What is Clark’s Future?

Logan Rosell, Contributing Writer

Like much of higher education, Clark University is in a state of constant flux. We live in a world where the economy is restructuring itself around data and automation, making the university degree almost a necessity. We are also being told by global economists that we are on the precipice of a recession. Why is this important? Because higher education changed during the last economic recession in 2008. 

Many students use job skills as the top reason to attend college over traditional knowledge and experience. The university degree has become woven into the fabric of our career development. Students will now use these degrees to work their way into a comfortable lifestyle, but a degree is only worth as much as the institution who granted it. 

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen estimates that about half of US universities will go bankrupt in the next decade. Some students, faculty, and staff remember that, not too long ago, Clark experienced a 3.7 million dollar budget deficit from a first-year class that was smaller than expected. Now Clark is experiencing a boom with a larger than expected first-year class. 

The important thing to remember is how much pressure is placed on college. Within students’ short lived experience college is the apex. Students who know that the US job market is changing have heard endless stories of 2008, and are often undecided about their future because they are constantly being told that the jobs they will be working in 10 years don’t exist yet. 

Although students rely heavily upon a college degree, we have very little authority over the way our college is managed. As President David Angel prepares to resign, many students are wondering what this will mean for the future of Clark. What will happen to student services? What will happen to their favorite faculty? Is the university going to expand or shrink? Do students have any say over this? 

To answer these questions, we need to understand the tangled web of responsibilities and budgets that constructs the hierarchy of Clark administration, known as the Organizational Chart. At the top, is the board of trustees. They are technically the final authority on all big-picture matters involving the university. However, in practice, almost everything that students are actively concerned about never rises to this level. For our purposes, all you need to know is that they are responsible for hiring the president. The president is, functionally, the highest authority on campus (Due to the many grey areas and overlapping jurisdictions in the jello cake that is higher-ed governance, this claim is for theoretical understanding only, and the same goes for all other roles). 

Roughly beside and a bit under the president is the Provost. The Provost has broad powers over the Deans, faculty budgeting, and the graduate school. 

Clark faculty play a prominent role in the governance of administration, which is very unique to Clark. The issues students care about the most are handled by Deans and other faculty throughout Clark. Most of what the Deans do could be classified under the amorphous term of student services which are designed to work along with faculty-driven class and curriculum. 

In a very rough approximation, here are the rules and ideas that are set down to guide Clark: the trustee governance rules, the mission statement, the motto, faculty governance rules, and accreditation requirements. Of these guidelines, only the rules laid out by administration are set in stone. 

Furthermore, the mission statement and motto can effectively be changed by the president, although the mission statement must be approved by the board (the motto is more for marketing). Will Clark’s foundation change? Absolutely. The question is: will any one person know exactly how or in what direction? 

Ultimately, if you are a student, there is little reason to fear everything blowing up in the short term. However, your anxiety is understandable. Recognizing what is at stake, where you fit in, and whom you have to talk to is the best way to handle the uncertainty of this situation. If you are worried about professors leaving, the budget comes from the Provost and the hiring is left up to specific departments. 

One of the best ways to have your voice heard about general education quality is through the faculty evaluations at the end of the semester. Professor Mark C. Miller goes on record saying that the evaluations are taken seriously by the faculty committee that oversees them. If your concern is more about faculty to staff ratio or the administrative bloat, the issue becomes more complicated. Tenure faculty numbers have held steady over the last decade. The same is true for the percentage of the budget spent on instruction according to Provost Davis Baird. 

According to the faculty, there is a general sense that over time upper administration has grown, while midlevel administration has stayed roughly the same or decreased slightly. Again, the Provost, and to an extent, the president, would have more specific information on this subject. It is important to understand that much of the shifts in administration, and yes, the changes in the use of tuition money, have been a response to increased demand for student services. 

When President Angel leaves faculty will be less affected than when Provost Baird leaves in a year, mainly due to budgeting purposes. Overall, the curriculum and faculty members will carry on as they did before, for the most part, governed by themselves. The biggest changes will come to existing administrators. The university is actively searching for some 55 positions under the staff category. This could mean anything from a custodian to the president. With that said, some upper-level positions like the chief financial officer are being left open for the new president to fill, and 55 is slightly more than any other given year. 

The big question for administrators is: what is their fundamental function in higher education? Due to the rapid changes in expectations for these jobs, they are left in a bit of an existential quandary. Do they manage the budget, push papers, or orchestrate a student experience? Are they closer to civil servants or corporate visionaries? What will attract the next class of students? How does Clark market itself? How does Clark manage its investments? There is an extremely large scope within this class of jobs, which is why salaries tend to be higher, and more roles tend to be created.  The most significant question is: what is their collective mission? In the short term, classes will stay the same, professors will still be here, the quality of education will hold, buildings will be maintained, budgets will likely remain consistent, students will have access to the same or similar services, and our motto will most likely stick around. However, if we assume that all this will hold true forever, the question of who will run the university still remains. Will Clark be around for the next 50 years?