Talk about a breath of fresh air. At Wednesday's meeting of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, Bruce Johnstone, professor of educational leadership and policy, gave a speech addressing why university faculty and the administration have had historically tenuous relationship. Johnstone displayed great insight on the nature of the adversarial relationship between the two parties, providing helpful suggestions for future improvement.
Johnstone explained that since SUNY employees are ultimately state employees, whatever paltry budget the state capital allocates to its schools is what the administration must piece into a working university fund. New York Governor George Pataki has prevented SUNY from any kind of substantive growth, a reality which severely curtails the administration's possibilities. Johnstone believes this is the reason SUNY centers like UB do not have the prominence that, for example, the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina hold nationally.
The faculty's problem, Johnstone says, is that they overlook Albany's budget difficulties, and shift their complaints to the administration, funneling a general frustration with SUNY's fiscal situation into the university itself. In the administration's view, faculty members are belligerent, do not thoroughly research proposed issues, and fail to abide by deadlines.
Concurrently, the administration does not seek advice from the faculty as often or as substantively as it should. The faculty believes they solicit outsiders, such as business or political leaders, too heavily, rather than looking inward to formulate policies or decide the university's course.
Johnstone's speech is not news to anyone's ears. But it is refreshing because of the objectively and open discussion of the problems that hamper the often tense faculty-administration relationship. Johnstone's speech didn't specifically address UB, but it didn't have to. As a former administrator, Johnstone's experience is a testament to his knowledge. As a UB professor, his knowledge is intimate to the university.
Unfortunately, only one of the two relevant parties heard him speak. While the Faculty Senate was present, the representatives of the administration painfully were not. President Greiner admirably attended the speech, but left half way through and prior to discussion. It is pointlessly ineffective to teach one contentious party how to compromise if the other is not likewise present.
According to FSEC Chair Michael Cohen, the administration's attendance was not necessary because Johnstone's purpose was "to teach the Faculty Senate about university governance." Apparently, university governance is strictly a faculty issue.
If both sides want to avoid damaging measures like last year's vote of "no confidence" and foster a relationship characterized by mutual respect and understanding, they both have to be fully informed of the pressing issues. And they must find a less antagonistic way to work out resulting differences of opinion and residual conflict.
It doesn't help that the lingering state budget does nothing to promote UB outside the radar of New York. But UB can't expect to elevate itself if infighting overshadows progress.
The university would benefit from more presentations like Johnstone's, but it should be already past that step. In the future, a more UB-specific presentation would bear greater relevance to easing relations in the university. And perhaps the administration will be more actively involved in such a presentation next time around.