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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Shelton’s cryptic memo hints at big changes ahead

    President Shelton released a memorandum on Thursday announcing a broad new direction for the UA. This direction, he declared, will involve sweeping changes that will affect everyone at the university.

    “”The status quo will no longer work,”” Shelton wrote. “”Instead, the time has come to take bold action that will radically change the way we operate.””

    These are strong words. But Shelton’s memo gave little indication of the extent of these proposed changes. It was stronger on vague promises – to “”reward excellence in teaching,”” to “”sustain our standing as a world-class university”” – than concrete proposals.

    That was exactly the point, Shelton told the Wildcat Thursday. “”I’m purposely not going into this with preconceived notions,”” he said. Instead, he said he wants to give the university community a strong voice in deciding the UA’s new direction.

    The memo revealed that Shelton proposes to include students in the decision-making process with a team of committees, appointed by Provost Meredith Hay. These committees, composed of faculty, staff and students, will begin investigating areas in which the UA could be strengthened, and return their reports by the end of October.

    The president gave only a few hints of what these areas might be. Entire colleges and departments might be restructured or even merged, the memo suggested, in the interest of saving money and improving the university’s overall efficiency.

    We also got a sense of what the committees would be encouraged to prioritize. In the memo, Shelton at once proposed to attract more students to the university and to “”retain the very best faculty in the world”” at “”world-class faculty”” salaries. The strong implication was that those salaries would be kept high by cutting the number of faculty.

    As the Wildcat pointed out Thursday, this trend is generally at odds with the goal of improving the UA as an educational facility. Indeed, Shelton’s emphasis of the UA’s pragmatic goals -ÿsaving money, shrinking departments and rethinking research programs – over its educational goals was discouraging.

    It’s always tempting to assume that reducing the size of a large institution is the key to efficiency. But it isn’t always so. Institutions evolve, and slicing and dicing “”wasteful”” departments and programs in the name of greater efficiency might well leave the institution weaker and less creative than before.

    Any attempt to reform the UA should not be approached as a “”radical”” venture, but as a conservative one. Rather than taking a hatchet to the UA’s supposedly wasteful departments, the university administration should seek to conserve what is valuable in all of them.

    This is why the most promising aspect of Shelton’s memo was his promise of greater inclusiveness. In addition to the committees, he will hear input from the community at two town hall meetings this month. Shelton deserves credit for making this a priority; the people who will be affected by these changes should have a say in them.

    “”Ideas for realistic restructuring come up from the grass roots,”” faculty chair Wanda Howell told the Wildcat.

    But the question is whether the students will really have a genuine voice in whatever decisions are to be made.

    At press time last week, Shelton had only asked for two student representatives – one to be appointed by ASUA President Tommy Bruce, and the other by the Graduate and Professional Student Council. It’s a good start, but the interests of a studentry of 38,000 can’t effectively be represented by two people.

    As the president wrote, a “”dialogue”” between the administration and the community has clearly been opened. Now it’s up to the rest of us to make sure that it remains a two-way dialogue.

    – Editorials are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Andi Berlin, Justyn Dillingham, Lauren LePage, Lance Madden and Nick Seibel.

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