Statement on Consultation

James W. Hall
July 20, 1979

By Resolution of your meeting of May 17 and 18, 1979 you have requested that the President comment upon the nature and practice of consultation within Empire State College. I am pleased to respond to this request for I believe that effective and timely consultation is fundamentally important to a successful collegiate organization. I would like to comment on three aspects of consultation: some historical perspectives, the process of consultation at Empire State College, and the practical application within Empire State College structures.

  1. Historical Overview

    Consultation is a process whereby professional persons within organizations make their professional expertise available in addressing larger institutional or organizational questions. The model of consultation on issues pertinent to institution management which passed from continental universities, with some modifications, into the American collegiate system, is in contrast to either 1) a management/worker model which has characterized industrial organizations, and 2) a town meeting democracy model in which policy is adopted on the basis of majority vote. American colleges and universities are structurally organized around the corporate model; i.e., a Board of Trustees headed by a chairperson which delegates administration to a president. The SUNY Board of Trustees Policies require consultative frameworks which can make available the best professional advice to those who are legally responsible for making decisions. Clearly, effective and smooth governance of an institution requires a high level of mutual understanding, a willingness to address issues in realistic terms, and the ability for all constituents of a college community to find compromise. Until recently, there has been general understanding that the Board of Trustees and its administration carry the principal responsibility for determining college organization, the college budget and its allocations; and that faculty carry principal responsibility for the formulation of academic policy and the definition of curriculum. In addition, faculty have been expected to participate significantly in employment and personnel decisions with respect to faculty colleagues.

    In recent years, the balance of governance responsibilities described above has been under serious attack from external sources, with intensive reviews by legally empowered state and federal boards able to render decisions which seriously affect the operation of a college or university and which are beyond the control of either the faculty, the administration or its local governing board. This development has had very serious consequences for traditional collegiate governance, forcing Boards of Trustees and administrators to impose regulations that are not derived through the traditional governance channels of professional consultation.

    Moreover, many matters affecting faculty workload, renumeration, and other terms and conditions of employment have been moved outside the University's sphere to state offices which negotiate these matters as a contract. Faculty professionals have responded by organizing on a state-wide basis so that these external forces can be addressed in a unified and systematic way. Again, the result has been a diminution of collegiate governance, and a loss of consultation in key areas affecting the lives of the professionals involved. College presidents are turned from administrators and educational leaders into managers whose principal job is to run the institution. An unending timetable of reports, budgets, and deadlines to be met force these managers to enlarge administrative staff, and create difficulties in relation to the slower moving, more reflective processes of collegiate governance. There is a major battle developing in this nation today over precisely this issue: how should institutions best be governed and what is the proper role of state and federal government in this enterprise?

    Today it is a fact that the New York State Division of the Budget determines the budget for a state institution and beyond that, determines precisely how that budget may be spent, when it may be spent, and is able on a line item basis to control exactly in which categories budgets are expended on the campus. In addition, the Department of Audit and Control both pre-audits and post-audits every expenditure to ensure that expenditures are consistent with state regulations and approved budgets. The State Education Department establishes basic requirements for collegiate degrees, registers every curriculum for which a degree is offered, and through this registration process determines the nature of the curriculum itself within a limited range. Under those conditions the role of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York is severely limited, and in turn, the role of the administration and faculty of each college has also become quite limited.

  2. Process of Consultation at Empire State College

    The historical developments referred to above should be kept in mind when we look at consultation processes at ESC today, because present conditions often place new and different pressures on one or another of these processes. Some examples of actual issues discussed and decisions made at ESC recently may serve to illustrate a number of such pressures and the necessity for variations in the duration and breadth of the consultation involved.

    I might begin with some areas which have traditionally been those of principal faculty responsibility:

    1. Academic Policy
      1. Two recent policies forwarded to the President for approval were the "Individualized Degree Program: Associate Degrees" and "Academic Policies and Procedure: The Degree Program." These two policies came through the traditional Empire State College consultation process with APLPC having determined the desirability of policy statements on these subjects. There were numerous discussions, and drafts of the documents were circulated by APLPC for comment by all concerned. General consensus was shaped during the course of nearly two years, after which policies were forwarded to the President for approval in June 1979.
      2. With reference to determining Satisfactory Academic Progress for Students ESC required a firm policy to be in place as part of a strong corrective measure and an effective institutional response to a largely negative HEW report. The initial recommendations contained in this report were to discontinue supplementary financial aid to students based on previous student violations of the approved rate of progress. Delay in responding would have been irresponsible, therefore, swift action was needed by the President, and by APLPC. The policy was quickly drafted and approved within three months. Since that time, numerous questions and suggestions for the policy have resulted in the creation of a Senate sub-committee to study it further. Such further study and consultation is obviously desirable, but was not initially possible due to the necessity for rapid action to avert severe financial restrictions for ESC students.
    2. Employment and Personnel Decisions

      For the past several years the Professional Staff Handbook has carried a description of procedures to be followed in the appointment of administrative officers, such as Vice Presidents, Deans and Associate Deans. These procedures, which have been fully adhered to, were arrived at through consultation with a select committee of the College Senate. They provide for full faculty consultation in administrative appointments.

      Center faculty committees play a major role in the selection of new faculty. Over the past decade, much attention has been directed to college and university employment and personnel decisions which were once executed through traditional departmental and administrative consultative patterns according to internally determined criteria for employment and advancement. Both legal and moral principles governing equal opportunity and affirmative action toward previously disadvantaged groups now bring additional representation, and considerations, into college personnel decisions. The goals are extremely desirable for the ultimate strengthening of the college, but simpler and better methods of achieving them still need to be developed.

      Since the first year under the By-Laws, personnel decisions regarding renewal, tenure, promotion and sabbatical leaves have been made with consultation with the Academic Personnel Committee. Since 1976 the Administration and APC have made a concerted effort to improve consultation by holding extended discussions between the Committee and the Vice President for Academic Affairs well in advance of the due dates for decision. Also, APC has worked with local committees to improve consultative practices in the centers. These efforts are continuing.

    3. College Budget

      External pressures have also had strong effects on those areas which have been the principal responsibility of the trustees and the administration. Budget priorities are shaped by the various offices and centers of the College on a year-round basis. The annual Budget Request is determined in consultation with the Administrative Council as part of the effort to coordinate Center and College-wide priorities and needs. The Senate Budget Committee should also be involved in the consultation process on this issue, but this aspect of the consultative network has not been used as effectively as it might be. I would like to make some suggestions in this regard in the following section of this response.

      Once drafted, the budget is presented to the College Council for its review and approval, before it is completed and forwarded to the State. As we all know, the actual amounts are determined by the State, and sometimes bear little relationship to the expressed needs and goals contained in the Budget Request. Subsequently, the state system also influences the shape of the Supplemental Budget. As such, its dimensions are much less subject to detailed scrutiny in advance and it is usually necessary to make judgments on short notice, based pragmatically on the likelihood of approval for items requested.

    4. College Organization and Allocation of Resources

      The stress placed by fiscal limitations on our ability to maintain program capacity and quality and to develop or expand new programs has been shared by centers across the College, to a point where further cutbacks would have direct effects on the quality of education provided by the College as a whole. With the present budget increase barely keeping up with inflation, necessary and difficult administrative decisions had to be made about college organization and allocation of severely strained resources among existing programs and newly developing ones. In order to keep Empire State College in the forefront as the innovative, exploratory vanguard of the SUNY system, some shifts of resources had to be made which directly affected the Northeast and Statewide Centers. Discussions regarding the advisability of such reallocations were held in varying detail with the Senate, with Senate committees, with COPP, with the Administrative Council, and the Cabinet. Though there was general support for the principles involved in the decisions made, it is clear that communication of specific decisions and the reasons for them has been faulty, partly as a consequence of the need for administrative action under pressures of deadlines. Not all issues involved in implementation of these decisions have yet been resolved and it is my earnest hope that all affected members of the college community can work together to develop productive and equitable solutions.

      My main purpose in citing these examples is to illustrate that the variety of issues facing the college frequently requires differing procedures of consultation, and different individuals and/or college bodies whose advice must be sought. Ideally, all members of the college community would be involved in all decisions which might affect them. Realistically, this cannot be the case. External pressures, exigencies of time, the particularly complicating factor of distance at ESC, and the need for responsible administrative leadership in difficult areas, may upon occasion seem to work against the consultation process. To avoid aggravating this impression, the President must rely strongly on extensive and accurate communication of issues among the various people and constituencies of the college to make sure that information is transmitted and received on a timely basis and that decisions made are fully shared and understood.

  3. Consultation and ESC Structure and Organizational Patterns

    From the earliest days, the college administration and the college faculty at Empire State College have been clearly committed to effective consultation. Yet with the best of intentions there have been impediments to the functioning of a broadly consultative network. These impediments can be described as those which are 1) geographically conditioned, and 2) structured in the ESC By-Laws.

    1. Geographical structures: We can probably agree that the most effective consultation occurs when professionals have an opportunity to sit together face to face over an extended period of time and reflect thoughtfully and deeply over particular issues. In this way, the effect that particular policies will have upon each individual constituency can be explored, and the nuances relating to short and long term effects can be thought through. One of the reasons for the regional center concept was precisely to permit exchange to occur easily and with full involvement of every member of the professional staff. The planners of the College understood that governance in traditional institutions is relatively ineffective, and commands the interest and involvement of a very small percentage of the total professional staff of a college. The center concept is thus partly a management concept which holds that persons directly involved with a process should have direct involvement in the planning and implementation of that process. In a well developed center this seems to be indeed the case. The Dean is in frequent touch with Center Administration and with other Deans through the Administrative Council and transmits college-wide issues to and from the Center for discussion. The faculty are involved as a full group in both the academic discussions and the administrative matters of the center, and all participate in turn in the daily consultative decisions of assessment, degree program approval, faculty recruitment, and student performance. Consultation at this level occurs at a uniquely high and intense level and must be credited as one of the outstanding aspects of institutional success. The regional organization required by our geographical dispersion has acted as a very positive force in this case.

      But geography acts as a negative force in the development of college-wide policies and procedure. Consultation on a college-wide basis must occur with a very limited amount of personal contact, and a tight schedule for decision. Many of the informal committee member contacts, which are possible on a campus and which help to work out individual misunderstandings or disagreements, are difficult to arrange at Empire State College. Moreover, differences in procedure and emphasis from center to center tend to generate a wide range of opinion around a particular proposed policy. It has often not been possible to meet the needs of every center in a single policy. Nevertheless local differences do not overcome the homogeneity of the college as a whole, and the commonality of our goals far outweigh any differences that exist from center to center. In an effort to assist those faculty chairing college-wide committees, the Senate recommended and I approved a quarter-time workload reduction for the chairs of each committee and of the Senate. This reduction was expected to generate approximately 41 equivalent full days per year for these chairs to engage in the kind of planning, policy development, and wide consultation which would improve the consultative process. To date it is not clear whether this workload reduction has had the desired results.

      Restrictions on available funds for travel, and a wise allocation of faculty and administrative time will continue to be issues which place an effective limit on the amount of time which can be spent in face to face consultative work.

    2. By-Laws considerations: The By-Laws of the College were developed with great difficulty and controversy in a time when ideas about governance in institutions of higher education were in rapid flux. One key issue which was hotly debated over an extended period of time was whether the college faculty should have a clear and distinct voice which would stand in distinction to the administration, or whether a more traditional collegial form of governance which brought together both faculty and administrative perceptions in the solution of problems would be pursued. The present By-Laws represent a series of compromises. The faculty is represented in the teaching faculty caucus; the voice of the entire professional staff is expressed through the College Assembly. The Senate is a representative body for the entire College, but mostly for the teaching faculty. The administration has representation on some of the Standing Committees, no representation on others.

      Such a pattern has tended to increase the number of bodies working on particular issues at a given time, with somewhat separate faculty and administrative tracks. This bifurcated pattern could probably be tolerated and even effective were it not for the geographical division which inhibit all consultation.

      The structure and mandate of our committees sometimes complicate the job as well. For example, the Budget Committee, whose responsibility is to receive information about budget and expenditures for the College and to make recommendations in this regard operates in a vacuum. In actuality Budget cannot be abstracted, but must link clearly to academic program and institutional mission. Since budget is a year-round project in the State of New York, it becomes extremely important to be on top of institutional priorities and then to relate these to the larger budget efforts of the College. Achieving this goal, however, requires a substantial broadening of the mandate for the Standing Committee. Specifically, we should consider a Standing Committee on Planning, Program and Budget (PPB). Such a committee, constituted with a slightly different membership from the other committees, might well replace the current Council on Policy and Planning and would be in a position within the governance structure to provide sound consultation on everything from master planning to individual center and office budget submissions.

      The Academic Policy and Learning Programs Committee actually deals with academic policy. It is the key faculty committee which encourages faculty initiatives in the development of academic policies for the institution and as such should have its mandate clarified and slightly narrowed. It is also a committee to adjudicate appeals on individual student matters in relation to policy interpretation. This aspect of the committee's role has seldom been used.

      The Academic Personnel Committee and the Professional Personnel Committee are, in my judgment, appropriate committees as they stand. Their impact has been increasing year to year in the consultation process on personnel action. They can be further strengthened by limiting membership on these committees in any given year to those persons who are not subject to a personnel decision in that year. This matter has already been addressed by the APC and the Academic Vice President. Whether By-Laws action in defining committee membership is desirable is an open question.

      The Student Affairs Committee functions well but is limited in the number of students it can support to attend its meetings.

      The Senate, as the only All College body, may be too large to function efficiently. The Senate presently tries to handle too many things on its agenda which have already been dealt with by representative committees. Moreover, it does not meet sufficiently often to carry forward such a complex agenda, and frequent meetings are probably precluded, given its present size. The suggestion that the Standing Committees might be drawn from the Senate membership has much merit in this regard.

      In summation, consultation will work only when people work at consultation. This requires a commitment of time and energy which is difficult for administrators and faculty alike given the many competing requirements on time and the existing geographical dispersion. It also requires attention to a plethora of matters which do not initially seem to engage the attention of everyone, but which quickly engage wide attention when an action is taken where opposition is later found to exist. A cynical view is that no matter what procedures are established, effective governance will remain an elusive goal. I'm not persuaded by that argument. I continue to believe that those who have identified with Empire State College have made an unusual commitment to involvement in institutional development. The care with which we think about our present structures and try to improve our existing handicaps can have a significant impact on the quality of consultation in the years ahead.