Kenneth Petren, dean of the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences (A&S) since January 2015, will step down at the end of his current term, effective June 30, 2019.
Petren will take a one-year administrative leave from the college, according to an email sent by Provost Kristi Nelson to deans, directors and department heads. He will later return as a faculty member for the department of biological sciences, for which he previously served as the head.
Petren was unavailable to comment at the time of writing.
"Dean Petren and I have had extended conversations the last few months about the current and future landscape for the college," Nelson wrote in an email to A&S faculty and staff. "Although we may have differing opinions on certain issues, we both have the best interests of the college at heart. We have come to conclude that a transition in leadership will best serve those interests."
Petren's decision to step down comes amid financial pressures linked to the University of Cincinnati’s performance-based budget (PBB) model, according to Steve Depoe, head of the communication department.
“The performance-based budgeting model we have now is what I would call a ‘dean eater,’” Depoe said. “Much of the dean’s energy is spent looking for money to fill a budget hole that’s created artificially by a model that creates unrealistic expectations over performance. Why would someone stay in that job?”
Under the model, UC adjusts budget allocations based on colleges’ ability to meet annual tuition revenue targets. If a college exceeds its target, funds increase. If it falls short, funds decrease.
“According to the model, if you grow, you keep half the revenue,” Petren said in an article published by The News Record in April. “But when you go down, according to the model, you owe all the revenue.”
Facing an anticipated $1 million-plus deficit, the A&S dean’s office elected not to release any general funds to A&S departments for the 2019 fiscal year.
“A&S has been trying to dig out of a hole for years,” Depoe said. “Ken took over in 2015 [and] made some success, but there’s only so many things that you can do with a short-term basis to turn around economic performance.”
“In lieu of no general funds allocation, the Department of Communication (like others in the College) will be forced to manage our expenses based on local, discretionary funds,” Depoe wrote in an email to A&S faculty and staff. “We have funds available in the department to manage our affairs in the short-run, and will continue to spend those funds carefully.”
The university’s regional campuses, UC Blue Ash and UC Clermont, are not governed by the PBB model, according to the provost’s office.
The communication department’s budget committee will meet Tuesday, Nov. 20, to analyze its financial position and discuss how to move forward.
A replacement dean for the college has not yet been selected. Nelson issued a call for nominations to A&S faculty and staff with a Jan. 18 deadline. She was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.
“She’ll probably make an appointment by spring break I would say, so there could be a little interim period where [Nelson and Petren] can work together,” Depoe said. “She’ll be searching internally. But it’ll be both inside the college and out. I have a feeling it will be someone that’s not currently in the college … but it's probably for a one-year [appointment].”
The selection process will likely happen early in the 2019 fall semester, Depoe said.