LETTER: College of Medicine is a college without consent

A brief history of the College of Medicine (and what it has taught us):

September 2008 – The CMU Board of Trustees approves CMED. No one outside the Board or administration knows this topic will even be discussed.

May 2010 – The Board of Trustees meets to discuss land for the CMED and forgets to notify the public. A request for public comment at the end of the meeting is met with silence by a room filled with administrators.

February 2011 – The opening of CMED is delayed one year, ensuring CMU will pay more than $1 million in salaries to CMED deans for another year with no students.

Spring to Summer 2011 – George Ross bemoans “tough times” in Michigan and state appropriation cuts, failing to note this is negated by a tuition hike. Also not discussed are the $220 million in net unrestricted assets held by CMU. At the same time, CMU offers a package to faculty that would lead to a drop in take-home pay of thousands of dollars a year.

Summer 2011 – CMU admits they have enough money to pay what faculty propose — they just don’t want to.

Fall 2011 – CMU’s program prioritization report comes out, listing a number of existing programs as targets for cuts or elimination while CMED is listed as a top priority for funding.

Fall 2011 – Director of Public Relations Steve Smith states no money from CMU’s operating budget will be used to fund CMED.

Fall 2011 – Deans of all colleges are told by Ross to slash millions of dollars from existing operating budgets.

Fall 2011 – After ignoring numerous requests to make documents related to CMED public, CMU finally does so in response to three FOIA requests. Instead of posting the documents on the web, CMU places 2 paper copies on reserve at the library, making access difficult.

November 2011 – Provost Shapiro states CMED funding will come, in part, from “capital reserves included in unrestricted net assets.” Later that same day, Shapiro announces the administration has made its “final offer” to the faculty.

What does all this tell us? From the beginning, extraordinary steps have been taken to keep faculty and students in the dark regarding CMED. This has been true from the first meeting at which the Board approved CMED, right up to this fall when the administration would not share critical documents until forced to do so through FOIA requests.

Why? Perhaps they want to hide the financial model of CMED. At last check, fundraising was about halfway to the modest goal of $25 million (as a comparison, this spring Western Michigan University’s med school was given a gift of $100 million!).

So where is the money coming from? It’s coming from you and me. Students, your tuition has increased more than 220 percent since 2000. Why are programs you use being asked to slash their budgets by millions, when CMU has a “rainy day’”fund now exceeding $280 million?  Why are the faculty being asked to take drastic cuts in compensation? Because reducing our compensation allows CMU to grow its unrestricted net asset line in the budget, which Provost Shapiro just told us will be a source of funding for CMED.

Creative accounting allows Ross to slash our operating budget and shift those funds into another category. Shapiro claims funding is not coming from tuition or existing programs, yet his prioritization lists a number of existing programs ready to be cut, and CMED is listed as a recipient of further funds. CMED is woefully underfunded and the only way it can possibly get off the ground is to rob the students and faculty.

Another thing this tells us is that CMU has completely abandoned any pretense of shared governance. Its M.O. is clearly to make decisions while we aren’t looking.

In the self-study provided to the LCME, our administration listed the “egalitarian-conservative” climate among faculty as a potential weakness.

I would say the real weakness CMU faces is the authoritarian-paternalistic attitude of the Board and the Administration. Their actions say: “We will tell you what we’re doing (or maybe we won’t) and too bad if you don’t like it”.

Until that weakness is fixed, all stakeholders in the CMU enterprise can expect to face further conflicts.

Regards, Bryan Gibson Professor of Psychology