Previously employed at Middle Tennessee State University, Petersen brings to TU experience and a fresh start. photo courtesy

New budget cuts revealed at faculty meeting

Although TU has faced budget cuts in the past, a new wave of reductions leaves faculty and students strangely hopeful

On Friday, Sept. 24, a College of Arts and Sciences faculty meeting took place under the direction of the new-ish dean, Karen Petersen. Of course, the second this meeting was planned, the rumor mill guaranteed there would be unexpected viewers, including a representative of The Collegian. The contents of that meeting split into two sections. Part one focused on a series of slides shown by Dean Petersen, illustrating figures on a few separate topics and reports from the standing executive committees in the A&S college. The second half was question/answer based, where faculty members could direct questions to Dean Petersen on any topic relevant to the running of TU.

The primary thrust of the first portion coalesced around a series of points made by Petersen on the nature of TU’s active administrative machinery or, specifically, the lack of it. Development of procedures, policies and concrete structure for the approximation and application of decisions made by both Collins Hall and the Board remains as the first goal of this new administration. This prospective course would serve to reduce the gray area between the operations of the administrative branch versus that of the faculty. For instance, each department is supposed to have their own processes to decide on a new chairperson, as well as the power that chair holds in the department and their term limit.

However, questions from the faculty illustrate the belief that portions of those responsibilities for setting rules and guidelines seemingly lied with administration. The terminology used drew forth images of protective items like guide rails and warning signs, and this discussion shifted to student retention. With a helpful chart, Petersen explained that student retention across the university remains in the 88 to 94 percent range, but she did indicate that the algorithms and processes used to calibrate and quantify these results were less than stellar and will require future tweaking. This seems to be the overarching theme of the new administration’s perspective on TU’s overall situation; the vast majority of issues are rooted in simple errors in the basic construction of the university that led to the possibility of exploitation, both incidental and intentional.

With student retention came the question of what the university was currently doing to help students that were struggling financially. It’s no secret that the primary way to receive aid, both need- and merit-based, from the university itself is through merit-based scholarship determined by the applicant’s ACT score, a system which is always up for debate. Primarily relying on these scores, rather than financial need, to award scholarships has created an environment where students from lower income households suffer disproportionately in comparison to wealthier families. This comes as no surprise, but Petersen’s acknowledgment of this as a problem that requires thought illustrates a capacity to care and an openness to change.

Following the slide show, Petersen called for reports from two of the three standing A&S committees. First was from the curriculum committee, which consisted of quite a few technical terms that described the ways in which the provost office would track the change of curriculum and at what threshold, 25 percent, they would construct a greater report. Second came an executive committee report where Dr. David Tingey noted the moderate student presence at a meeting and voiced the opinion that there should be more student interaction and invitation to these gatherings, as well as proposing the creation of two different terms for these prospective opportunities. His statements imply that students should be directly invited to important meetings instead of relying on receiving links from disparate sources. The report consisted of describing the creation and results of a new cross-discipline group of the department chairs and their nomination of a chair of the chair council, Dr. Donald Prudlo. Part of Tingey’s philosophy resides in a similar belief to Dean Petersen’s desire to make each side of the faculty/administration line distinct and visible.

While the preceding information was extremely interesting and worth witnessing, the true meat of the meeting, as well as the concern drawn from other individuals, lies in the proposed budget cuts across campus. Introducing the topic, Petersen indicated that there would be no preferential treatment, that each of the four colleges would have a three percent reduction in the unrestricted portion of their budget while the administration and athletic budgets would receive a five percent cut from the same portion of the budget each. The unrestricted portion of the budget is somewhat equivalent to a discretionary or slush-fund type collection of capital used for non-compulsory expenditures. This translates to no cuts to faculty salary, layoffs or a reduction in travel costs covered by the university—President Brad Carson reportedly made the protection of these three factors mandatory to any proposed plan. Reactions, of course, were mixed. People seem amenable to an even-handed reduction, but the question of why we have to make this reduction seemed strangely muted. Instead, most of the ire came out of a question asked in relation to the announcement, that of a potential hiring freeze. Dean Petersen’s response was by the book, stating that there was no official university-approved hiring freeze. While true by definition, I have not met a new faculty member in quite some time, and that seems to be the common experience. German has had to convert professors from other languages to teach intro-level classes while Philosophy retains a diminishing staff, overworking the most aged department on campus.

Petersen’s diction and approach to these heavy topics were actually quite heartfelt. She said that she understood how any budget cut would instinctively put the faculty on its heels, but also intimated that such a relationship would lead to more chaos and fractures than simply working together. In a series of statements, Petersen pointed out the willingness of herself and President Carson to meet with concerned individuals, proclaiming how the president’s schedule was made open to the public and how she would be happy to see anyone walking through her door to engage with her on pressing topics. She stated directly “I will not lie to you” and made clear her desire to reduce the amount of conspiratorial rumor mongering through promising clear and coherent answers to any questions. This is not a six-month timeframe fix, a point Petersen repeatedly indicated, and she is correct. While it has been easy for a persecuted populace to find singular figures to direct rage at, there is more than enough blame to pass around for the budget crises, and we cannot afford alienating competent administrators working to fix problems we all care deeply about. The us/them dichotomy, as Petersen states, has contributed to a rumor-laden shadow administration that seeks out conflict and causes issues for the poor battered faculty. However, the faculty has definitely given an undue, if understandable, amount of grief to the administration. The overall vibecheck of the faculty at the meeting indicates a strong approval of President Carson, Dean Petersen and the new individuals in charge of the Admissions Office, which has begun accepting help from faculty members. Dr. Kristen Oertel in the history department has repeatedly attempted to offer her aid to the Admissions Office, only to be rejected for around 11 years. Finally, the new individuals in charge have accepted her help. This microcosm of accepting help changes the atmosphere between the two segments of the university, and sets an optimistic precedent going forward.

Other pieces of good news came out in the meeting. Revelations that the minimum number of students enrolled in graduate courses to prevent the class from being cancelled has shifted from ten to six and whispers of written-proposals to reinstate graduate programs act as the opening moves in rebuilding TU’s reputation and the trust between faculty, student and administration.

Post Author: Adam Walsh