Ten years ago, Mesa State College boasted a little over 6,000 enrolled students and a campus with 19 buildings. Since then, a name change, an addition of over 10 buildings, an enrollment size of over 10,000 students and a growing position as a great economic driver on the Western Slope has raised Colorado Mesa University’s status in the state considerably.
President Tim Foster has achieved such incredible success previous Mesa presidents could not have imagined possible. The progress he made has also brought the university to an important crossroad.
Ten years from now, future Mavericks will look to this moment as the point of no return—the opportunity to take advantage of this incredible progress and create something more than another building.
CMU, its students, its administration and its board of trustees have to decide if progress can only be measured by the size of the campus and the number of buildings.
Can’t progress instead be determined by the quality of learning on that very same campus?
CMU, while known for its cheaper tuition, is not as respected a university as it deserves. A CMU graduate is likely to receive less respect than one from CU, whether or not this perception is accurate. However, it’s time to change this perception, and one of the early steps to this process is the reinstatement of deans.
While CMU continues to attract more talented and dedicated students year after year, its reputation has not changed at the same pace as its enrollment. Instead, CMU’s flagship offering is its cheaper tuition. This is how Foster has argued for the necessity of eliminating deans, despite earning one of the largest salaries among university presidents in the state.
According to CMU’s numbers, Foster will earn $450,000 in the 2018 fiscal year, while the average full-time faculty member makes $60,824 and the average part-time made $6,881 in fiscal year 2016.
Although the removal of deans may have been to save costs when this decision was made, if Foster can earn such a hefty salary, it is time to spread the wealth.
In their evaluations of CMU, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) has routinely advised that CMU use deans, a suggestion that Foster does not put much stock in.
“They [HLC] will make whatever observations they will make. We will agree or disagree with some of them. We’ll either say ‘we could definitely be doing a better job of that’ or ‘we respectfully disagree’ to some of the absurd ones, such as the recommendation of the use of deans. CMU administration will then continue to do the best we can do for students,” Foster said to The Criterion in November.
If CMU students want a degree that is valuable, a degree that means something to their potential employers, it would be wise to listen to the body responsible for university accreditation, the HLC.
While Foster may think the HLC’s recommendation of deans is “absurd,” we feel it would be wise to listen to a body whose primary objective is deciding if a university is worthy of its standing.
Deans need to be reinstated at Colorado Mesa University in order to provide the faculty members the ability and the freedom to achieve their own mandate.
Whether it was done on purpose or not, the lack of deans on campus has made faculty members afraid to speak out against administrative decisions for fear of their careers. Since no one stands between faculty and the administration to advocate on behalf of individual professors or departmental concerns, it’s unlikely that any individual will ever speak up.
While this structure may create the illusion of a unified, content campus, this is not likely the reality. A college campus, above all other workplaces, should strive to cultivate and promote discussion about institutional concerns, rather than indirectly stifle them.
Furthermore, if these important concerns are never raised, how can CMU hope to improve anything for both faculty and the students they teach?
While not having deans may have made it easier to build more buildings, this decision does not bring and retain quality educators. Professors are more likely to apply for teaching positions at universities which keep their concerns in the forefront, and one of the simplest ways to ensure that this happens is using deans to mediate between administrators and faculty.
Once deans have sovereignty, they will be able to make decisions that will increase the student’s quality of education on the smallest level. Deans for each department will better understand how resources can be used or what research should be pursued than administrators who are forced to oversee every department. With the specific knowledge of their faculty and department, deans can make decisions that fit each department’s needs, rather than make decisions from afar that seem to apply to everyone.
As CMU continues to grow—and if it intends to grow to its goal of over 15,000 in the future—we need to think seriously about reinstating deans. More students require more professors, and likely more programs of study. With even more students enrolling at CMU, administrators cannot oversee and manage each department with the careful attention and interest that a dean could.
CMU can grow without deans. We’ve seen this process unfold for several years. But, we need to return to the important question: What type of growth do we want?
Do we want to grow in size? Merely in building numbers? In simply the amount of students enrolled?
Now, it’s time to grow in ways that are more difficult to measure, such as the quality of student, the quality of professor and quality of research and work each produces.