Letter to the Editor: Merger requires more consideration

On Feb. 25, the rumors were confirmed by Dean Larry Newman that he was going to be merging departments within the College of Business. I have several observations and opinions about such mergers, many of which were raised not only by me, but by several other faculty members at the meeting. I would like to place these and others points on record, to the extent that I can recall them.

When asked specifically, Newman replied that there was no direct charge from the administration to merge departments. Rather, the obligation was to save money and the precise methods of choice were Newman’s. Later, another faculty member said that the requirement was indeed to merge departments and Newman did not clarify or refute this. So it remains unclear whether this was an administrative directive, or whether this was Newman’s own idea.

It is also unclear, as a result, if this is a university-wide directive to merge departments across all colleges. The purpose of all this was said by Newman to be an economic measure designed to save money; that was the primary and perhaps the only relevant reason.

If a chairperson’s extra stipend is about $5,000 (and Newman confirmed this), reducing our departments from nine to five will save the stipend of four chairs, which amounts to only $20,000. As also pointed out, we could probably save the same amount every year by more properly monitoring and controlling the wasteful and inefficient air conditioning and heating in Sweigart.

With respect to the savings, consider that chairs presumably already do something of value and in fact perhaps actually earn their extra stipends by the performance of services requested by the administration. To the extent therefore that their services will be consolidated and made more burdensome and inefficient in the performance of these individualized activities, there could conceivably be an economic loss to the university as a result.

It was also pointed out by Newman himself that some departments are sufficiently large so as to need to be headed by a “super” chair who earns a bigger stipend. If this is the case that results from our mergers, then obviously the savings will be partially eroded by the creation of more super chairs with larger stipends.

I do not have full access to all the relevant budgetary data. One could presume the savings will be a little greater since each displaced chair will have to teach more courses, so, by eliminating four chairs, the savings may be as much as $15,000 per person for a total of $60,000. But this is likely going to be reduced by the payment of “super-chair” stipends and the possible added costs associated with the necessity of some assistant chairs. So overall, it is still a relatively small amount of savings in total, let’s say $40,000.

In the overall scheme of things isn’t $40,000 a mere pittance? Is this not being a bit penny-wise and pound-foolish to tamper with a system of departments that has evolved over many years, departments that have been finely tuned by their respective members to satisfy their individual and collective needs in a way that serves the faculty, the administration and the students in the most appropriate manner?

At the beginning of the 2009-2010 academic year President Mordechai Rozanski stood before the faculty body and declared — backed up with statistics and charts — that Rider University was entering one of its best years ever! In spite of the economic downturn, we have increased enrollments and are in a much better position than many of our competitors. Along these lines, it was disclosed by Newman that Sanda students alone number over 100 this year, and, at a tuition of about $40,000 per year, that amounts to a windfall of at least $4 million of revenue derived from this one affiliation alone, not to mention our international “French Connection,” as referred to by Dean Newman. Put in this light, with all due respect to those who made the decision to do so, the upheaval of our departmental system in order to save on the order of $40,000 seems to be a very questionable judgment.

Several faculty members expressed serious concern as to just how these new merged departments would deal with some very sensitive matters, among which the most worrying is the issue of promotion and tenure within disciplines of merged departments. Several raised the belief that it would be highly inappropriate and not even possible for a member of one discipline to pass judgment on a member of another discipline. To this, Newman stated that within departments there could be those who take an active role on some issues and those who would not, but yet it was emphasized that everyone in the merged department would ultimately have to sign a letter of support or non-support for each candidate. How they would arrive at their decisions in a responsible and professional manner remains a mystery.

Similar scenarios were painted by Newman with respect to workload, hiring, advising and perhaps other departmental issues. The solution would be to allow each discipline within the merged departments to carry on as usual with its own approach to such issues. Then why merge? And note that such individualized activities do not occur by themselves. Each of them would require scheduling, paperwork, guidance, meetings, calls to order, planning, coordination, follow-up, etc. In fact, it conceivably would be necessary to create some type of assistant chair positions within disciplines to carry on this work and therefore additional stipends would be required, defeating the economic purpose of the merger in the first place.

And in the creation of these super chairs, if their style of management was to delegate all individualized disciplinary matters to assistant chairs, or worse to faculty members who were somehow pressured to step up and be responsible for such activities without compensation, then what again would be the purpose of creating these super chair positions in the first place, to be staffed by individuals overseeing everything, but in actuality perhaps doing little themselves?

In that same vein, it has already been disclosed that two of our current departmental chairs, both highly competent, are stepping down from their respective positions, presumably due to the nightmarish prospect of having to cope with what they perceive to be an immense future responsibility. What does that leave then? Perhaps less capable individuals, or those who might like to step up into this chair of power simply for the personal satisfaction they might derive rather than for the public service they might deliver.

On questioning, it appeared that Newman created the merged partnership possibilities for reasons not entirely explained. In fact the proposed merger between Marketing/Advertising and Law/Ethics was presented at first as a merger of convenience between the last two departments which were left over on the list. His comment that the department could be called LAME (Law, Advertising, Marketing, Ethics) was in fact, sadly, perhaps a lot closer the truth of the matter than the bad joke intended.

With respect to Marketing and Advertising it was pointed out this dual major department already has perhaps the most students of any, maybe even more than Accounting. Since it was disclosed that Accounting would not be merged with anyone, although the reasons were not listed, that would leave Marketing/Advertising and whomever they merged with as giant super-sized department in terms of student enrollment. Wouldn’t it make far more sense to determine which departments merge on the basis of some attempt to create an equitable distribution of students among them?

Instead, when pressed on the reason why Marketing/Advertising and Law/Ethics might be merged — beyond saying they were the ones left at the end as though an afterthought — the answer was that this is the way Villanova does it. Who cares what Villanova does? Are we just playing a me-too type of strategy, blindly following our competitors? Do we not have the self-assurance and confidence to say our system of departmental organization and governance has emerged over time and represents the very best and most economically efficient manner in which we can truly serve the needs of the administration, our faculty and our students?

Finally, it should be noted that, while not required to do so, never once did Newman reach out to the faculty to explain this matter, to seek to understand their concerns, to allow them to submit ideas and suggestions and to generally be a part of this process. This merging of departments is, in my opinion, by far the most significant change in organizational structure within the university that I have witnessed in my entire time here, almost 30 years. To do this based on the unilateral decision of one person without the input from any professional colleagues demonstrates, in my opinion, a complete disregard for those who will be affected the most and is hardly the manner in which support can be encouraged from those individuals. It needn’t have been handled this way.

Clearly, at least to me, this merging of departments seems to have been a rush to judgment which deserves far more thorough and thoughtful consideration.

– Dr. Ralph Gallay

Associate Professor of Marketing

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