April 26, 2017

Important Information on the Chair Position

As many of you may already know, during the process of the Academic Restructuring the administration has selected to alter its 30-year standing interpretation of our enabling legislation and our Contract language, specifically regarding the role of the department chair and the definition of the term “supervise.”

On May 8, the Executive Committee invited Dr. Pearl, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs (SVP-AA), to meet with us to discuss the legal guidance the administration has received on this matter, including any possible constraints on activities permitted the members of the faculty bargaining unit. Dr. Pearl was accompanied by Jacia Smith, Director of Employee and Labor Relations and Recruitment, we assume to present management’s current opinions and respond to questions of a legal nature. We were told by Dr. Pearl that the legal guidance had come from Rocky Sorrell and Darryll VanDeussen, attorneys who have been employed by the college for many years, each of whom has intimate knowledge of the legislation and our Contract. We question the impetus for these two to suddenly and radically alter their interpretations of both at this particular time during the last stages of the development of the Academic Restructuring plan. As we pointed out during the meeting, the legal concerns about supervisory responsibilities of the department chairs are directly addressed in our Contract. And this explicit and legally binding understanding between AAUP and management has been accepted as being consistent with the enabling legislation for some 30 years. Furthermore, this understanding is also reflected in the college’s Policies and Procedures (P&P), which have remained unchanged since 1992. Again, we question: what is different now?

During the meeting, Ms. Smith stated unequivocally that faculty cannot review curriculum materials, schedule classes/faculty, order equipment/supplies, participate in employee evaluations – in fact, when we pointed out that the role of the chair is to provide academic leadership and to construct meaningful recommendations, primarily to the deans, Ms. Smith responded, “Just because you don’t make the final decision, if you have any decision you are a supervisor.” These assertions were not refuted by Dr. Pearl. Moreover, the concerns, as conveyed by Dr. Pearl and Ms. Smith, appear not to be primarily with the role of the chair as it relates to full-time faculty but rather with the role of the chair as it relates to members of SEIU and ASCME. Ms. Smith stated, “No-one in a union should supervise any other union member of any union.” Again, this assertion was not refuted by Dr. Pearl. The crux of the matter lies in the interpretation of the term “supervise.”

It is our contention that chairs do not supervise:

• Department chairs do not hire full-time faculty or staff; they sit on, often chair, hiring committees and provide recommendations. The deans have generally respected the recommendations of these committees but have always had the authority to accept or reject these recommendations.
• Department chairs do not hire part-time faculty. They review the credentials/documents of, interview part-time faculty, and present information and recommendations to the dean. Part-time faculty are hired by deans. It is Ms. Smith’s claim that this practice is supervisory.
• Department chairs do not transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, or discharge any other employees.
• Department chairs do not assign employees. Under the guidance of their deans, they create schedules for classes and faculty, which are assigned by the dean, with or without modification. We were told by Ms. Smith that building schedules is supervisory.

According to the new interpretation of “supervise” that was presented to us by the administration via Ms. Smith, it seems that every department chair in every department, college-wide, who is following the definitions and directives that are stated in the college’s P&P is performing duties that, although prescribed by the administration, are now being deemed inappropriate or even illegal. If that is the case, then it would appear that the P&P has created and promoted unlawful conduct on the part of faculty chairs for 21 years. We do not believe this to be true; we believe that the P&P reflects the enabling legislation and our Contract.

It is certainly our strong preference that chairs remain faculty leaders who continue to serve under the guidance and direction of an appropriate dean to facilitate the provision of services that enhance the teaching effectiveness of faculty; to provide the critical leadership for instructional programs and students’ development; to plan, develop, administer and evaluate programs, services and personnel; to encourage innovation and promote excellence; and to develop and maintain a climate which fosters maximum student growth. We are being told, however, that these preferences are not consistent with the law. We believe they are. They are also consistent with the P&P; this wording is taken directly from the College’s existing Policies and Procedures.

Montgomery College’s Policies and Procedures 24102CP explicitly delineates the role of department chairs and explicitly states that department chairs are faculty. Included in this Procedure are the following responsibilities that we have now been informed the administration considers supervisory, and thus, inappropriate for faculty to perform:

Providing leadership for and assuring meaningful opportunities for faculty participation in:
1. Departmental planning, scheduling and budgeting
2. Recommending the selection of new full-time faculty
3. Full-time faculty evaluation processes
4. Selection and evaluation of part-time faculty
5. Hiring, supervision and evaluation of support staff

Further, it is now the contention of the administration that it is also inappropriate, contrary to the requirements of the P&P, for the chair to continue to advocate for faculty needs and oversee provision of department services in:
1. Day-to-day departmental operations
2. Departmental fiscal operations

Management is now interpreting as supervisory and, therefore, inappropriate, the aforementioned responsibilities, all of which are clearly stated as duties of the peer chair for the purpose of assuring that faculty efforts can be focused as much as possible on teaching and learning. This new interpretation does not appear to be open to further discussion with the faculty and seems to be the basis of the only two options being considered in the restructuring: either to remove the chairs from the bargaining unit, thus creating administrative chairs, or to strip the faculty chairs of compensation and all meaningful responsibilities. We believe that removing the chair position from the bargaining unit is dangerous on many levels. Faculty chairs are experts in their disciplines and the necessary bridge between faculty and administrators. Faculty chairs are able to provide the administration with a diverse perspective, specifically the student-faculty perspective in the institution’s decision-making process. Faculty chairs remain in touch with the needs of the students and understand the changing student demographics from the point of service because faculty chairs continue to teach, not merely the occasional class. In addition, even if an agreement can be reached to protect a faculty member’s faculty position after a term as an administrative chair, the union has no way of protecting a non-tenured faculty member while they are serving as an administrator. Unlike actual tenure, a tenure-like evaluation structure is only of value when the individual is a faculty member. The second option that has been considered by the administration, to remove compensation and all responsibility from the faculty chair, in our opinion, is simply punitive. We will discuss the ramifications of these options further at the AAUP meeting next week.

Based on the interpretation that was presented to us by Dr. Pearl and Ms. Smith, participating in performance evaluations for part-time faculty or staff; creating schedules for full-time and part-time faculty; signing leave slips for faculty and staff; reviewing course materials of full-time or part-time faculty; interviewing and recommending the hire of part-time faculty; directing the activities of departmental staff; and signing any form for the purpose of purchasing supplies or equipment for the department could, and most likely would, be deemed unlawful conduct. Of great import is that not only does this interpretation differ significantly from that of the union, but this interpretation entirely contradicts the P&P, a document constructed by the administration and one to which we have a unconditional obligation to adhere. And these conflicting interpretations not only present a dilemma for sitting chairs, coordinators and other faculty, but actually put them at risk regardless of the actions they take. Actions taken in defiance of the P&P or in defiance of an order from the SVP-AA could be considered insubordinate and subject to disciplinary action. Given the disconnect between the two – which are we to follow?

Compounding an already untenable situation, we have become aware that the recommendations from the Academic Restructuring Task Force include that the chair becomes a twelve-month, non-faculty position. The justification for taking the chair out of the bargaining unit is management’s assertion that department chairs are acting as supervisors for college employees in other bargaining units and that a supervisory role for AAUP members may be counter to the enabling legislation. The Chapter’s attorney refutes the characterization that such roles are counter to the law.

We have repeatedly requested the opportunity to discuss, formally and/or informally, the role of peer chairs and possible ways to modify, if necessary, the role that would preserve the position in terms of academic leadership and remain within any legal requirements. In fact, this was the stated purpose for which Dr. Pearl was invited to meet with the Executive Committee on May 8. The administration has refused to engage in such a discussion. We expect that management will implement the recommendation to pull the position of chair out of the bargaining unit. Should they choose to do so, the Chapter, on the advice of counsel, is prepared to take the matter to the State Commissioner of Labor and Industry.

The AAUP executive committee thanks you for the support that so many of you have offered us. The vocal and emailed words of support of our colleagues are always appreciated, but in these times they also serve the very important role of demonstrating to the administration that the Chapter is truly speaking on behalf of the full-time faculty.

Rick Penn
Stephanie Pepin
Bryant Davis
Sharon Piper
Bill Talbot
Jorinde van den Berg
Tim Kirkner
Rose Sachs
Dan Wilson
Robin Flanary

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