What might Stony Brook and the National Football League have in common? One might say, both share the same enthusiasm for the sport. Perhaps.
I want you to imagine for a second or two, tuning into a football game on the radio or on a livestream. You would probably hear eager announcers exclaiming that football is a game of adjustments. If one strategy is not working, a coach needs to sense that and call for a time out. He or she (San Francisco 49ers: good job on that) will ask the players to huddle up and try to get it right. The coach might use morale-boosting cheers, a new game tactic or ask the team to refocus on fundamentals to win the game.
This syllogism could be applied here at Stony Brook. I wonder what might happen when the administration acknowledges that parts of the team feel destitute? What could the coach do to fix this?
It was reported in Inside Higher Education that faculty in the humanities at Stony Brook feel disheartened by the severe impact of the budget cuts. They are worried that the cuts were occurring more in their departments because of their high traditional use of adjuncts (lower cost than full-time instructors). They might have even felt a bit alarmed that the budget refinement was done in such a fashion that it could be construed as disproportionate to other departments. The faculty in the humanities, at first glance, seem to be even bewildered as to why they received accolades for exceeding their strategic and operational objectives the same week as the cuts. One might argue that a return on investment can conceivably be at a negative cash-flow rate based on other factors like the intrinsic value of the activity to the overall firm. Paul Krugman, a well-known economist, has often postulated that operating in the negative might be a good thing.
Growing needs for services have undoubtedly been accompanied by high declines in revenues, throwing the greater Stony Brook community into a bit of a tremulous predicament. The administration has tried its best to re-frame the budget in this new environment while being conscious of the risk of future loss to state and national funding. At the diversity plan town hall on Nov. 8, Provost Michael Bernstein said that the changes being made in the Writing and Rhetoric program were done with a purpose in mind: to help reduce the university’s dependence on part-time faculty. “We’re re-configuring the faculty deployment to increase the use of full-time faculty in writing and decrease the use of adjuncts and lecturers who are [a] part time hire.” Notwithstanding, there has been a host of cost-cutting tactics and revenue-enhancing options being discussed or implemented on the executive level.
The current Diversity Plan, as it relates to graduate students and postdocs, seems to focus more on external programming and not on internal offerings that would be necessary to strengthen collaboration between departments and graduate students. Only one of the five initiatives under the heading of “Graduate Students and Postdocs” discusses an activity that would occur on the departmental level for graduate students. It was reported in The Statesman that cuts to the humanities, particularly in the Writing and Rhetoric program, would severely impact the number of writing sections offered at the university and the morale of the instructors. Might we consider using these contingent staff members (who might also be graduate students) in other ways?
A day of metanoia might be needed to discuss the important issues confronting our community. This conversation could be led in part by graduate student leaders, teaching assistants, graduate assistants and other members of the community who are willing to heed the call of leadership.
As a suggestion, the administration could reallocate $10,000 to $15,000 within the Diversity Plan to foster graduate professional development and with that a dialogue, perhaps in the same fashion as the professional development programs offered at Fordham, University of Louisville or Virginia Tech. In the spirit of professional development, the administration could solicit nominations for an award program called “Cross Scholars,” offered by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. This award program promotes a dialogue across disciplines and cultures as it relates to teaching methods, cultural inclusion and active learning for graduate students. Apart from these suggestions, the administration could also allocate some philanthropic funds to better communicate what the university offers in terms of professional development and academic support for graduate students. Should I call the timeout or should you [Coach]?