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ARCHIVED  August 13, 1999

CSU, UNC strengthen ties to stretch resources

Academic institutions, public and private, are curious constructions held together by competing needs.To attract students, a college or university needs status, typically accrued through high-profile research programs funded by grant money. To teach students, those same institutions rely on the dedication of faculty who depend on the fiscal viability of the institution for their pay.
To support the entire operation, administrators must continually work to keep teaching and research expenses in balance with the available financial resources.
With those ends in mind, the presidents of Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley developed a memorandum of understanding between the two schools designed to reduce costs and improve educational services.
“We believe there are benefits for both institutions,” explained Al Yates, president of CSU. “Beginning with a recognition of how geographically close we are, we asked RAre there ways we can reduce expenses? Can we improve the effectiveness of programs?'”
President Hank Brown of UNC put it another way: “As a taxpayer of Colorado, when I ask myself what I wish for from my public institutions, I would answer, improved service and lower costs.”
Primarily, the memorandum of understanding opens the door to revisit opportunities that have been lost in the past. For example, to attract new faculty these days, universities must consider the fact that most academic households depend on two incomes, sometimes two academic incomes. This “trailing-spouse” syndrome has bedeviled departments that cannot hire one-half of a household because there is no work for the other half. The fact that professional jobs are hard to come by in Northern Colorado exacerbates the problem.
“We can look for ways to cooperate in hiring,” Brown said, “and possibly repeat the story of Tom Cech and his wife, Carol. The University of Colorado was initially interested in hiring her, but took the opportunity to hire him as well. In 1989, Tom Cech shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry.”
Loren Crabtree, provost of CSU, agreed that the prospect of partner accommodation is one selling point of the memorandum that could bring immediate benefits for both schools.
“We have missed out on making appointments we wanted to make because of a lack of communication between CSU and UNC,” Crabtree said. “As a part of this new plan for cooperation, we have created a Web site that will allow a job candidate to look at openings at both universities. In the future, we hope to extend this kind of cooperation up and down the Front Range and into Wyoming.”
Jeff Eighmy, chair of CSU’s anthropology department, views the memorandum as a positive gesture, demonstrating that Colorado’s public universities are being good stewards of public resources.
“On a departmental level, we work on a daily basis to make our resources go as far as possible,” he explained. “However, the public cannot see what happens on a day-to-day basis. It takes a comprehensive, institutional message to get that point across.”
Pattie Cowell, chair of the university’s English department, added, “Despite the sometimes territorial behavior of institutions of higher learning, there is a long tradition of sharing knowledge, if not resources. Faculty at one institution have library privileges at all the others.”
Indeed, when the flood of 1997 destroyed many of CSU’s library holdings, a very efficient inter-library loan system allowed students and faculty access to books and other print documents from UNC.
When the announcement of the memorandum of understanding first appeared, it took some faculty by surprise, for it was not clear how the details would shake out. Anxiety grew around topics of salaries and autonomy.
Because faculty at UNC make substantially less on average than faculty at CSU, CSU faculty wondered if maybe this “understanding” was a ploy to cut salaries. Faculty of the smaller UNC (10,670 students) wondered if programs might be cut, or worse, if their school was about to be absorbed by the bigger institution. (CSU has 22,300 students.)
Both presidents are emphatic in explaining, however, that the plan is an expression of good will rooted in a desire to explore the possibilities for mutual gain, not for individual loss.
“Over the next years, our goal at UNC is to upgrade our standards, rather than to grow,” Brown explained. “Collaboration with CSU will allow us to build on our strengths, which have traditionally been in the areas of teacher preparation, performing and visual arts, and health and human sciences. In areas like accounting, where we have a good undergraduate program but no master’s program, we can look to CSU.”
Crabtree pointed out that accounting students must have 150 hours to sit for the CPA exam, but because UNC has no master’s program, students are left short.
“UNC accounting majors can continue for the necessary hours at CSU. As a result, UNC does not face the prospect of having to choose between losing students or adding an expensive master’s program,” Crabtree said. Aside from the positive long-term effects of partner accommodation and of filling programs where there are gaps, departments will benefit from renewed support for cooperative agreements.
“The first thing I did when I was appointed chair of the economics department at UNC in 1985 was set up a cooperative agreement with CSU’s economics department,´ said John Green, economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Our department was undergraduate only, and so we offered assistantships to CSU’s graduate students to teach the courses that were being taught by part-time faculty.”
Green explained that the agreement between the two departments grew out of professional networks and mutual benefits. CSU’s graduate students received support for their studies, and UNC undergraduates got the benefit of teachers who were not looking for their next part-time position.
The only downside in Green’s view, was the lack of support from the administration.
“We were discouraged by the dean, who felt that the two departments were becoming too close and that UNC needed to seek more diversity in its teaching point of view,” Green said.
Sara Saz, chair of the foreign language department at CSU, is very interested in exploring the possibilities for collaboration, both inside and outside of academe.
“So far, there has been little discussion among departments about how this collaboration might work,” she explained. “But this fall I will begin to discuss with my colleagues in the UNC School of Liberal Arts what this opportunity might mean for us.”
Saz pointed out that collaboration is at the heart of institutional vitality, with scholars from different institutions routinely working together on research projects. Beyond establishing new academic networks, she is hopeful that the environment of collaboration will open up possibilities for connecting the foreign-language department with local businesses that have international ties and new opportunities for multilingual employees.
What legislators understand as “cost-effective,” academics have long regarded as “collegial.” And so when the memorandum of understanding is viewed through an academic lens, it appears that the time for old-fashioned collegiality has come round again, dressed in contemporary vestments of corporate cost-effectiveness.

Academic institutions, public and private, are curious constructions held together by competing needs.To attract students, a college or university needs status, typically accrued through high-profile research programs funded by grant money. To teach students, those same institutions rely on the dedication of faculty who depend on the fiscal viability of the institution for their pay.
To support the entire operation, administrators must continually work to keep teaching and research expenses in balance with the available financial resources.
With those ends in mind, the presidents of Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley…

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