President Maryam Barrie’s Public Comments to the Board of Trustees – March 25th, 2014

Thank you for that Jennifer. I want to thank the Board of Trustees for continuing to allow the WCCEA a spot on your monthly agenda. That means a great deal to us, and we do appreciate it. For the past three years, Jennifer Baker has worked tirelessly to improve the environment here at Washtenaw Community College by consistently appealing to the administration and to the BOT to both improve communication and to invest effort in fostering a productive relationship with faculty. Repeatedly, for the last three years, Jennifer has communicated with the administration and BOT that including faculty in discussions related to administrative initiatives and goals would not only improve faculty support and buy-in but would also make the most responsible and effective use of institutional resources for our students. Continuously, Jennifer has reminded Dr. Bellanca and her staff to include faculty leaders (elected department chairs as well as elected union leaders) in conversation regarding projects that impact teaching and learning from inception through implementation. George Bernard Shaw, a great thinker of the last century reportedly remarked: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I’m afraid that this comment has special meaning for faculty at this moment, as we find ourselves having to point out that telling us what decisions have been made is not the same as including us in the discussions that lead to decisions. It’s been emphasized time and again that this inclusion would not only restore trust, which is sorely lacking, but would also effectively engage important faculty expertise, faculty community experience and faculty institutional knowledge for the benefit of our students and the institution as a whole.   This small, but critical, step of inclusion would serve to convey that faculty are valued and appreciated by Dr. Bellanca and her administration, in practical ways. Having seen how diligently Jennifer has worked to that end, and the lack of progress that has ensued, I whole heartedly understand her decision.  

 

While there have been public announcements that our input is valued, we still only find out about projects involving curriculum and instruction at the last minute. A clear example of this is a recent HS initiative   involving foreign language instruction at the new Ypsilanti Community High School. Apparently this project was first discussed almost a year ago, but the key faculty members needed for this initiative were only approached a little over a month ago. The faculty members involved had concerns about students, instruction, processes and content at the high school level that apparently the administration had not considered. It is our understanding that the concerns we raised were taken seriously, we do, of course, appreciate that. I can’t help but consider how much time might have been saved had faculty been involved in the conversation from the beginning – perhaps we might have been able to collaboratively come up with an innovative solution that would have served the students and the community.

For myself, having first attended WCC as a student in 1981, I have always viewed our school as the best in the area. I went on to earn degrees at the U of M and at EMU, and that only reinforced my feeling that the level of instruction and commitment to our students is exemplary and rich. I love this school. I began teaching here in 1985 and became full time in 2002. I remember having different leaders in place at the college, who all allowed us to participate in problem-solving, were willing to admit mistakes, were able to argue forcibly, and who were occasionally amenable to changing directions. Under those different administrations, the faculty union did not get everything we wanted, and we were not included in discussions on every aspect of the college. . But in issues related to curriculum and instruction, and in issues that concerned our students, we were afforded a voice at the table.   We miss that. Given that the Student paper will soon be releasing the SOQ results, making our contractual language about that evaluation system null and void, we will have an opportunity to have discussions with the administration as we negotiate a new evaluation system, and perhaps we will have a chance to have a more open conversation together as we solve that problem together. I very much hope so.

Almost exactly a year ago, issues here came to a head between the faculty and the administration. You may recall David Wooten’s address to the BOT expressing outrage at the way a beloved administrator, was summarily dismissed. At that time, we were told, “change is hard.” Today, a year later, I need to remind you that listening is hard, too.

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