Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A University Softens a Plan to Cut Tenured Faculty, but Professors Remain Wary

A University Softens a Plan to Cut Tenured Faculty, but Professors Remain Wary

January 27, 2016 

Susan Czechowski has spent 15 years on the faculty at Western Illinois University. Ms. Czechowski, a tenured professor of art, said she has been an active member of the campus community and a key contributor to her department’s recruitment and retention efforts. "My classes are full," she said.
So last month, when she was called into a meeting by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and told that she would be laid off, she was taken aback. More than 40 other faculty members — including a dozen with tenure — received similar news.

Western Illinois has for years struggled with declining enrollment and reduced state support, a predicament compounded by the fact that Illinois has yet to pass a budget for the fiscal year that started last July. That’s left public colleges without state money for the past seven months.
The institution had already combined some departments and curbed other spending, said Kathleen Neumann, interim provost and academic vice president, leaving no choice but to look at layoffs. Campus officials said they had turned to enrollment numbers to determine which departments should be scaled back and which faculty positions should be cut.

That had been the plan, at least. This week, Western Illinois’s president, Jack Thomas, changed course, announcing that while faculty cuts were still needed, tenured professors would be spared.
But for how long? Ms. Czechowski asked. And why did she end up on a layoff list at all? She and other tenured faculty members say they weren’t given much of an explanation. Moreover, 30 of their colleagues — including 10 assistant professors — remain on the verge of losing their jobs.

‘Nothing Can Be Confirmed’

Those are among several concerns that have made for a tense and confusing situation at Western Illinois.
And a meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees on Monday, during which the board voted to authorize faculty cuts, left many professors on the layoff list uncertain about where they stood.
Ms. Neumann said that President Thomas had announced the removal of all tenured professors from the layoff list during the board meeting. She attributed that to Mr. Thomas’s prepared remarks, in which he said that "my leadership team and I are still willing to remove tenured faculty as of today, January 25, 2016, from consideration for layoffs at this time." But that statement came in the context of comments about failed negotiations between administrators and the employee union.
When several tenured faculty members on the layoff list were asked in interviews on Tuesday whether they had been told that they were no longer being laid off, they said they had not. After speaking with The Chronicle around noon, Ms. Czechowski said she had called the president’s office and the provost’s office to ask about the status of the tenured professors. "I was told that nothing can be confirmed," she said.
Later on Tuesday, Mr. Thomas told the Faculty Senate that no faculty members with tenure would be affected by the current round of layoffs. Still, many professors fear that the uncertainty isn’t over: A faculty advisory committee has convened to examine academic-program cuts, and Ms. Neumann said additional faculty layoffs were not out of the question.

Humanities Hard-Hit

Western Illinois officials are looking for about $10 million in savings across the campus, Ms. Neumann said. Enrollment at the university has dropped by one-fourth since the fall of 2011, she said, while the number of professors has decreased by just 12 percent.
"It became obvious that we really needed to work more aggressively to get our staffing levels in line," she said.

To do that, Ms. Neumann said, the university’s academic leaders divided up each college into programs — some departments, like art and history, included several such programs — and evaluated each of them on the number of majors, graduates, student credit hours, and faculty members.
Then they sent informal layoff notices to professors with the least seniority in each program marked as having a low enrollment, starting with non-tenured faculty members and followed by those with tenure. That’s how someone like Ms. Czechowski could have ended up on the list, Ms. Neumann said.

Originally, four layoffs were scheduled in art, including three professors with tenure and one on the tenure track. That initial list also hit the history faculty with four layoffs. History is a fundamental part of the general-education curriculum, Ms. Neumann said, but the department has lost nearly half of its majors since the fall of 2011.

"The same metrics were applied to all of the programs," she said. "We’re simply trying to get current staffing in line with where the student demand is."

Some faculty members raised concerns that the humanities were bearing the brunt of the layoffs, suggesting a broader shift in the university toward a more vocational mission. William Thompson, president of the employee-union chapter at Western Illinois and a professor in the libraries division, provided The Chronicle with a breakdown of which colleges and departments were designated to see layoffs, and more than half of the positions on the original list were in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Among them were two of the African-American-studies department’s four tenured professors, not including the department chair. One of them, Jo-Ann Morgan, said she felt that Western Illinois officials were "taking advantage of the budget problem to reshape the university."
Ms. Neumann said the university had "no intentions" of eliminating all courses in African-American and women’s studies. What’s undecided, she said, is whether to offer those programs as majors.
That question is under consideration by the faculty committee reviewing the possible program cuts, she said. The group is also considering whether to recommend eliminating the philosophy, religious studies, and public-health majors, among others, she added.

‘Everybody Comes Off This List’

The furor over the layoffs grew in large part, professors said, because the employee union’s contract stipulates that only the university’s board has the authority to make employee layoffs. Western Illinois leaders said they had sent informal notices, which were not final, before the board’s vote to give faculty members more time to find other jobs.

As the union’s leaders expressed outrage over what they saw as a lack of due process, the board in December postponed a vote on authorizing the layoffs. The union then entered into negotiations with senior administrators, hoping to prevent the cuts by arguing that university leaders had not upheld the contract’s terms.

"Our basic premise is, everybody comes off this list," said Mr. Thompson.
Throughout the negotiations, Mr. Thompson said he and other faculty leaders proposed solutions for cutting costs without resorting to layoffs, including various combinations of postponed salary increases, pay givebacks, and retirement incentives. Administrators rejected all of their proposals, he said.

But Robert J. Hironimus-Wendt, a professor of sociology, said he didn’t think the union had done enough to find viable solutions. Mr. Hironimus-Wendt said he was pushing the union’s leaders to allow a vote on tenured faculty members' taking a small pay cut, which he said he and a number of his colleagues were willing to do.

At the very least, the union should give up the 1-percent raise slated to take effect in July, he said. "The idea that I would not give up a $50 per month pay increase so that my friend could save their job — to me, that’s just wrong," he said.

For now, tenured faculty members at Western Illinois appear to be safe, though that’s not what Sherry Lindquist, an assistant professor of art history, heard at Monday’s board meeting.

Ms. Lindquist, who is on the layoff list, believes President Thomas’s willingness to take tenured-faculty cuts off the table for now reassured the board into voting for the resolution. But Mr. Thomas wouldn’t promise, she said, "that they won’t lay them off the next day."

That lack of clarity has left Ms. Czechowski wary. "The communication throughout this process has been nonsensical," she said.

Several assistant professors, meanwhile, continue to face the reality that they could soon receive official notices that they have lost their jobs. Ms. Lindquist said her removal would leave the university with one art historian — and no one who specializes in non-Western art.

Holly Stovall, an assistant professor of women’s studies, said she recently completed her tenure-application file and felt confident she met all the criteria. Ms. Stovall had expected to get tenure within the next couple of months, and still believes she should. But now that she’s on the layoff list, it might not matter anymore, she said.

"It’s doing all this work for five years," she said, "and having the door slammed in my face."

Sarah Brown writes about a range of higher-education topics, including sexual assault, race on campus, and Greek life. Follow her on Twitter @Brown_e_Points, or email her at sarah.brown@chronicle.com.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Failing the Test for Faculty Unions

NLRB rejects bid from tenure-line professors at Carroll College, suggesting that it remains difficult to win collective bargaining rights at private colleges.
January 21, 2016 
 
Those awaiting the National Labor Relations Board’s decision regarding an adjunct union bid at Pacific Lutheran University knew that it would have significant implications for those trying to form collective bargaining units at religiously affiliated colleges and universities; such institutions often successfully challenge union bids based on religious grounds.

But when the pro-union Pacific Lutheran decision finally arrived in late 2014, it came with a twist that appeared to possibly pave the way toward full-time faculty and even tenure-line faculty unions at private colleges and universities, against which there is also a long-standing legal precedent. In addition to new guidelines to determine whether or not a college is sufficiently religious in nature to exempt it from NLRB oversight, the decision also included new guidelines to determine whether faculty jobs are managerial enough to preclude full-time or even tenure-line faculty members from unionizing. It was something of a shock to many private colleges that assumed they could reject collective bargaining.

In short, the NLRB said colleges and universities couldn’t block faculty unions just because they were religious in nature -- colleges seeking to block unions had to prove their missions conflicted with collective bargaining. And the colleges and universities couldn’t just say tenure-line faculty members were managers and therefore precluded from collective bargaining -- they had to show it.
But the Pacific Lutheran decision may not be as promising to union-minded faculty members as it first appeared. In the first major test of the new managerial guidelines regarding full-time faculty members, a regional NLRB office denied a bid by tenure-line faculty members at Carroll College, in Montana, to form a union affiliated with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. And in contrast to a recent string of regional NLRB approvals of adjunct union bids at religious institutions, the Carroll decision backed the college’s claim that its Roman Catholic identity put it outside NLRB jurisdiction.

“We are disappointed,” said Kay Satre, a professor of English at Carroll and a spokeswoman for the proposed bargaining unit. Noting that the Pacific Lutheran decision was a major factor behind the drive, she added, “We were hopeful that the NLRB was going to rule in our favor, but we also knew that it was going to be challenging.”

In its Pacific Lutheran decision, the NLRB said that to determine whether faculty members have managerial authority, one must examine faculty control of academic programs, enrollment management policies, finances, academic policies, and personnel policies and decisions. It stipulated that “greater weight” be given to the first three concerns. That was significant because many private college administrators say they defer to faculty members in curricular matters but not necessarily enrollment and finances. And it stands in contrast to the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision Yeshiva v. NLRB, in which the court determined that tenure-line faculty members are de facto managers and therefore not entitled to collective bargaining. That decision hasn't sat well with many union backers, including some members of the NLRB, who over the years have said that Yeshiva was based on a set of facts at a time when private college faculty members had much more power than they do now.

The Carroll decision, issued by Ronald K. Hooks, a Seattle-based NLRB officer, says that the college met its burden of establishing that faculty members exercise managerial authority with regard to academic programs and policy and personnel matters. Addressing the Pacific Lutheran guidance on weighting factors, Hooks wrote that that decision “does not provide clarity as to which types or numbers of factors a party must prove in order to meet its burden,” and that the academic and personnel factors were therefore enough. Hooks paid particular attention to the fact that tenure-line faculty, through relevant committees and a Faculty Assembly, make decisions involving the college’s curricula, major, minor and certificate offerings and their requirements. Although there was evidence that administrators at times made decisions contrary to faculty recommendations, he said, it wasn’t enough to override faculty input. Regarding personnel matters, he said, faculty members are responsible for hiring and promoting their peers, with minimal administrative influence.

Regarding a college’s religious identity, the Pacific Lutheran decision was less prescriptive to avoid what the NLRB called “trolling” an institution’s operation. But it said that it extended the “‘holding out’ principle to our analysis of faculty members’ roles; that is, we shall decline [NLRB] jurisdiction if the university ‘holds out’ its faculty members, in communications to current or potential students and faculty members, and the community at large, as performing a specific role in creating or maintaining the university’s religious purpose or mission.”

In other words, it said, “Faculty members who are not expected to perform a specific role in creating or maintaining the school’s religious educational environment are indistinguishable from faculty at colleges and universities which do not identify themselves as religious institutions and which are indisputably subject to the board’s jurisdiction. Both faculty provide nonreligious instruction and are hired, fired and assessed under criteria that do not implicate religious considerations.” That’s in contrast to the 1979 Supreme Court case NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, which established a legal precedent against faculty unions in religious schools.

In the Carroll decision, Hooks wrote that on many levels, the proposed unit would pass the Pacific Lutheran test. Faculty members don’t have to be Catholic to teach or be promoted at the college, for example, and its mission in fact encourages diversity of thought. Professors are academic advisers and not spiritual advisers, he said. But Hooks cited testimony that faculty members could be subject to discharge for “continued, serious disrespect or disregard for the Catholic character or mission” of the college, as described in the faculty handbook.

Satre said that she was surprised that Hooks’s decision, at least regarding the religious standards, appeared to hinge so much on that testimony. She said there was only one case, over a decade ago, in which the college had acted against a professor on those grounds.

But Hooks’s decision notes that even if he were to reject the college’s religious argument, “I would nevertheless dismiss the instant petition as the unit faculty are managers within the meaning” of the National Labor Relations Act.

William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, called the decision an “interesting one.”

“This is the first post-Pacific Lutheran University decision to apply the refined standards for managerial status to tenured and tenure-track faculty,” he said. Prior regional director decisions have applied the refined standards favorably to adjunct faculty in proposed units at Duquesne University, Manhattan College, Saint Xavier University and Seattle University, he said. That is, those colleges did not meet the burden of proof regarding their religious identity, insofar as they would preclude unions on campus.

Read the full article.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Transfer System From 2-Year to 4-Year Colleges Isn’t Working, Report Says

The Chronicle of Higher Education
January 19, 2016


Transfer System From 2-Year to 4-Year Colleges Isn’t Working, Report Says

Only 14 percent of the students who start out in a community college transfer to a four-year university and earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, according to a report released on Tuesday by three groups that are studying ways to plug the leaky pipeline between two- and four-year colleges.
The report was a joint effort of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The research breaks down how students fare in different states. Even in states with the best track records, including Florida, Illinois, and Kansas, only about one in five community-college students transfers and graduates within six years of entering a two-year college. At the other end of the spectrum, some states have transfer-and-graduation rates in the single digits.

The report is the first phase of an effort supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to help colleges improve their transfer rates.
“Too many students are failed by the current system of transfer between community colleges and universities,” Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center, said in a written statement. “Greater success for more students will cut down on the waste in taxpayer money when students drop out or lose credits as they transfer.”

The report also said that low-income students, who are most likely to start at community colleges, are less likely than their higher-income peers to transfer and graduate with a four-year degree.

View the source article.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

How States Fare in Their Support of Public Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed
January 7, 2016


 
Young Invincibles released report cards today that grade states on their support of public higher education. The results weren't great, and only one state -- Wyoming, the least populated state in the U.S., got an A (seven states received a B).

In its report, Young Invincibles, a think tank that advocates on behalf of jobs, health care and education for young adults, considered factors like a state's growth or decline in public higher education support since the recession, how states compared to other states in terms of support, a state's support to disadvantaged students, and whether states offer aid on the basis of need or merit.
The report notes that the share of college a family pays has increased since the recession as well, growing from 36 percent in 2008 to around 50 percent in 2014. Families were left with the largest burden in Maine, at 82 percent, and the lowest cost share in Wyoming, at 15 percent.

Among the more than 40 factors Young Invincibles considered when grading states is how much tuition at public four- and two-year colleges has risen since the recession. In Arizona, which received an F from the group, tuition rose 72 percent from 2008 to 2014 (Georgia and Louisiana followed close behind, with increases of 68 and 66 percent, respectively). Meanwhile, Maine, Maryland, Missouri and Montana each had tuition increases below 10 percent during that time.

The report also found that just two states spend as much on higher education as they did before the recession (Alaska and North Dakota). As of 2014, Louisiana spent 41 percent less on public higher education than it did in 2008. Seven states kept investment decreases below 10 percent during that time.

View the article.