Rethinking the CPR
By Nic Zhou '10
Over the past year the Committee for Priorities and Resources (CPR) has been involved in extended deliberations about its role and composition. At the next faculty meeting, the extent of the staff’s role will be determined. Having served on both the Advisory Budgetary Committee (ABC) and the CPR, I would like to offer my perspective on the current conversation about adding staff to the latter committee in a formal capacity. Although the faculty has officially voted to add staff to the CPR, it has not yet determined whether the staff will receive full voting membership. I argue that the staff should serve on the committee in the capacity of full voting members.

The CPR is the College’s long-range planning committee. It deals with Amherst’s long-term priorities and serves as the faculty’s advisory body on a wide range of non-curricular and budgetary matters. In the past two years the committee has changed drastically. Prior to the financial crisis the CPR was a largely rubber-stamp committee, since in good times there was little call for close attention to budgetary matters. The kinds of budgetary trade-offs that we needed to make last year were rarely called for.

Since the financial crisis however, the CPR’s role has changed significantly. When Amherst faced serious budgetary constraints the community needed to make tough decisions about what to cut, and the committee most suited to tackle the issue was the CPR. Despite being the committee best positioned to deal with the financial crisis, the CPR was seen as lacking the campus-wide mandate that was necessary to make the final recommendations regarding cuts to the budget. This was true even though the CPR invited two staff members to take part in its deliberations. As a result, a special committee, the ABC was convened, composed of faculty, staff, students, administrators, Trustees and alumni. The ABC adopted a notable proportion of the CPR’s initial report, and although there were some changes made, the CPR’s influence on the process was clear. The Trustees, who have the final say about the College’s budget, adopted the final ABC report almost completely.

As a result of the crisis, the CPR has made significant changes to its mission. Instead of considering the narrower range of faculty-related concerns that dominated its conversations in the past, it has engaged with a broad range of issues. This semester, it met in the heads of most departments, evaluating the impact of last year’s budget cuts on the College. This year, the CPR has had two guests from the staff, adding significantly to our conversation and offering many insights that would no doubt have been missing otherwise.

Formalizing staff membership on the CPR was a laudable first step. I hope to see the faculty go one step further and give the staff a full vote on the committee next week. It is clear that the staff of the College is dedicated to its mission of providing a first class education to its students, and it is clear that the staff is an essential part of that mission. Recognizing their role, and bringing them onboard as partners in the work of our college is important from a normative perspective. It is simply the right thing to do by the staff.

Staff membership enhances the CPR. It provides a wider range of views which are not available without their presence. Those views are essential to improving the recommendations that a newly important CPR will make in the years to come. Giving them the vote, as well as voice, will ensure that their concerns are not brushed aside on the CPR. It will empower the CPR by making it a more representative group, whose legitimacy will only grow as the committee grows into its new role. The optics of not giving the staff a full vote, on the other hand, are problematic. Beset by symbolic (and real) inequalities the CPR will find it difficult to realize the increased legitimacy that it will need going forward.

I recognize that there are some concerns from both the staff and the faculty with the proposals currently being considered. The staff worry that this will be the only step that is taken to address their concerns: that membership on the CPR would be a symbolic concession with little actual value. I hope that this worry does not prevent people from supporting the re-configuration of the CPR. Even as we consider this proposal, the Advisory Committee on Personnel Policy (ACPP), the staff’s major representative body, is considering how it can expand its mandate to become more inclusive of staff members who are currently outside its umbrella. My hope is that membership on the CPR will only be the first step of many to improve the staff’s ability to be heard. Staff morale has taken significant blows from the cuts made, and it is important to hear their grievances as we seek to ameliorate their pain.

Some faculty members worry that this move weakens faculty governance. I believe it does the opposite. It strengthens the CPR, which by definition strengthens the faculty, and the latest proposal even protects the faculty majority on the committee. Furthermore, it seems to me that much of the opposition from the faculty is motivated by a fear that the administration is somehow using this as a gambit to weaken the faculty. I reject that argument. The staff of Amherst is not a tool of the administration. They have their own views and concerns, and I would not be surprised if it turned out that they and the faculty agreed on far more than they disagreed. I believe that worries about faculty governance are misplaced in this instance. This does not set a precedent for weakening the faculty’s voice, but instead, strengthens it, giving the faculty a new set of allies.

The growing rift between faculty, staff and administration (in various combinations) troubles me. This college is far too small a community for such rifts to be ignored. My hope is that this will be a first step to tamping down some of the animosity that still lingers after the crisis. Obviously this is only a first step, but it is a worthy one nonetheless. I urge faculty members to give staff the vote on the CPR. Ultimately the CPR only makes recommendations, but it is a significant step for staff to be part of such deliberations in a full and equal manner.

Issue 24, Submitted 2010-04-28 02:13:42