Retrenchment, Day 41

Bemidji State's faculty senate met yesterday afternoon. I didn't really feel like driving back to campus, so I joined about a half dozen other faculty and watched via Zoom. I suppose I had an experience similar to that of students who try to tune into a hybrid class. It was abysmal. The meeting was held in the brand-new classroom building (there are no offices in it) that supposedly uses the most up-to-date technology. The camera in the back of the room was working, so I was able to see the faculty association president and mostly hear what he had to say. There are also a bunch of hanging microphones in the classroom they were using (I have taught in that room several times). But they were not working, or the speaker had no idea how to turn them on. So I was unable to hear anything anyone said, other than the president at the front of the room. I can only imagine what a turn-off that would be, for a student tuning in remotely.

The president was apparently aware no one on Zoom could hear anyone but him, because several people mentioned it in the chat. A couple of times he remembered to reiterate the question or comment another speaker made, before he responded to it. But that didn't last long. As a result, it was like listening to one side of an old-fashioned telephone conversation. I think I got the gist of most of it, but I couldn't really tell why some choices were being made.

There were several long discussions that had little interest for me. I won't be around next year, so I'm not interested in how the new executive of the BSU Foundation is going to help departments connect with the community (which mainly means regional businesses) in the future. I was a little bit interested in the ways the communications and marketing department is being reorganized under the VP of enrollment management. They're apparently going to hire an executive director -- I thought there was a hiring freeze. The new position is going to manage communications and marketing for both BSU and Northern Technical College, so maybe they're paying for it. But I'm surprised there was no pushback that I could distinguish. What I did notice was a longish discussion about the best ways to comply with the VP and give her what she needs from the departments. There did seem to be some generalized dissatisfaction among the people I couldn't hear, about the ongoing crappy nature of BSU's web presence (departments used to run their own websites, but this was taken away in the name of standardization and the new sites were never completed). The thing that struck me most was the somewhat obsequious nature of the senate's relationship with the relatively new VP, who in my experience has not delivered any value.

The final big items I was interested in hearing about were the retrenchment and reorganization. There was some discussion of the president's communication with the chancellor's office downstate which seemed to indicate that there would be no more retrenchments this year but that they would be back for more faculty next fall if the financial numbers didn't improve. It didn't seem to me that this fact made much of an impression. The president said something about how that would be when programs would really be eliminated and the structure of the institution would be radically changed. This seemed to suggest the faculty association doesn't believe that's happening this year; I think they might be surprised in January when the administration announces their restructuring plan. Then the response to the Deans' proposal for a restructuring of the colleges was discussed. But not really. I didn't hear much said about the actual proposal, which includes collapsing three colleges into two and twenty-two departments into fewer than ten interdisciplinary "schools". What I did hear was more about whether and how to even respond to the Deans' request.

Apparently the faculty association considers this "hail Mary" proposal by the Deans to be just another "ask" from management. There seemed to be some talk about how it's really not faculty's "job" to do this kind of planning and management couldn't force them to do this type of work, especially without compensation. There was some discussion about whether the Academic Affairs Committee should be the group to respond, but it was decided they had other important work on their plates and so an "Ad-hoc" committee should be created. So I guess that's what will happen (I left the meeting before they got around to taking a vote). The senate will establish an ad-hoc committee and then issue a call for volunteers to fill it. They will "report" to the senate, not the Deans or other administration, because "you can't make us" or some such logic. When this will happen and how effective it will be, I can only guess.

Link to YouTube: