The Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin System on Friday unanimously approved a set of amendments to a layoff policy for the Madison campus that many faculty members opposed. The changes -- such as the elimination of guaranteed severance and the stipulation that the university will “consider” alternative appointments faculty members pegged for layoffs for budgetary or educational reasons rather than “pursue” them -- were previously approved by the board’s Education Committee.
Ray Cross, system president, said the final Madison policy protects “the principles of academic freedom and sustain[s] the university’s standing in a competitive, global marketplace for faculty expertise.”
Campus Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who previously supported the faculty-backed layoff policy drafted in response to major changes to the legal definition of tenure in Wisconsin last year, said in a statement that what the regents approved “is consistent with our peers. This is important in our ability to recruit and retain our top faculty. … After a difficult nine months of debate, I hope everyone will give this new policy a chance.”
Faculty members on Twitter and elsewhere disagreed with those assessments, arguing that the changes made a significant dent in shared governance.
Faculty members in the California State University System will be get a 10.5 percent raise over the next two years, according to a tentative agreement announced Friday that staved off a strike planned for next week. Salary negotiations had stalled as the California Faculty Association, the faculty union for tenure-line and non-tenure-track instructors, pushed for a 5 percent raise while the university system offered 2 percent. But this week’s deal includes a 5 percent raise in June, another 2 percent raise in July, and an additional 3.5 percent raise in 2017. Some instructors will be given 2.65 percent bumps next year, as well, to address salary compression.
System Chancellor Timothy White told The Sacramento Bee, “Salary problems take many years and will likewise take many years to solve …. [The agreement] gives us the breathing room we need to achieve this with the help of lawmakers.” According to the Bee, nearly 10,000 tenured or tenure-track professors in the system make an average of about $84,000 per year, while non-tenure-track lecturers and part-time instructors on average earn a per-class equivalent of a $50,645 salary. California Faculty Association, affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, the National Education Association and Service Employees International Union, represents 26,000 tenure-line and non-tenure-track faculty, librarians, counselors and coaches across CSU's 23 campuses.
California Faculty Association, the faculty union for the California State University System, on Thursday postponed indefinitely its five-day strike planned to begin April 13, after negotiators for both parties reached a tentative salary agreement. Terms of agreement have not yet been released, but the union was pushing for a 5 percent pay increase while the university proposed an initial 2 percent bump. Once ratified by the union, the agreement will be voted on by the university system’s Board of Trustees in May. California Faculty Association, affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, the National Education Association and Service Employees International Union, represents 26,000 tenure-line and non-tenure-track faculty, librarians, counselors and coaches across CSU's 23 campuses.
New book argues that students involved in campus protests over controversial speakers or ideas should instead support a marketplace of ideas in which all notions are heard and the best rise to the top.
Service Employees International Union got two big wins this week, at Boston University and the University of Southern California. In Boston, full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members voted 135 to 36 (out of 275 eligible instructors) to form a union affiliated with SEIU; the union already represents 800 adjunct professors on campus.
In California, a hearing officer for the National Labor Relations Board ruled that an earlier, failed union election involving non-tenure-track faculty members in the Dornsife College of Arts and Letters must be held again, due to significant administrative interference. Hearing officer Yaneth Palencia found that “Provost [Michael] Quick engaged in conduct that was so aggravated as to create a general atmosphere of fear making a free election impossible,” such as by allegedly suggesting that joining a union would make faculty members ineligible for various forms of shared governance.
A spokesperson for Boston said the vote was an “unfortunate outcome, but we will negotiate in good faith once today's election results are officially certified.” Quick said via email on Thursday that the Dornsife election "was free and fair. The USC faculty knows I am a strong supporter of faculty governance and never threatened it. Further, our efforts to remain compliant with state employment law can not be interpreted as anything other than being required by law."
When the Wisconsin Legislature took tenure out of state statute, faculty members at the University of Wisconsin at Madison hoped they could preserve the status quo in a campus policy. But that hope is fading amid new proposals on a policy for layoffs of professors.
The University of Phoenix laid off 470 employees on Tuesday, according to The Arizona Republic. The move comes after Phoenix's parent company, Apollo Group, announced in February that it was in the process of selling the company to a group of private investors for $1.1 billion.
"A significant workforce reduction was announced today in departments across the university. I support the decisions and am gratified by the planning that ensures a seamless student experience with minimal disruption. I am also grateful for the work of our human resources leaders to ensure our colleagues affected by the restructuring receive severance and outplacement services," said Timothy Slottow, president of the for-profit institution, in a statement. "This difficult decision came after careful deliberation and analysis with a focus on streamlined workflow serving fewer students than in years past, improved use of technology and ultimately an approach that ensures our students have the transformative experience that leads to higher retention and improved learning outcomes."
In a recent Century Foundation essay, I raised a concern that accreditors of traditional colleges are allowing low-quality education to go unaddressed while insisting, in a misguided attempt to prove they care about learning, that colleges engage in inane counting exercises involving meaningless phantom creatures they call student learning outcomes, or SLOs.
The approach to quality assurance I recommend, instead, is to focus not on artificially created measures but on the actual outputs from students -- the papers, tests and presentations professors have deemed adequate for students to deserve a degree.
I got a lot of positive feedback on the essay, especially, as it happens, from people involved in some of the processes I was criticizing. Peter Ewell, for example, acknowledged in an email that “the linear and somewhat mindless implementation of SLOs on the part of many accreditors is not doing anybody any good.”
This story began in the 1990s, when reformers thought they could improve teaching and learning in college if they insisted that colleges declare their specific “learning goals,” with instructors defining “the knowledge, intellectual skills, competencies and attitudes that each student is expected to gain.” The reformers’ theory was that these faculty-enumerated learning objectives would serve as the hooks that would then be used by administrators to initiate reviews of actual student work, the key to improving teaching.
That was the idea. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Not even close. Here is one example of how the mindless implementation of this idea distracts rather than contributes to the goal of improved student learning. When a team from the western accreditor, the WASC Senior College and University Commission, visited San Diego State University in 2005, it raised concerns that the school had shut down its review process of college majors, which was supposed to involve outside experts and the review of student work. Now, 10 years have passed and the most recent review by WASC (the team visit is scheduled for this month) finds there are still major gaps, with “much work to be done to ensure that all programs are fully participating in the assessment process.”
What has San Diego State been doing instead of repairing its program review process? It has been writing all of its meaningless student learning outcome blurbs that accreditors implemented largely in response to the Spellings Commission in 2006. San Diego State reported its progress in that regard in a self-review it delivered to WASC last year:
Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) are required for all syllabi; curricular maps relating Degree Learning Outcomes (DLOs) to major required courses are now a required component for Academic Program Review; programs are being actively encouraged to share their DLOs with students and align DLOs with CLOs to provide a broader programmatic context for student and to identify/facilitate course-embedded program assessment.
All this SLO-CLO-DLO gibberish and the insane curriculum map database (really crazy, take a look) is counterproductive, giving faculty members ample ammunition for dismissing the idiocy of the whole process. The insulting reduction of learning to brief blurbs, using a bizarre system of verb-choice rules, prevents rather than leads to the type of quality assurance that has student work at the center.
The benefits of, instead, starting with student work as the unit of analysis is that it respects the unlimited variety of ways that colleges, instructors and students alike, arriving with different skill levels, engage in the curriculum.
Validating colleges’ own quality-assurance systems should become the core of what accreditors do if they want to serve as a gateway to federal funds. Think of it as an outside audit of the university’s academic accounting system.
With this approach, colleges are responsible for establishing their own systems for the occasional review of their majors and courses by outside experts they identify. Accreditors, meanwhile, have the responsibility of auditing those campus review processes, to make sure that they are comprehensive and valid, involving truly independent outsiders and the examination of student work.
SLO madness has to stop. If accreditors instead focus on the traditional program-review processes, assuring that both program reviews and audits include elements of random selection, no corner of the university can presume to be immune from scrutiny.
Robert Shireman is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a former official at the U.S. Department of Education.