December 14, 2017

AAUP – Presidential Perks Story: FT Faculty Response to Survey

As all of you know by now, the News 4 I-Team ran a story on the travel expenses of Dr. Pollard.  Based on the e-mails and phone calls that members of the AAUP Executive Committee received we decided to conduct a survey in order to obtain your comments on the report.  The survey results were sent, unedited, to Dr. Pollard this past Saturday.  We felt it was important for her to have the results prior to the Board of Trustees meeting that was held last night.  At that meeting the Chairperson of the BOT read a prepared statement which voiced their full support of Dr. Pollard.  Dr. Pollard made no public comment at the meeting about the report.

The Presidents of the three unions; AAUP, SEIU, and AFSCME, and Rick Penn, representing the Faculty Council, have been asked to attend a meeting with Dr. Pollard regarding the recent media report.  The meeting will be held on Wednesday afternoon (December 14, 2016).

The members of the Executive Committee would like all of you to have an opportunity to review the results of the Presidential Perks Survey.  The survey prompts, the I-Team report, Dr. Pollard’s contract, Dr. Pollard’s response to the report, and the I-Team follow-up report, are posted in the Survey section of the Chapter website.

Read the unedited and anonymous results of the survey.
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On behalf of the Chapter,

Harry Zarin, Chapter President

Faculty Response to Governance Connections Newsletter

Dear fellow AAUP members,

I’m writing to call your attention to a recent essay appearing in MC’s Governance Connections, authored by Mr. Jason Rivera, College Council Chair.  A link to the essay is found here:

http://cms.montgomerycollege.edu/EDU/Department.aspx?id=56199.

Mr. Rivera reminds his readers three times in the first three paragraphs that “Academic Redesign is a Management right”.  He also reminds us that redesigns need not be done “in a collaborative or inclusive manner” and that Management is to be commended for having nonetheless conducted the redesign in such a manner.

The essay as a whole gives cause for concern on several fronts.  For one, it is clear that, contrary to Mr. Rivera’s assertion about the Redesign process, significant portions of the campus community in fact do not regard the process as inclusive or collaborative.  Also, his (strained) analogy between the circumstances surrounding the Federal Government Shutdown and those surrounding our Academic Redesign is troublesome; if I read it correctly, Mr. Rivera’s argument is that concerns about the Academic Redesign are somehow akin to the government shutdown tactic.

Leaving aside these issues, though, there is another concern raised by the essay that may be more substantial.  It involves Mr. Rivera’s repeated emphasis on Management rights.

Since their beginnings American colleges and universities have, for better and worse, shied away from embracing a Management/Labor dynamic, even to the extent of pointedly avoiding those very terms.  There are a lot of reasons for this aversion, but mostly it boils down to a sense among those involved in Higher Education – staff, faculty and administrators alike – that our enterprise is unlike that of other organizations.  To define a college’s key players as “Management” and “non-Management”, it has been assumed, causes problems.

Not the least of these problems is that Management is typically associated with a set of objectives – profit, cost reduction, ensuring easily replaceable labor, enhanced control, efficiency, to name a few – which, while more or less accepted in the world of commerce, have not been seen as appropriate to the mission of Higher Education.  Also, when they are invoked, these categories (Management/Labor) engender an oppositional stance in organizations, as Management’s objectives are usually at odds with workers’ interests.

And yet Mr. Rivera in his essay is unabashed in defining us here at MC via a Management/Labor relationship.  It is not a stretch to surmise that our Montgomery College administration is coming to see things that way as well.  This path is inconsistent with more than a century of Higher Educational culture.  What is worse, I fear it is recasting previously productive relationships in terms that can only lead to entrenched camps.

If staff and faculty are urged (as Mr. Rivera urges us) to see administrators – many of whom are former faculty or staff – as capital-M Management, it imperils a good deal of what our college – what any college- is all about.

Regards,

Daniel Santore, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Montgomery College – Rockville
Daniel.Santore@montgomerycollege.edu

Speech to Board of Trustees 04/08/2013

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you tonight.

This week, Dr. Pollard will be presenting all of us with the State of the College as she sees it through her lens. We would like to provide you with the perspective of the faculty this evening.

The level of dissatisfaction, feeling of marginalization, and anger among the full time faculty is the highest that I have seen in my 17 years at Montgomery College. This assessment is based on comments made at an emergency meeting of the AAUP, numerous emails received from faculty across disciplines from all 3 campuses, emails and statements from faculty leaders representing the views of their constituents, and, in a first for me, having been on the receiving end of a letter writing campaign in which several faculty each sent the same letter demanding the union more forcefully represent their concerns. It is on behalf of all of these colleagues that I speak tonight.

The proximate cause of this anger is the process and apparent direction of the ongoing academic area restructuring, and I will share the faculty’s concerns with this effort shortly. However, it is a pattern of recent decisions and decision making processes that has led us to this point. In a survey conducted earlier this academic year by the HRDE office in conjunction with the Employee Engagement Advocacy Group, only 53% of faculty agreed with the statement “I am comfortable participating in forums on college-wide issues without fear of reprisal,” only 39% of the faculty agreed that “the administration appreciates the contributions I make toward achieving Montgomery College’s mission,” and only 30% stated that they believe their input is appropriately considered in reaching a decision. The impact of this atmosphere extends beyond faculty morale and affects our students too.

We have been undergoing rapid large scale change at the College. The faculty do not deny that some change is good and necessary, but we are left with the impression that everything that made Montgomery College a successful institution is no longer valued or considered before changes are made. We have a culture of outcomes and evidence, but the change is happening so rapidly that there is no way to assess its effectiveness. Will the change allow us to better serve our students? To operate more effectively or efficiently? The Student Services side of the College was completely restructured just last year. Yet the counseling faculty have not been contacted to ask what has worked and what has not worked with the new structure before analogous and even larger scale changes are implemented on the academic side. Nor, to the best of our knowledge, has any other research been conducted or planned about the impact of the changes on the services provided to our students.

Last year the College abandoned the shared governance which we had had for many years to implement a participatory governance which greatly diminished the faculty’s opportunity to contribute its expertise in decisions made at the College. The change was forced on the faculty over strong objections and even required changes in the P&P to terms which had previously protected faculty interests.

This year, the decision was made to remove institutional credit from the AELP courses. We recognize and respect that well meaning people could reach different conclusions on the correct decision in this matter, especially if they approached it from different vantage points and with different areas of expertise. The union’s concern here is not with the decision to remove institutional credit itself, but that the decision was reached in a way that was disrespectful and even dishonest to faculty who were charged with researching best practices and then had their research summarily dismissed.

Where faculty have been included in committees lately, a new and disturbing trend has emerged in which administrators are selecting which faculty can represent us. Even more distressing are the times when administrators claim that they themselves, based on their faculty backgrounds, represent the faculty viewpoint in decision making processes. The impression is that we have little to contribute, that whatever we would contribute can be anticipated and represented by an administrator and that our individual backgrounds, experiences, and areas of professional expertise cannot contribute to a better decision.

Given this background, it is not surprising that faculty are wary about the academic area restructuring. At the forums where the models under consideration were first unveiled and the college community was asked to offer constructive criticisms, the details were so lacking that we were unable to draw meaningful conclusions. Many left with the belief that once again their input was not truly desired as they were not given sufficient information to provide useful input. One intended outcome that was clear, however, was that the role of the department chair would either be given a new name and turned into an administrative position or stripped of much of its current responsibility, allowing the position to remain a faculty one but transferring the actual responsibilities to the administration.

Well into the restructuring process the task force set the criteria by which it would evaluate potential models, and included a criterion stating that the chosen model should “relieve faculty of administrative duties and increase faculty teaching time”. “Administrative duties” still has not been defined, and we worry that responsibilities which have long been fulfilled by chairs and coordinators as necessary elements of the academic leadership they provide could be removed as “administrative”. The wording of this criterion further gives the impression that time that we spend outside of teaching contributes little to the College, our students, or our own professional growth.

Last fall the chairs groups on all three campuses jointly issued the following statement:

In any academic structure, department chairs are the primary academic leaders providing direct leadership and support for students, faculty and the discipline as well as providing a bridge between faculty and administration. Department chairs should be faculty leaders who routinely teach in their discipline and facilitate curriculum development and academic initiatives. As Montgomery College re-envisions its academic structure, it is essential in any model that faculty leadership in the chair role is maintained.

The AAUP endorses this position. We would further add that the structure long used at MC is not only a workable model, it is entirely consistent with the one-college focus which was ostensibly the original impetus for the restructuring. The vast majority – 85% – of multi-campus colleges and universities in which the faculty are unionized with the AAUP include department chairs in the bargaining unit. And while some specific obligations of a chair are necessarily going to be different at a research university than at a community college, the roles associated with the chairs at these other institutions share many similarities to those currently fulfilled by the chairs here. These chairs provide leadership and advocacy for academic areas; they are described as resources for the faculty, points of contact for students, and advisors to their deans on program, discipline, and course matters; they manage course schedules and teaching assignments; they serve on and fill faculty search committees; and they coordinate and communicate on such matters as textbook selection, adjunct observations, and peer review processes.

The AAUP leadership recognizes that the specific duties of the chairs at MC have evolved over time, including in some ways that we the faculty have requested be re-examined. Some of these past changes may well have legal implications, and the union welcomes the opportunity to discuss and hopefully resolve these through negotiations or other less formal labor-management collaboration. But this restructuring is not the appropriate place, nor does it have the appropriate involvement to address these. To be fair, I do want to thank Dr. Pearl for agreeing during our conversation this past Friday afternoon to commence this discussion with the AAUP executive committee. In the meantime, however, I hope that the charge to relieve the faculty of administrative duties will be removed from the consideration of the restructuring task force.

Each of the models under consideration requires the hiring of several new administrators. It was even stated at the forums that the question was not if, but where, these new administrators would fit into the overall structure. This will clearly cost a significant amount of money. And yet there has never been sufficient money available to fully fund the chair/coordinator ESH formula. Inequities in chair compensation was actually pinpointed as a flaw in the current system, but it would be much more cost effective to directly remedy those inequities by revising and fully funding the formula than to create numerous additional administrative positions. Many faculty have also expressed the concern that using the College’s limited resources to hire additional administrators would keep funds from being available to fill needed faculty and other student focused positions. We are below the 60/40 ratio that both the Board of Trustees and the County Council have long emphasized. And it is more faculty, not more administrators, by which we will fulfill our mission of empowering our students to change their lives.

Beyond the concerns I have shared this evening, there are numerous others that have been raised by faculty over the past several weeks. Many of the concerns have been collated and are now available on the AAUP website. I encourage everyone to read them.

In conclusion, the marginalization of the faculty that has taken place over the past couple of years has not only taken a significant toll on morale, but has led, and is still leading, to decisions being made without the 2-way exchanges of information necessary for making the best decisions for the future of our students and our College. On behalf of the faculty, and with the best interests of our students and the College in mind, we respectfully request that this problem be addressed.

Thank you,
Rick Penn
President, MC-AAUP

Academic Restructuring – Chair’s Statement

Here below is the statement forwarded to Dr. Pearl to create a statement of consensus among the chair of chairs:

Dr. Pearl,

Representatives from the chairs’ groups on each campus got together at the end of the Fall semester and created a statement that we would like to share with the restructuring taskforce.  As we have been discussing various models we thought that it was important to define how we thought the chair position should work in any model that is considered.  It is just a few short sentences and we are happy to read them and answer any questions at our next meeting.

The statement is:

In any academic structure, department chairs are the primary academic leaders providing direct leadership and support for students, faculty and the discipline as well as providing a bridge between faculty and administration. Department chairs should be faculty leaders who routinely teach in their discipline and facilitate curriculum development and academic initiatives. As Montgomery College re-envisions its academic structure, it is essential in any model that faculty leadership in the chair role is maintained.

Academic Area Restructuring – Faculty Comments

Listed below are many of the comments and questions that faculty have brought to the AAUP over the academic area restructuring.  These are the views expressed by the faculty, and as such some may disagree with others.  That is fine, and a healthy debate is to be encouraged on such important matters.  No comments were excluded due to the AAUP leadership disagreeing with their content; however, comments that attacked individuals, or were otherwise deemed too inflammatory to include in such a posting were removed.  Other comments were edited only to preserve anonymity. 

Thank you once again for all of your feedback.

  [Read more…]

Update on the Restructuring

Colleagues,
Thank you for the steady flow of concerns regarding the academic restructuring that you have shared with the AAUP leadership before, during, and since our meeting last week. We take these concerns very seriously and are doing our best to fully and effectively represent them to both the senior administration and the Board of Trustees. I’d like to share some of the efforts that we have undertaken and plans that we have going forward.

This coming Monday, April 8, is the next meeting of the Board. I have requested time to speak during the open comments period at the beginning of this meeting to relay those concerns that we have heard so clearly and share. I encourage each of you to attend in a show of strength and solidarity. The meeting is scheduled to start at 8:15 pm in the Board Room in the Mannakee building.

Yesterday morning I met with Dr. Pollard. During this meeting we talked at great length about how angry so many of the faculty are regarding both the process and apparent direction in which the restructuring is headed, and I emphasized the feeling of marginalization that is so prevalent. I have also been continuing the research I mentioned last week on practices at other multi-campus, unionized institutions and expect to have more to say based on that by the time of the Board meeting.

The full AAUP executive committee has remained very involved in the efforts. We have had numerous discussions on how to best advocate on this matter, and have scheduled an emergency meeting for tomorrow. In addition, we are working on a compilation of the written and oral feedback that we have received. Our plan is to edit these only to remove references that may identify the speaker or other specific individuals and then post these to our website. If you shared anything that you would rather not be made public even anonymously please contact me by email ASAP, and we will respect your wishes. Should you prefer, you may also contact me at president@mcaaup.org or my personal email address, profpenn@yahoo.com. Please also consider sending to me, if you have not already done so, specific issues and actions that I could include when I speak before the Board. The more examples I am able to include which illustrate why we are feeling angry, distrustful, and marginalized, the more effective our case will be.

Your union leadership genuinely appreciates all of the feedback we have received and wants to assure you that we are working diligently to represent your concerns as effectively as possible.

Union Meeting on Academic Restructuring

Colleagues,
Thank you to the many of you who have shared your thoughts and concerns on the academic area restructuring with the union. I hope you have also taken the opportunity to communicate directly with the task force and Dr. Pearl. In response to the many requests that the AAUP has received to further discuss this issue, and in recognition of the significant impact that the restructuring will have on our jobs, the executive committee of the AAUP invites all members of the AAUP to a special union meeting on Thursday, March 28, from 4-5 pm in the Theater Arts Arena on the Rockville Campus. At this meeting we will share the specific concerns that we have as a union and discuss the feedback that we have received from you.
I hope to see many of you then. In the meantime, please keep the feedback coming, and have a great spring break.

Rick Penn

A response to the opinion piece in the Washington Post questioning whether we work hard enough

The following response represents the views of the AAUP executive committee. A special thank you to Tammy Peery (English-G) for her excellent job incorporating the input of the members of this committee and composing this article. We will be editing this to meet the Washington Post publication requirements and submitting a version as a letter to the editor. I would also like to thank the numerous other faculty who have provided well reasoned rebuttals to nearly every point Mr. Levy made in his article. With the authors’ permissions, we will share some of these in the comments section under this posting.

The recent opinion piece written by David C. Levy for the Washington Post makes a number of assertions about the role and cost of community college faculty, targeting our high salaries and low workload as a critical problem in higher education. This position is not accurate and is damaging not only to Montgomery College but to all community colleges. In making his claim, Mr. Levy inflates salary data, misrepresents the workload of faculty, and completely de-values the educational mission of institutions of higher learning.
First, Mr. Levy misrepresents faculty salaries to better support his agenda. He notes, “Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks.” In this instance he presents salary data for only the highest ranking faculty at a community college in one of the highest cost of living jurisdictions in the country, people who all have advanced degrees and an average of 18 years experience at this institution (not counting whatever experience was earned prior to coming here), then is outraged by how high it is. In contrast, the starting salary for some currently advertised full time faculty positions at Montgomery College is $46,521 – $67,971 – a base salary that is significantly less than what Mr. Levy publishes and one that is certainly lower than those requiring comparable degrees to start in the private sector.
Mr. Levy then contends that faculty work significantly fewer hours in their profession than workers in other professions: “they receive these salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers,” even going so far as to refer to full time faculty as “sinecures.” This assertion that faculty work only 15 hours per week in the classroom over just 30 weeks is not only inaccurate, it is insulting. First, most faculty members spend significantly more time working outside of the classroom than in it. Grading, preparing for classes, keeping currency within our disciplines and with pedagogical techniques, counseling students, writing letters of recommendation –responsibilities directly related to teaching those 15 classroom hours – are typically an additional 30 hours per week or more, though Mr. Levy inexplicably calls the time it takes to accomplish these tasks “unlikely.” One wonders if Mr. Levy has ever met a community college faculty member, his picture of the teaching workload is so thoroughly inaccurate. His calculations also minimize the other requirements of a full time faculty member’s job. We do key work on curriculum design and governance. We participate in outcomes assessment so that our classroom results are not anecdotal, but measurable. We participate in securing grants and donations to expand opportunities for our students. We mentor new faculty and students. We serve our community, including partnering with community agencies and sitting on county and state committees and commissions. Many of our faculty teach in professional areas where they must not only keep currency in their field, they must also put in professional training hours; therefore, faculty like those in the nursing program are required to do double service in their fields. With Winter and Summer sessions in addition to traditional semesters, they are doing this work year round, not just for 30 weeks. All told, the number of hours community college faculty put into their jobs beyond their 15 hours in the classroom is staggering.
Perhaps the most denigrating portion of Mr. Levy’s article is his assertion that community college faculty don’t contribute to research and his implication that research is the most valuable function of all institutions of higher learning. Certainly, we are not compensated for our research as those at elite universities are; however, many faculty participate in research nonetheless, publishing and contributing to scholarship, while at the same time teaching significantly more students for distinctly lower salaries. Further, that a man who calls himself an “educator” places so little value on actual teaching is stunning. Educating students is a paramount goal of all institutions of higher learning. Making a quality education available to as many people as possible and training the workforce are at least as beneficial to society as contributions made by elite researchers.
Contrary to Mr. Levy’s assertions, community college faculty are the best value in education. We spend countless hours not only teaching in the classroom, but also innovating, planning, learning, and reaching out to our students and communities. We take on these tasks with salary and benefits packages that are often below those of public school teachers, below those of university faculty members, and below those of professionals with similar degrees who are in the private sector. In exchange for these lower salaries and substantial work hours, we provide educational access not just for the best students, but also for students from all levels of academic, economic, professional, and cultural backgrounds. These students, in turn, will make a difference in their communities and society as a whole. These students deserve competent, innovative, engaged faculty who do so much more than spend 15 hours per week in a classroom. Providing students the skills and opportunities to change their lives is our mission and our passion. There is no greater value in education today than that provided by community college faculty.

A faculty voice in transitioning to the new governance model (?)

Colleagues,

Below is a response to the transition to the new governance system written on behalf of the AAUP Executive Committee.  This was presented to President Pollard yesterday, and at her request was not distributed until a meeting could be held today between the chairs of the 3 faculty councils, the co-chairs of the governance taskforce, Steve Cain, Mary Furgol (who had previously raised several concerns herself) and myself.  The meeting was productive, and led to acceptance of ideas which originated in the faculty councils on ways to increase the faculty’s representation. I am appreciative of the willingness of all involved to participate in such a discussion to improve the system.  However, the primary concern brought by the Chapter, that the faculty’s right to ratify any changes in governance has been disregarded, has not been adequately addressed as of yet. 

 

The big topic on everyone’s mind these days is the new governance structure.  There is a lot to be said, both pro and con, about the changes that will be implemented with this new structure, and I will share my thoughts on these– and ask for yours – in an upcoming article.  However, of more immediate concern is the process by which we transition from here to there, including the soliciting of appropriate buy-in.

At the last meeting of the Academic Assembly, a Rockville faculty member voiced several concerns, previously raised as well in other forums, including that bylaws of the current governance system which detail the process to change any aspect of governance have not been followed.  The bylaws in question appear in Appendix II of the P&P, where the following is written:

“Procedures for Changing the Collegewide Governance System·

  1. Any member of the College community has the right to recommend to the Academic Assembly changes in the existing collegewide governance system, including changes to the Constitution.
  2. Recommendations for changing the collegewide governance system, including changes to the Constitution, shall be submitted in writing to the Academic Assembly and then distributed for collegewide consideration.
  3. Disposition of a recommendation is decided by a majority of the aye and nay votes cast by faculty either at a collegewide meeting or by ballot.”

It is worth noting that that these procedures do not specify a proposed modification to the Academic Assembly, but rather any “changes in the existing collegewide governance system,” which would seem to render moot any question of the applicability of these bylaws to a situation such as this one where the Assembly will cease to exist.

Later in the same appendix are the constitutions of the 3 faculty councils. Each contains similarly worded provisions for modifying the respective constitution, requiring a proposal to be made by a faculty member, and requiring for ratification a vote in favor by 2/3 of the full time faculty.

The administration’s response to these concerns is troubling.  First, I have been told that although these bylaws appear as an appendix to the P&P, they are not the product of any Board action nor attached to specific Policies elsewhere in the document, and so are not truly part of the P&P.  While it may be true that the Board did not approve these, the Chapter has received a legal opinion that absent explicit indication to the contrary, an appendix is considered incorporated into the document and would therefore carry its weight.  The important fact to me, however, is not whether the protections described above were officially a Policy in the P&P or just a policy accepted for over 30 years.  The Board can, after all, modify the P&P without input from the faculty or any other constituency when it so desires.  The problem is that a long standing protection of the rights of the faculty has been unilaterally dismissed.   If the Board and the President are willing to set aside agreements and safeguards that have been the basis of governance of the College since before almost anyone currently associated with the College was hired, how can we trust any agreement they make unless it is made legally binding through contractual negotiations?

The Board and President Pollard have made it clear that they consider a governance system in which every member of the College community has a voice to be a more fair and more effective system the one currently in place.  I question some aspects of this belief and note that it does not conform as well as should be desired to the ideal of shared governance as described in the AAUP’s Redbook; despite this, I do accept that by and large it is a reasonable perspective, and it is within the rights of those offices to hold such a philosophy and to implement policies to further it.  However, an ethical obligation exists, even if no legal one does, to recognize the impact that implementing such a change will have on existing agreements, and not to simply sweep under the rug any commitment previously made that is no longer convenient.

 

Success Despite the Odds – AELP Credit versus Non-Credit

There had been a taxi-ride in D.C. rush hour, a two-hour security check and wait, a seven-hour flight to Frankfurt, a six-hour lay-over, another seven-hour flight, and another taxi ride. All in all, about a twenty-four-hour trip without sleep. I feel nauseous and disoriented, but I have to put on my hijab and abaya, the black cloak that women must wear by law in Saudi Arabia. I must continue to be alert because I don’t speak Arabic and I don’t want to commit a cultural blunder that could land me in jail. I feel completely illiterate because I cannot even read the signs.  As if to make the situation somehow okay, I remember that I have experienced this before when I was in China, where I ended up in the middle of nowhere and I had to walk an hour to get back to a place that I recognized because I couldn’t even distinguish four from six characters on the bus – “Just take the bus with the six characters”…… Right. “Dr.” van den Berg, alias Dr. Dummy was completely at the mercy of strangers.

Why do I bring this up? Because this is exactly how our non-native students feel. They have to overcome tremendous odds –culture shock, home sickness, poverty, war and trauma even- and in addition, they have to learn another language in a ridiculously short amount of time. If you have ever lived in another country, you know that even the “standard” seven years in too short to learn a foreign language adequately[1]. Therefore, the fact that the AELP/ American English Language Program of Montgomery College prepares students for academic classes within a few years despite all those extra obstacles is quite amazing. Instead of asking, “How does the AELP accomplish such an astounding feat?” non-AELP folks at MC often seem to ask “How can we make the AELP look better to the outside world regardless of  whether that is beneficial to the students or not?”

There are many enthusiastic supporters of the AELP, who do nothing but encourage us in our endeavors. However, lately, it has become apparent that there is also a group who doesn’t understand the AELP and what it does. I am always surprised by complaints that the placement process is “not transparent enough,” that the students “take too long,” and that AELP classes are merely “remedial tutoring” by another name. What strikes me though is that those who are least in the classroom seem to have the most outspoken and in my opinion misguided perceptions. – I would like to say to those people: Have you ever taken the trouble to see what the placement process involves, have you ever visited an AELP class, or perhaps learned another language from scratch well enough to dream in it? Probably not!

Maybe you should. Maybe that would diffuse the tension that has been building now for quite a while. Wouldn’t it be nice if the storm that has been brewing over AELP country would just blow over? Wouldn’t it be grand if AELP and non-AELP folk (including administrators and counselors) would live happily ever after? I think it would be very nice indeed. The problem is that there is a long history of good AELP folks who have been fighting for their students and possibly equally well-intended administrators and counselors who have disregarded their expertise. 

It all started with a review of the first ESL program on the Rockville campus in 1990. At that time, the college-wide AELP didn’t exist yet, but faculty in the new Rockville department of -what was then called- Reading and ESL undertook a review of the ESL program, looking at what type of ESL classes were offered at other colleges, best practices per current research in the discipline, and per professional organizations with regard to skills, number of levels, length of time needed to master English etc. In addition, ESL students were surveyed whether they wanted their classes to be credit or non-credit. An overwhelming 97.5% of all the students wanted their ESL classes to be credit. Despite some protest from four TP/SS faculty members, the ad hoc committee formed to deal with this issue recommended in March of 1992 that institutional credit (counting the grade on the transcript, but not applicable toward the degree) was the way to go for a college wide ESL-program.

In 2004, after a “battle” of twelve years with AELP folks pitted against an unwilling administration, the much needed Speaking/Listening track finally became a reality when  the course proposal was approved by the Curriculum committee. Why the same people who now often still complain that they don’t understand non-native students had to oppose the very program that at least addresses some of those issues is a mystery to me. Just like I am completely baffled by the convenience of calling us ten-month employees, while I know of two instances when AELP faculty were asked to do AELP placements throughout the year without compensation. I know so because I attended the CAPDI meeting in my capacity as Chair person at the time; I had a faculty member who had been doing AELP placements without compensation. Again, as Chair person, I was and still am fully aware that full-time faculty members have many obligations besides teaching. However, contractually, it is simply not right to demand that a faculty member who is not compensated be available during every break to read writing samples and do placements of non-native speakers. Why the faculty member and I had to “fight” to get the required compensation is beyond me. But wait….these are just minor incidents leading up to the grand finale – The AELP credit / non-credit debacle! And let me be clear; I am in no way vested in the outcome. Whether AELP should be credit or non-credit is almost beside the point; the point is that the AELP credit / non-credit debacle seems to be the culmination of a long history of disregarding the expertise and commitment of the AELP faculty. 

When in 2008, Federal laws changed, jeopardizing Financial Aid for AELP students due to their non-credit bearing courses, the administration took no action, which impacted over a hundred students. By fall 2009, this issue –which could have been fixed by a small editorial change in the catalogue- as well as the fact that TP/SS students raised a concern about the negative impact of institutional AELP credit on their GPAs was brought to the attention of the AELP faculty members. As a result, the AELP/IC (American English Language Program Institutional Credit) workgroup was formed, consisting of faculty, counselors, and deans to address these concerns.

From the summer of 2010 till the release of its report in April 2011, the AELP/IC met many times. Looking at overall and “adjusted” grade point averages of all students who completed EL104 in FY2007 (and were tracked for two years), it turned out that when AELP courses were removed, the GPAs increased only by .017. However, 64% of EL104 TPSS students would have benefited from the removal of institutional credits from the calculation of their GPAs compared to that of students completing EL 104 at the other campuses. Therefore, the AELP/IC Workgroup recommended institutional credit be maintained, but further data collection and analysis was needed regarding TP/SS. 

Late October, 2011, V.P. Paula Matuskey sent out an e-mail to AELP faculty members asking them to come to a meeting at 5 p.m. on November third, at Germantown. Since no agenda was provided, no one knew what the meeting we had been summoned to was about. We only knew that the deans, provosts, and AELP/IC workgroup was supposed to meet an hour before all AELP faculty were supposed to meet. When we were kept waiting in the hallway for half an hour, we decided to walk in. The mood was adversarial to say the least. To show my allegiance, I sat down next to a highly-respected faculty member who was irate and very vocal about the fact that the recommendations of the AELP/IC were disregarded. She pointed out that it was not only demoralizing but also simply a waste of resources and time. To my utter shock, in response, I heard things like “we must fix this broken program” and “council members wonder why we take so long to teach international students English.”  Had I missed something because we had been forced to pace the hall for 25 minutes? Since when was the program “broken”? The last Outcomes Assessment report I had read had indicated that AELP students did very well in subsequent classes….. Whatever council member it was, must have been joking. I speak four languages of which I speak two fluently, but to get to that point took me about 25 years. Talk about unrealistic expectations and not being well informed! This was a very strange meeting indeed, which made me feel slighted. Before I had to leave to go teach my evening class, it became clear that V.P. Matuskey was planning to make the AELP non-credit despite the recommendations from the work group. Before I left, I glanced over at my colleagues who had spent a year apparently on a wild goose chase. They looked distraught.

The next few days, the halls of MC were abuzz with whispered conversations about how people felt physically sick, sad, or at least ill at ease after the meeting. Then V.P. Matusky sent out an e-mail stating that she supported the “recommendations of the task group with the exception of the recommendation relating to institutional credit” and that “by the end of this academic year…courses [would have to be changed] from institutional credit to no credit” by a small subgroup led by AELP lead dean Hawkins and Professor Berman.   The same day, Professor Berman answered this e-mail confirming he would form a new committee that would gather more data and then, “based on the data, recommend a system that serve[d] students best…”

 On November 16, Laura Gardner, a TPSS counselor, sent an e-mail stating that “the decision to eliminate credit for the AELP program ha[d] been made,” and that “twenty years ago the English department abrogated the curriculum process to put [the AELP] in place” and that “this travesty [needed to be] rectified.”  On November 17th, Rick Penn (AAUP chair) met with Dr. Pollard to express concern not with the decision itself, but with the processes by which these decisions were made and communicated. Dr. Pollard answered that no decisions had been made. 

After that, the AELP credit versus non-credit issue kept surfacing in e-mails zinging through cyberspace, floating in whispered gossip behind closed doors, and drifting aimlessly down the hallways poisoning our working environment. 

What is the end result of this debacle?

We don’t know yet, and honestly, in my opinion, the end result cannot be more earth-shattering or devastating than the way this was handled. I am a reasonable person who can adapt to circumstances and even a flawed system, so I am sure that I will learn to live with whatever the decision is. What I find much harder to live with is that a growing sense of discontent -of a feeling that those who do not teach don’t respect me or value my professional opinion – has been growing deep inside me like a cancer, weakening me and sapping me of the energy and strength that my students deserve. 

What was that again?

I remember something vaguely of the students “being the center of our universe,” or that our mission was to “empower students”….. Forgive me if I forgot what I was here for; my mission was buried in a quagmire of paper-pushing, busy-work, and committees that apparently don’t always matter. No, joking aside now; the only reason that someone in his or her right mind would invest a tremendous amount of time and money to obtain a Master’s Degree or Ph.D., teach at a community college, and put in 60+ hours every week for a salary that is far below what anyone with those credentials would make in other fields is because that person loves students.

I do.

I stayed at Montgomery College when life almost took me elsewhere because I love particularly those non-native students I started my story with. I want to teach precisely those brave, unique, intelligent, diverse, and amazing human beings from other countries who teach me so much each and every semester about myself and the world I live in. If Montgomery College would just let me. 

I appreciate the efforts of Deans who make sure that we comply with MHEC. However, I do think that ultimately, AELP people should make the decisions that affect them and their students. The person who was so angry when I walked into that infamous meeting said it best: “Why cannot the AELP, as a discipline, be left alone to make its own decisions?”

Why indeed?  

By Jorinde van den Berg, Ph.D.
AELP / EN – Germantown

February 5, 2012


 

[1] ESL-expert J. Cummings states that children need five to seven years to develop Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. Adults, however, take much longer.