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Faculty group issues final report on future of Stanford
STANFORD -- Faculty members at Stanford University came to a startling revelation during an intensive yearlong look at how the university operates and how it could be bettered in the future.
They knew going in that for Stanford to be great, it needs a great faculty. They discovered along the way that it also needs a great staff and administration - a discovery that created a new paradigm for many.
Richard Zare, professor of chemistry, chaired the now-weary Senate Committee on Education and Scholarship at Stanford, which will present its final report to the Faculty Senate at the last meeting of the academic year on Thursday, June 11.
The committee's report, informed by "roundtable discussion" input from 75 non-administration faculty members, focuses on three areas crucial to Stanford's excellence in its second century: the administration, the structure of the School of Humanities and Sciences, and undergraduate education.
The committee was formed in June 1991 to give the faculty a leading role in protecting the university's academic excellence during the budget reduction process; its second charge was to help shape the university after the actual cuts and layoffs.
Many on campus may not agree with - and even may be personally offended by - some of the findings, Zare said. He cautioned that the report does not have concrete proposals, but rather is a collection of ideas for consideration by the current and the incoming president, both of whom the committee has contacted.
"We do not offer a blueprint," Zare stressed. "That is their business.
"The administration was what the faculty knew the least about. But we do offer faculty perspectives on the management culture."
Zare said he and other committee members received an education during the process: They learned what the staff do and that, by and large, they do it very well.
However, basic administration policies may be hampering the ability of staff to serve their clients.
"The real perceptible change was in the paradigm of the faculty view of the staff," Zare said. "Before, the staff was seen as something you put up with, an unavoidable thing like taxes - not necessarily something unpleasant, but just something.
"Now, the real change in the thinking of the faculty is that you cannot have a great university without a great faculty and you cannot have a great university without a great administration."
Committee members applauded some recent administration developments, such as experimenting with internal vs. external service producers, and added that long-term plans should explore "what gains can be achieved by reorganizing centralized units to bring their services closer to the clients who use them."
But the existing management culture may need serious change, the committee stressed.
"Stanford must become more agile in responding to new challenges and changing priorities," the report stated. "We must encourage and reward creative thinking, innovation, initiative and responsible risk-taking.
"We must empower staff at lower levels to act, and reduce the practice of deferring routine decision-making to executive levels, who too often then only act by seeking consensus.
"We must learn to delegate more responsibility, and we must hold accountable those to whom we delegate while, at the same time, we reward them for their efforts."
Currently, the committee found, "the system provides rewards, through higher salaries and promotions, for staff who supervise other staff, and thereby acts as an incentive for expansion in the number of supervisees as one way to advancement." This, in essence, just creates more staff but not necessarily any more effectiveness.
Zare noted that many of the same concepts were contained in former Provost James N. Rosse's 1990 "repositioning" announcements. He agreed with Rosse that the ideas behind repositioning were sound, but that the execution faltered.
"They (the upper administration) need to ask, 'How can we change this?' The answer is to change the culture."
Humanities and Sciences
Although less familiar with administration, a majority of faculty went into the process well aware of the problems facing Humanities and Sciences, Zare said. The report states that the faculty looked at the structure, rather than the people, and that it should not be considered criticism of any individuals.
In a nutshell, the faculty - who represented all schools - found that Humanities and Sciences had "just too many faculty with just one dean," giving it disproportionate underrepresentation on the University Cabinet.
The committee feels that the maximum - but not necessarily the optimum - number of faculty that any school should have is about 200. More than that leads to problems in communication and management.
Another difficulty the committee noticed was in the allocation of resources, Zare said. The associate deans of the school evidently have no budget authority, making them "powerless intermediaries that generally can halt or delay but seldom act."
Also, the dean of the school, the committee found, does not control an adequate resource base and often must go to the provost before funds are found or decisions are made. Development is consequently made more complicated and bureaucratic.
Humanities and Sciences could be broken into three separate units, in a process that could include reorganizations of other schools along logical lines, the committee concluded. Or it could remain one school, but with additional representation on the Cabinet, a less radical approach the committee considered.
"What's important is that if it is decided to break up the school, or in any way change the current set-up, [people need] to think creatively," Zare said. "This is something that needs a new administration to think about."
Another important point, the committee reported, was that "a unified School of Humanities and Sciences permits and encourages intellectual outreach across traditional disciplines that bridges structural boundaries."
This has been a major factor in the development of many successful interdisciplinary programs, Zare said.
Whichever way the new administration moves, the committee cautioned, it "will require clear advance analysis so that [it] will not significantly increase the total number of administrators and that cumbersome bureaucratic structures will not be replicated in new units."
Just as "Athena sprung full grown and dressed in armor from the forehead of Zeus, so Stanford University popped out of the heads of its founders," Zare said.
While various structures governing undergraduate education have been tried over the past 100 years, the committee suggests considering some others.
"We've never had a 'Stanford College,' " Zare said. "We need something that has its own budget, its own ability to make faculty appointments."
Undergraduate education is a subject very close to Zare's heart, and he found that he was far from alone.
"Faculty in the professional schools - many of them very badly want to get involved in undergraduate education," he said. "Business, medicine, law, education, all of the schools."
The committee found that undergraduate education "is a shared responsibility of the university faculty as a whole, particularly the general education requirements, and does not easily find similar protection" to that offered graduate education, which "by its very nature has close ties with the faculty research agenda."
"Delivering a high-quality undergraduate teaching program poses perennial challenges for a research university," the committee wrote.
Two of those challenges are the status of nontenure-line faculty and lecturers, and the tension that arises from the requirement that academic appointments always be in an academic department, not in an interdisciplinary program (IDP).
"Because about a quarter of undergraduates major in IDPs, this policy has strong implications for undergraduate education," the committee found. "Lecturer appointments have, in some cases, taken up the slack, but the future health of IDPs as a vibrant source of undergraduate teaching may best be served by an administrative structure that regularizes and controls appointments for undergraduate teaching."
"We all agreed that this is something that should be a top priority for the new president," Zare said.
The committee looked at several models, ranging from having a single faculty administrative officer at the provostial level to having a council of officers drawn from the units serving undergraduates. Members in the latter scenario could include the deans of the three schools offering undergraduate degrees, the vice president for student resources; the directors of athletics, the Haas Center for Public Service and overseas studies; the chair of the Senate Committee on Undergraduate Studies; and other cognizant officers.
"To be effective, this council must control the allocation of significant resources, perhaps deriving from undergraduate tuition," the report stated.
A particularly appealing aspect of this proposed council, Zare said, was that "basically, it's already there; it doesn't require a new administrative level."
Finally, a summer break
The report writers were looking forward to having a summer free from committee obligations for a change, Zare said. They expected to be invited to discuss the report in depth at a Faculty Senate meeting in the fall, by which time the senate should have appointed a standing committee to continue the process.
Limited, if any, discussion is expected at the June 11 meeting, which will break early so that the senators can honor President Kennedy at a reception to mark the end of the academic year.
"To those of you who expected SC-ESS to write a lengthy analysis of education and scholarship at Stanford, we are sure you will find our efforts disappointing," the committee wrote in conclusion. "We make no apologies, however, as our work during the past 12 months has been, like an iceberg, mostly out of view, voicing a faculty perspective to those groups and individuals who were making hard decisions about budget reductions in these trying times.
"We consciously made this choice as to how to best serve the faculty and the university."
The committee included Zare; Robert Weisberg, law, deputy chair; Pat Jones, biological sciences, deputy chair from its inception until March 1992; Lucius Barker, political science; George Dekker, English; John Eaton, mechanical engineering; George Fredrickson, history; Craig Heller, biological sciences; William Northway, radiology; James Van Horne, business; Marion Lewenstein, communication; and staffer Ellen Woods of Humanities and Sciences.
The faculty who participated in the roundtable discussions met during the first two weeks of March. Seventy-five took part out of 119 who were invited, Zare said.
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