Saturday, October 09, 2010

A silver lining, of sorts

Although we hear that the recession is over for the bankers and those on Wall Street (or did I repeat myself?), most universities are going through various kinds of cuts, budget crises, and meetings designed to achieve what our friends at Roxie's World have so aptly called "excellence without money." SUNY Albany's recent dismemberment of its foreign language and classics department shows evidence of this attitude--see IHE and Dame Eleanor Hull's post on that-- although I'd like to know how it intends to keep R1 status without those departments. Isn't "doctoral comprehensive" meant to mean, well, inclusive of humanities?

Universities often think that humanities can achieve this better than other areas of the university, or so the distribution of cuts would indicate. I'd like to think this is because the administrators of universities think that humanities people are so devilishly clever that the cuts don't matter since we can work around them, but it's probably more that they believe that the humanities don't matter.

Anyway. My university, Northern Clime, is going through various conversations about cutbacks, and what has impressed me most is the way in which the faculty members in my department have been pulling together. Their suggestions have been generous, flexible, and ingenious about the budget realities we're facing. No one's drawing a line in the sand and saying "you can't touch my courses/area" or "we don't really need your area, so how about if we cut that?" or "your requirements are flexible, but mine can't be changed." When there are meetings, there's very little whining or retrospectives about "when I first came here, we could do X and Y and now we can't."

The process of planning is still demoralizing, but it's much less so because of the good humor and flexibility of my colleagues. Don't call me Pollyanna, the Glad Girl: No one would wish for the terrible budget situation, but if it's here--and it is--the silver lining is that it shows something in us that we might not otherwise have seen.

I wonder if this budget crisis is bringing this collegiality out in other places.


michele said...

We actually had some similar experiences in my department as we discussed cuts last year. I think what helped bring the faculty together was the fact that the Dean allowed each department to decide how it would meet its projected cuts, which meant we had the flexibility to put everything on the table. I think that made it easier because no one felt like their pet area would be the logical one to be hit and thus didn't go in on the defensive.

Good to hear your experience (although I wouldn't wish budget cuts on anyone) is progressing fairly positively.

undine said...

That's about the only positive thing about it, Michele, but I think you're right about having some modicum of control.