Sullivan responds to Grad School controversy

Editor’s Note: This is the last in a four-part series examining the decision to restructure the University of Minnesota’s Graduate School.

The Daily spoke with Senior Vice President and Provost Tom Sullivan via telephone on Wednesday regarding the decision to restructure the Graduate School, whether a consultation policy was broken, and why the dean of the Graduate School wasnâÄôt included in the initial discussions. Daily: LetâÄôs start out with how the decision came about. Was it something that was on the table before the $151 million dollar budget cut? Sullivan: When we learned that from the governorâÄôs recommendation in November, I believe it was, [University] President [Bob] Bruininks decided he needed to begin to make some decisions about how to come up with those budget cuts. So, he asked us to begin to look first at administrative units [so] that we could be able to promote excellence while at the same time. Going through reorganizations or restructures in order to cut costs and reduce redundancies. He did that because he wanted us to administrative units first, so as to soften the budget cut blow to the individual colleges. The Graduate School is, of course, an administrative unit within the overall central administration âĦ While we were looking at this, among other things, we learned that the Twin Cities deans independently were also considering a bunch of budget efficiency recommendations, and restructuring of the graduate school were one of these. I had heard that. So would the reconstruction have happened if it wasnâÄôt for the budget cut? I think the answer is that the governor mandate got all of us focused on what recommendations can the president make to the Board of Regents with regard to the budget cut? This mandated a very large number, and it became clear that everything had to be on the table for discussion, to make sure that we were operating as efficiently and as optimally as we can, while at the same time reducing costs so that we could meet the mandated budgets âĦ LetâÄôs get into the controversy on how the reconstruction was communicated to the public. Was there a reason behind why this decision was made without what policy says was the proper consultation? Well, as you know, this recommendation that the president endorsed was unanimously agreed on upon between the three senior vice presidents and all the academic deans. In other words, it was unanimously agreed by all the chief academic officers at the University. As I mentioned earlier, the deans independently were also considering this recommendation and there was a Board of Regents meeting I think that week of Feb. 9, and the president had to begin to discuss with the board members how he was going to proceed to come up with a $151 million budget cut âĦ It is our view that the intent of the policy here was that there would be full discussion and contemplation when the details and the implementation were being rolled out. In other words, at the announcement that the president decided that graduate education needed to be reconstructed, we also announced there would be an implementation committee âĦ A proposal is made and then, in this case, there is a task committee or implementation team that then vets each of the individual questions. That implementation committee is having open hearings. According to the policy on reorganization, any major reorganization of the central administration that is being considered by a President should be discussed with the Senate Consultative Committee or the Faculty Consultative Committee and the Student Consultative Committee. Did this happen? I think that that policy youâÄôre referring to contemplates that before implementation takes place of any decision or proposal, before any of the details are worked out, that that kind of discussion should take place with the faculty leadership. And in this particular case, that is happening âĦ The implementation team has been established, they are holding public forum, there will be a public comment period. The president and I, and others, have been before the [Faculty Consultative Committee] to discuss this since Feb. 9. So when something is contemplated, does it mean itâÄôs not already decided? ItâÄôs my understanding that when this was announced, it was already decided this reconstruction was absolutely going to happen. What I was referring to is that the presidentâÄôs decision was that we needed to restructure graduate education, that it was not working as effectively as it should. Then we have an implementation committee that works out, through recommendations, the details of that, all of the details of that âĦ All of that detail is now what is in the public discussion in the implementation committee, in their open forums, before the [Faculty Consultative Committee], in meetings, as well as opportunities for public comment once we receive recommendations from the committee. I understand there is going to be a lot of consultation now, but what IâÄôm wondering about is this policy. It seems pretty clear about how this document is laid out that policy was broken. No. I think the clear intent of that policy is, as said, that once the president makes a decision âĦ before any of the details are worked out, before it gets implemented, there is that University conversation, and thatâÄôs whatâÄôs taking place and has been taking place . [The policy requires consultation to occur while the decision is being contemplated]. How can faculty, staff and students be rest assured that something like this wonâÄôt happen again? We have learned a lot through many of the changes we have made at the University through strategic planning, and that certainly includes the announcement about graduate education. This is certainly a work in progress; we are all learning from it. One of the clear lessons here is that one needs to communicate as much as possible, and thatâÄôs what I was referring to as the intent of the policy you cited, and thatâÄôs the launch of the implementation committee. And through all of that discussion, we hope to get the best recommendations to be able to move forward âĦ Because of the redundancies and overlap that we presently have, we are going to able to reduce administrative expenses. The goal here is that when we can achieve cost reductions, those are going to be reinvested in graduate education âĦ What message do you have to people who expressed concern or even a loss of faith in the University for what they deem a lack of transparency? We are facing a budget cut, as we know it today, as anywhere between $156 million and perhaps up to $200 million âĦ That requires us to proceed in a quicker, more nimble fashion perhaps than we would like. Having said that, I want to be able to assure our colleagues on the campus that the way in which the implementation committee is formed, the openness of that, the nomination process for that, the broad based representation on that committee, the open forums the public comment period, all of that is an example of how we hope and expect to be able to get recommendations from University colleagues âĦ ItâÄôs my understanding it was all the deans with the exception of the Graduate School Dean [Gail Dubrow]. Why was this, and why was she not informed? A discussion was had with the dean of the Graduate School before the recommendations of the deans and the senior vice presidents was made to the president, before the president made his decision, before any decisions were made publicly. A conversation was had with the dean and she was given an opportunity to sign on along with her other co-deans or not. ItâÄôs my understanding that she was informed very closely to when it was announced publicly. Is there a reason that she wasnâÄôt included earlier in the process? First of all, we were engaged in conversations with a number of people, all of which was part of our gathering information and facts as to the nature and strength and weakness and redundancies of the Graduate School. It was not until the deans and the administrators came together with a mutual plan that it was ready to be presented to the president. Because this implicated personnel matters, as you can imagine, it was believed that until we were sure about the plan and recommendation to the president that [Dubrow] just couldnâÄôt be brought into the final decision making until we were confident of the unanimous recommendation to the president. Is it really unanimous if she didnâÄôt sign off on it on it, because she is a dean? I believe the document says unanimous of the academic deans and, what that refers to, is deans with academic programs, faculty and students, in the colleges. We are talking about collegiate academic deans. So would an academic dean be from an academic unit? Well, well a collegiate, yeah, a college. Yes, all of the colleges signed there, those are all collegiate based academic deans. Okay because I have here, according the policy on reorganization, it defines an academic unit as any unit which offers programs leading to a degree. Since the Grad School does lead to a degree, wouldnâÄôt that make her a dean of an academic program? Well I think the point is, as I mentioned, is we had unanimous support from all of the other deans. Because this implicated personnel matters, the dean of the Graduate School was brought into the discussion later and given an opportunity to endorse, or not, the recommendation that was going to be made to the President.