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Sunday Excitement

The UMass President claims that his goal was to have the University System engage in a dialog about how the University might be most effectively reorganized. It has come out, however, that he has had a bunch of ideas about how it might turn out. It's impossible to tell what would be the best way to organize things. Still, there are a variety of extant models and we need to look at them carefully to get some ideas about how we might reorganize UMass and what some of the consequences might be. Even in the absence of specifics, there are a couple of generalities worth considering.

First: organization, schmorganization... A great university is fundamentally about attracting and keeping great faculty. If you measure your success by having great research outcomes, like a Nobel prize or publications in important journals, then you need to attract and keep great faculty: they're the ones who do the research. They don't care much about the organization except to the extent it gets in their way. The Biology Department has had serious trouble keeping the star faculty we've been able to attract. If you want to keep great faculty, you need to make sure they don't feel stifled by the institution.

Second: its all about the resources, stupid. The UMass system got cut something like 30% during the period of "financial exigency". These resources have not been restored and the place reflects that in every way. If you want cutting-edge research, you have to pay for it. And when you're competing for great faculty, you're competing with places like Cornell and Brown. (The Biology Department lost faculty to those two places over the past couple of years). To keep great faculty, you need to provide the resources they need to be productive.

I've been disappointed to see the President's office creating a straw man by saying "its either reorganization or the status quo". Faculty are used to managing change and are rarely for the status quo. But if you want to bring the faculty along, you need to provide meaningful opportunities for genuine participation in the process. Unfortunately, by trying to push through a coup, the faculty are unlikely to merely participate in some process designed by the president's office. Hopefully, we'll see a truly independent process that provides a meaningful role for faculty and the other University consitituencies to consider what form of University governance will be most effective going forward.