June 26, 2017

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

As a faculty member who, during the tenure of four administrations, has served at various times as a department chair, a representative on many campus and college-wide committees, including Faculty Council and Academic Assembly (RIP), and a member of the Executive Committee of AAUP, I have some thoughts on not only the actual changes that have occurred and are continuing to occur at lightning speed, but also on the current culture of change that now reigns at our institution.  If one were to examine the evolution of Montgomery College over the course of our history, one would discover that the college certainly did not remain stagnant; changes occurred in vision, guiding philosophy, mission statement, staffing/administrative organization and infrastructure.  And most often, these changes occurred after careful consideration, analysis and collaborative discussion among faculty, staff and administrators.  Never before, however, has almost every aspect of the institution been so dramatically altered – and each change accomplished in a matter months, sometimes weeks, regardless of the importance of the issue or area.  One has to wonder how the college managed to survive, albeit flourish, for so many years. 

The mechanism for change in most of the areas of the institution that are being upended seems to be recommending committees, consisting of forty to seventy people, including individuals who have little to no experience in, or knowledge of, the particular area or issue(s).  Similarly alarming is the lack of knowledge about the history and context of the areas and operations that these committees are so cavalierly changing, as well as the reticence to consult with those who have the experience and background knowledge.  In this age of information bombardment, it is difficult to keep current even in one’s own field.  Moreover, the recommendations of these committees frequently have little to do with the ultimate decisions that are made at the upper levels.

We seem to have abandoned the notion of relevance (as in: “Do the folks involved in making decisions about an issue or over an area have experience and knowledge relevant to the issue/area?”) for the sake of inclusion.  Wholesale inclusion simply does not work.  Programming within academic and counseling areas needs to be accomplished by faculty and deans who are educated and experienced in the specific area(s).  One has to wonder what has happened to beginning change with meaningful conversations among those individuals and groups of individuals who have some meaningful knowledge of the particular issue/area to ascertain a history and understand what currently exists (what is working and what is not working) in order to conduct a meaningful evaluation on which to base a meaningful discussion of what needs to change, what the end result might look like, and whether/how that change would promote meaningful benefits and opportunities to students.

This lack of interest in expertise and knowledge, particularly that belonging to the faculty, goes well beyond the myriad of the deconstruction/reconstruction committees; it seems to permeate most every undertaking of the institution.  I have served on several of these giant and time-consuming committees.  I have been asked to weigh in on topics about which I know little, if anything at all.  I am a chair in a department that has only ever had one chair, college-wide.  I have designed, implemented and operated a program that is nationally recognized for excellence and best practices.  I have not once been invited by any senior administrator to engage in so much as a five-minute conversation about the discipline I lead or the program about which I am regularly asked to speak outside of the institution.  I am certainly not unique.  Many of our faculty and staff members are recognized authorities in their respective fields.  We serve as officers in state and national academic organizations and consortiums; we are invited speakers and panel participants at seminars and conferences; we are members of advisory boards and think tanks.  And yet, at our own institution, we have become invisible.  This relatively new practice of ignoring the expertise of our faculty and staff diminishes the morale of the entire institution; perhaps more importantly, it seems a tragic and irresponsible waste of resources and often results in changes that fail to serve the needs and best interests of the college and, most importantly, our students.

In addition to the mega restructuring committees, we are gearing up for the new governance structure, one in which there will exist not one single entity comprised only of full-time faculty members.  Many of us felt that our governance structure needed to be examined and reorganized; In fact, faculty members with a great deal of experience in governance had already begun that process.  This faculty-driven initiative was terminated and a different group altogether was charged with creating a new system of governance.  Although the chairs of that committee have made every effort to explain the new structure, I must say that the epic proportions are such that I simply cannot get my mind around it.  Moreover, considering the sheer numbers involved, let alone the complexity of the parts, one is hard pressed to image how anything might be accomplished.  I hope that is not the goal.  Of course, given the fact that each so-called “decision-making group” is actually advisory to the senior administration, the body that, we have been told, will actually make all of the decisions — the issue of accomplishment may well be moot.  Nevertheless, one would hope that we are all keeping an open mind regarding our new structure of governance.

The Employee Engagement Advisory Group (EEAG), while having put forth a valiant effort for several years to enhance and track the engagement of our employees, may be heading towards obsolescence, or hiatus at the very least, during this current era; most everyone at the institution seems to be at some level of furious regarding the elevation in status and appointment of what is in the minds of many an overabundance of vice presidents, none of them academic and with no discussion or input from the college community.  Possible exceptions to this rather widespread irritation may be the newly anointed vice presidents themselves. 

Less than a year ago, the college employed nine vice presidents, including two senior vice presidents, two permanent special assistants at the salary of a vice president, and a scattering of other high level administrators at that same grade/salary.  At that time, all of the employees of the college, with the exception of part-time faculty were being furloughed.  This year, a third senior vice president has been added in addition to an associate senior vice president.  Because of the economy, currently and for the past several academic years, no salary enhancements have been negotiated, the college has labored under a hiring freeze and very limited travel funds have been available, which clearly affects professional development for faculty.  And yet – the administration has, during the last few months alone, added a Chief Compliance Officer, along with a project manager and an administrative aide (all new positions), and a Deputy Chief of Staff and Strategy (new position).  Less than one week later, despite the fact that no other employees were reclassified (a result of the abandonment and reconstitution of the Reclassification Study), eight high level positions have been reclassified to the status of seven vice presidents and one to associate senior vice president (a new position altogether).  The juxtaposition of an institutional imperative to create a less bureaucratic and more welcoming environment by changing the very name Central Administration to Central Services, as well as the entire reconstruction of the Central Services’ Building (nee Mannakee) in order to make the facility more friendly, at any cost — and the addition and/or status elevation of a surplus of high level positions, resulting in approximately twenty vice presidents, seems ironic, at best.

Change is necessary to the health of our institution.  My concern is that the urgency to change every aspect of our institution precludes the opportunity for relevant input from the college community and shared decision making.  My hope is that we will engage faculty and staff in meaningful dialogues, respect and rely on our collective and individual expertise, evaluate the merits of each decision in terms of direct benefits to students and use our history as the foundation for change.  The many initiatives and wide-range reconfiguring of our institution within this current culture of change are confusing, frustrating and in many ways destabilizing.  Experience tells us that over time top-down initiatives and restructuring come and go; faculty, on the other hand, tends to remain fairly constant.  We continue to teach our classes, we continue to advise and counsel our students – although it is becoming more difficult to find time to actually interact with students, given the growing number of nonacademic, non-student-focused committees and meetings we are expected to attend – we continue to impact our students in positive ways and to serve as catalysts in their changing lives.  For the faculty and staff, students really are the center of our universe.  And in the end, while we may be distracted by and speculate on such trivia as the need for a new Montgomery College-wide mascot, the real question is: where is the Board?

I have written this post as an individual faculty member, not as a representative of or for any group.  I have been guided by the notion of Martin Luther King, Jr that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  I believe that Montgomery College matters and that the things about which I have written matter.  Moreover, I have written this post within the context of Mahatma Gandhi’s perspective on dissention and whose contention it was that “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”  My hope is that what I have written is viewed in the spirit in which I have written it, as a step towards thoughtful conversations and meaningful progress.

Rose Sachs
Chair, Disability Support Services
Coordinator, Combat2College
Immediate Past President and Governance Liaison, AAUP