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Communication, sharing resources the focus at Faculty Senate

The Faculty Senate met Wednesday to discuss Northeastern’s recently implemented hybrid budgeting model and consider a new doctoral program in population health.

Anthony Rini, the vice provost for budget, planning and administration, led a discussion on the hybrid budgeting model—which moves most financial decisions from the central university administration to the college level. The model, he explained, gives deans more control over how they spend money, hire faculty and pursue new programs and initiatives.

“In this model, deans decide how to allocate the funds in their unit and there is no template, recognizing the different units in our university are each unique,” Rini said.

Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said the model acknowledges that there is a finite amount of funding that can come from the undergraduate student body and encourages colleges to “grow the pie” through new revenue sources like research funding and increased graduate course offerings. For example, Larry Finkelstein, dean of the College of Computer and Information Science, said his college now gets less funding from undergraduates, about half of whom now pursue combined degree programs. But he said the college makes up for any shortfall with its increasingly popular graduate programs.

Yet some faculty members expressed worry that the model would leave them and colleagues in their disciplines behind.

“Some of us, especially in the social sciences and humanities, are concerned that there are small but important priorities that are disadvantaged in this model,” said Lori Lefkovitz, a professor of English and the director of the Jewish Studies program.

Director and Rini said the model would be continually tweaked.

“The budget model was put in place to serve the academic model, not to hinder it or get in its way. And of course it’s not perfect,” Director said. “But it’s early on. It’s only been in place in most of the units for just over a year. We put upfront, right at the beginning, that it is going to evolve.”

At the meeting, the Senate also discussed a new doctoral program in population health in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences. The interdisciplinary PhD program looks beyond the bounds of public health to address societal health concerns, focusing on ways to improve fields like cancer treatment or obesity prevention on a broad level.

However, some Senate members said disciplines like mathematics, law and biology were overlooked. Terence Gaffney, a professor of mathematics, said the new program lacked a biostatistics component that his department could have provided. This, he said, exemplified why the method for determining new degree programs is flawed.

However, Bruce Ronkin, vice provost for undergraduate education, said each college has a representative on the councils that evaluate proposed degree programs before they reach the Senate, a step that should provide individual departments with opportunities for input.

A move to table the new doctoral program—an outcome Bouvé dean Terry Fulmer said would be “extremely damaging”—was later defeated after drawing support from only two Senate members. The program was ultimately approved, with a friendly amendment that outside departments continue to be consulted as the program is finalized.