April 26, 2017

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

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