Faculty claim exclusion in academic prioritization process

“The faculty are sort of absent and not by choice. We have been excluded up to this point, and that cannot stand,” stated Dan Kilbride, head of Faculty Council.

News that the University administration is moving forward with a process called “academic prioritization” sparked outrage among faculty at their recent meeting on Wednesday, March 20. This was the first time faculty were made aware of the plan for academic prioritization, a plan that will, according to slides from a recent presentation by President Michael Johnson, reallocate resources by “adding to stronger programs and subtracting from weaker programs.”

“We’re scared for our jobs,” said a faculty member who reached out to The Carroll News, asking to remain anonymous.

Without much clarification, academic prioritization has created heated discussion within all departments, but particularly in the humanities, where professors are most afraid of termination.

For some, Johnson’s actions are forcing them to reevaluate his viability as a leader. “It could be that he is incompetent. Or it could be that there is some nefarious plan at work,” said the anonymous source.

These comments, and the March 20 faculty meeting, came directly after another shock: the announcement that the contract of Margaret Farrar, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and senior faculty representative, had not been renewed. 

Academic prioritization — or, as it is more fondly referred to by the administration, strategic planning — is already in progress, according to Johnson. In a slideshow from a previous meeting that was shared at the faculty meeting without its author present, Johnson asserted that the University is already in phase two of the strategic plan.

The slideshow explicitly stated that during the winter and spring of 2019 “[The University will] Hire a facilitator, organize internally, and engage stakeholders in the due diligence required for input to the next strategic plan. The due diligence will include college, division and departmental-level opportunities for the growth, restructuring and/or elimination of academic programs.” 

In seeing that the restructuring was already underway, faculty were shocked. “This feels like such a betrayal,” said the anonymous source.

The strategic plan involves Academic Strategy Partners, an organization infamous for slashing academic programs and infringing on faculty rights, according to an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“One of the things that concerns the faculty about this firm is that the head of the firm, when he says academic prioritization, it is kind of a euphemism for program elimination,” said Kilbride.

Although faculty understood Johnson’s decision to bring in ASP in April as definitive action, the administration says that was a misunderstanding.

“Decisions related to academic prioritization will be made in close collaboration with faculty. It’s important to point out that we have not and will not set any priorities prior to the arrival of Dr. Steve Herbert, our new provost and academic vice president, this summer,” stated Mike Scanlan, the University’s spokesperson.

Angie Canda, head of the Honors Program, also said that poor framing and communication is to blame for faculty outcry. In her opinion, academic prioritization is important. “It’s necessary to stay cutting-edge and provide education that’s appropriate for students today. Prioritization is not an issue of getting rid of and keeping things, but it’s seeing how things can evolve and grow together.”

Canda maintains, through her interpretation, that academic prioritization is in alignment with the Jesuit foundation of John Carroll and will serve to help the institution progress.

“One of the most important things to consider as a Jesuit institution founded on the Ignatian tradition is really a focus on interdisciplinarity. Catholic intellectual tradition has said for many years that disciplines should not work in isolation, that everyone has different specializations based on their discipline, but they all work together and can inform one another,” said Canda.

In her opinion, academic prioritization will result in a curriculum that utilizes the resource of professors in an efficient manner. Instead of being chained to departments, professors will have more flexibility to serve where the students need them.

Canda’s interpretation may be what academic prioritization aims to accomplish. However, this goal has not been clearly articulated by Johnson.

Another matter of concern for faculty is the steering committee that has been proposed by Johnson. This committee is to be comprised of four members of the Board of Trustees, four members of the senior leadership team, which are the University’s vice presidents, and four members from the University Strategic Planning Group.

“I would assume there would be a student representative and a staff representative, and that would leave at most two spots for faculty on a 12-member committee that is tasked with academic prioritization. And that is clearly problematic,” commented Kilbride. However, Kilbride stated that Johnson will most likely be flexible on the makeup of this committee.

As a result of much speculation, faculty and students are wary of moving forward with the strategic plan. Johnson’s goals have not been clearly articulated, and most faculty who have spoken on the issue view the prioritization as a threat to their jobs and John Carroll’s core values, according to several people who were present at the faculty meeting of March 20.

Mike Bishop, president of the John Carroll Student Government, will serve as the student voice throughout the prioritization process. As the student representative, Bishop said he places his confidence with the policy makers. “I trust the process. … I trust that all the stakeholders involved will be looking out for the health and well-being of the University.” Bishop and Canda remain among the minority. Most faculty members who have spoken up, to date, say they are concerned and frightened, not trusting the ASP and even considering a vote of no-confidence against Johnson.

As the strategic plan progresses over the course of the coming year, the faculty want to have more transparent, open communication with Johnson and be deeply involved in the process. “We have to be engaged as full participants in this process,” concluded Kilbride. 

Editor’s Note: As more information is released about this process, The Carroll News will publish updates.