LETTER TO THE EDITOR: An open letter to the President, Provost, and Board of Trustees of Marquette University

On February 15, 2021, the University Academic Senate (UAS) voted 20-7, with five abstentions, to adopt a shared governance resolution that initiates a reset of the processes of shared governance at Marquette. Many UAS representatives stated that there was overwhelming support from the faculty who contacted them for this shared governance resolution, a copy of the resolution is included with this letter.

The Resolution was initiated by the Marquette University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a group of nearly 70 like-minded Marquette faculty who seek to promote shared governance principles. We have no agenda except to assure faculty’s ability to deliver academic excellence and a transformative education in the Catholic, Jesuit tradition at Marquette.

We write today because the actions of the University’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT) raise serious concerns that will put those key objectives at risk.

A special meeting of UAS was called for Monday, March 1, 2021, to provide the Provost and the Senior Vice President of the University an opportunity to address Resolution Items 1, 2 and 3, beginning on page 3 of the attachment. The Provost took nearly half of that meeting to discuss mission and vision, something that he had previously done at length.

Once the Provost concluded this discussion, the following was presented.

1. Joel Pogodzinski, Senior Vice President, was asked to address Resolution Item 1, which seeks an identification of “those portions of what [the President and Provost] have determined are necessary budget reductions that reflect the temporary impacts of COVID-19 and those portions that reflect permanent and structural reductions.” Mr. Pogodzinski never answered that question, asserting that the ELT’s decisions were not driven by the long-term or short-term nature of the causes for the budget challenges. He then recited the list of previously disclosed “drivers” of the need for cost reduction: reduced Fall 2020 freshman class; shortfall in deposits for the Fall 2021 class; the need to restrict further increases in tuition; and the need to provide increased levels of financial aid to incoming and continuing students. He further mentioned the “strategic initiatives fund” requirement that $12.1 million of cost reductions be made in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget for future investments.

We’ll defer addressing these four points, although we have pointed out to the UAS in advance of the January 25, 2021, vote on the attached resolution that the actual facts don’t support the ELT’s conclusions. Throughout his presentation, Mr. Pogodzinski repeatedly asserted that many of the ELT’s conclusions about what needed to be done were “facts.” A fact, of course, is something that can be independently verified by objective evidence. A proposed course of action is a policy, the wisdom of which is dependent on the quality of the facts and critical thinking that underlie it. Asserting that these policies are facts does not make them so.

More directly, Mr. Pogodzinski failed to answer the question posed, as if it were irrelevant to what is going on at Marquette. Most assuredly, it is directly relevant to whether long-serving non-tenure track (NTT) faculty should not receive renewal notices for the Fall 2021 academic term. That’s why the question was asked.

On January 25, 2021 — the date on which the attached resolution was adopted by UAS–the Provost said that FY22 budget reduction requirements had been referred to the college Deans for final action. The Provost knew then that scores of course sections taught by NTT faculty were planning to be eliminated, because Deans had no other options to reach the ELT’s budget reduction targets but to dismiss the NTT faculty who taught those sections in the past.

We know that this decision was not based on the lack of need for these sections, as their elimination has triggered massive increases in class sizes or teaching loads for many remaining faculty members. Furthermore, that decision was made even though the Teaching Academic Workgroup appointed by the Provost as part of the “Economic Planning Process” never suggested that such actions were appropriate or consistent with the constraints that the President and Provost had laid out for cost reductions. In fact, this Workgroup reported that Marquette’s faculty was already “right-sized” to deliver cost-effective, mission-specific, and high-impact teaching — teaching that just earned Marquette’s faculty a No. 18 ranking for Best Undergraduate Teaching from U.S. News & World Report.Losing a significant number of cost-effective NTT faculty will certainly jeopardize the University’s mission, the transformative education that we promise, and this ranking.

The Provost had said during the UAS meeting on January 25, 2021, that there will be 240 fewer undergraduate sections in the Fall 2021 academic term. We understand that the number given is not accurate and that the correct number is closer to 180 sections. No update was provided at the March 1, 2022, meeting.

In fact, it is impossible at this time to know what the Fall 2021 freshmen and transfer student enrollments will look like. Further, the Provost announced on January 25, 2021, that first-year undergraduate applications for admission were up 3% over Fall 2020 applications and that the number of admitted students was up 9%. He stated that he was “confident” of reaching the target of 1,770 new freshmen, noting that this was the most diverse pool of accepted students in Marquette’s history.

The ELT continues to rely on pessimistic enrollment projections made in the summer of 2020—projections that are highly unlikely to be repeated as COVID-19 vaccinations expand. This -makes no sense, especially if it results in the loss of high quality NTT faculty and massive increases in the number of students in some courses. Many of these courses are freshmen-level courses, where having realistic opportunities to engage faculty are a key element of student retention, especially for disadvantaged students. Increased levels of non-retention will only exacerbate budget concerns.

President Lovell said in December 2020 that the University’s No. 18 ranking for Best Undergraduate Teaching must be preserved. NTT faculty, many of them having served many years in their roles, have made important contributions to that ranking. Once these NTT faculty are dismissed, it will take many years to find their replacements and to deliver the same quality level of undergraduate teaching, even if the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control and Marquette is able to enroll additional undergraduates to make up for the temporary shortfall that has been experienced.

In short, without knowing the extent to which negative budget impacts are short-term and which are long-term, Marquette is putting itself in a position where, if many of these concerns are short-term, it will be forced to hire new faculty, less skilled and less experienced that those who are being let go. The Best Undergraduate Teaching ranking can only be harmed.

2. The Provost addressed Resolution Item 2, which resolved that the ELT should “share with UAS, FC [Faculty Council], and faculty as a whole full information of the basis for the allocation of budget reductions between non-academic operations and academic operations.” We understand that required budget reductions were allocated based primarily on the percentage of revenue generated by academic and non-academic operations. The actual percentages were never publicly disclosed, however, and the determination of those percentages involved not even perfunctory consultation with UAS Executive Committee, FC, or any other organ of shared governance at Marquette.

The Provost simply ignored this question. There are many arguments about why the allocation that we understand was made would not be consistent with the priorities that the President and Provost set out as part of the Economic Planning Process (although belatedly, and only after significant faculty pushback). Rather than address those arguments now, we note that the failure either to attempt to address this issue or to tell UAS that it was ignoring its request was taken as insulting by many and as another sign of the ELT’s unrelenting lack of transparency by many more.

3. Ian Gonzalez, Vice President for Finance, was tasked with addressing Resolution Item 3, which resolved that the “Provost and President should share with UAS, FC, and faculty as a whole full information concerning its calculation of instructional and administrative expenses as percentage of total expenses and why publicly reported data are or may be misleading.”

Mr. Gonzalez acknowledged that publicly reported data did show, as represented in a previous version of the Resolution, that Marquette’s percentage of instructional costs as a percentage of total expenses ranked 25thout of the 27 members of the Association of Jesuit College & Universities (AJCU). Mr. Gonzalez suggested that this ranking was misleading. First, he said that there was “some work to do” on the data that Marquette discloses concerning these items. Second, he suggested that Marquette should instead calculate “dollars invested per student,” without suggesting how such a calculation might be made or what it would reveal that current calculations do not. Third, he identified three specific cost items that he believes skew the calculation: the Marquette University Police Department; the Marquette Child Care Center; and research expenses. Mr. Gonzalez then asserted that Marquette’s ranking in this regard would move to “the middle of the pack” when Fiscal Year 2020 data is used and that, if research costs are added to instructional expenses, Marquette would be “in the top five” of these rankings.

Having failed to provide any numbers, we are in no position to affirm or to dispute any of Mr. Gonzalez’s calculations. We had hoped that he would have identified specific items not currently classified as instructional expense that should be so included going forward. Of course, without knowing what amounts other AJCU members incur for those items and how they classify them, no comparison among the percentage of instructional expense by those school would then be possible. Perhaps that is the point of asserting that the current numbers are meaningless.

What we can say is that research is not instruction. Preparing an additional calculation of instructional plus research expenses may have some value, but it does not change Marquette’s anemic ranking with respect to the percentage of instructional expense.

We took the time to lay out issues to emphasize that facts, not emotion, are dictating our response. The approach taken by the ELT at the March 1, 2021, effectively ignores the right of faculty, through their elected UAS representatives, to obtain information that will guide an appropriate response to the actions proposed or taken by University administration. Further, we cannot see how the Board of Trustees can effectively exercise its fiduciary responsibility to the University and Marquette stakeholders to act in the University’s best interest if the ELT is unwilling to provide direct answers to direct questions that bear on its determinations. We have no confidence that the concerns of faculty are being effectively communicated by the ELT to the Board of Trustees.

We have said before, at length, that faculty have “an essential role as participants in deliberations regarding academic and non-academic areas that affect the academic mission of the University,” per the University Academic Senate (UAS) Statutes. This is required because faculty, who create and deliver academic content, have unique insights on how these interrelated activities operate and will ultimately deliver academic services to students. Past Boards of Trustees, University administrations, and faculty have all required that faculty be consulted on these decisions because it improves “communication, collegiality and decision-making about the academic mission.”

We ask urgently for the opportunity to meet with Academic Excellence Committee of the Board of Trustees before the ELT’s decisions identified in the Resolution, based solely on budget considerations and without a full evaluation of the impacts on academic excellence and a transformative education in the Catholic and Jesuit tradition, are permitted go forward. Faculty morale is low, and the continuing lack of transparency will bring it to crisis levels. Waiting until after these actions are taken run the risk of irreparably harming Marquette University’s ability to carry out its mission into the future.

The Marquette University AAUP Chapter Executive Committee

Douglas O. Smith, JD, MBA, President

Sameena Mulla, Ph.D., Vice President

Gerry Canavan, Ph.D., Secretary

Sonia Barnes, Ph.D., Executive Committee Member

Kristen Foster, Ph.D., Executive Committee Member

Julia C. Paulk, Ph.D., Executive Committee Member

Sergio M. González, Ph.D., Executive Committee Member

This story was written by the Marquette University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, who volunteered to write this letter. Members of this group are not staff members for the Wire. 

To submit a letter to the editor, email Executive Opinions Editor Alex Garner at alexandra.garner@marquette.edu and copy Managing Editor of the Marquette Tribune Annie Mattea and Executive Director Natallie St. Onge on those emails. They can be reached at anne.mattea@marquette.edu and natallie.stonge@marquette.edu.