April 6, 2020

Class sizes for distance education classes

Over the past couple of weeks each faculty member has received a letter from his or her dean stating that all distance education classes would have the seat capacity changed to 25, with only limited exceptions (and that the exceptions, if any, would be for entire courses but not individual sections). Some faculty have also received a form for requesting an exception, though many have not. The AAUP raised several objections to the policy as explained in this letter and to the content of the exception form, and listed for the administration several ways in which these violate our contractual rights as negotiated in the distance education side letter.

This matter was considered last week by the AAUP-Management Collaboration Committee, along with the faculty representatives to the task force which drafted the side letter. On some key points I am happy to report that the administration recognized the validity of our objections, and agreed to immediate changes to bring the policy and its implementation more in line with the contract. Faculty should have received a notice from their respective deans late last week detailing these changes. However, there are other aspects on which the College is still not in compliance with our contract; on these we have contacted the Chapter’s attorney, and are preparing to file a grievance.

The specific objections we have raised primarily concern the process by which the seat capacities for distance education courses were set in the various disciplines, the influence that the disciplines had (or didn’t have) in shaping these seat capacities, and the ability of individual faculty to request exceptions for their own section (s).

As we continue to work to ensure that the contractual rights of the faculty are honored, what should you do if you are scheduled to teach a distance education class this spring?

1) If your area indicated in its discussion with the dean that the appropriate class size is less than 25, be sure to submit the appeal form prior to the December 1 deadline indicated on the new form. If you have not received this form, be sure to ask your dean for a copy ASAP. If the lead dean for your discipline chooses not to adhere to the area’s requested limit they will now be required to explain exactly why they deem the larger class size to be appropriate. If your area never had the opportunity to even have this conversation before the class size was changed, you should appeal all classes for which the seat capacity has been increased, as well as notify myself and Tim Kirkner, the Chapter’s grievance officer. Filing an appeal in no way indicates an acceptance of the policy as implemented.

2) Second, the contract also explicitly mentions that exceptions to the standard class size for a given course may be made for an individual faculty member’s section: “When scheduling classes in a distance learning format, faculty members and the Lead Dean will discuss to determine whether an exception, either greater or lesser, to typical class size should be made.” The first letter we all received explicitly states that such exceptions will not be granted and the second does not indicate any change on this matter. The Chapter recommends that you file appeals for exceptions for individual sections if you believe that one is warranted, despite the fact that the letter says that such exceptions will not be made.

What is the Role of the Faculty?

Thank you for coming out to the campus Q&A sessions over the past couple of weeks. While the specific concerns raised varied, a couple of themes have clearly emerged. Faculty are very concerned that their voices are not being heard. A related and broader concern is that recent statements and actions by constituencies throughout MC have demonstrated a general lack of understanding of what the role of the faculty should be within the College community.

Before you read on, I’d like you to give some thought to this:

What is, or should be, the role of the faculty in a College community?

This is an important question, and we can’t expect others to understand and appreciate the role that we play if we aren’t clear on it ourselves.

I don’t claim to have the answer as to what our role should be, but I have an answer that I’d like to put forward for discussion. This proposal isn’t mine, it is excerpted from the AAUP’s Redbook, a collection of recommended policies published nearly 50 years ago. While some aspects of this recommendation are more directly relevant at a research university than for us in a community college, the idea behind this is powerful enough to merit being copied verbatim:

“The faculty has primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process. On these matters the power of review or final decision lodged in the governing board or delegated by it to the president should be exercised adversely only in exceptional circumstances, and for reasons communicated to the faculty. It is desirable that the faculty should, following such communication, have opportunity for further consideration and further transmittal of its views to the president or board.”

Note that while this statement is taken from an AAUP publication, it was jointly written by the AAUP, the American Council on Education (ACE), and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) – it is an ideal endorsed by organizations representing faculty, administrators and the Boards of colleges and universities nationwide. The full Redbook can be accessed through links on our website; the statement on governance, from which the above was copied, can be found at http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/policydocs/contents/governancestatement.htm#b5 .

Undoubtedly, in general the faculty at MC are allowed to lead in areas such as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction. Recently raised concerns, however, bring into question whether the lead of the faculty is given the weight of “primary responsibility” – i.e., is there a recognition that the will of the faculty should not be taken as advisory, but rather the final word barring extremely compelling reasons to the contrary?

My questions to you, then are twofold:

  1. What do you see as the appropriate role for the faculty at MC?
  2. And, is that role currently fulfilled by the faculty?