Faculty Council calls on board to save Silver & Gold Record

By Staff

In a show of support for nearly 40 years of print journalism tradition, the University of Colorado Faculty Council presented a resolution to the CU Board of Regents Tuesday, urging members to defer the university's decision to cease publication of the Silver & Gold Record until the newspaper could explore alternative funding options.

Council Chair John McDowell, a professor of oral medicine and forensic sciences at the University of Colorado Denver School of Dental Medicine, read the resolution before the Board of Regents. Faculty governing bodies for all three CU campuses issued similar resolutions before the council drafted a unified message for the Board of Regents.

The council, which represents nearly 4,800 faculty members on three campuses at four locations, unanimously approved the resolution at a May 14 meeting in Denver, along with another asking the board to suspend announced budget cuts and restructuring until council members could collaborate with administrators on the cost-cutting decisions.

At the May 14 meeting, council representatives argued that system administration closed the newspaper without faculty input, and described the decision as a blow to shared governance, openness and transparency, and in violation of the university's "principles of participation."

"We're concerned about the outcome and the process," McDowell told council members during the governing body's meeting.

CU President Bruce D. Benson cut funding for the Silver & Gold after system administration reduced its 2009-10 operating budget by $6.2 million, or 15.6 percent of its total budget. The reductions were driven in part by a restructuring of a system administration aimed at more efficiency and effectiveness in the services it provides to campuses, and in part by budget difficulties. The moves will mean fewer cuts on the campuses and save system administration more than $500,000 a year, but will eliminate nine full- and part-time classified positions.

The university has had to make $29 million in budget cuts across the CU system this year, and faces another $21 million or more in cuts in fiscal year 2009-10 due to a growing shortfall in state funding-offset in part by temporary federal stimulus money-decreasing endowment values and donor contributions, and a hobbling national economy, said Leonard Dinegar, vice president for administration and chief of staff.

"It could certainly get worse. The June revenue forecast is not looking good," Dinegar told the council last week as he explained system administration's decision to cut the newspaper's funding and eliminate 55 system administration jobs, including 24 vacant positions. "The president had a tough call. Let me tell you, none of these cuts were easy."

During the council's meeting, Dinegar said President Benson was forced to weigh Silver & Gold funding and other cuts against deeper cuts to critical services system administration provides to the campuses, including information technology and security, payroll and benefits, and risk management.

Faculty Council members argued that the move undermined the notion of a free and independent press to monitor administration, and to keep the university community informed of important news from all three campuses. Many criticized the process that led to the decision, and called on system administration to give the Silver & Gold editorial board at least six months to explore other funding possibilities, including an opt-in subscription through employee payroll. However, Dinegar said the decision to close the newspaper was final.

While some faculty members applauded the university's cost-cutting efforts, they rejected the notion that a new electronic publication could provide fair and balanced content free of bias.

"Anything that comes out of administration will be suspect," said Roxanne Byrne, a UC Denver associate professor of math and statistical sciences and the council's newly appointed vice chair.

Some council members said they opposed the closure of the Silver & Gold on principle and on practical grounds, maintaining that some retired faculty might not have access to an electronic newsletter, and that faculty and staff would now have to search far and wide to obtain the same information contained in a weekly newspaper.

"I shudder to think about all the time that I would have to invest to find out the information that Silver & Gold provides, (what it) puts in my mailbox weekly," said Nancy Ciccone, an associate professor and chair of the UC Denver English department who also chairs the weekly's editorial board.

Mark Malone, a professor of science education at UCCS and chair of the council's budget committee, questioned the university administration's decision to cut funding for the newspaper without including the council's chair and budget committee in the decision-making process.

"Shared governance is what's being lost here," he said.

Dinegar defended the Office of the President's decision to streamline its operations and seek a more cost-effective way to communicate with the broader university community with a Web-based newsletter. He argued that President Benson is committed to shared governance, and that the budget cuts were not made lightly.

"On this particular issue, we see it differently," Dinegar said.

UC Denver history Professor Pamela Laird argued that system administration might have received more faculty buy-in on the decision if faculty had been included in the budget decision-making process.

"These are hard times, but when a community is facing hard times and comes together and makes decisions together, then people will say this is something we have to share and we accept the process," she said. "By throwing that aside, the result is alienation or dissention. There is a disruption of the sense that we are, as a community, facing hard times together."

Silver & Gold Editor Jefferson Dodge also attended the Faculty Council meeting last week, listening carefully as members debated how to save the newspaper he has led for two years.

"It's been a pleasure, an honor and a privilege to listen to you and watch your brilliant minds at work," he said as he stood to faculty applause. "Thank you for your support, today, of the newspaper. We'll see what happens."

CU may have been the last university in the nation to offer an editorially independent, printed faculty and staff newspaper, a fact some faculty members believe was a point of pride and distinction. CU now joins a majority of U.S. universities trying to streamline operations while still communicating effectively with faculty, staff and students through electronic media.

In a recent interview with Inside Higher Education, a representative for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE, noted that more universities are turning to online-only formats for internal communication because it is a more cost-effective alternative. Rae Goldsmith, the council's vice president of advancement told the trade publication that the trend has been going on for years, but has accelerated during the current economic downturn.

Benson has charged the Office of University Relations in system administration with creating an online newsletter for faculty and staff. It will publish twice a month in the interim, while also gathering input from faculty and staff about desired content. University Relations will launch a permanent publication in late August.