Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Pain and Arrogance at HSU

I've now heard accounts from several people who observed the HSU Academic Senate session that voted on program elimination, and compared their descriptions with the Times-Standard story today. Since they describe specific statements the same way as the T-S does, I consider them credible, even given all the emotion involved.

The outcome of the meeting however seems fuzzier than the T-S described. There was a substantial vote in favor of eliminating the nursing program entirely. (18-7, according to the T-S.) But it was a different story on the vote on the second package (actually package #4), which eliminates the sceneography MFA and the graduate film program, both within Theatre, Film & Dance. The vote was 13-12 in favor, with "one absention." What the T-S didn't say was that the abstention was the chair of Theatre, Film & Dance, who recused herself. There obviously is no mystery on which way she would have voted, and so the motion was really tied. At least one senator recognized this, and wondered if the vote should be revisited after reconsideration, but the Senate adjourned before deciding on that.

So the Academic Senate "decided" to eliminate these programs in Package 4, even though it had no cost savings attached. They had already met their dollar target of what they had to eliminate with the nursing program. But they eliminated these anyway, with a net savings of we don't know, maybe nothing, maybe less than nothing.

So what does it all mean? Maybe not a lot, as my previous post more than hinted. Because this was all advisory--the decision will be made by Provost Bob Snyder and President Richmond. It seems that the point was that the Senate get blood on its hands, it didn't matter what they consented to kill. Even if the Senate hadn't quite settled on its findings, that doesn't matter: Snyder, according to the T-S, said their part is over--now it's his turn.

And in an exchange that I heard described by others, the Senate Chair Saeed Mortazavi told Snyder that even though the Administration didn't believe the Senate could do it, and even though the Senate did it all under protest, they did come to a conclusion--to eliminate the nursing school. He asked that the Administration follow this decision. But Snyder refused to make any such commitment. The T-S reported his words as: “If I agree with your rationale and your reasons, I will go along with that. If I don't agree with your rationale and your reasons, I won't go along. That's just the way I am.”

I heard his final statement described differently, but always with that last touch: "That's just the way I am."

I don't know Bob Snyder, so I don't know how to judge his tone from his words. But others who heard him over the course of these meetings were shocked by what seemed like arrogance, or inappropriate flippancy, or both. There are livelihoods, lifetime commitments and futures at stake.

As for the nursing program, what the T-S story hints at is the fairly well known and openly discussed view that the program has been dysfunctional for years, and is currently in such a state of crisis that it would take resources beyond what's available even in flush times to repair it. For one thing, several searches for a new director have failed. Nobody wants to come here and deal with the mess that is has become. That's no reflection on the sincerity of the nursing students, who demonstrated during the Senate meeting in support of the program.

Provost Snyder (according to the Lumberjack account) told the Senate that one problem with eliminating nursing was the $200,000 state grant to the program. It's not clear to me whether he said this before or after the vote. Which obviously makes a big difference.

There may be need for nurses' training on the North Coast, but the HSU nursing program may not be the best alternative. It is not strictly speaking necessary to the university as university. If HSU had a medical school, maybe. But it doesn't.

On the other hand, it's hard for me to conceive of a real university without a theatre arts program, and this Senate non-vote gives some ammunition to Snyder, who has said publicly that he'd enjoy eliminating the Theatre, Film & Dance department entirely. And he's not the only one in the HSU administration who wants to do that. The hiring freeze has already weakened the department in key areas, but it still functions, and provides a service to students, the community and the university.

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