LAS faculty believe Blue Sky process ‘lacks proper input’

Thane Himes

Some faculty are concerned about the process of obtaining faculty input about potential College of Liberal Arts and Sciences restructuring.

Last December, the ISU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) wrote a statement expressing concern about the lack of shared governance in regards to dealing with the LAS budget cuts, specifically the formation of the Blue Sky Task Force.

“[Blue Sky] consists of individuals hand-picked by the dean and the chair is one of the associate provosts,” said Heimir Geirsson, a member of ISU AAUP and associate professor of philosophy. “In addition to that, there was confidentiality. The task force was not able to discuss their issues with other faculty.”

LAS Dean Michael Whiteford’s initial charge to Blue Sky included saying that he would consult with the LAS Budget Advisory Group, which also consists of people hand-picked by Whiteford.

“Our point was that there was not faculty input going into the preparation of [Blue Sky],” said Jack Girton, university professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology and also a member of ISU AAUP. “So our question is, ‘is there going to be input from this point on?'”

“What we’re concerned with is the process itself, instead of the outcome,” Geirsson said. “If the process is fair, the outcome is legitimized.”

Geirsson said that a lot of the faculty were somewhat afraid of what was going on.

“There were rumors floating around and they [LAS faculty] didn’t know what would happen to their department or program,” Geirsson said.

The confidentiality of the task force fueled suspicion and worry, Girton said.

“Any time you have secret proceedings in a university, it immediately fuels speculation that you don’t want to tell people. You’re afraid of open debate,” Girton said. “You can accept losing if you had a fair shot to have your point made, but you can’t accept having an outcome when you didn’t have the chance.”

Girton said the sad part is even if suggestions made in the Blue Sky report are the right things to do, “You’ve just screwed your chances of getting the faculty to do those by insulting them with a process that ignores their input.”

“We’re the ones who are going to have to make this work” Girton said. “We’re the ones who are going to have to change the teaching. We’re the ones who are going to have to make our research work in a new environment. And we’re the ones who should have input on what [the administration] is going to do.”

Rather than have a task force consisting of members from each department in LAS that are hand-picked by Whiteford, Geirsson and Girton believe the faculty should have elected its own representatives if such a committee were to be formed.

“In the academic community, there are certain fundamental principles,” Girton said, “one of which is that the processes should be fair and the people involved get a chance to participate. That’s kind of the nature of the academic community. That’s why the AAUP is so concerned with processes and making sure they involve proper faculty input.”

The Blue Sky Task Force has completed its charge after turning in its report to Whiteford last December, but open forums will be held to discuss the suggestions made in the report.

“Dean Whiteford may reply that everyone has a chance to comment,” Geirsson said. “Perhaps individuals have a chance to raise questions at that point, but they speak for themselves primarily, and they don’t have the information that the faculty should have to make this kind of recommendation.

“Faculty input at an open forum comes off the wrong end, in this case. It comes from individuals who are uninformed.”

Geirsson and Girton would prefer a discussion among colleagues at a departmental level in order to decide how to proceed.

“Basically, a more formal way for the faculty, collectively, to have input as opposed to individuals simply making comments,” Girton said. “Making comments is not the same as input.”

The current goal is to have an official proposal ready by Spring Break, leaving little time for what the ISU AAUP considers to be fair and proper faculty input.

“Part of the key point of having faculty input is to make sure that decisions to change are not made lightly and are not made hurriedly or on a whim,” Girton said. “It is extremely difficult for universities to undo mistakes.”