Faculty members at San Antonio’s Alamo Colleges criticized Chancellor Bruce Leslie last year for trying to bump a humanities course from the core curriculum, to make room for a required class based in part on the popular self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Their complaints prompted the regional accreditor to express concern about the class and shared governance at the institution, and the proposed requirement is on hold for now (although it's being offered as an elective).
But faculty members say that the new academic year has brought with it new concerns about Alamo’s leaders’ commitment to shared governance – and respect.
“When the word comes down that we’re supposed to be yanking information about degrees off our websites, we tend to get a little concerned,” said Celita DeArmond, a librarian at San Antonio College, the Alamo system’s largest campus, and president of its American Association of University Professors advocacy chapter. “Unfortunately, the faculty don’t have a lot of trust in the chancellor based on past incidents with him.”
Currently at issue is a memo from Alamo’s vice chancellor for academic success informing faculty and staff that the college’s longstanding, non-vocational academic programs – something like majors – will be restructured and will no longer appear on students’ diplomas. Instead, the Alamo Colleges starting this academic year will issue two more generic degrees – an associate of arts and an associate of science, with no additional program information.
Jo-Carol Fabianke, the vice chancellor who issued the memo earlier this month, said in an interview that the changes are designed to make as many credits as possible transferable to four-year institutions. Instead of declaring a concentration and following a recommended set of courses to obtain a program-specific Alamo degree, she said, students entering the colleges will now consult with an adviser to determine the best course of study based on the eventual major they hope to complete at a four-year institution.
In effect, she said, most students won’t end up taking many different courses -- if any -- than they would have otherwise. But focusing earlier in their college careers on an eventual major at a four-year institution -- not just an associate-level program -- could help improve the college’s transfer rate, which hovers at about 36 percent.
“That’s not enough, when 70 percent of students tell us they want to transfer,” Fabianke said.
But DeArmond and other faculty members say the decision does have major negative implications for students and faculty. DeArmond said that although many students do transfer, many don’t, and try to find jobs upon completing their degree. Those students rely on their program-specific degrees to indicate expertise in a given subject area, she said.
Beyond those concerns, faculty members said they’re shocked that such a big change to the curriculum was adopted with little to no faculty involvement.
“We are just horrified,” said a tenured instructor at San Antonio College, who did not want to give her name or discipline for fear of losing her job. “I can’t tell you how shocked we are this week by this news, that all our degrees are being wiped out.”
The faculty member said students are “balking” at the plan, saying that Alamo’s programs influenced their decision to attend. “They’re saying, ‘We like to have our major on our diploma, and we want it announced at graduation.’ ”
Fabianke said the proposal had been discussed among system presidents and vice presidents for several months before becoming final this month. She said it was up to the “leaders” of various campuses to bring the discussion to their respective faculties. But instructors on several campuses this week said they’d never been consulted.
Clint Kingsbery, a new member of the Alamo Colleges’ Board of Trustees, has addressed some faculty concerns on his Facebook page. Via email, he said that it was his understanding that faculty had been involved in the decision through committee appointments, but that that wasn’t enough.
“The administration should have taken greater efforts to ensure understanding for faculty, students and the community as a whole,” he said. “This appears to be a very major change and can greatly affect the way students view their degree.”
He added: “This change should have been properly presented in a way that would put everyone on the same page. This includes the reason for the change, the effects of the change, and a look at what alternatives were presented and ultimately rejected and why. Better faculty involvement may have helped to prevent the messaging issues that have stemmed from the decision, leading to less confusion and a smoother transition.”
Several faculty members said Kingsbery’s tone was a welcome change from that of other trustees. They referenced a March email conversation between Leslie, the chancellor, and Yvonne Katz, board vice chair, obtained via a faculty open records request and shared with Inside Higher Ed.
“We just have to hang in there with the changes we’ve charged you to do,” Katz says in the email. “We truly need the early retirement plan to pass so we can get some of the old farts out and let the younger, excited, enthused ones take the new teaching and leadership positions.”
It’s unclear what retirement “plan” Katz is referring to; neither she nor Leslie returned requests for comment on the email (although faculty members said some longer-serving instructors had received “invitations” to retire). But instructors say those comments raise legal concerns about age discrimination. And coupled with a memo of mysterious origin proposing that some faculty members either agree to begin working over the summer for 130 percent of the adjunct pay rate or lose their jobs, they add insult to injury, instructors said. (Although it's unclear exactly where the memo came from, it was addressed and authenticated by Alamo Colleges administrators, including Leslie, at recent faculty senate meetings.)
“What I’m sensing from all of this that’s so insidious is that [Leslie’s] not allowing us to be the knowledge-bearers here,” said the tenured faculty member. “He doesn’t want to be calling us the experts in our field any longer.”
DeArmond said the degree plan and last year’s controversy, in which Leslie pushed -- over faculty concerns -- for a required course inspired in part by the Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits, showed a lack of commitment to shared governance and interest in running Alamo more like a business than a college.
“But college isn’t a business,” she said.
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