Boris Vilic, co-chair of the prioritization task force for academic affairs and student affairs, addressed recent news about the task force’s role for academic programs.
Q: What is your role as the co-chair of the prioritization task force?
As co-chair, I facilitate the process for self-study or self-evaluation of academic programs. We’re using Robert C. Dickeson’s model for the prioritization of academic programs. My goal is to facilitate the meetings and to guide the discussion, to make sure that the self-study is appropriate to Rider. For example, some of the very large institutions such as Temple, if they used it, their criteria would be a little bit different because their main focus is on research. Rider’s main focus is on teaching. There are some differences among institutions as to what institutions are focusing on so our job is to take a process, look at what makes the most sense for Rider’s programs and then implement that process. Self-study and self-assessment is always good if you want to improve. But for our Middle States accreditation, we actually, under the new standards, have to demonstrate that we’re evaluating resources and resource allocation because from the accreditors’ standpoint, they want to make sure that the programs we offer are strong and viable so you don’t find yourself in a situation where you’re running a problem without any resources. We have to demonstrate to the accreditor that we’re engaging in self-study in resources that are available and how we’re deploying them.
Q: When did you find out about the cutbacks? The negotiation?
I knew about the cutbacks very shortly before [everyone else did]. I’m not a part of that negotiation. I did know what was happening because the president shared with the deans and directors the email he sent the faculty, and I want to say it was about two weeks before the layoff announcement.
Q: How do you think this announcement defined the university, in terms of public relations?
Layoffs in all companies, when you actually look at it, are not terminations. A termination is when you have a poorly performing employee, and you decide to go separate ways. A layoff is always done for economic reasons when you feel that, for the overall health of the organization, it is necessary to implement layoffs. Layoffs almost always include some of your great colleagues, and it’s always difficult to actually make that decision. It’s never a decision that somebody makes easily, knowing the impact on people and their families. Given the difficult financial situation, it was necessary but difficult, and I’m very happy that the two sides reached an agreement that realizes the savings but helps us move forward.
Q: What is the current role of the task force?
The role of the task force is actually to look at the 10 criteria, gather the data, and solicit input from departments and then analyze that data. In the prioritization process, the programs that would come up on top are the ones that have a lot of students interested, have students graduating and getting great jobs, getting admitted to graduate schools, or the faculty is known as being the lead experts in the field. At the bottom of the prioritization are the programs that may be struggling for whatever reason. The goal is to make recommendations regarding programs. We could have a highly performing program that doesn’t have enough resources, so if we hired an additional faculty member, we could admit more students. That benefits everybody. Or we could have a program that has too many resources, so we would look to retirements or not continuing to allocate resources to something that, for example because of regulatory changes, there may be low interest.
Q: How will the task force continue to operate, after having several members resign?
Those who resigned will be replaced. The University Academic Policy Committee will be soliciting interest from faculty and making the appointments. For this task force, it’s always difficult to assess what you’re doing. It’s sort of like when you’re in the classroom and you’re getting that test or assessment, it’s never a pleasant task. But I think it is important for Rider to keep looking at the data and at how we can better support our programs that lack student interest now. Is there something we can do to reinvent the programs? I think from the administrative, faculty and student perspectives, the work of this task force is very important in helping us move in the future. But it is also required for accreditation. Some of the resignations came in for various reasons, not just because the layoffs beforehand. When you actually look at other institutions, because hundreds of others have done the process, the layoffs are not always connected to programs that are prioritized on the low end. They aren’t always affected by layoffs. For example, you could have extra teaching capacity among a department that is prioritized high. The role of the task force isn’t really layoffs, it is truly about improvement and making sure we are employing our resources to where they need to be. Everything you look for in the priority list, you make sure you get a good paying job after graduation and that your education is valued, your faculty members are really top-level experts. All of those things are really important to everybody. There is a commitment to us to make sure we assess, evaluate and give the best education possible. When we, as a community, look at the accomplishments of the programs, when this whole process is done, our strengths will be tremendous. Some of this will bring positive messages of what we do as well.