events. Although he was not personally consulted, the relevant deans did consult with their elected faculty executive committees as the discussions went forward.

Similarly, Professor Brewer was recently quoted in the Ann Arbor News as highly critical of alleged insufficient faculty consultation in events concerning the Communications Department when, in fact, LS&A’s elected faculty executive committee was consulted extensively in that process. I believe that this approach, which appears to be conclusion first, facts later, does not serve well either the University or the community.

Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr., provost

Faculty Perspectives’ statement ‘not true’

Contrary to Dr. George Brewer’s statement, “Administrative Proliferation—Do We Need a Vice Provost for Health Sciences,” in Faculty Perspectives, University Record, May 23, at least one executive committee, that of the College of Pharmacy, discussed the issue on two occasions (Oct. 15, 1993, and Nov. 2, 1993).

When Dr. Brewer asked me by memorandum on April 18, 1994, if the College had been consulted about the position, I responded in the affirmative, in writing, on April 20, 1994. Hence, I am confused by his statement that “...none of these groups (executive committees) were consulted for input in advance.” This statement is simply not true.

Ara G. Paul, dean and professor,
College of Pharmacy

Comments were a ‘low blow’

In the last paragraph of his letter, “More Veeps?,” in the Faculty Perspectives section of the May 23 University Record, Professor Cecil Eby comments on the recent move of several service units to Wolverine Tower, saying: “In that remote enclave, a veritable paradise for administrators, they can commute to work, and whole years might pass without their ever being inflicted with the sight of a student or a professor.”

He goes on to suggest that a desirable outcome would be for all of the building’s occupants to keep right on moving till we were across the Ohio line. Professor Eby’s comments are low blows to staff members like me who have moved the two miles down State Street, but would have preferred to remain in locations closer to the people we serve.

We have accepted our move south because we understand that the space we formerly occupied in the LS&A Building and at Hoover and Green is needed for departments providing direct services to students and academic departments.

I plan to be making good use of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority-

U-M shuttle service that has been arranged to make it easier for us to get to where we’re needed—and for faculty and staff to get to us for services that aren’t portable.

Having fewer direct reminders of the teaching and research missions of the University at our work site, my colleagues and I will find ways to stretch the campus those several miles down State Street to include us. The “More Veeps” piece is an example of how easy it is for people to create distance between themselves and others by remarks made out of ignorance of the lives of real people who do real work that needs to be done to keep the University running.

It seems to me that we out here in our “rusty tower” might actually have a more complete picture of the University than Professor Eby in his ivory one. And, I believe that, as a professional educated at Michigan and choosing to work here, I am more typical of U-M administrative staff than that mythical beast—The Administrator—which Professor Eby created for his Faculty Perspectives piece.

Bernadette Malinoski,
assistant director of human resources and affirmative action