David Detmer, a professor of philosophy at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, studied with author Howard Zinn at Boston University. | Photo provided
The recently announced plan to merge administrative and academic oversight offices at Purdue University Calumet with those at Purdue University North Central not only surprised students, graduates and region residents.
It also blindsided the schools’ faculty, many who claim the proposal violates the school’s principle of shared governance.
“None of these members of the campus community were consulted before this decision was made, in spite of the fact the decision will greatly affect their lives,” states a letter written in part by PUC philosophy professor David Detmer.
“While the Purdue Calumet administration has repeatedly said it is in favor of shared governance, transparency and faculty input, this recent announcement stands as yet another example of the fact that its actions consistently contradict those statements,” the letter states on behalf of the American Association of University Professors.
Although the PUC chapter of the AAUP hopes the merger is successful, it also is concerned that faculty members were not first consulted.
“The faculty is being asked to trust an administration that keeps saying one thing and doing another,” said Detmer, one of the more outspoken PUC faculty members. “No specifics on costs, timelines or anything remotely resembling a plan has been put forth, yet we are asked to cheer on such a vague plan as if it were a can’t-miss venture, when it is anything but.”
Such skepticism is nothing new for Purdue faculty, especially at PUC. And relations between administration and faculty haven’t gotten any better since Mitch Daniels became Purdue’s president. His fingerprints seem to be all over this merger proposal as a cost-cutting measure, similar to what he did repeatedly as Indiana governor.
“The only thing Daniels cares about is the university’s bottom line financially, not educating Purdue students or the school’s faculty, especially at its regional campuses,” said one PNC professor who asked for anonymity for obvious reasons.
The Feb. 26 public announcement was co-hosted by PUC Chancellor Thomas Keon and PNC Chancellor James Dworkin. They agreed that no immediate changes are in the works but the plan is to combine administrative and academic oversight functions into one central office.
The two regional campuses are 35 miles apart, from Hammond to Westville, and Dworkin said the merger will take roughly two years to complete. This merger will potentially affect 15,000 students at both campuses.
“Claims that savings from this merger will be directed to students and faculty would be an about-face from current practice, in which resources are primarily directed to the growth of the administration while the faculty are reduced in size and marginalized in decision making,” states Detmer’s letter on behalf of the AAUP.
Detmer cites statistics showing the number of PUC administrators and other support staff rising steadily over the past 15 years, from 396 to 488. By contrast, the number for faculty remained roughly the same, from 470 to 473.
He also cites the school’s budget shortfall, which reduced its faculty by nearly 18 percent while cutting its number of administrators by only 1 percent over the same period.
Purdue officials have noted that the merger is part of the school’s ongoing efforts to cut administrative costs to benefit “student affordability and accessibility.”
Detmer, the AAUP and other Purdue professors aren’t buying it.
“While we hope that savings from this merger will, as promised, be used for the improvement of instruction (rather than for administrative growth), it is a far stretch to say that such claims are credible and should be accepted, given the history of the behavior of the administration,” the letter states.
PUC Chancellor Keon offered this response to that letter.
“The process of planning administrative and academic unification between our two thriving campuses is just now beginning. Chancellor Dworkin and I share a desire for the planning process to be as transparent, expeditious and inviting to participation as possible for our respective campus governance groups and other faculty and staff members.”
And, “Faculty of Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central will play a huge role in decisions about academic programming that benefit students of both campuses and enable a stronger, richer Purdue presence in Northwest Indiana of two campuses under a single university administration.”
What else could he say? That faculty jobs will surely be cut? That some administrative jobs will have to go, and either he or Dworkin may have to leave, too?
The professors are also worried about a familiar strategy in such cost-cutting moves: To replace tenured faculty, as they retire, leave or die, with part-time employees who receive less pay, no benefits or job security, and no opportunity of attempting to meet requirements for tenure.
This, I should point out, is also a common tactic in our business world, outside the ivory towers of academia. The best lesson plan is whatever makes the most money for those at the top. Period.
“This heavy reliance on overstressed, underpaid and sometimes only marginally qualified part-timers extends to many of the university’s academic units,” Detmer said.
Too many faculty members have already been asked to shore up the budget crisis by dramatically increasing their productivity, without a pay hike, of course. Detmer claims some teachers are already struggling with a daily workload that is more than double their previous average.
This comes as no surprise to the rest of the working world, who’ve been sternly educated by the school of hard knocks. It doesn’t take a prophet to understand that profits are all that matters in business, even if that business is to educate students to learn that harsh realization.
As Keon noted last month, “normal attrition” will likely take place during the merger. Problem is, this is the new normal in today’s workforce and attrition simply means more lost jobs. It doesn’t take a college graduate to figure out this timely yet timeless lesson.
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.