Top faculty present concerns to Cruzado

President Cruzado’s administration appears to be facing public criticism for the first time since she became MSU’s president three years ago.

Last week a large group of MSU’s top faculty issued a public statement of concern regarding the direction of the university, prompting Cruzado to send a 1900-word e-mail to MSU faculty and staff.

The faculty statement was drafted after about 100 of MSU’s nearly 500 tenurable faculty met privately off campus earlier in the week.

Specific concerns outlined by faculty include enrollment growth, commitment to the university’s standing as a top-tier research institution and the extent to which faculty are included in academic decision-making. The group, including high-profile professors Robert Rydell, Sue Monahan and Linda Young, wrote that they hope to spur “productive conversations” between faculty and senior administrators.

Rydell, Michael P. Malone professor of history, described the move by a group of MSU’s “finest researchers and educators,” including professor from almost every college, as highly unusual. The group is not connected to the faculty union nor faculty senate, he said.

The frustration comes as the university administration, which unveiled an overarching strategic plan last fall, works to set long-term goals for its academic colleges and departments.

Cruzado’s e-mail emphasized her efforts at communication as she has implemented her land-grant vision for MSU, specifically citing her weekly Monday Morning Memos and numerous public listening sessions.

Referencing her 2010 inaugural address, she wrote, “I never promised … that the status quo would dictate the rhythm of my days.”

She characterized challenges stemming from MSU’s 18 percent enrollment growth over three years as “growing gains” that have brought additional resources to the university and increased access to higher education. As it continues to grow, “The protection of our academic quality is crucially essential,” Cruzado wrote.

Cruzado’s letter also credited faculty and students for MSU’s strength in research and described several examples of Cruzado’s support for university research. MSU has spent nearly $300 million in research over the past three years and has been designated a top-tier public research institution by the Carnegie Foundation since 2006.

However, Rydell said some faculty are worried that MSU’s administration has not offered a clear plan for maintaining that “important” distinction in the future.

As for enrollment, Rydell said class sizes are “bursting” and many faculty are not yet convinced the university is committed to finding additional resources to accommodate growth.

“Can we give a quality education under these conditions when we are already doing more with less?”  Sue Monahan, associate dean in College of Letters and Science

Sue Monahan, associate dean in the College of Letters and Science (CLS), said many faculty members want specific explanation by the administration for how MSU plans to achieve the goals outlined in its new strategic plan. “Can we give a quality education under these conditions when we are already doing more with less?” she said.

MSU will have to create more classrooms in coming years, Associate Provost David Singel explained, but the university hopes increasing academic efficiency can help alleviate the crunch. Adding space “is the simplest, not the smartest response” to increased enrollment, he said, pointing to efforts to offer improved classroom spaces and degree planning tools for students.

The university is adding 25 new faculty positions, Provost Martha Potvin told the Exponent Wednesday, many of which have already been hired.

Rydell, however, said the administration has tended to fill vacancies left by senior faculty with entry-level positions.

The provost said the faculty lines currently being filled are primarily tenure-track, adding that every faculty line is requested by departments and evaluated individually. “I think they are overstating their case,” she said.

Cruzado’s e-mail also specifically denied rumors that she had been searching for positions at other universities. “I want to use this letter to clearly state that I have not been involved in any job searches,” she said. “None. Nada.”

“You are hearing it from the Bobcat’s mouth: The last time I participated in a search was the happy day when I accepted the nomination that converted me into ‘Candidate number 59’ for the presidency of MSU,” she said.

Cruzado wrote that she and Rydell, Monahan and Young agreed to seek “additional avenues of communication.” Potvin and Cruzado have scheduled several meetings with individual departments, mostly in CLS, Potvin said.

Potvin said she first heard about these faculty concerns last week and was “very surprised” that they felt compelled to take the message public. The situation indicates that communication needs to be strengthened between faculty and administration, she said.

When over 100 faculty gather in one room, Monahan said, “I hope we can pay attention to them.”

Eric Dietrich also contributed to this report. An earlier version of this article appeared on  Jan. 18.