19h BOT Speech 27 October 2015
Because the purpose of my permanent spot on your agenda is to provide you with regular updates about how faculty are doing, I need to let you know that there are several fairly significant ways in which faculty here at WCC continue to feel that we are working in an environment that does not care much how we are doing.
While we have heard in this forum over the last month about several aspects of the ongoing (and perhaps close to being completed?) work being done on the roof of the student center building, I don’t know that you are aware of many faculty, staff and students have been negatively impacted by fumes, noise, and bits of ceiling falling upon their heads. The Testing Center has been closed on a few occasions, but many classrooms were displaced and discounted (when faculty called to say they could not continue to do coursework in a room that was shaking, full of fumes, and in which no one could hear, that were not resolved. What I have heard from several sources is that only when the fumes made their way to the “West Wing” (full disclosure, this is not a term I coined) was action taken. While I do see that the work had to be completed, I have to believe that we could have improved the way communication about the problems people had with this work took place. Having a work force that goes home and reports “tasting fumes all down my throat for the hour drive home” and becoming ill for several days as a result is not good practice.
At the second Liaison meeting my Chief Negotiator and I held with Dr. Bellanca and VPI Nealon, I asked them about a rumor that some departments were going to be downsized. They both said that they had heard that rumor too, but that is the last communication I’ve had with administration on this issue. At least one of my members is in conversations with his dean about what his re-assignment will look like, when I have not received any official notice about what will be happening. This concerns me, and it doesn’t put me in a place where I can reassure my members that their positions are secure.
I’ve saved the most significant for last. I have great concern about how the college will work to support those faculty members (whether they be full-time or adjunct) who may end up needing to earn more graduate level credits because of the way our school is applying the new assumed practices from the Higher Learning Commission. While Dr. Bellanca has met with me several times to discuss this, I still have no answer to this central question: “What will the college provide, in terms of time and funds, to any of my members who are affected?”
I’ve passed out two documents – forgive me if you’ve already gotten these. One is the more “specific” guidelines HLC posted October 1 that we have been pouring over, and the other is a WCCEA publication, For The Record, that includes messages to my members from David Fitzpatrick, our Chief Negotiatior, on this issue. You may not know that VPI Nealon sent out an additional message to faculty today, in which he acknowledges the difficulties and challenges this project involves. I do appreciate that this is an overwhelming task, and appreciate the massive effort on the part of VPI Nealon’s office to go through the personnel files of all full time, adjunct and part-time faculty in order to guess how HLC officials might look at those qualifications in the future.
It is a complicated problem for all of us, and what concerns me right now is how many of my faculty members are worried that their livelihoods are at risk. It also concerns me that so far, the deans, most of whom come from the faculty as extremely respected folk, have not been part of the process. This has had the unintended effect of implying to those who have received the letter asking for degrees or certificates that may not already appear in their personnel files that decisions about their future are being made by people who don’t know them. As you can imagine, this is not relaxing.
Some faculty who have continually won recognition from this and past administrations are now receiving letters that they perceive to be warning them that they may lose their positions here. I want to be able to reassure this people. Some colleges are, I’ve heard, making the case that are their faculty members are highly qualified, and they plan to make that case with HLC. Our institution seems to be applying the vague HLC language as stringently as possible. I’ve heard from more than one faculty member that they worry this is retribution for the difficulties this faculty has caused Dr. Bellanca.
With her permission, I’ll share some brief information about my colleague, Julie Kissel, who is currently a Doctoral Candidate for a PhD in Educational Leadership. She was hired specifically to teach developmental writing, and the department considers her an enormous asset. Her BA was in Special Education, with a minor in English, and her Master’s degree is in Special Education. She has K-12 certification, and her experience teaching developmental writing at the high school level is why we wanted her. She was among the 28 full-time faculty who received a letter from the administration indicating that her credentials to continue doing the work she does are wanting. My understanding thus far is that an MA in English is the preferred degree to teach developmental writing. As someone who happens to have that degree, I can tell you that I do not have the skill set necessary to work with our most disadvantaged, most at-risk students. In another department, I have a member who was hired provisionally, with the understanding that he achieve an MA in the field within 5 years. Although he did get the degree his Dean at that time recommended, he too received one of the 28 letters. My point in going into all of this is that I hope that as we move forward, we will be having departmental conversations, with our colleagues and with our deans, about these issues. Should the results of those conversations indicate that some of my members absolutely must go back to school (the HLC guidelines appear to be that faculty have either a MA in the subfield in which they teach or a minimum of 18 credit hours) I will be eager to hear how the college plans to support them in doing that work.