The February meeting of the Abington College Faculty Senate marked the final time I will occupy the chair, an honor to which the faculty elected me twice. So permit me a few moments to respond to comments made at January’s meeting on the critical subject of shared governance.
A high value was placed in those remarks on respect, specifically mutual respect. I couldn’t agree more.
Respect is a good value.
But respect is not the only value.
And it must be earned by the exhibition of other values that are equally if not more important:
Transparency. Accountability. Leadership. Courage.
Another remark was made that Abington College Faculty Senate is not a legislative body. I would commend to anyone who feels this way a reading of our Constitution, which lays out quite clearly our authority as “the sole legislative body representing the Abington College Faculty as a whole,” with this authority vested in and delegated to us by the University Faculty Senate, in and of itself a recognition that our interests and those of the administration are not always precisely aligned.
In the past five years, Senate has every reason to be proud, and exceedingly so, of our legislative record. Using legislation, Senate over these past years has correctly anticipated and directly confronted virtually each and every one of the major challenges faced by the College.
For a year and a half Senate intensively studied our academic infrastructure and produced a comprehensive plan for a new academic facility. Why did we need to do that? Was it because we enjoy, as was said last month, “launching motions, resolutions, investigations, and accusations”?
No, it was because the administration had ignored our academic infrastructure for nearly forty years, as if we could somehow indefinitely run a college of 4,000 students with buildings designed a century ago for a prep school of 100 girls. Had Senate’s subsequent motion, passed unanimously four years ago this month, been acted upon at the time, we would right now be holding this meeting in the auditorium of a brand new academic facility, and not facing academic space deficits of upwards of 90% and scrambling to “refresh” a 2007 Campus Master Plan that put off any actual planning for a new academic facility for another 25-50 years. Think about that for a moment. In 2007, Penn State was prepared to allow one of its presumably signature colleges to go without even planning for a new academic facility for 85 years.
So, we provided leadership where there had been none.
When the administration tried to shove a radical healthcare proposal down our throats, in the middle of the summer, did we hurriedly reconstitute Senate because we especially enjoy interrupting our only distraction-free research time to confront highly-paid functionaries?
No, it was to attempt to force transparency on an administration determined to circumvent shared governance and act in the dark.
We provided transparency where there had been none.
Did shared governance fail completely when we wrote—without consulting the administration—a motion to provide priority registration to our student-veterans because it was the right thing to do?
No, we passed that motion, unanimously, and then, largely through the efforts of a single adjunct faculty member getting paid about $2,600 per course and driving back and forth to Harrisburg on his own dime, that motion eventually went all the way to the State House to be signed into law by the Governor.
Faculty Senate, and that adjunct, provided courage where there had been none.
I could mention numerous other examples but I would like to very briefly focus on four:
: the administration came to us five years ago and asked for a motion in support of student housing. So we vetted, wrote, and passed such a motion in less than a month. In that instance, the administration was thrilled with our motion, and shared governance, and did not accuse us of acting in bad faith, when we passed a motion without forming yet another task force to deliberate the issue to death.
: the administration came to us also during the national economic crisis and asked for concessions on summer compensation. So—against the better judgment of many—we agreed to voluntary compensation reductions. The administration did not accuse of having a ‘rigid negotiating stance’ then. And I might add that, if anyone in administration at this college took a similar haircut in the cause of shared budget sacrifice, we’ve not heard of it.
So when the administration wants its prerogatives seen to, Senate is described as an essential component of college governance.
But when Senate seeks to confront injustice, or hold the administration accountable, this noble view of Senate suddenly shifts:
: As it did when we passed a motion that none of our student’s tuition be used in the legal defense of the ‘Sandusky Three.’ Then the Senate was ‘damaging the college.’
: Or this year, after we very publicly promised action at last summer’s opening forensic on the need to provide a fair and decent increase in compensation for adjunct faculty, held intensive committee meetings, and then passed a direct and well-reasoned motion in support of it.
When we did that, all of a sudden the shared governance sky was falling down. We’re not being “effective.” We’re not being “professional.” The Chancellor had to resist calling us “nuts.” She employed the memory of Ayoub to impugn by contrast the magnificent work of the current chair of the Faculty Affairs committee.
We were told that we need “to sit down with people who know academic budgets,” like the CFO, which conveniently failed to mention that the CFO sits in on each and every meeting of the Finance Committee and sat in on each and every one of the joint meetings between Faculty Affairs and Finance over both the FT-2 motion and the motion on tenure-line ratios we passed, again unanimously, last month. These joint meetings included the CFO and no less than five tenured full professors—nearly half the full professors at the college—as well as our valued and invaluable FT-2 representative.
Are all of these faculty—with decades of experience and all highly regarded—all unprofessional, or ineffective, or nuts, or unable to reach a common sense solution to an obvious equity problem, a problem, one might add, that has adjunct faculty walking off the job all over the nation?
University leaders do not enter a room of peers and demand respect—and then threaten jobs, careers, and livelihoods if it is not immediately forthcoming. That is nothing but the respect of the master for the servant.
The Chancellor tells us that she can’t “invent money that isn’t there” all while sitting on a budget that annually sends massive amounts to the well-appointed offices of Old Main.
You probably saw that tuition freezes just went into effect at eight Commonwealth Colleges, and were held under 2% at six others. Guess which students will still be hit with the full 2.4% increase: that’s right, the students at Abington College, our students, many already working three jobs and living at home and all studying here under dripping ceilings, flooded rooms, bathrooms overflowing with sewage, and inadequate levels of parking, classrooms, and full-time and tenured faculty, all while paying full freight so some kid in Shenango can get an education on their backs.
We hide from our students the fact large amounts of their tuition dollars simply vanish, and all in service to a catastrophic budget model that hasn’t been seriously opposed in decades, because to oppose it would require the four values that trump even respect:
transparency, accountability, leadership, and courage.
Abington College Faculty Senate on Thursday night, January 29, 2015, passed a motion to increase the ratio of tenure-line faculty to fixed-term faculty, a ratio that has eroded over the past 20 years from more than 5:1 to its current 1.43:1. In addition, Senate approved the formation with the Senior Associate Dean of a special working committee to chart a path forward on adjunct faculty compensation. Chair-elect Dolores Fidishun will head up the Senate side of the effort.
As you will recall, at our opening forensic meeting in August, Senate promised action on the abysmal salary conditions suffered by our adjunct colleagues. In November, Senate passed a motion recommending an increase in adjunct salaries to $4,000 a course, to begin to bring Abington in line with our competitor institutions in the area. We now look forward to action on Senate’s initiative in this area as well as on the need for speed in hiring more tenure-line faculty to fully staff our major programs.
Several notes from recent and upcoming elections and initiatives of the Abington College Faculty Senate.
First, the Constitutional reforms of 2014 were approved by a vote of the faculty by a margin of 38-9, or 76.4%-23.6%, and are now at University Park, where the UFS’s Unit Constitutions Subcommittee will review them, possibly as early as their next meeting on January 13. The proposed reforms are highlighted in red in the attached copy of the Abington College Faculty Senate Constitution. If these are approved by mid-semester, we will proceed with spring elections in accordance with approved reforms for the 2015-16 Senate year. I wish to express my profound thanks to the co-chairs of the ad hoc committee on Constitutional reform: Program Chair of Art and past Senate chair Bill Cromar and Head Librarian Dolores Fidishun; as well as committee members Jake Benfield, Yvonne Love, and two distinguished past Senate chairs: Tramble T. Turner and Eric Ingersoll.
Second, the results of the election for the position of Chair-elect of the Abington College Faculty Senate are as follows. With 75 votes cast, or 56.82% of the faculty participating:
Dr. Dolores Fidishun, Head Librarian, 61 votes or 81.3%
Dr. Karen Halnon, Associate Professor of Sociology, 14 votes or 18.7%
Third, we have just been informed by University Park that the most recent census of the Penn State faculty gives us one additional University Faculty Senator, moving our number from four to five. Accordingly, we will hold an election for not two but three open University Faculty Senate positions in January. In order to be able to conduct the election, we require five candidates. Currently we have three. The top three candidates will become university senators while the fourth-leading candidate will become a designated alternate in the case another candidate cannot serve. The roles and responsibilities of a University Faculty Senator are attached. Please read these carefully and submit any agreed nominations to me, or any member of the Abington College Faculty Senate to pass on to me, by January 1, 2015.
Fourth, the Finance and Faculty Affairs committees will soon begin deliberations on a proposal to increase the number of tenure-line faculty at Abington College, both in terms of a percentage of the full-time faculty and in absolute numbers, with many if not most of those additions being in the senior tenured ranks, to begin to address twenty years of decreased tenure lines and increased reliance on fixed term faculty (see attached data from the UFS Committee on Inter-University Relations. Abington College’s ratio of tenure lines to fixed-term faculty currently stands at 1.43-1, lower than the Commonwealth College average of 1.55-1).
Last, as we enter the holiday season and enjoy some time away from academic duties, please take a moment to recall our departed friends and colleagues: Ayoub Ayoub, Howard Medoff, and Deb Andress, and to remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who remain on active service, every day and night, at home and overseas.
December is when we elect our representatives to the University Faculty Senate. The election itself will be scheduled as soon as we hear of the latest Penn State faculty census, expected any day now. We have four excellent candidates already on the slate, and more may become necessary as a result of the upcoming redistribution of seats based on the new university-wide faculty census.
While we’re on the subject of redistribution, on Thursday, November 20, the Abington College Faculty Senate unanimously approved a motion to raise the salaries of all adjunct faculty to $4,000 for a three-credit course, beginning on July 1, 2015. We expect a formal response to this motion from the administration in January. This motion followed on an extensive comparative study of adjunct compensation at surrounding colleges and universities, which found that Abington ranked near the bottom. Such a raise would allow for our highly-valued adjunct faculty to just about touch the national poverty line by teaching a 3+3 load at Abington, and echo similar movements around the nation to lift the wages of working class Americans.
This issue was brought home starkly by protests against Walmart, which has begun to organize food drives to feed its own employees, similar to the advertisements on our campus television monitors to support local food banks that benefit, in part, our own students, staff, and faculty who seek, through education, to join the American middle class. “Walmart won’t pay its employees enough to afford Thanksgiving dinner, so they’re holding food drives for their employees… It’s been reported that an Oklahoma City Walmart set up bins for underpaid associates to donate canned goods to other underpaid associates.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-dreier/on-black-friday-americans_b_6233576.html
This is not a new fight. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on signing the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, said: “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”
We cannot exercise influence on the national trend towards a living wage, but we can do everything possible to change for the better the wage and working conditions of our fellow faculty members on this campus. This the Abington College Faculty Senate has done and will continue to do and, through our unanimous vote for regional equity for our adjuncts, implores the college administration to do the same.
At September’s meeting of the Abington College Faculty Senate, the Senate approved an extended Common Break for the ACURA program for Tuesday, April 14, 2015.
Revisions to the policies, procedures, and timeline for promotion and tenure at Abington College were also approved, with modifications, and these will be forwarded to the faculty list as soon as they receive approval from University Park.
The reforms to the governing documents of the Senate itself were also ventilated. Standing Rules changes were approved by a margin of 16 votes in favor to 1 against, while reforms to the Senate By-Laws, including a reduction of appointed Senate committees from nine to six and elected committees from three to one, were approved by a margin of 15-2.
The By-Laws reforms will be submitted to the University Faculty Senate once our local Senate continues its discussions and proceeds to a vote on reforms to the Constitution itself, scheduled for our next Senate meeting on Thursday, October 23, 2014. If this vote prevails, the Constitutional reforms will be subject to a majority of faculty voting in a special ballot, whereupon they will be referred to the University Faculty Senate.
The changes to the Senate’s Standing Rules become effective immediately, including the following revised Order of Business to speed along the business of regular Senate meetings:
The order of business at a regular Faculty Senate meeting shall be as follows:
a. Adoption of the agenda
b. Consideration of the minutes of the preceding meeting(s)
c. Announcements by the Chair
d. Unfinished business
e. New business
f. Communications from College Administrators
2. Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
g. Communications from University Senators
h. Communications from the Student Government Association
i. Reports from Standing Committees
j. Comments and recommendations for the good of the order
Following an excellent report from the President of the Student Government Association with regard to ongoing transportation issues, Senate moved in camera for an extended discussion of several faculty issues, including those related to promotion and tenure, the ongoing adventure of our academic facilities, and the pay and benefits of our esteemed yet harshly undervalued adjunct faculty colleagues.
As we look forward to a new Senate year, we begin by planning for the next several years of critical representation of Abington College in the University Faculty Senate. With the terms of two University Faculty Senators set to expire in the spring, we will need at least three candidates to stand for election to these two four-year terms that commence in Fall, 2015. Nominations for these four-year terms (2015/16-2018/19) can be made to me by any member of the faculty.
The first full meeting of the Abington College Faculty Senate will take place later this month on September 25th. With much on our plate, we plan to suspend regular order so that extended consideration can be given the Constitutional reform proposals authored by the Ad-Hoc Committee for Senate Restructuring, and expect as well to review reform language related to the Promotion and Tenure process.
We also expect to extend the discussions of academic classroom and faculty office and research space begun at the faculty forensic held on August 15th. This meeting revealed, inter alia, that our academic classroom space has been allowed to degenerate to less than 60% of current requirements (a gap soon to widen as we transition to a residential campus), while the space the faculty requires to do its work properly has been allowed to shrink to an appalling 9% (that’s correct: 9%) of what we require.
Such figures remind us of the shocking 2011 Core Council letter that found that our instructional costs were just 35% of total college expenditures—the lowest percentage of any of the campus colleges (the median was over 42%); that Abington had the lowest percentage of all campus colleges of full-time faculty generating student credit hours (53%); and that our students take longer to graduate than students at other campuses (we have the lowest six-year graduation rate of any campus college).
Taken together, this mosaic represents a systemic failure to provide even remotely adequate academic and faculty facilities, and in fact represent an historic theft from our students, who annually pay to Abington College more than $15 millions beyond the sum required to operate the college. The recent and long-overdue announcement that University Park will finally address our crippling budget model is something, as is the return to our students of one million of their own tuition dollars. But these moves, absent further fundamental reform, are too little and far too late. Decades of settling for scraps off UP’s $4.5 billion dollar table has brought us to our current intertwined space and hiring crises.
Abington College requires an immediate plan to leverage 100% of our student’s tuition until such time as we have 100% of the academic classroom space and 100% of the faculty office and research spaces we require to do our jobs, along with a competent plan to address both our short-term and long-term growth.
The faculty and the student body of Abington College need, deserve, and have paid for, far better.
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The faculty will gather on Friday, 15 August, at 0800, for a forensic meeting on the state of college facilities, as one result of the situation of special Faculty Senate concern declared by the co-chairs of the Senate on 6 May.
After continental breakfast outside Sutherland 8 at 0800, we assemble in Sutherland 8 at 0845. We will begin with a brief tribute to our departed friend and distinguished colleague, Dr. Ayoub Ayoub. Following this, Dr. Ellen Knodt, our recently-elected member of the Faculty Advisory Committee to the President of the University, will offer her thoughts on shared governance in the college and university.
From 0925-0945, we will have an update from our FT-2 representative and Faculty Affairs committee member Mitch Sargen on adjunct faculty issues arising from the Affordable Care Act as well as the Equal Pay Act. We will then introduce the incoming chairs of the Senate’s standing committees, who will in turn speak to their charges in the coming year and seek help with them.
From 0945-1015, Past Chair Bill Cromar will brief us on the status of current planning for academic facilities management–both the planned residence hall (a report on which is attached) but more importantly such progress as has been made this summer towards a new academic facility for Abington. You will recall that in the Senate’s facilities survey earlier this year, over three-fourths (77.5%) of respondents sought for a new academic building to be prioritized within the next 3 years (50% “immediately”; 27.5% “1-3 years”). This forensic is another step on that road.
After a short break, at 1030 the Chancellor will join us to introduce some of the UP individuals responsible for the design of the new residence hall as well as overall Commonwealth College asset management. After introductory comments of 20 or so minutes, the faculty will then have more than an hour to directly question and interact with the capital planners and representatives from the Office of Physical Plant at UP. At noon, we have invited these representatives to join us for a Senate cook-out at the Duck Pond to continue these conversations more informally. This is our best chance to date both to learn, as a faculty body, about these projects and processes, and to influence the direction of the physical plant over the next decade.