Destroying the University to Save the University

A long and rancorous effort to do away with tenure and run itself more like a business has set the University of Minnesota back for years to come.

Given the importance of the regents' proposed tenure changes, the document received remarkably little prior scrutiny or oversight. Chait, the consultant who seemed to have earned the trust of the regents, said at the August retreat that references in the code to layoff authority would be considered an inflammatory subject by the faculty. Yet the layoff language made it into Michaelson's document; some of the regents say they never even saw a copy of their own proposed tenure code until just hours before it was made public. One of the people who did see it a day or two in advance was Hasselmo, who implored the regents not to release such a divisive document. Based on what she gleaned of the plan from Hasselmo, Virginia Gray of the faculty consultative committee told the regents the morning of the Morris meeting that the faculty would almost certainly unionize if they went through with their proposal.

The regents nonetheless seemed surprised and distraught at the ferocity of opposition it engendered. Keffeler, who resigned from the board just a couple of months later, says one of her biggest regrets was in underestimating the lack of trust and understanding that existed between the board, the administration, and the faculty. But you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand why the faculty felt so beset and suspicious over the past two years, especially those in the Academic Health Center.

A powerful new provost--who soon counted the governor, legislators, and the state's influential business leaders among his allies--had come in and almost immediately laid siege on tenure while working in tandem with a corporate consulting firm that proudly preached the value of scrapping the status quo without any real discussion. The merger with Fairview ensued; all the while, long-range plans were concocted on the fly, leaving sketchy paper trails in their wake. Even Kelso, the legislator primarily responsible for tying legislative appropriations to changes in tenure, says of the regents' plan, "It was extreme by any measure. That you could have layoffs for 'compelling reasons' or discipline for 'a bad attitude'; it doesn't take much imagination to see that it comes real close to just abolishing tenure."

The regents belatedly claim that their proposal was negotiable, but an appalled and frightened faculty never gave them the chance, successfully petitioning for an election on whether to unionize, which by law put a stop to any potential changes in University regulations. Rattled by the national outcry against their proposal as well as the union threat, the regents took their plan off the table. More than six months later, the regents have never again taken up the question of revisions in the tenure code, although they are expected to approve a plan very similar to the one submitted by the faculty last June.

Over at the Academic Health Center, the consultants from CSC Index packed up the charts and briefcases and left ahead of schedule, terminated by Dr. Frank Cerra, who had taken over for Brody. "Re-engineering, in the sense that Champy was using it in his books, I think that was the wrong tool here." Cerra says. "Corporate-style management doesn't work with education and research, and we are not going to do that. Out of the QRTC process came a better understanding of how we are financed and how it all fits together. But the organizational design process, where they didn't even have the schools connected to anything, that is a mistake. The approach of taking a blank sheet of paper and throwing out the baby with the bathwater--that simply doesn't work."

Cerra does say that the AHC is "making a big investment in process redesign. But we will focus on the customers, which for education and research means the faculty; our infrastructure will support what the faculty does."

How will the AHC administration gain the faculty's trust in the wake of the Brody-spawned re-engineering? "This is a difficult process right now, because what makes things run are interpersonal relationships. They need to be rebuilt and that is something that will take a lot of work. One of the keys is good, open, honest communication. That takes up most of my time right now."

Yet many AHC faculty members claim Cerra's actions speak stronger than his conciliatory words. From the very beginning of the re-engineering process, Cerra was one of Brody's most trusted lieutenants. Back in July 1995, he wrote that Brody's "blank canvas" approach was "a remarkable opportunity to take charge of our own destiny." Cerra was promoted to dean of the medical school under Brody, and, with a dispatch that was remarkable within the University bureaucracy, he was named the new provost the same week Brody announced he was taking the job at Johns Hopkins.

Nearly six months after that announcement, Brody was still on the job as "a special assistant" to Hasselmo: in fact, Brody and Cerra continued to occupy the same offices and support staff. When AHC faculty were openly critical of re-engineering, Brody, who was technically no longer in charge, called them in for a dressing down. It soon became clear to many faculty members that Frank Cerra was the nice guy in a "good cop-bad cop" tandem designed to push re-engineering through despite opposition.

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