Monday, December 6, 2010

To Waive or Not to Waive; That is the Question

I am not in a position to gauge whether Cathleen P. Black should or should not be granted a waiver from the normal credential required by NY State law in order to serve as New York City Schools Chancellor. That responsibility lies with New York Commissioner of Education.  If she is qualified, she should receive the waiver.  If she is not qualified, the waiver should not be granted.  And yet, the actual conclusion regarding the granting of a waiver is neither the first alternative stated above nor the second.  It seems she will be granted a waiver on condition she appoint an experienced schools’ educator as the chief academic officer of the City schools. But is she qualified or is she not qualified?

When I arrived at Hofstra many years ago, there were a number of tiny departments—one such department was Art History and Humanities.  Yes there was already an Art department and yes, the Humanities person previously had a home in the English department. Why was this tiny four person department created?   The answer is simple; there were personality conflicts in the Art Department and there was a difficult tenure case in the English department.  The end result was that a new department was created which brought together the Art Historians, who were at odds with the Fine Arts faculty, and the Humanities faculty member who was the successful candidate for tenure in a very difficult tenure case in the English department.  Rather than try to resolve these differences (and perhaps they could not be resolved) another department was created. With this new department came the inevitable extra costs including a part-time secretary and extra compensation for the Chair.

A number of years later, when I became Dean of the Business School, I must admit I did something similar.  The computer center at the time was not particularly responsive to faculty needs and I was unsuccessful in getting them to change.  I traded in a new faculty line for a computer facilitator line.  Computer applications were becoming more and more critical in the education of our students.  Faculty needed support to build these applications into the curriculum.  I couldn’t get the support needed from the Computer Center so I provided the support in a different way.  I had no regrets then (and now) but there was a loss in terms of additional faculty.

There are often situations in education when confronting an issue is so difficult that we select a work around in order to resolve the situation.  We are all aware of such situations on our campuses and many of us have been involved in creating these scenarios.  In robust economic times, prosperity masks the actual costs involved.  But we are not in a prosperous situation today and as I have stated in multiple blogs, most of higher education (and public K-12 education) is considerably constrained.  We all need to stop creating cost increasing work arounds.  And though it is easier said than done (and will likely take a lot of time and patience), we also need to dismantle some of the existing work arounds.  It just makes good common sense that when resources are scarce we look first to trim those extra costs that will not adversely impact on the quality of education we provide our students.

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