By MARK LINDSLEY
(HACKENSACK) – The Metropolitan Campus hosted its second town hall meeting of the year on Wednesday, April 18, to discuss the proposed reconstruction of the university.
“As I promised last time we met, which was back in November,” FDU President Chris Capuano said, “we would continue to do these open campus meetings for several reasons, but mostly to keep you updated on what’s happening at the university. Our goal is to do one every fall and spring, indefinitely.”
The audience seemed primed to hear about the restructuring. Capuano had other ideas.
“With respect to campus improvements,” Capuano said, “we have now an updated timeline for doing the work on this campus, with respect to what we are calling the perimeter identity project.”
He outlined changes including three monument signs that were built, a new road through campus, proposed changes to the footbridge next summer, and a plan to build a hotel in the summer of 2020.
Capuano finally got around to the topic that everyone expected – restructuring.
“We don’t yet know what exactly we’re going to do,” Capuano said. “What we do know is that when you look at the current strategic plan there are six major strategic initiatives … It is a five-year plan. We are actually nearing the end of the second of the five years. I think it is appropriate for the board to remind me, we need to start looking at this carefully.”
After briefly touching on a few “broad goals,” including improving efficiency, having more uniformity between campuses and refining our institutional positioning, Capuano passed the baton to University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Gillian Small.
Small started by painting a grim picture of the state of higher education.
“Almost weekly, if not daily, there are stories of colleges that are closing or in trouble or merging with other colleges,” Small said. “We are not immune to what’s going on, so we really have to position ourselves in a position of strength.”
While Capuano and Small once again insisted that nothing has been decided yet, it did appear they have decided that University College has got to go.
“The structure that myself and a lot of the consultants struggle with is the current structure of University College,” Small said. “You have to understand that it’s an unusual structure. It’s not usual to have professional schools, like the school of engineering, buried in a college.”
This perceived contradiction, along with some other issues, left the faculty with plenty of questions. Small didn’t have nearly as many answers, or at least not direct ones.
She said that wasn’t a contradiction.
“What I said, was that the actual structure that we end up with has not been defined yet,” Small said. “When I say nothing has been decided about the final structure, I mean what the university will look like in terms of colleges, schools, the final outcome.”
One professor asked about the narrative, questioning why faculty were worrying about which program would be where when they should be worrying about things like whether programs going to get more control over their budgets and what a “center of excellence” is.
Small responded quickly.
“Any cost-savings from this, and all other revenue streams that we’re developing, need to be put back into the academic enterprise,” Small said, “so that we can help build those centers of excellence, so that we can help support the faculty … Those are all very, very solid points, and as I pointed out earlier, faculty worry about the college structure much more than students … It’s not so important to the students what college they belong to.”
During the rest of the Q&A, Small touched on a few faculty issues. She said they don’t plan on cutting faculty, but some might have to move around. She added that they plan on hiring more adjuncts, not firing them.
She called the Q&A to a quick close.
“I know we have a fantastic faculty and staff and administration at this university,” Small said. “None of this is a criticism of what people are doing, it’s really an effort to position the university in the best way possible to go forward.”
Small said her focus was on the public perception of FDU.
“I know our tagline is that we’re the largest private university in New Jersey,” Small said, “but we want to change that to being one of the best private universities in New Jersey, or even in the New Jersey-metropolitan region.”
Capuano’s message was that the restructuring is not an event, but a process.
“We should take our time and get this right,” Capuano said. “It is less important that we get it all done right away than it is that we get it right.”