Strategic Academic Planning Process Leaves Students, Faculty Feeling Unheard

Lack of accountability worries Academic Senate members

744

The campus’ Strategic Academic Plan (SAP) is entering its final phase, the Strategic Plan & Implementation Playbook, this month. Faculty and students alike have raised concerns about the process, specifically what many see as its unusual speed and lack of meaningful consultation. But despite notable pushback, it shows no signs of slowing down.

“[The administration is] not addressing [feedback] when they’re just listening or hearing in a meeting,” said Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) co-chair Brenda Gutierrez Ramirez. “Addressing is actually taking steps to and doing things that students have suggested.”

Ramirez has attended many of the SAP forums, along with other student organizers, largely from ethnic organizations. Some concerns brought forth by students include the potential for the SAP to divert funds from humanities and other non-STEM programs deemed unlikely to attract external funding, like private or public grants. Many also voiced concern about the influence increased private funding will have on UC Santa Cruz.

In addition to choosing priority academic areas, other SAP goals include “identify[ing] internal structural barriers to change,” “heightening our national and international impact” and “outlining new means of generating resources,” according to the SAP website. It is unclear what exactly these goals mean, and some faculty have said this contributes to the lack of understanding and faith in the process.

“That’s part of the problem, its not transparent enough,” said Ben Leeds Carson, provost of Kresge College and Academic Senate member. “[…] We don’t understand what decisions the [SAP] committee is making and in what ways are these [academic] themes going to be empowered and have what expense. It’s not clear at all.”

As part of the plan, SAP committees, largely consisting of faculty and administrators, must collect themed academic working group (TAWG) proposals. These TAWG proposals, submitted by faculty, identify interdisciplinary programs deemed worthy of heightened resources and university support. The chancellor and executive vice chancellor, alone, will choose the prioritized academic areas from the final 28 TAWG proposals after considering faculty input.

Students are not alone in believing the administration’s attempt to consult has been insufficient. Faculty, especially those in the Academic Senate, are unhappy with the process. Megan Thomas, a politics professor and member of the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP), said the process seemed to be designed in way that makes it difficult to give substantive feedback.

“The way that consultation is actually happening is not as meaningful as it’s being portrayed,” Thomas said.

Ben Carson is one of the 117 faculty who were asked to review the TAWG proposals. While largely in favor of the SAP and its goals to strengthen UCSC academics, Carson said the consultation process has been rushed and even “disrespectful” of faculty’s time.

The consultation process for reviewing the 28 TAWG proposals was only a week, Carson said. As a full-time faculty member and provost, he has limited hours available in his work week to dedicate to additional duties such as reviewing these themes, he said. Additionally, Carson and other faculty members weren’t given any warning before the short consultation period began, which limited the feedback he could reasonably give.

“If they had told us three months ago, then maybe, but still a week is not enough even under those conditions […] I’m not blaming Tromp or Berger or anybody,” Carson said. “I don’t know who is responsible for that, that’s just not what consultation looks like.”

The Academic Senate is supposed to govern the university along with the chancellor and CP/EVC, but Carson said he and other members of the Academic Senate haven’t felt this to be true.

“Many times in the last 15 years I’ve been here, we’ve complained about what feels like a lack of shared governance,” Carson said.

The Academic Senate is charged with the duty to review all educational and budgetary policies, such as the SAP. While SAP committees have reached out to the senate, it has been under unusually tight time constraints, leaving some members of the senate feeling not entirely involved. The Academic Senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom expressed some of its concerns in an open letter.

“As we and many others have said before, the rapid turnaround time for response and the injunction to vote for one’s favorite projects militates against, and in fact makes impossible, serious reflection and informed decisions,” wrote chair of the committee Gail Hershatter.

Associate vice provost of academic affairs Martin Berger, who is on the SAP’s steering committee, said the CP/EVC and chancellor have ultimate decision-making power over budgetary decisions for the entire campus, which encompasses a majority of the SAP. However, only certain parts of the SAP dealing with academic affairs are required to be reviewed by the senate.

“Most of [the SAP] technically doesn’t need to be reviewed by the senate,” Berger said, “but we’re sending it to the senate because we think they’re an important partner and that they have something to contribute.”

If the senate review were to come back disapproving of the SAP process, there is not a mechanism within the campus that would allow the process to be halted. It will be up to the chancellor and EVC to decide whether or not to heed the senate’s feedback. Berger said this is how shared governance is set up in the UC system.

“It makes it really important that we hire the right people with the right experience and the right judgement,” Berger said. “Our current administration does have that, and I’m doing the work I’m doing because I have confidence in them. […] I hope in the end, once the plan is implemented, that students and faculty will see all the work we’ve done has been for the benefit of everybody in this campus community.”

However, the chancellor and the CP/EVC are appointed, not elected, effectively leaving little room to hold them accountable.

With only four months until the SAP could potentially go into effect, MEChA co-chair Brenda Ramirez fears that the administration is intent on rushing the process to completion without giving students adequate power in the process.

“They’re pushing it until the end so that we get more tired or stop paying attention to it,” Ramirez said. “We’re all really tired, and this isn’t even our job. Our job is to come here and study. I want to enjoy my last year here, but I can’t because we have to advocate for ourselves. I want them to see all the work we do and all the energy that the SAP has taken from so many of us.”