Monday, February 29, 2016

Cutting Faculty Jobs Brings President Award

Inside Higher Ed
February 29, 2016
By Ellen Wexler

When Carolyn Stefanco accepted the “disrupter” award inside an Albany hotel Friday, faculty members picketed on the sidewalk.

“Disruptive leadership,” their signs read, “is killing the College of Saint Rose.”

Stefanco, the president of Saint Rose, received the award two months after announcing the elimination of 23 faculty positions -- many of them tenured -- and 12 academic programs. She pitched the cuts, part of an attempt to fix a $9 million deficit, as a way to save money while investing in the college’s more popular programs.

At Saint Rose, which she joined in 2014, Stefanco’s plans have been contentious. Earlier this month, the faculty voted no confidence in the president, arguing that the cuts were poorly designed and that liberal arts programs were hit particularly hard.

But for business leaders -- the disrupter award comes from the Albany Business Review -- the president’s actions took on the tenor of industry-savvy creativity and innovation.

“Disrupter,” a word native to start-up culture, typically describes someone who balks at conventional wisdom and comes out ahead. A disrupter discovers newer, better ways to run businesses and manipulate industries.

“To flourish in business these days is to make disruption and change work for you and your business,” Mike Hendricks, editor-in-chief of the Review, wrote when the paper announced the winners. “You have to recognize the need and opportunity for change and risk the status quo.”

But for Saint Rose faculty, Stefanco’s brand of disruption is far from the West Coast start-up variety. For many, the award represents something far more concerning: Stefanco’s actions go against the university’s mission, opponents argue, and they undermine shared governance and academic freedom.

“This is what’s happening at lots and lots of institutions,” said Angela Ledford, a political science professor and vice president of Saint Rose’s American Association of University Professors chapter. “They’re taking shared governance away from the faculty and making corporate and business decisions about what students ought to be learning.”

After the faculty's no-confidence vote, the Board of Trustees voted to stand behind the president. "Dr. Stefanco is leading Saint Rose with courage, wisdom and compassion," Board of Trustees Chair Judy Calogero said in a statement. "She is determined to meet the changing needs of our students, improve the college’s financial condition, increase enrollment and expand the academic programs our students are seeking."

Saint Rose did not respond to requests for comment on the president accepting the award. (UPDATE: The college sent Inside Higher Ed a statement from Stefanco that said, in part:  "I was hired by the Board of Trustees to confront the realities at Saint Rose. We need to reduce a $9-million operating deficit, to increase enrollment, and to realign our academic programs to better serve our students, 75 percent of whom are enrolled in 25 percent of our programs. To manage institutional change successfully is to discern the difference between what is temporary in nature and what is enduring. Our fundamental mission is to serve our students. But some academic programs require change from time to time in response to the economic, technological and social changes rapidly reshaping our world. The changes at Saint Rose will overwhelmingly benefit current and future students but, regrettably, also will result in the loss of faculty jobs. The affected faculty are talented, dedicated to their students, and have served with distinction.  I thank the Business Review for this recognition, which I accept with humility as a person committed to doing the best I can every day to help our students, faculty and staff preserve the spirit of Saint Rose, prepare for a challenging future, and manage the consequences of change with integrity, strength and compassion.")

Faculty members don't dispute that some cuts might be needed. But they dispute the magnitude of the cuts, and they say that they should have been more involved in the parts of the plan that involved changing the academic programs offered.

Ledford worries about the corporatization of higher education, and she sees Stefanco’s actions as part of a trend: When administrations run colleges like businesses, they undermine shared governance. Faculty members have little control over who’s hired and fired or what programs are cut.

When Saint Rose picked which programs to eliminate, the decision rested on enrollment: according to the college, 75 percent of students are enrolled in 25 percent of courses; 12 programs don’t have any students at all.

Kathleen Crowley, a psychology professor and president of Saint Rose’s AAUP chapter, attended Stefanco’s award ceremony, where she says the president repeated those statistics.

“It’s difficult to imagine that the Albany Business Review considers this kind of disruption innovative or useful or productive,” Crowley said. “We’re very disappointed that the president has decided to accept.”

There were seven winners of the disrupter award, and the other six honorees -- CEOs, presidents, general managers -- run traditional businesses, not nonprofit colleges. “President Stefanco,” Ledford said, “sticks out in the most egregious way.”

The president’s opponents were struck by the image of Stefanco, a few months after laying off so many professors, accepting an award for her efforts in a hotel ballroom.

Ledford is angry about losing programs and colleagues -- her own department lost two faculty members -- but she says that the faculty backlash is about the larger implications: weakening tenure protections threaten academic freedom. And when academic freedom is threatened, “you are chipping away of the very integrity of higher education altogether.”

“When you start firing tenured and tenure-track faculty,” she said, “then tenure no longer has any meaning.”

The president’s opponents say that the liberal arts took a particularly hard hit: programs cut include American studies, women’s and gender studies, philosophy, religious studies, and sociology.

“Students’ faculty care more about getting them training for a job,” Ledford said. “Their faculty care about getting them to be lifelong learners and critical thinkers and citizens of the world.”

Saint Rose has maintained that the liberal arts will remain at the foundations of the college’s curriculum, and that liberal arts courses will continue to be required for all undergraduates.

Ledford attended the protest outside the award ceremony Friday afternoon, along with 40 or so students, faculty members, community members and local labor groups.

“It's a very tone-deaf move, to accept this award as disrupter, after laying off 23 faculty members a couple weeks before Christmas,” said Sean Collins, an organizer for the union that represents adjunct faculty at Saint Rose.

Collins said that, by giving Stefanco an award, the business community is treating college presidents as business leaders. “But that’s not what they should be,” he said. “They should be something more.”

Friday, February 26, 2016

Two Public Colleges in Illinois Announce More Layoffs and Cuts

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Sarah Brown
February 26, 2016

Two public colleges in Illinois announced additional belt-tightening measures this week as they enter their ninth month without state funding due to a budget impasse in the legislature.

The most alarming news came from Chicago State University, which sent notices of possible layoffs to all 900 of its employees on Friday. It’s not yet clear how many faculty and staff members could lose their jobs. According to the Chicago Tribune, the university’s president, Thomas J. Calhoun Jr., said the campus would still hold classes this summer and fall.

Chicago State announced last month that it would be unable to meet payroll in March unless lawmakers passed a budget. Officials later declared financial exigency, and they said on Wednesday that the university would end the semester early to ensure that its students could finish the academic year.

Western Illinois University officials said on Friday that the institution would trim $20 million from its operating expenses over the next two years, lay off 100 faculty and staff members, and begin a hiring freeze. The university had announced late last year that it would lay off 50 faculty members. That list included a dozen with tenure, although officials later said tenured professors’ jobs were safe for the time being.

Moody’s Investors Service this week downgraded the credit ratings of Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and Eastern Illinois University. Eastern Illinois dropped to junk-bond status. A Moody’s analyst said in a statement that the university’s “liquid reserves are expected to be exhausted by the end of the fiscal year,” in July.

Although the state’s public colleges are becoming increasingly desperate for money, the budget deadlock shows no sign of letting up. Bruce V. Rauner, Illinois’s Republican governor, vetoed a bill last week that would have provided $721 million for community colleges and the state’s low-income grant program.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Friedrichs Reprieve, But We're Not Out of the Woods Yet

Labor Notes
By Alexandra Bradbury
February 16, 2016  
Yes, we dodged a bullet—for now. But any union that takes the Supreme Court shakeup as a cue to go back to business as usual will be making a big mistake. 

Before Justice Antonin Scalia’s abrupt passing, a 5–4 hostile ruling in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association seemed virtually guaranteed.

The decision, expected by June, could have imposed so-called “right to work” on the whole public sector—meaning unions could no longer collect “fair-share” fees from the nonmembers they’re legally required to represent.

Now the court looks deadlocked, which could mean the lower court’s ruling in favor of the union is upheld; more likely, Friedrichs will be reargued after a ninth justice is confirmed.

There’s no question—this reprieve is good news. Losing fair share would be a serious blow.

The evidence is in, from state after state that’s gone “right to work.” Even for a union that’s well-prepared, the loss saps a portion of members, budget, staff time, and strength. For the unprepared, membership goes into freefall. That’s why anti-union forces keep pushing these laws.

So it’s no wonder unionists are breathing a sigh of relief. But we’re not out of the woods yet.

Friedrichs will be back. If this case is dead in the water, the same conservative billionaires who bankrolled it will bring another. Scalia’s replacement could prove unfriendly. A liberal justice could exit the court. Congress could do what the court hasn’t.

And even if a genie let us wish away these anti-union legal crusades forever, that wouldn’t solve labor’s deeper problems.


That’s why the Friedrichs wake-up call had a silver lining. Unions, especially in the public sector, were starting to ask the uncomfortable question—why do so many workers jump ship when they get the chance?

A hard look in the mirror reveals the deep disconnect between most members and their unions. That’s the underlying problem labor must solve if we hope to tackle the enormous challenges of our day—among them spiraling privatization, evaporating pensions, proliferating two-tier wages, a poisoned planet, and record extremes of wealth and poverty.

A union’s strength, after all, is its members—not just how many are paying dues, but how many have caught the spirit of solidarity, how many will stand together on the job, how many are training their co-workers to see through the boss’s agenda, how many will go to the mat for the union because it’s their organization, fighting for what matters to them.

That kind of commitment can’t be ginned up from headquarters, or turned on and off like a faucet. Too often a handful of top officers set the agenda—in bargaining, in politics, and on the shop floor—and members view the union as an insurance policy, at best.

Membership has to mean more than reading a newsletter or voting on a contract minutes after hearing the highlights. But how many members have a real opportunity to do more?

The democracy deficit doesn’t make “right to work” fair—or dodging dues acceptable—but it does help explain why so many members feel disengaged. It’s also a huge waste of our movement’s potential.


With legal landmines looming, some unions started scrambling to change course, a process that can be messy and slow. One staffer quipped that shifting the culture of a big local is like changing course aboard a giant cruise ship.

We lucked out and missed the iceberg. But now is no time to turn back to racquetball and Mai Tais.
Turning the ship around goes deeper than hitting workers with a sales pitch or a guilt trip. Thankfully, we’ve got a little more breathing room to do it right.

What’s required is no mystery. Unionists have known the fundamentals of good organizing for a century or more: listen more than you talk; find on-the-job problems your co-workers care about; take action to solve them; map out natural leaders and groups; act together instead of alone.

Our new book Secrets of a Successful Organizer, coming in April, lays out how any rank and filer can get the ball rolling in her own workplace. It’s simple—just not easy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Can I Mentor African-American Faculty?

Inside Higher Ed
By Kerry Ann Rockquemore
February 17, 2016

Dear Kerry Ann,

I enjoy reading your columns. I’ll be brief: I don’t know how to mentor scholars of color in my department. I’m a white guy, and I don’t experience the same things minority faculty members do in the classroom or on the campus. Because of that, I feel awkward trying to give them advice. I have a new mentee (a brand-new tenure-track faculty member, who is African-American) and I want to be helpful as her department mentor, but I honestly don’t know how. Can I mentor African-American faculty effectively? Or should I try to connect her with a tenured African-American scholar in another department. (We don’t have any.)


Unsure How to Mentor

Dear Unsure,

Thanks for your honesty and your desire to support faculty of color generally and your new mentee specifically. I frequently hear senior faculty express the sentiment that they are unable to mentor underrepresented faculty because they haven’t experienced racism/sexism/classism/homophobia or any kind of differential treatment and, therefore, have no meaningful advice to offer.

Oddly enough, they are so concerned about not knowing what to say that they avoid mentoring conversations altogether or they encourage mentees to contact one of a few senior underrepresented faculty members on the campus (who are completely overwhelmed with service obligations and people seeking mentoring). While well intentioned, this avoidance has a consistent outcome: faculty of color often end up with no mentoring at all.

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is yes! You can mentor African-American faculty effectively. You don’t need to be a person of color to mentor your African-American colleague. The bad news is that doing so will require you to take some time to examine your underlying assumptions, rethink what it means to be a mentor and change how you do the work of mentoring. Let me offer a few questions to guide that process:

What Limiting Beliefs Are Driving Your Awkward Feelings?

I won’t assume to know your beliefs, but I do know that awkwardness and hesitation to engage in activity with someone whom you perceive as different (that you freely engage in with people who are like you) suggests some unexplored assumptions are at work. Another way of asking this question is to reflect on why you imagine you cannot mentor African-American faculty members.

Here are a few possible limiting beliefs that may be at work:

  • Faculty of color can only be mentored by other faculty of color.
  • Faculty of color only need mentoring on issues related to race.
  • There are no needs that faculty of color have that can be met by you.
  • Mentoring means giving advice to mentees based on your personal experience.

I’m not sure if you have any of these beliefs, but I’m articulating them to illustrate that they are limiting (they keep you from mentoring your new colleagues) and that they are beliefs (so they can be changed). I don’t know if your beliefs make you think you have nothing to offer your new colleague or that somebody else would be better, but getting clear about what those beliefs are is the first step.

Are You Willing to Rethink Mentoring?

We all use the word “mentoring,” but it means so many different things to different people. What would happen if you stopped using the word and instead focused on three things: 1) the range of needs your new colleague has during her transition into your department, 2) which of those needs you can best meet and 3) how to act as a coach instead of a mentor in helping her to get her remaining needs met. If you can gain clarity on those three areas, you may end up being the best mentor your colleague has ever had and help her to become a better mentor for others.

What Are Your New Colleague’s Needs?

I haven’t met your new colleague, but I have worked with many brand-new assistant professors, a number of whom are underrepresented faculty members. I’ve observed that new scholars have a predictable and wide range of needs as they transition from one stage of their career (in this case, graduate student or postdoc) to another (faculty member). The most common needs are:

  • Professional development training in any area in which they need to excel, such as academic time management, healthy conflict resolution, project planning, grant writing and how bureaucratic functions work on your specific campus.
  •  Access to opportunities and networks at your institution (such as research collaborations, connections to relevant centers or institutes, internal funding opportunities, etc.) as well as in their discipline more broadly.
  • Emotional support to manage the typical stresses of the tenure track, the transition into their new identity as a professor and their life in a new geographic location.
  • A social and intellectual community to support their transition and to continue to drive their research agenda forward.
  • Accountability structures for all the aspects of the job that do not have built-in accountability on a daily basis (research and writing) so that the activities that do have built-in accountability (teaching and service) don’t overtake their daily schedule.
  • Institutional sponsorship from people who will advocate for their best interest behind closed doors and shape the emerging story about them as a colleague, teacher and researcher.
  • Role models who are currently successfully navigating the academy and exemplify extraordinary success in a way they aspire.
  • Safe space to discuss and process their experiences as an underrepresented faculty member without being invalidated, interrogated, devalued and/or disrespected.
  • Honest and direct feedback on every aspect of the job that they will be evaluated for tenure, specifically their teaching, writing and service.

I’m presenting the typical set of needs of a new faculty member to make the point that it’s perfectly normal for your mentee to have a long list of them during her transition from graduate student to professor. I also hope it’s obvious that no one person could possibly meet all of these different needs. She doesn’t require one mentor but rather a large and supportive mentoring network. And equally important, it is not your responsibility to build that network for her but instead to make her aware that mentoring networks will support her more than a single-mentor model will -- and to then help her to create that network.

Which Need Are You Distinctly Able to Meet?

If you look at that long list, I’m sure you can mentally check off a few areas that would not be a good fit for you. For example, I don’t recommend that you position yourself as your new colleague’s safe space, her emotional support system or her role model.

But I do recommend that you think about what your strengths are. In other words, what you can do for her that nobody else can? For example, maybe you’ve recently published a book with a high-prestige press, and you know that her primary goal is to revise and restructure her dissertation research into a book manuscript. Why not offer to walk her through that process, review her book proposal and/or introduce her to an appropriate acquisitions editor? Or maybe you’re well known as a faculty member who runs a harmonious and highly productive lab, and you know this will be her first time running her own lab. Why not share with her your process for managing RAs and offer to be a sounding board for any questions that she has in that area?

What you’ll notice about these examples is that they are highly specific and they occur in the sweet spot where your mentee’s needs overlap with your expertise. That sweet spot is the place where you will be the most effective mentor. Managing microaggressions may be an area where she has needs, but it’s neither in your experience nor part of your expertise. And you may have areas of expertise where she doesn’t have a pressing need. And if you don’t know what your mentee needs, just ask her!

Imagine Yourself as a Coach Instead of a Mentor

I hope you can already see how freeing it is to let go of needing to give advice in every area and instead picking one area. But your effectiveness in working with your new colleague will be further enhanced if you can reimagine yourself as a coach instead of a mentor. Why? Because you can best support her in making a swift and effective transition from graduate student to professor by helping her to build a large mentoring network.

Taking a coaching approach to your relationship is easier than it sounds. Specifically, you just have to change your standpoint from being the guru to being a facilitator in helping your colleague identify her needs and the person who can best meet them. If that sounds abstract, you can try the following approach:

Invite your mentee to coffee and have an open, honest conversation with her. Tell her that you want to be as helpful as possible and suggest that the best way for you to do so is by helping her build a mentoring network.
  • Try using a Mentor Map as a visual way to talk about building a mentoring network.
  • Let her know the one place you can support her in her mentoring network.
  • Offer to brainstorm with her about how to get her other needs met.

And if that seems too complicated, just forward her this essay (without revealing yourself as the letter writer) and ask her if you can talk about it.

It sounds like you’re invested in supporting your new colleague, and I believe you can be an incredibly effective mentor -- as long as you’re willing to rethink mentoring and help her to build a broad mentoring network that, as a whole, will support her in reaching her full potential as a teacher, scholar and colleague on your campus.