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MAIRSON: Integrated Planning: A French Revolution, Redux

By Harry Mairson

Section: Opinions

March 18, 2005

I want Chief Operating Officer Peter French to keep talking about management of the Universitys finances. But I also want a French Department, I said at the March 3 university faculty meeting. The rejection of Dean Adam Jaffes proposals, and their subsequent withdrawal by the administration, were in turn a kind of French Revolution.
In an uncomfortable crisis of competing visions for the University, one advocated by the citizens of the faculty, and another by the executive managers of the administration, the citizens prevailed. Now, like the French Revolution, historians revisionist, apologist, and activist are trying to figure out what happened, and what it meant.

This struggle isnt unique to Brandeis. Are we citizens or employees? asked Harvard professor Stephen Owen in the Boston Globe (3/11), criticizing the CEO management style there with a $22B endowment, its the same thing, only more so. The very qualities that make a good CEO are inherently in conflict, he added, with the traditional notion of a university as a self-governing community.

More than one senior administrator has told me that integrated planning was a management exercise to gain credibility with the Board of Trustees, showing that academic management could have the same sang-froid as corporate financial management. Thats why the Dean was sent out with cold-blooded eyes and heart, the Board was literally informed, to search for cuts.

As such, the plan didnt succeed. The reaction of Arts and Sciences faculty should further educate the Board that a prudent University is not synonymous with a corporation.

We all genuinely thank the Dean and Provost for their composure, sincerity, decency, and civility over the past year. That acknowledgment is for real: a personalized struggle could have ended like the penultimate scene from the movie Carrie.

Yet when the Provost is quoted in the Justice (Mar. 8) quotations I took the trouble to verify asserting that [Jaffes] effort to be very transparent and to engage the entire faculty in a constructive dialogue about the future was too difficult, it needs saying that the difficulty of the Deans proposals derived not from their transparency, nor from any overwhelming invitation to engagement. They were rejected because they were fatally flawed.

They were procedurally flawed: you cant begin with specifics. You begin with generalities, build a consensus, and end with specifics.

They were analytically flawed: the numbers gathered didnt imply the conclusions reached.

They were contextually flawed: the conversation couldnt begin with the fundamental assumption of either executing X, or alternatively replacing the head of X with that of Y.
They were socially flawed: some things you do in private, but not in public not because they are unseemly or shameful, but because they are private. What goes for many aspects of sexuality probably also goes for certain aspects of university politics. Both need to be approached with sensitivity.

They were academically flawed: the faculty thinks that teaching Greek and linguistics and music composition is important its what a University is supposed to do.
The Dean was quoted in the Justice (Mar. 15) as saying, If responding to students demands is fundamentally threatening our tradition of liberal arts, then Im guilty. But students demands and liberal arts just arent the same thing. If the Dean is optimistic that the University will eventually see the logic in his suggestions, then his case hasnt yet been made.

Deflecting these proposals required hundreds of hours of work by many people—a political process that we should be proud of, but nonetheless a massive example of btul Torah: time and energy that would have been better spent on teaching, research, and learning.

The Provost told the Justice that its all about choices (true), adding, it may mean that curricular changes take longer to accomplish, and that the faculty made it clear that they are not going to publicly endorse a cut in somebody elses program.

I sincerely hope that this does not mean that next time, the administration has concluded, it will simply push its case with greater perseverance and for a longer duration. (Some of us feel fatigue at the very thought.) And to the contrary, the faculty could cut programs if necessary, and with inevitable discord but surely not using this years modus operandi.

How can the University change? The answer is not executive management. Its faculty governance. The administration has begun talking about an academic planning committee (and theres been one in the past), though it is unclear how seriously. This committee would facilitate standing faculty committees participation in academic planning, instead of just reaction to it.

It wouldnt operate like a well-oiled executive machine. It would run like inefficient democracy always does. But it would allow the University to evolve in an organic way. Executive management at a university is like the failed evolutionary proposals of Lamarck and Lysenko: cutting the tail off the lizard doesnt solve your change problem. Neither does cutting Greek.

Sure, we need to think about the future, and try and plan for it. But Malcolm X might have been correct when, stirring milk into his morning drink, he would tell journalists, the only thing I like integrated is coffee.

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