The Arizona Desert Lamp

Expect more from the UA

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 9 September 2008

It’s still a long ways away from a tenable plan, but the vague Shelton memo from a few days back seems to be manifesting itself in the form of streamlining the University’s departments.The Wildcat covered the Faculty Senate meeting where the plan was discussed:

Wanda Howell, chair of the UA faculty, said that the university intends to grow through strategic advancement of its core principals.

“We want to increase the quality of what we do,” Howell said. “Hopefully we can increase revenue (and product)…through a focused reallocation of resources.”

Howell outlined a program in which each university department will work to consolidate itself by analyzing the overall effectiveness of the individual departments.

. . .

A memo from Miranda Joseph, an associate professor in the women’s studies department, on behalf of the Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee, sent to Shelton and Provost Meredith Hay, outlined a guide for the consolidation of academic programs.

The memo stated that UA academic programs would be evaluated based on seven different categories. The points outlined were central to the UA mission: external demand, internal demand, productivity, quality, appropriate size and cost effectiveness.

This plan sounds like a program that takes place at the federal level called Expect More, conducted by the White House’s OMB. Virtually every federal program is analyzed, graded, and determined to be performing or not performing. If you ever feel like getting worked up over your tax dollars at work (or, as is often the case, on leave), this site is the go-to place.

Point being, this is an excellent idea, and is made even better by the fact the separate departments will be doing the analyzing. Of course, this will lead to tribal impulses by each department, and they will heatedly defend every wasteful program under their aegis. But doing it this way accomplishes two things. One, it makes sure that the transition is gradual, rather than a suddenly breakdown. You can imagine my surprise when I saw a reference to this Burkean sense of conservatism in, of all places, the Daily Wildcat editorial board:

It’s always tempting to assume that reducing the size of a large institution is the key to efficiency. But it isn’t always so. Institutions evolve, and slicing and dicing “wasteful” departments and programs in the name of greater efficiency might well leave the institution weaker and less creative than before.

Any attempt to reform the UA should not be approached as a “radical” venture, but as a conservative one. Rather than taking a hatchet to the UA’s supposedly wasteful departments, the university administration should seek to conserve what is valuable in all of them.

Mark this down as the last time you will ever hear the Wildcat call for a “conservative” approach to anything. Yet as far as their concerns about radical cuts go, the self-analysis by the departments will preserve far more programs than a top-down proposal from the provost might. But even the History Department itself is saying that a certain History program should be cut, then it really, really needs to go. Nobody knows more about the institution than the institution itself.

Secondly, this focus on quality goes back to a previous issue of the UA’s role in the broader scheme of things. Howell emphasizes the role of quality, which, in one word, sums up everything that the UA should be striving for.

As a final, somewhat unrelated note, I’m skeptical of the idea that the students, or their representatives in the ASUA, should have any say in this process. Students don’t design classes, don’t write departmental budgets, and have a broad purview of any field outside of their majors. If you throw too many interest groups into a process like this, the odds of coming up with anything worthwhile are increasingly slim.

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One Response

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  1. Garrett said, on 10 September 2008 at 12:41 am

    I’m operating on faded memory and no additional research here, but this sounds a lot like the old “Focused Excellence” under Peter Likins’ tenure, which they eventually swept under a rug, but not before the (City) Planning program got canned. Considering how badly Tucson’s growth has been planned, I’m not sure exactly what they did for anyone.


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