A Glimpse into University Reorganization

Story and photos by Collin Salata

The breakdown

For those not aware, Central Michigan University Board of Trustees finalized a decision on a new 2017-2022 strategic plan back in June and are in the process of making major changes to the university. The strategic plan has some interesting changes that CMU plans on implementing in the coming years with the biggest change being a university structural reorganization.

CMU has not reviewed their academic structure since 1996, which was almost 20 years ago. The reorganization includes reviewing both colleges, departments and the non-college areas of the academic division.

While the decision was finalized back in June, the announcement was not reported until September, a month after  students returned to the university for fall semester. Not only did this decision come as a surprise to students, but faculty as well.

What’s the rush?

Dr. Ian Davison, senior vice provost leading the academic organizational review, expects the review to be completed and the recommendations approved by the Board of Trustees in spring of the 2018-2019 academic year. According to CM-Life, Davison said the reorganization process must be conducted in a timetable that is both aggressive and achievable. He went on to say there is no need to drag this process out and thinks he can do this in four months.

The director of Financial Planning and Budgets for CMU and member on committee three, Joe Garrison said the strategic plan process, which usually takes two years to complete was drafted in 10 months. “Some folks think the timeline is a little bit aggressive, but the board often times think the higher ed’s work very slowly,” Garrison said.

Garrison understands why this plan is receiving backlash though. “The university is open year-round, but a lot of students and faculty are not around during the summer. That doesn’t help us, because there are certain decisions that are made when not a lot of people are here,” Garrison said. Coming back to Central in fall and hearing this is occurring Garrison sees why faculty and students have voiced their concerns.

Student concern

The hope is that the reorganization will help incoming students and assures this process is in the student’s best interest and for there to be no concern. However, there is much concern over the reorganization, especially from 21-year-old, senior, Jessie Black.

“I’m a student who’s from across the country. I’m from Milford, Connecticut and I always think back to when I was choosing to come to CMU. The biggest thing that influenced my decision was this school really cared about their students and cares about the quality of their education. I’m concerned that with the reconstructing it might change what that looks like,” said Black.

The restructuring leaves people in her college of humanities and social behavioral sciences feeling uneasy due to the recent budget cuts the college has experienced this past spring in language and history courses, as well as laying off professors. With the cuts, Black said she feels CMU is trying to break away from liberal arts, which is really disheartening for her to see. “I feel CMU is starting to stray away from being student-oriented and becoming more profitable and business oriented.”

CMU looking towards the future

Davison stated publically that the review is not designed to achieve budget savings, reduce faculty/staff or eliminate academic programs. Black finds this hard to believe though. “Shifting the mindset of the university and what we stand for, there are going to be people that suffer one way or another,” Black said.

Liberal arts are ingrained in every institution, and CMU is not moving away from it per say, Garrison said, but he sometimes worries about saturation points and going in one direction too hard so fast.

There are a lot of reasons there is declining enrollment in liberal arts Garrison said. Some of this is due to a number of internal and external pressures. Internal pressures such as other universities recruiting students and external pressures that are being put on by the state for certain types of degrees they feel are more important right now. For instance, the state is heavily influenced by STEM right now. There are also pressures students face from parents as well where parents question some of the programs offered and do not see the value of their child’s major. Also, there are fewer students now, so there will be fewer enrollments in those areas Garrison said.

Garrison explained that back when CMU’s budget model began in 1998/1999, students were taking around a total of 560,000 credit hours. Back then, the numbers kept increasing. What is interesting though is that the spike in students enrolled in college is slowly decreasing back to what it was back in 1998-1999. Garrison said the cause of this is because the millennial generation is finishing up college.

Looking into the data

Provided by: Financial Planning & Budgets Priorities Committee. Spring of April 21, 2017

Going forward, the number of students and credit hours are projected to keep decreasing. The data on the right looks at the number of high school students in Michigan and all potential graduates who are available to attend college.

Back in 2006-2007, there were nearly 111,838 students from Michigan public schools who were eligible to attend college. Since then, the college has been becoming less important to students. Garrison said some students will take gap years, attend trade schools, work, or not attended at all. These numbers are not including the college-going rate either, meaning out of those students, only 60-65 percent of students will attend college.

(Provided by: The Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education)

Looking at data from the year 2017-2018 the number of potential college attendees dropped significantly to about 99,000 students with the college-going rate down to 59 percent this year. By the year 2031-2032, enrollment is projected to drop even more with around 84,000 students.

There is going to be a gap in enrollment for a while. People are getting married much later in life and having children later Garrison said. CMU needs to be thinking about the future and what is going to be the careers of the future. Looking at the degrees that students want going forward such as the healthcare field, which are high in demand fields for jobs and high paying jobs is good for the university.

Garrison said it’s good for CMU to position themselves to be strong in the long run, otherwise, other universities can come in and take their market share by actively seeking out opportunities that CMU is not.

Goals of the reorganization

There are a couple of goals being proposed in the coming years. One of the reorganization goals is department relocation because there might be some programs that could be better suited in another college. For instance, one of the proposed changes is a proposal for the nutrition program to be moved from the educational building to the health professions program. The neuroscience program is also in hopes of moving and becoming the school of neuroscience within the College of Health Professions or the College of Medicine.

These suggestions do not mean that anything has to change structurally, but being open to the possibilities and questioning if these programs are receiving the right amount of support to move their programs forward is important to look at. Reviewing these proposals each committee are having retreats to discuss the proposals, but no final decisions are being made Garrison said.

Does the University actually want student Input?

Students who want to discuss ideas or vent frustrations are encouraged to contact Davison. That is if one can get it contact with him. When trying to contact Davison for an interview, he would not return emails on three separate occasions and had to go through Christy Fultz, who works in the CSE Office with Davison. Fultz said, “His calendar is pretty full with meetings through the end of the semester. I suggest contacting me at the beginning of next semester.”

After some persistence, Davison eventually accepted to be interviewed, but ultimately canceled the night before without explanation or a reschedule. He did, however, agree to answer questions via email, but then never responded to those questions either.

For a process that claims it wants students feedback and encourage students to be involved that seems to not be the case. It’s worth mentioning that Davison was not the only member of the reorganization committee who did not want to be interviewed. Out of 32 committee members, 11 of them were contacted. Only three of them were of assistance and two agreed to an interview.

The administration is not solely ignoring student’s emails, but student’s questions at open forums, too. The university has held open meetings on October 6, November 10 and December 5 in the Charles V. Park Library Auditorium. These forums were a great platform for students and faculty to voice frustrations, but difficult to do when the meetings were held during popular class times and not advertised well.

Students have voiced their frustrations of this issue, including Black who attended the public forum that was held on November 10 to ask questions to the committee members and was left with underwhelming responses.

One point that Black made was that students are the future. Students are paying tens of thousands of dollars to reap the benefits of the education provided here, yet there are only two student representatives on committees two and three. Black suggested incorporating a student who is studying in a department that a faculty member on the committee is from to ensure student involvement. Black said the committee did not answer that part of her question.

Garrison said he knew there would be some concerns of not having a student on committee three, but he said it’s a lot to ask a student to fully understand a budget model in a short amount of time. That is one of the reasons there is not a student on committee three he said.

“The budget model is not something that can be learned in a matter of weeks. It is quite detailed and my fear that if there was a student on the committee, I don’t want people to just be on a committee to be on a committee. I would feel the pace and the knowledge base of the folks on the committee would be overwhelming to the folks who do not have the same knowledge level,” Garrison said.

The good news though is there will be student representation that will be looking at the budget. In Spring, all of committee threes recommendations and their draft reports will go to the Budget Priorities Committee, which has a graduate student who is getting their MBA in accounting and SGA Vice President, Derrick Stervist will be on board Garrison said.

At the forum, Black brought up another point to the administration about the way these meetings are communicated. Black said the university needed a better way to communicate these meeting times to students. She also suggested using social media platforms to get these messages out there to students as it would be more efficient. Black’s words were followed up by a female representative from the committee who said, “Students receive the information in an email, and we don’t need to be blatantly putting in students faces. It’s the student’s responsibility to be finding out about these things.”

For students, email is becoming obsolete and with students not checking their email regularly advertising through social media would be a more effective way to reach students. Not to mention the fact that not all students receive those emails. “From the students that I have spoken with not everyone gets these emails once a week from ‘students activities and involvement,’” Black said.

An Interesting response from the committee member on a reoccurring issue that it is not the university’s responsibility to inform students about these meetings. Looking back though, there have been no mentions of these public forums in the student and activities emails, which was claimed and was only mentioned once on the University calendar.

Garrison said that the number one problem all institutions struggle with is communication. The Shared Governance and Communications Committee did a survey asking what are the two best ways to reach students. The top answers were through social media and chalking on the sidewalks. Email was not on the list Garrison said.

“I think that we could at times make sure someone is pushing something out through social media. I agree I think part of it is generational. Social media is the way to reach current students,” Garrison said. Garrison encourages students to continue mentioning this issue, but does not seem to be on board to have a social media coordinator.

“Someone who is constantly trying to send out tweets or messages and trying to keep all the meetings in order would have to end up being a person’s job, which is not the best use of the universities resources,” Garrison said.

During the forum, Black said the committee went through their projected timeline. All decisions and proposal are supposed to be made and implemented by June. That is a huge change to make in the next 6 months. “So, they’re trying to say you can’t change a syllabus or add a new class in semester time, but you’re going to be able to restructure an entire college in that amount of time? That just does not seem to add up,” Black said.

Now perhaps the information is being misconstrued because Garrison claims this a two-year process. “First year is trying to go through all of the proposals and the second year is implementing the changes that come out of the reorganization. It’s not like anything that is decided on right now will happen in July,” Garrison said.

The biggest problem with the whole reorganization process is the message is not being conveyed enough of how important this is and the impact this restructuring can have.

The plan is for the reorganization have recommendations approved by the Board of Trustees for the 2018-2019 academic school year and from there start implementing the changes.

Reality is, students are not aware of this process. It is rarely talked about, not promoted well and out of our control. “We can look at it in a more positive way too. This could potentially be good,” senior, Jasen Harris, from Pawpaw said. Although, Harris feels it is hard to be positive when the university is not going on about the process in the right way. Harris continued and said, “To the majority, this won’t affect them, especially those who are graduating, but we want to make sure that future students aren’t getting conned or losing opportunities that we have available.”

At this point, there is no telling what exact income is going to come out of the reorganization. The administration claims students should not be worried about, but when students are barely involved and their questions are not answered it leaves them suspicious and hard to not question their intentions and to look at this in a positive way.

“Folks feel uneasy and it’s easy to be negative when something like this happens. It takes more effort to try and look at the root cause and see the good that can come from this,” Garrison said.