The University Record, May 23, 1994


Administrative Proliferation—

Do We Need a Vice Provost for Health Sciences?

by George J. Brewer, M.D.,
Professor of Human Genetics and Internal Medicine

For years we have had a Vice Provost for Medical Affairs. No faculty member I ever talked to understood the usefulness of this position or why we paid the occupant such a high salary. Now it would appear that the University administration agrees with this previously unarticulated but widely held view. With the retirement of the present Vice Provost, George Zuidema, the position is to be terminated. A wise move, we might think. In this day of tightening finances, including a no-raise policy for faculty and staff the year before last, if an expensive and not critical administration position can be eliminated, doesn’t this action symbolize the lean, tightly organized, institution we must become? The administration is leading us to adapt to new economic rigors by example, right?

Well, guess what is being formed as of July 1, 1994? It is a brand new administrative position called Vice Provost for Health Sciences. The old position dealt only with the Medical School and hospital. The new position expands the role to deal with the schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, public health and social work. How much will this new position cost? I’m not privy to specific figures, but I would imagine around $0.5 million/year. Salary, with fringe benefits, will probably be upwards of $200,000. There will need to be some staff and space. Probably some new office equipment will be required, and office supplies. There will need to be a budget to allow travel, communications and other activities. It will not be a position in which there is a reporting function in relation to these schools. Rather, it seems to be perceived as facilitating interaction and communication.

One would assume that to create a new position aimed at enhancing interaction and communication among six schools, there must have been quite a bit of interaction and communication between the administration and the six schools to identify the need for more interaction and communication, right? Lots of input from faculty, executive committees, the Senate Assembly Advisory Committee on Medical Affairs (that advised the old Vice Provost position), so that first, the need for the position, and second, it’s key functions, would be spelled out, right?

Well, no, it didn’t quite work out that way. Actually, none of these groups was consulted for input in advance. The executive officers after some discussion with the deans of the schools involved, decided to try this experiment without faculty input. Maybe this decision was made easier by the fact that only a half million bucks were involved. That’s pocket change in a $2 billion budget. However, I do remember a quote from somewhere—you spend a few million here and a few million there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money!

The creation of the new position discussed here, without faculty input, is not an isolated event. New administration positions, at least new administration titles, are springing up on a regular basis, without benefit of faculty input, at least as far as I am aware. The executive officers of the university have repeatedly been requested not to do what they just did. For example, in the first issue of Faculty Perspectives (The University Record, 4/26/93), I wrote an editorial politely requesting that the administration consult with the faculty before creating new policy that impacts on faculty—and certainly creating this new position is creating new policy that impacts on faculty. What has happened here might be standard fare at GM and IBM—but should never happen at UM! It is not only a simple courtesy but a critical management skill in a university setting to consult with the faculty on matters such as this. That can be done simply, by time-proven mechanisms, all in place, including the respective school executive committees and the Senate Assembly Advisory Committee on Medical Affairs. Much that is valuable in the possible creation of this new position could have been learned—including the possible advice that the position is not needed and the money could be saved. I said it a year ago, and now I’m saying it again—let’s work together.

Tenure: The End of an Ordeal

by Richard W. Bailey
Professor of English Language and Literature

In 1988, the State of New York limited the number of continuous duty hours for interns and residents in teaching hospitals. Thirty-six or 48 hours of continuous work made for bad medicine, and one more rite of passage was eliminated in the name of sanity. The new rules limited these doctors to 24-hour shifts and 80-hour weeks.

Such rites of passage were typical of hunter-gatherer society, and we’ve gotten rid of a lot of them—fraternity hazing, for instance, where sleep deprivation and abandonment of the young initiates in the wilderness were routinely practiced.

Now, I suspect, we are about to change the way tenure is granted in colleges and universities.

Acquiring the doctoral degree has its own rites of passage, and young faculty know a good deal about ordeals before they begin work as assistant professors. If they accept the corporate culture in which they live, they will labor for six years and then present themselves for initiation. The numbers who gain tenure vary in our Schools and Colleges, but half or more of those who offer themselves will be asked quietly to leave and will go quietly. According to Theodore Caplow’s sociological study, The Academic Marketplace (published as long ago as 1958), many will pack up their offices on a Sunday morning and vanish from the corporate memory.

That’s about to change. Litigants have gone to court to get access to their tenure files in order to challenge the basis for the judgment that rejected them. Many, like Jill Crystal, will be denied, but it will surely occur to some judge (or jury) that due process cannot be served without full disclosure.

The impulse that produced the Michigan Mandate—and the Mandate itself—has brought unprecedented numbers of new faculty from legally protected groups. By alleging racial or gender bias, such faculty will challenge the rite of passage and refuse to pack up and leave. They will be right—and they have the right—to do so. Legally unprotected groups, mainly white males, will not ignore these developments, and they too will challenge the process.

Until now, higher education has persuaded law-makers (and law-givers) that faculty are special, that academic freedom allows professors a scope for action that is restricted in other organizations. How long will that last? How long will the process of peer review remain in its present form?

And what about the professorate itself? U-M now employs about 29,000 persons of whom 2,600 are professors in one form or another. With lecturers, research scientists, adjunct and clinical faculty, the share of resources devoted to professors continues to decline.

The ordeal of earning tenure may vanish along with the initiates themselves.

More Veeps?

by Cecil D. Eby
Professor of English Language and Literature

Despite the indignation this past year in the media about the proliferation of six-figure University administrators at a time when tuition costs at this state university were exploding, the Record (April 25) now informs us that the ruling clan has added two more Vice-Presidents-of-Something-or-Other to their seraphim sequestered in the Fleming Building. We are told that one of the newly chosen has earned an A.B. somewhere or other (the place was not specified), while the second one, as quoted in the Record, is “completing [sic] his Ph.D. in education evaluation at Boston College [sic].” In simple English, does this mean that this new vice-president is a graduate student? Whatever the new additions are, an outsider must wonder what useful work, if any, this vast army of vice-persons actually do. Are more of them about to pop out of Pandora’s box? More, perhaps, to ransack the dictionary in search of meaningless catch-words like “Quality” and “Excellence”—currently favored by parrots of the Fleming aviary.

In a recent letter to the Ann Arbor News a political science professor used the word “obscene” in characterizing the self-serving cupidity of those in command at this University. That’s a strong emetic—but deserved. What this reigning hierocracy seems utterly to have forgotten is that the business of a university is NOT business—but education. What is deplorable is that they do not even comprehend that it is deplorable that funds which could underwrite thirty to forty tuition grants have been diverted to hire two more Veeps of Beep—in other words, Public Relations scribes.

Both as faculty member and as parent of a student currently enrolled in the College of Engineering, I am still outraged that this University chose to throw away more than $200,000 in trying (and failing, of course) to hide some inconsequential secrets about its presidential search procedures rather than using these funds more constructively. Similarly our leaders (for lack of a more accurate word) can squander an equal amount on chairpersons who do not chair, as in the case of the recent Communications Department sit-com. They pour money down rat holes of their own making yet have the gall to require another tuition hike.

A Turkish proverb says that all human beings are controlled by two conflicting powers—the Profit Motive and Human Values. Will the top guns at this University ever get the message? It seems unlikely, but there is, at least, a dim ray of hope. They have bought a huge Annex situated several miles south on State Street—far from the madding crowd and the clamor of real university issues. That hive is already collecting its swarm. 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. For the rest of us it might prove a blessing, too. After all, it is two miles away. With luck the swarm might continue its peregrinations for another 38 miles southward until it inadvertently strayed across the Ohio line. ’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d . . .