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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “UA Transformation Plan crippled by vagueness, haste”

    The Transformation Plan. The white papers. Reorganization. All of it just sounds so ominous and vague. So what exactly is this plan “”to transform our programs and procedures to be stronger and better””?

    Superficially, the plan seems nice, laced with lots of optimistic words – the spoonfuls of sugar helping the transformation go down. Stronger, better, strengthen, bold, improve. I want that. You want that. The skeleton of this plan is nothing new, however. It boils down to the same tried and true way to save money: spend less. When you spend less, you tend to get less.

    UA Provost Meredith Hay puts it this way: “”We need to think more strategically about our priorities and develop ways to make fuller use of our resources to meet our obligations.”” Hence, the simple goal of the plan is to shrink the operating cost of the university, to make each dollar stretch farther in light of budget cuts. To do that, Hay writes, “”The Transformation Plan will require reorganization, restructuring and the consolidation of departments and units within colleges, and potentially across colleges.”” That’s corporate speak for cutbacks, layoffs and even departmental purgings. Fewer dollars, fewer people, fewer departments.

    President Robert Shelton’s Sept. 3 memo “”Advancing Arizona’s World-Class University”” paints the plan as a bold step forward into the future, but even he concedes the vagueness of it all, concluding in his memo, “”Again, I will write with more explicit details as soon as they are available.””

    Those specifics seem to be contingent upon the white papers, proposals that are to be “”submitted by interdisciplinary working groups, heads and deans.”” These proposals, due on Oct. 13, outline general ideas about the structure of new units and projected savings. According to Provost Hay, “”All proposals should specify how the mergers and realignments will strengthen the research, teaching and service of the units while increasing efficiency.”” Yikes, that’s some task – to strengthen while saving money.

    This paradoxical task is almost insurmountable in and of itself, but it may be impossible given the time crunch. The goal is to implement the plan by next summer. According to the Tucson Citizen, “”A number of professors said the time allotted to develop proposals was inadequate and the June implementation date was too soon.”” As a result of the lack of time, the plan’s focus has shifted toward mergers of departments and colleges and away from other options, which could be equally viable. Or, as the Citizen put it, “”The process is moving too quickly to be effective.””

    On Sept. 24, Joel Childers of the Arizona Daily Wildcat reported, “”As the UA Transformation Plan takes effect, staff and faculty may be laid off, class sizes may increase and the campus may be temporarily shut down during the summer,”” Shelton said at a crowded town hall meeting Tuesday afternoon.

    Maybe I’m cynical, but none of these changes sounds like an improvement, and none sounds like the doings of a world-class university.

    In light of budget cuts and Arizona’s troubled economy, the Transformation Plan may well be a necessary step to ensure that higher education endures in Arizona. However, UA leaders should not attempt to disguise this process as bold or innovative. Reorganizing, improving efficiency, streamlining the process, restructuring, cutting costs, trimming the fat, laying off – call it what you will, but it’s all the same.

    The plan isn’t some clean and clinical machine that will simultaneously save money and strengthen the university. People are involved, and that makes it messy. People will lose their jobs. This isn’t about strengthening our school. It’s about saving money, period.

    As a senior, I’m in a comfortable spot. I don’t have to worry about my department being gutted – I mean, “”reorganized”” – and then being forced to find another niche. None of these sweeping changes will affect me. Still, I’d like to see the university prosper since it will soon be my alma mater. Freshman and future students should be uneasy, though, for I’m not at all convinced the plan will make the university stronger and better.

    Less costly to operate? Absolutely. Better and stronger? Doubtful.


    – Justin Huggins is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, a department rumored to be on the chopping block. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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