Comments from the BFA Budget and Planning Committee

On Flagship 2030

October 8, 2007

 

            The BFA Budget and Planning Committee has read and discussed the strategic planning document “Flagship 2030” and we are compelled to express several concerns and make some recommendations. Most importantly, we would like to stress that many of these goals can not be accomplished by only a re-allocation of our current resources but will need substantial improvements in our infrastructure, funding, and faculty levels.

 

            The most general concern about Flagship 2030 is that it focuses on the lofty academic pinnacle that we will have attained in 23 years, but it has very little concerning feasibility, costs, or implementation. Because it is difficult to see how we can get from where we are today to the lofty pinnacle in just 23 years, this document raises real concerns about credibility. The costs of each and every initiative need to be carefully evaluated (including faculty, staff and infrastructure such as classrooms and offices) so that decisions on the ordering of priorities can be determined.

 

            An immediate and specific concern is that this document, which has not yet been approved by the BFA, is accessible to Colorado citizens, legislators, CCHE, and Regents. We are concerned that those outside CU will not appreciate that this is an unapproved draft, and that the might become invested in some of the initiatives. We feel that some of the initiatives are not desirable, and some are not feasible. Certainly their implementation has not been thought through. This document should either be taken off the web, or moved to a site accessible only to faculty and administrators. 

 

            We are also very concerned that the document does not focus enough on research and scholarly work. Paraphrasing Michael Lightner, it is our contention that the reason CU has a solid national and international reputation today is due to its research and its research funding—period. Our reputation  does not stem primarily from residential academic programs, or from campus architecture. Our outstanding reputation is mostly attributable to the research and scholarly work of the faculty. Therefore, if we want to enhance our reputation and standing among Comprehensive Graduate Research Universities, and thereby increase our appeal to the most promising students, our primary focus must be on enhancing research productivity.

 

            This document  starts with the unexpressed assumption that we currently have a position of strength, and we are poised to begin these initiatives. This is not correct. Over the last 25 years, as CU increased the number of students from approximately 24,000 to approximately 30,000, new administrative positions were filled, the numbers of instructors and advisors increased, but the number of tenure track faculty remained approximately the same. While we all understand the financial strictures that necessitated the hiring of instructors in lieu of tenure track faculty, we know that this was not a development that strengthened our position as a Comprehensive Graduate Research University. If the ratio of tenure track faculty to students had been conserved as CU accepted more students, we would currently have approximately 1,250 tenure track faculty (instead of approximately 1,000). If we are to plan to increase the number of students to approximately 35,000 (this would be matching our recent growth though the document also refers to an smaller increase in student numbers) then the target number of tenure track faculty should be 1,460; that is an increase of approximately 460, not the increase of 300 mentioned in the document.  Rather than expand, we must first reinvest in tenure track faculty to make up the ground that we have lost, in order to sustain existing research strength while preserving quality of education. 

 

            A similar analysis would reveal that, as the number of students increased CU did not invest sufficiently in classrooms; we must address classrooms before we initiate another expansion of students.

 

            If CU is going to add 460 tenure track faculty and about 6,500 students in 23 years, then more classrooms, faculty offices, and laboratories and studios will be needed. What is the likelihood of accommodating this growth with new buildings within the timeframe, given current levels of state funding for physical infrastructure? If Flagship 2030 does not address feasibility, cost, and implementation, it will be judged to be lacking in credibility.

 

Further concerns:

 

• Several academic goals are judged to be neither feasible nor desirable. Most specifically the four-year BA/MA degree and the six-year BA/Ph D degrees  (including up to one year abroad within these time frames) are not feasible, and we are concerned that people outside the university will believe that we are committed to these programs. Our graduate admissions are much more selective than our undergraduate admissions; it is difficult imagine 35,000 students, mostly on BA/MA tracks.  Skill levels that are required to attain Master’s level research in many disciplines involving field science or bench science mandate several years of training by themselves. An analogous argument can be made for disciplines in the Humanities or in Engineering.  A large number of students admitted for undergraduate study require diagnostic training in mathematics, critical thinking, and analytical skills, in addition to learning the literature in a chosen field.  Coupled with the intention that every student will spend semesters in one or more experiential learning experiences, this implies that students will be expected to complete existing requirements for two degrees in only six semesters, when in many departments currently, it takes a majority of Master’s students that long to complete just the graduate portion of that workload.  Collapsing the educational timeframe to four years seems extreme, and threatens to impair the quality of graduate education.  Given that the faculty control the curriculum, and we feel that these programs are neither feasible nor desirable, we recommend that these goals be removed from the document.

 

• The present draft calls for two additional senior administrative positions, one focusing on interdisciplinary research, one responsible for international education. The number of administrators has increased substantially in the last two decades, and before we swell the ranks of administration further, we need to invest in tenure track faculty and space for their teaching and scholarly work. This  priority for two specific positions seems out of place in this document, and should be removed until the need for new administrative positions can discussed and justified in the context of other needs. At the very least the entire internal administrative structure of the campus needs to be examined in-depth, so that it can be determined that we can respond efficiently and nimbly to future opportunities.

 

• A move from two to three semesters per year will make better use of classroom space. But the same number of faculty would teach the same number of classes, so how would this accommodate more students? Furthermore, we are skeptical that this is a change that would be welcomed by the undergraduate students. What happens if a student would like to attend the fall and spring semesters, but needs a class taught during the summer? While this seems like an interesting idea worthy of discussion, it hardly seems like something that we should advertise as a major initiative for the next quarter century; especially before the faculty and the students have expressed support for this major change.