Friday, March 17, 2006

Academic Reformers Beware

On my trip through Cleveland, I learned that the cold and blustery weather from the Charles River has moved west to Lake Erie and has claimed yet another university president:

Dr. Edward Hundert may be leaving the president's office at Case Western Reserve University, but the many problems that led to his resignation remain.

Hundert, who resigned Wednesday night, will stay at his post until Sept. 1. That means he will have to address the university's $40 million budget deficit and deal with other issues that led to the faculty's no-confidence vote against him earlier this month.

Here's how it played out:

Lawrence Krauss, a physics professor who led the charge for the no-confidence vote, said he thought Hundert would eventually resign but was surprised by the timing of his decision.


Hundert came to Case in 2002 from the University of Rochester, where he was the dean of the medical-dental school. He immediately embarked on a quest to mold the university into "the world's most powerful learning environment."

The Vision Investment Plan was his blueprint for catapulting the university into the spotlight. The plan involved spending $181 million over five years with the understanding that the university would have to spend more than it took in. However, when research money and donations declined, the university started to take on more debt than projected.

Hundert's tenure started to unravel when Krauss - upset over the university's fiscal problems and emboldened by Summers' resignation - called on the Arts and Sciences faculty to take a no-confidence vote. He cited among his concerns the university's budget deficit, turnover in central administration, a downturn in fund-raising and the administration's lack of openness.

The March 2 vote went against Hundert 131-44. By a slimmer margin, 97-68, the same faculty expressed a lack of confidence in Provost John Anderson.

I have a bit more sympathy for the Case Western faculty, but there are some similarities in the two cases. Consider: University needs new leadership with bold ideas. University trustees hire someone with bold ideas to lead. President begins to implement vision, meeting with mixed success. Trustees look to stand by troubled president. Faculty seize upon some early setbacks to impeach with a vote of no-confidence.

I'll venture to guess that this pattern will repeat several more times outside the for-profit sector in the coming years.


Arun Khanna said...

Do university fiscal deficits imply that some residual claimants (in form of faculty salary increments) are impacted? In other words, is there a debt overhang impact on increases in faculty salaries? If yes, it should have the highest impact on faculty whose human capital is tied most closely to their current institution (since nobody else is likely to hire them).

Andrew Samwick said...

In this case (though not in Harvard's), the answer may have been "yes." The deficits caused by the new growth in the president's Vision Investment Plan did seem to impact budgets (if not faculty salaries) across the university. This is why I have more sympathy for the faculty at Case.

It is an interesting question: to what extent to employees "hire" their coworkers?

Nathan Kaufman said...

Governing and managing a university is very interesting to me. To the extent that you point me to writing and information on this, it would be appreciated.

At universities and colleges:
-What are short-term vs. long-term trade-offs to institutions of higher ed?

-There seems to be somewhat of a tradeoff of investing in buildings vs. people. Is this true?

-When should a university invest in people and when in buildings?

-Is a lot of this very university-specific? Or are there general principles and ideas to guide concerned stakeholders?

-How should a university invest in people?

Nathan Kaufman said...

200 faculty
50 students

The composition of the UIUC senate is not all faculty, and includes many different parts of the university (engineering, agriculture, liberal arts, law, etc). It would be interesting to compare this Senate to similar entities at other universities. Points of comparison could include composition and role of the senate or representative body.

It looks like Tom Ulen is on the Senate. Professor Ulen has a B.A. from Dartmouth College.