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Statement on the Graduate School Dissolution by the Faculty Senate Research Committee

Faculty governance? Bob? Tom?


RESEARCH COMMITTEE Statement on the Graduate School

Information for the Faculty Senate

Statement on The Graduate School

On 23 March 2009 the Senate Research Committee (SRC) meeting discussed the impact of the proposed closure of the Graduate School on the research mission of the University of Minnesota.

First and foremost, the SRC hopes the administration will reconsider its efforts to close the Graduate School.

At the very least, the SRC believes that closure of the Graduate School, and delegation of its responsibilities to other University units, would be unwise until critical issues, as described below, are resolved by faculty, through their governance system, working with the administration.

Objectivity, independence, and an emphasis on quality are required to best guide decisions related to research, program development and assessment, graduate student selection, and the awarding of graduate fellowships. These criteria have been hallmarks of the Graduate School over the decades. The SRC is concerned that any loss of these characteristics will negatively impact research quality at the University, particularly in the following key areas currently organized by the Graduate School. Regardless of which administrative units these functions are transferred to in the event of a reorganization of the Graduate School, it is imperative that these operational principles are preserved.

A. Faculty Grants

The Graduate School is able to support faculty research based on merit and productivity alone and without interference from general planning, current initiatives, or other direction from the University’s administrative direction or the prevailing state political winds. The Graduate School’s impartiality, independence, and commitment to excellence are critical to the health of the University’s research mission and continued academic freedom.

If there were no Graduate School the question would be how one supports faculty research based solely on merit. One can imagine that the movement of this function to a unit without the same perspective could result in a process compromised by programmatic planning or strategic initiatives specific to that unit and excluding from the decision-making process its campus-wide impact. It is easy to say this would not happen, but an environment where funding is always limited creates a situation where compromise is likely to happen. In other words, how could a firewall be implemented which would guarantee that intramural faculty grants would be awarded based on merit alone?

B. Interdisciplinary Initiatives

Fostering of interdisciplinary research has become a common goal at many universities around the country including Minnesota. Certainly the funding of interdisciplinary initiatives cannot be completely independent of programmatic planning but there must be some part which seeks out those which are innovative or hold ground breaking potential for support truly independent of strategic initiatives, programmatic planning, or other considerations. Given this need, essentially the same question regarding faculty grants is again applicable: How could a firewall be implemented which would guarantee the amount of funding and that the awards were based on merit.

C. Policy and Reviews

Assessment of quality is a major responsibility of University faculty and includes student grades, faculty hires, and tenure decisions. On a broader scale, quality assessment must occur for centers and graduate programs, but is only meaningful if conducted in an independent and unbiased fashion. During review processes, the critical elements are the selection of the review committee members and their charge; the Graduate School is an independent and impartial organizer of such committees. This process requires a significant effort by the organizer. The review process of centers must continue with the quality of the review and the integrity of the process as performed by the Graduate School.

D. Graduate Fellowships

The Graduate School awards fellowships based on the quality of the candidate, without concerns about programmatic planning or equal distribution among units. In the Graduate School’s absence, the amount of funding in this critical area must be maintained and a firewall implemented to guarantee the disbursement of funds based solely on quality.

E. Postdoctoral Affairs

The postdoctoral scholars play a key role in the research quality of the University and the University of Minnesota has been one of the very best institutions in the United States in terms of working environment for postdocs. A major reason for this high rating is that the University has, in the Graduate School, one of the few offices of postdoctoral affairs that addresses on a regular basis equitable working conditions, pay, and the social aspects of the postdoctoral experience. Studies at other institutions have shown that without campus-wide efforts, local concerns often result in tolerance of inadequate pay, benefits, and poor mentoring. In early 2009 the National Science Foundation began to require that effective postdoctoral mentoring be addressed in all proposals where they will conduct aspects of the project. It is critical to University faculty that they continue to benefit from the organized mentoring activities of a campus-wide office that can coordinate activities difficult or impossible to do as a ‘one-off’ activity by individual PIs or by smaller academic units.

The SRC discussion also revealed faculty confusion about the stated reasons for closing the graduate school and the process outlined to reorganize this academic unit. Cost saving was the main reason given. The SRC members believe, however, that the cost savings may largely come from unfunded mandates for colleges and departments to perform many of the functions currently performed by the Graduate School. Given how stretched units are, it is clear that this is not a viable solution. While at the same time sacrificing all that the Graduate School brings to the University, pushing those costs and services to the colleges and departments will also further depress their capacity to enhance the research standing of the University. Other less drastic alternatives for cost savings that do not require closing the Graduate School should have been put before the faculty before this option was mandated and should still be carefully considered.

If there are additional reasons, beyond cost savings, for closing the Graduate School, then these reasons should be made clear. If any of these additional reasons relate to research, the SRC would be pleased to assist the administration in considering academically-viable solutions that maintain, without adverse consequences, our research activities.

Do OurLeader and OurProvost have the appropriate background to dictate the end of the graduate school without thorough consultation with the faculty beforehand? Certainly it does not look like it from the above comments of the Research Committee. Continuing stubbornly on with this effort seems to be the action of administrators who have more ego than brains...

That this move appears to contradict university policy is egregious, particularly since OurProvost is a serial ex-law school dean.

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