Grad School Reconstruction: Why the decision was made

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a four-part series examining the decision to restructure the University of Minnesota’s Graduate School. Thursday’s installment will be a Q&A with Provost Sullivan regarding the Graduate School controversy.

University of Minnesota administrators have said they decided to reconstruct the Graduate School due to a âÄúsense of urgencyâÄù in the budget, but changes to the school were already being considered. In light of the quick decision-making, the implementation team charged with laying out the reconstruction specifics may have more power than original documents gave them. Previous documents outlining the reconstruction hadnâÄôt directly related the decision to the budget crisis, but according to Faculty Consultative Committee minutes from a Feb. 26 meeting, Senior Vice President and Provost Tom Sullivan said the decision was made because University President Bob Bruininks needed to begin reporting to the Board of Regents on how the University would be dealing with the substantial cuts. According to the minutes, Sullivan said when the reconstruction was first brought to the table, he learned the UniversityâÄôs deans were considering efficiency and cost reducing-measures, including a recommendation for reconstructing the Graduate School. TheyâÄôd planned to bring the plan to administrators on Feb. 9, the same day the announcement to reconstruct the Graduate School was made. According to the committee minutes, Sullivan and the deans instead submitted a joint plan to Bruininks, who accepted the proposal âÄî a move Wolter said is rare. âÄúThis specific action was supported by all the deans, with the exception of the Graduate School dean, and that rarely, rarely happens,âÄù Wolter said. Wolter didnâÄôt know why Graduate School Dean Gail Dubrow was not informed. Although recent e-mails to faculty and staff from Sullivan and Bruininks emphasized a âÄúsense of urgencyâÄù in making budget cuts , Wolter said a reconstruction would have taken place regardless of the economic crisis, but it changed the way it was handled. âÄúI think itâÄôs fair to answer that [if it wasnâÄôt for the budget crisis] that it would have been done in a different way, you know, through the more traditional channels for this sort of thing,âÄù Wolter said. University policies and documents show that since the Graduate School is considered a part of the âÄúcentral administrationâÄù and an âÄúacademic unit,âÄù more transparency and consultation was required before decisions were made. Regents Professor Steven Ruggles said in an e-mail that when Bruininks met with the Regents professors on March 3, he discussed giving the implementation team a greater scope for leadership and assured them all changes will undergo the usual faculty governance process. Others involved have indicated that the implementation team may have a stronger role than previously thought, and the restructuring plan presented on Feb. 9 is not set in stone. The original announcement, included detailed plans on how the school would be reconstructed, including a list of offices that would be cut, and specifically said the Graduate School âÄúwill be reconfigured from a free-standing administration unit to an Office of Graduate Education within the ProvostâÄôs Office,âÄù by 2010. Sullivan said in an e-mail last week that the document was meant to âÄúprovide the outlinesâÄù of what the restructuring might look like and to serve as a starting point for broader conversation. If the implementation team decides it should be restructured in a different way, its recommendation will be considered, Wolter said. In fact, Ruggles said in his e-mail that Bruininks told the Regents professors that he wanted to slow everything down and doesnâÄôt expect any final decisions to be made in the next few months. At a March 4 Student Affairs Student Advisory Board meeting, Bruininks told Council of Graduate Students President Geoff Hart directly that the Implementation Team could have the flexibility to âÄúkeep the bones of the Graduate School intact,âÄù meaning that some of the current administrative structure could remain intact. The implementation team was allowed this flexibility all along, Wolter said, but communication was flawed. After hearing administrators speak, law professor Carol Chomsky, also a member of the Faculty Consultative Commiitee, said it was clear that it was its intent to have open and broad discussions about reconstruction options. Implementation team member and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly President Kristi Kremers, however, said otherwise. âÄúIt is definitely a different take on it now than what was in the original document,âÄù she said. Bruininks and Sullivan have recently expressed regret over how the decision was communicated, but Bruininks said during the question-and-answer period after his State of the University Address that at the âÄúend of the day, hard decisions have to be made.âÄù âÄúSometimes itâÄôs necessary, though, to make a decision, and then engage the community,âÄù Bruininks said. The reconstruction is expected to reduce administrative costs, although the exact amount is still unclear, and increase efficiency âÄî two areas the administration would like to improve throughout the University.