Interim Provost Michael Lewis appeared before the Faculty Senate on December 8, 2020. A common reaction from faculty: “Patankar 2.0.”
Manoj Patankar served as interim provost/provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA), 2009–2012. After a series of actions, faculty voted “no confidence” in his leadership. The then-president initially dismissed faculty concerns and supported then-VPAA Patankar. Faculty subsequently voted “no confidence” in the then-president. A little less than one year later, the “retirement” of the then-president was announced.
Is the reaction of “Patankar 2.0” on the mark?
- Patankar developed a top-down (and mostly secret) “Strategic Plan for the University” in 2010.
Recent administrative announcements about “areas of impact” and “centers of excellence” have been interpreted as a new shadow strategic plan, although no strategic planning process has been announced. The effort involves Vice President for Research Ken Olliff (and a dean who is leaving SLU). Interim Provost Lewis was to begin reviewing the plans as of December 15, with final decisions by January 15. This potentially has enormous impact on faculty, yet fails to engage in the kind of ground-up negotiations that were central to the 2014 strategic plan (if not realized in the result).
- Patankar presided over multiple fraught reorganization efforts—including a reorganization of the graduate school and an effort to move the libraries into a School of Informatics.
Interim Provost Lewis is currently presiding over a fraught effort to reorganize the College of Arts and Sciences and the Parks College of Engineering, Aviation, and Technology.
- Patankar presided over an academic reallocation, when the Department of Public Policy Studies was closed.
Interim Provost Lewis has proposed what appears to be a much more extensive academic reallocation.
- Patankar issued top-down proposals (Definitions, Evaluation, Workload, and Recognition) that could have radically altered the work and evaluation process of faculty, in contravention of shared governance principles regarding academic matters.
Interim Provost Lewis has clearly signaled that he is similarly developing (or overseeing the development of) proposals that could radically alter the work and evaluation process of faculty. Unbeknownst to faculty until just recently, he directed an administrator in a non-academic body, the Office of the Vice President for Research, to begin using unnamed software to track the work of faculty.
Indeed, the administration’s moves are, on a number of counts, eerily similar to the earlier actions and efforts of Patankar. Although there are differences with respect to details, claims of “Patankar 2.0” appear well on the mark.
Patankar 1.0 ultimately failed because of the top-down processes via which proposals were first developed. Top-down processes contravene the spirit and substance of shared governance and simply cannot capture the ground-level expertise needed for the development of sensible policies.
Processes of shared governance are costly. Why then bother? Because processes based on substantive shared governance produce better policies and end up being far less costly over time.
Patankar 1.0 was extremely costly for SLU. Countless hours of effort that could have been devoted to students, research, and productive service were instead spent to counter ill-advised proposals and to oust leaders who failed to recognize and correct their errors.
Here’s hoping that the board and administration will recognize their recent missteps. Especially now, SLU can ill afford Patankar 2.0.
[Those who wish to learn more about SLU’s history with power and protest can read more in this new edited volume.]