Provost seeks faculty input for regional campus plan

Ben Wolford

Recommendations raise worry about faculty promotion process

READ the Regional Campus Think Tank proposal draft.

READ a Nov. 7 article about the Regional Campus Think Tank proposal draft.

Stark Campus faculty and Provost Robert Frank have discussed proposed changes to the way regional campus faculty are promoted and tenured in a town hall meeting.

The proposal comes from the Regional Campus Think Tank, a group charged with restructuring the relationship between regional campuses and Kent Campus.

Their intentionally vague proposal presents five recommendations that, most importantly among them, grant regional campuses more autonomy in promoting their own faculty and deciding their own degree offerings.

More than 50 faculty members filled seats in Kent State Stark’s main auditorium Friday afternoon with lots of questions and more concerns.

“For Kent State’s system to really grow and serve all of northeast Ohio, we have to rethink what we think of as regional campuses,” Frank said in preface to the dialogue Friday.

“Often, the name branch campus has been used to describe a regional campus,” he said. “I believe, and I think many others believe, that these really aren’t branch campuses. Each of these is a distinct, almost, college that serves a unique community.”

To try to hone the distinctness of that community service, Kent State administrators created a body of 10 college deans, campus deans and faculty representatives and called it the Regional Campus Think Tank. They met at least five times over the last seven months and went through 18 drafts of their proposal.

And by no means is it finished. Frank made that clear at the town hall meeting, periodically taking notes from faculty comments to bring back to the drawing board.

“Whereas we might have developed a more polished and refined proposal,” Frank said, “it was better to get some ideas out and start a conversation.”

A large portion of the document focuses on speeding the process for approving new degrees at regional campuses.

“At the request of the chancellor (Eric Fingerhut of the Ohio Board of Regents), and under the leadership of our president, we’re seeing how we can significantly expand opportunities for students on our regional campuses,” said Gregory Andrews, interim executive dean of regional campuses and dean of the Tuscarawas campus.

To accomplish this, one recommendation proposes no change in the structure or formal policy of the Faculty Senate but encourages “a thoughtful and judicious approach minimizing the number of approval processes required.”

Another proposes the creation of a “workgroup” that would review the processes of the Educational Policy Council, which is subordinate to the Faculty Senate in approving academic changes. The think tank encourages “judicious processes” here, too.

But what brought scores of faculty to the town hall meeting was the second recommendation, which ultimately proposes three different orders of faculty appointment: regional campus faculty, Kent campus faculty and jointly appointed faculty.

Regional campus faculty would be reviewed for promotion and tenure by committees representative of their own campus, all the regional campuses and then their campus dean before moving to the provost.

Other regional faculty could opt for a joint appointment if they have “significant research agendas.” A joint appointment promotion and tenure review begins on the candidate’s own campus and then moves straight to a review by the department on the Kent campus and never goes back to regional campuses.

This part of the proposal brought about fundamental questions from the faculty.

“Can you explain why it would be necessary to segregate the faculty in this way in order to make the campuses administratively more autonomous?” one faculty member asked Frank.

He responded that it has been difficult to get regional campus curriculum changes through the Kent campus faculty without a struggle.

The follow-up question to that was, “Why are we focused at this level when the change needs to happen at Kent?”

Other faculty members were worried that having different types of faculty would create a “second-class appointment.”

As one professor pointed out, he is the only member of his department on the regional campus, and any promotion or tenure review would be carried out by faculty of a different discipline.

They were also concerned about the level of connection between departments on different campuses. One professor wondered how the regional campuses’ access to research funds would be affected. Many said that in tough economic times, it’s important to pool resources with the Kent Campus.

“With this autonomy, you cut intellectual relationships that we have fostered,” a faculty member said.

“The connectivity issue needs more development,” Frank responded. He admitted several times that the proposal will need to be tweaked.

But Frank said it was imperative to begin to change the structure before economic forces drive some of the regional campuses out of business.

“We’re in the position where if we don’t move, we’re pretty sure we’re going to lose some campuses,” he said. “If we do move, we think we have a chance of preserving a very strong system.”

Part of the Ohio Board of Regents’ 10-year plan includes creating community colleges using existing facilities in the Mahoning Valley, where many of Kent State’s regional campuses are located.

Fingerhut said a community college would not compete with Kent State regionals.

“As we create this community college, we will be adding programs that don’t exist and that are much more efficiently delivered at a community college level than at a regional campus,” he said.

President Lester Lefton isn’t so sure.

“Imagine if a community college opens up next to our Trumbull Campus and starts offering the same kind of stuff that we do. There’d be no business,” he said. “So we’ve got to offer something that a community college can’t, which are baccalaureate degrees.”

Students at such a community college would also have the possibility of earning a two plus two degree, that is, a bachelor’s degree through two years at a community college and two years at a regional campus.

That could also be a problem.

“This could hurt our first- and second-year business,” Lefton said. “But we’re moving very slowly on this and so is (Fingerhut).”

Frank is scheduled to meet with faculty two more times in the same town hall format tomorrow at 1:15 p.m. in Room 117 of the Technology Building at the Trumbull campus and Dec. 5 at 1:30 p.m. in the Kiva on the Kent Campus.

Contact administration reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].