Temple provost's ideas for cost-cutting stir campus debate

Posted: March 05, 2012

Faced with declining state revenue, Temple University's provost spent the last year looking at ways to cut costs and improve operations, but some educators on campus aren't pleased with his ideas.

In a 25-page white paper, Dick Englert laid out a range of possibilities, perhaps the most controversial of which calls for consolidating or merging several schools and departments.

The schools of education and communications and theater, the Boyer College of Music and Dance, and the Tyler School of Art were listed as possible candidates. One of the suggestions calls for establishing a performing arts school encompassing Boyer, Tyler, the theater department, and possibly others to be overseen by one dean.

Englert also suggests requiring professors to teach more in lieu of other activities, such as research, clinical work, and service, and scheduling more evening and Friday classes to maximize use of buildings. Among the other ideas is a call to develop more partnerships with local high schools to increase the number of Philadelphia students at Temple.

In an interview last month, Englert cautioned that the white paper released late last year was not a formal proposal.

He said he would make recommendations later this month, ask for more feedback, and then seek approval from the board of trustees for whichever plans require it.

"My goal was to put together a white paper that would lay out some initial options for a wide-open discussion," said Englert, also senior vice president for academic affairs.

But those ideas stirred up much debate on campus and in alumni groups among those concerned their departments would be lost in larger areas, such as liberal arts - or altered in mission or scope.

While the debate goes on, Temple faces another state funding cut of 30 percent under Gov. Corbett's proposed budget and continues its search for a president to replace Ann Weaver Hart, who announced in September that she will leave in the summer.

The faculty senate said in January it would not support white-paper ideas without seeing a cost-benefit analysis and the effect on "Temple's mission, our students, our faculty, our reputation, and the impact on the university in general."

Englert said he would include cost savings when he presents his recommendations.

Art Hochner, president of Temple's faculty union, questioned whether the university would save money.

"You're still going to have middle management," he said, possibly an associate dean managing units.

Karen M. Turner, associate professor in the department of journalism under communications, said the timing of the effort was odd, given the president search and Englert's interim status. (He stepped in for an extended temporary appointment upon the departure of provost Lisa Staiano-Coico in spring 2010.)

"I would think someone coming in as president would want to put his or her stamp on whatever," said Turner, who is also immediate past president of the faculty senate. "It would be a real opportunity for that person to come in and be part of what should be a serious discussion."

Englert, who has held myriad positions at the university since 1976, began looking at Temple's structure after Corbett came out with a budget a year ago that proposed a 50 percent cut that was then reduced to 19 percent.

Temple had four vacancies for deans among the 14 that oversee its schools and colleges. The dean searches were halted.

"I frankly said, 'Wait a minute. Let's pause here a second and think about what we're going to do,' " Englert said.

He met with faculty and department heads and released the paper in December as the university was wrapping up its fall semester.

The plan, he said, isn't just about savings but also about improving operations.

"We need to look at how to do things more efficiently and effectively," he said.

But he also asserted: "One thing we're absolutely committed to is keeping tuition at reasonable levels."

Temple raised tuition nearly 10 percent this year to about $13,000 for in-state students.

Philip Yannella, a professor of English and American studies, has criticized Temple's finances in articles he wrote for the faculty newsletter.

"Temple talks about how broke they are," he said. "Last year, they had $94 million in surplus.

"We could have avoided a 10 percent undergraduate tuition increase and cuts to college budgets by having, say, a $40 million surplus instead," he wrote in the Faculty Herald.

Anthony E. Wagner, Temple vice president, chief financial officer, and treasurer, said surpluses had been larger over the last couple of years because of one-time shots from investments and stimulus funds and because the university budgeted more conservatively given the volatility in state funding and health-system losses. The surplus is expected to be back to $35 million this year, he said.

"The idea that we're wealthy and hoarding money, that's just not the case," he said, noting that Temple's endowment - a key indicator of wealth - was only a small fraction of that of Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Yannella said the answer to declining state funding shouldn't be collapsing two prestigious arts schools - Boyer and Tyler - into one.

"Both are world-class. Why would you want to tamper with that?"

He called the development of the white paper and the discussions around it "a very odd set of exercises. It's almost as if they needed to do something to justify their positions."

Englert said he had been hearing for years that the arts schools needed to better coordinate and give Temple a "face of the arts."

"We need to project Temple as really being a showplace of the arts," he said.

He also said most peer schools were not set up like Temple, with communications and theater in the same department. Most had theater in the department of fine arts or liberal arts.

If theater were moved, that would raise the question of allowing communications to stand on its own or be added to the much larger liberal arts or education schools or to join with the arts.

Englert said it also made sense to look at changing the education department. Some colleges align education with liberal arts or nursing and health professions, he said.

Others on campus questioned the rationale.

"We have a prominent school of education and we shouldn't bury it in some other place," said Hochner, the union president. "Our ed school should be as prominent as our med school."

Michael W. Smith, professor and chair of curriculum, instruction, and technology in education, said a merger would dilute the education school's prestige and importance, create more layers of bureaucracy, and hinder the ability to change swiftly to adapt to market needs.

"I don't understand how bigger means more efficient in this case," he said.

Though some recommendations could be enacted by July, Englert said, others could take longer.

He said he understood faculty anxiety: "It's hard to envision the future in a new structure."

Contact Susan Snyder

at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

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