Metro university merger plan a hard sell


The Tokyo Metropolitan Government hopes to get approval by the end of July for its plans to open a new public university in April by integrating four existing institutions of higher learning.

However, the plan has met with resistance from more than 100 professors at the existing institutions who charge that the metropolitan government is not respecting the autonomy of the institutions with its top-down decision.

They also oppose the planned introduction of five-year term contracts and performance-based pay for the teaching staff.

The four institutions are Tokyo Metropolitan University, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Technology, Tokyo Metropolitan University of Health Sciences and Tokyo Metropolitan College.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara announced in August 2003 that as part of its streamlining plan to cut costs and improve efficiency, the metropolitan government would integrate three universities and one college.

The economic slump that began in the early 1990s has prompted the metropolitan government to seek more efficient operations of its affiliated bodies.

Currently, Tokyo shells out 15 billion yen to 16 billion yen in subsidies a year to the four institutions, which have a combined enrollment of approximately 7,300 undergraduate and 1,700 graduate students.

Reorganization of the four institutions comes as competition for students intensifies among the approximately 200 public and private institutions in the greater Tokyo area, a reflection of the nation’s declining birthrate.

The plan to merge the institutions is considered a model case for other local governments confronted with similar problems that are striving to come up with more attractive education programs.

However, resistance from some professors has made it unclear if the metropolitan government can obtain final education ministry approval of its plan by the end of July.

It is asking more than 500 professors at the four institutions to sign documents stating they agree to teach specified courses at the new university.

The documents are necessary for the metropolitan government to get approval from the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry for the new university to begin accepting admission applications, which they hope to do this summer.

The metropolitan government must submit the documents to the ministry by July 2. If it misses the deadline, the new university might have to wait until fall to begin admissions procedures.

But about 120 professors at TMU’s humanities and social sciences faculty have yet to agree to sign the documents.

“We can’t decide whether we should sign the documents until we learn how the metropolitan government deals with our demands,” said Motoi Hatsumi, a TMU professor of German language and literature.

The professors are demanding that faculty councils have authority over teaching appointments at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and that the current employment system be kept intact.

Hatsumi said the metropolitan government is pushing ahead with the new university without sufficiently consulting the faculty.

The idea for the merged university dates to 2001, when a council of officials from the four schools and the government convened to discuss reorganizing the four institutions to improve efficiency and to provide more distinctive student programs.

But after the council failed to hammer out a satisfactory reform plan, a separate panel that had been formed of outside experts proposed the present plan last August, according to metropolitan officials.

University officials who were members of the first council were informed of the plan only an hour before it was publicly announced by Ishihara, according to a Tokyo Metropolitan University professor.

The new plan proposes using the four existing campuses and reorganizing current faculties into four new ones focusing on urban issues: urban liberal arts, urban environment sciences, system design and health sciences.

“We hope the new university will provide cross-sectional education related to urban issues, such as urban development and cultures” — a difficult task under the traditional university system, which divides studies primarily into the two areas of humanities and sciences, said Masakazu Omura, the senior metropolitan director of the project.

He also expressed hope that the new institution would attract researchers and students from other parts of Asia that share common urban problems, including traffic congestion and inadequate housing.

But the reorganization plan has upset professors and assistant researchers because some faculty would be forced to relocate and some departments would be broken up.

Tokyo Metropolitan University’s humanities and social sciences departments would face a major reorganization.

Roughly one-fourth of the 120 TMU professors would be moved to the new university’s “basic education center” for freshmen and sophomores or to the “open university” section, which would offer lectures to the public and engage in joint research with companies and local governments.

The teachers complain that the transfers would deprive them of opportunities to pursue studies in their fields because of the increased load of introductory courses.

TMU’s five language and literature departments — Japanese, Chinese, English, French and German — would be integrated into the international cultures course at the new institution.

“One of the strong points at TMU is that each (humanities) professor can teach systematic studies to a small number of students,” said Hatsumi of TMU’s German department.

But under the new system, “the quality of (literature) studies could deteriorate” because the proposed courses do not focus enough on specialization, he said.

The government also plans to introduce performance-based salaries and five-year contracts, sparking an outcry from professors who claim academic standards would suffer.

Since the institutions are part of the metropolitan government, faculty are civil servants and effectively guaranteed lifetime employment.

The introduction of term contracts is legally possible but has been avoided to keep from alienating teacher. But the metro government plans to introduce them along with merit-based pay, which is also allowable, because the new university will debut as an independent entity.

Similar employment systems are being planned at former national universities that were turned into independent administrative bodies in April.

“The five-year term may be effective to motivate young researchers or professors working on advanced studies to produce results as quickly as possible,” said a biological sciences professor at TMU who asked to remain anonymous. “But other researchers would feel too insecure to commit themselves to long-term research projects.”

Hatsumi said the metropolitan government should first show how the academic achievements of the teaching staff would be evaluated if it wants to introduce a performance-based salary system.

Metropolitan official Omura said it is ready to discuss details of the employment, salary and evaluation systems with the professors, noting that presidents of the four institutions as well as faculty heads have been involved in laying out the new regimes from the beginning.

“These systems enable the new university to hire better professors and researchers and thus improve its education programs,” Omura said, adding that professors would be motivated to work harder in order to receive better evaluations.

The metropolitan government would ensure that students now enrolled at the four institutions could continue classes based on the current curricula, but some have expressed concern.

“It’s good for us to have various courses at the new university,” said Yumiko Katakura, a TMU science junior. “But if professors who supervise your research end up leaving this university (due to the standoff), it would be a problem.”

Shinichi Yamamoto, director of the University of Tsukuba’s Research Center for University Studies, said the metropolitan government’s plan could have a far-reaching impact on university reform pursued by other local governments, including Nagoya and Sapporo.

Although it is necessary for the metropolitan government to shake up institutions as part of administrative reforms, authorities should be taking more steps to gain the support of professors for the new university, because the changes could radically effect them, he said.

At the same time, Yamamoto admitted that without the strong metro initiative, it would be difficult to change the way Tokyo universities are run, because academics tend to hold conventional views of higher education.

Yamamoto warned that the current standoff may have unfortunate results. “If this continues, it will become unclear if the new university can attract more capable researchers in humanities.”