Friday, June 01, 2012

Backing faculty into a corner

I wouldn't want to be E.Gordon Gee today. Sure, the Ohio State University president collects a hefty paycheck and gets to wear those cool bow ties and hang around with Brutus Buckeye, but he also has to stand up in front of his esteemed faculty and declare that the future of the university depends upon parking fees.

That's right: there he is on the front page of the Columbus Dispatch threatening his Faculty Council with "budget cuts, layoffs, and bigger-than-normal tuition increases if the university doesn't consider taking a payout from leasing its parking operations." Later, the article explains that a significant chunk of the estimated $400 million payout will fund new tenure-track faculty lines.

This is a classic move when administrators seek faculty support for an iffy proposition: threaten layoffs if the measure is rejected while promising raises or new hires if it's approved. It's a way to "make it personal," as Gee told his faculty.

I have no opinion about OSU's parking situation or budget woes, but when I see the president of a prestigious research institution claiming that its future viability depends largely on leasing out parking facilities, I get a little nervous--and when he uses that familiar carrot-and-stick scenario to back the faculty into a corner, I want to run away. How would you like to slog your way through a Ph.D. program and work up through the ranks to reach a position as a professor with enough clout to be elected to the Faculty Council of The Ohio State University only to be told that you'd better approve this parking lease deal or the whole place will fall to pieces?

No, I wouldn't want to be E. Gordon Gee today--but I really wouldn't want to be on that Faculty Council.

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