AAUP Truman Chapter Meeting Minutes, October 9, 2012
Attendance: Marc Becker, Taner Edis, Wolfgang Hoeschele, Sylvia Macauley, Betty McLane-Iles, Steve Reschly, Marc Rice, Peter Rolnick. Special guest: Provost Joan Poor
The meeting was devoted to exchanging thoughts and ideas with Provost Joan Poor.
To begin the proceedings, AAUP chapter president Marc Becker presented Provost Poor with a copy of the AAUP’s Policy Documents and Reports (the “Red Book”), continuing a local AAUP tradition.
Marc Becker then thanked Provost Poor for coming to meet with the AAUP, and mentioned some of our important concerns in recent times, such as salaries, domestic partner benefits, the hiring of contingent faculty, and the faculty role in governance and curriculum.
Provost Poor responded that it is part of her role as Provost to meet with her constituencies, and that she is still in the phase of gathering information. She asked to learn more about the history of the AAUP at Truman.
Betty McLane-Iles, who has been at Truman longer than most of the other professors present, responded, saying that the AAUP chapter was barely functioning when she first came here in 1982. Peter Rolnick added that in the 1990s David Gruber provided a lot of leadership. The AAUP sought for a regular review process of key administrators, which was eventually institutionalized via the Faculty Senate. Also, the AAUP pushed for the structure of the Faculty Senate to be changed, which was dominated by administrators at the time. On other issues as well, the AAUP occasionally got discussions started, for example by organizing townhall meetings. The general focus is to keep faculty involved in decision-making.
Provost Poor asked whether the chapter also brings national issues to the campus discussion. Marc Becker mentioned the faculty lunch forums which we organized for two years, but which were not well attended. Wolfgang Hoeschele mentioned the most recent University Conference, at which the AAUP organized a session discussing contingent faculty and the academic job market in general, with the idea of informing students who are making important career choices, as well as the faculty.
Peter Rolnick mentioned that we had prepared three topics for discussion (faculty role in curriculum, faculty role in governance, and hiring of contingent faculty).
The first two, namely the faculty role in the curriculum and the faculty role in governance, were discussed together. A particular focus was on the introduction of online courses, and whether these are being introduced primarily to reduce costs (which could lead to an abandonment of what is special about Truman, in particular the close relationship between professors and students). Various reasons for introducing online courses were discussed, such as being able to offer courses to students who would otherwise be taking courses from other institutions in the summer, or to increase “efficiency,” i.e., the number of students a single professor can teach. The role of summer school was also brought up in this context; Betty McLane Iles mentioned that French summer school classes had been small, but had served to attract many students into the major and had therefore been worthwhile, but because of their small size they were cut, with adverse consequences for the major. Taner Edis emphasized that it is important to him that he is able to make decisions about whether to teach a course online, this decision should not be made for him.
Provost Poor responded to these concerns by mentioning that, when she was a professor, she enjoyed the seminar discussion classes the most. She does not see online courses as a significant answer to financial issues, and emphasized quality needs to be maintained. She does not see Truman ever becoming a big player in online education. However, she does see a useful function in hybrid courses, where some parts of the course can be accomplished online, focusing the time together on high-quality discussion.
Regarding summer school, she said that summer school should cover its costs, but she also advocates flexible models – for example, if a class doesn’t fill to a certain size, a professor can choose to still teach it at somewhat reduced salary (Steve Reschly added that conversely, the flexible model also means that if the class fills to a large size, professors can get additional salary). She also sees the Truman Institute as an important venture to generate revenue that will enable us to preserve and enhance the budget for the core academic mission.
This turned the discussion to revenue issues. Provost Poor noted wide swings in the Missouri state appropriations for higher education in general and Truman in particular; she was not used to this kind of thing at the teaching oriented institutions at which she worked in Maryland and Minnesota. In Maryland, big research-oriented institutions experienced large growth in funding in good times and large cuts in bad times, but the college she worked at kept a fairly steady budget. She noted that she is still learning about the impacts of the mission change back in the 1990s. Steven Reschly remarked that mission enhancement funds had been promised to be permanent funding increases, but that promise was not kept by later state administrations. President Dixon had started an endowment fund in order to start dealing with the inability to rely on state funds.
Provost Poor remarked that she sees higher education as a public good, and public goods must be funded by the public in some way. It can be done through state revenues, but this does not appear to be done at sufficient levels. The other alternative is through foundations. President Paino, she said, understands that public funding is not going to come back to earlier levels, and that it is therefore important to build endowments. The first capital campaign has been completed, and plans are underway for a second one. Truman’s current state appropriation is equivalent to approximately a $700 million endowment.
Toward the end of the meeting, Marc Becker noted that faculty should be involved in making budget decisions. Provost Poor responded that there should be nothing to hide in a budget, and while certain things need to be kept confidential (such as personnel matters), University budgets are available and she encouraged faculty to look at budget information presented at Board of Governors meetings.
The other major issue was contingent faculty. Peter Rolnick mentioned that Truman has fewer contingent faculty than many other universities, and yet there are numerous instances where there really should be a permanent position, but there is a contingent one instead. He brought up the particular case of sociology, where there are at present only two faculty lines, one a tenured professor (now on sabbatical, with a one-year sabbatical replacement hired for this year), and one contingent (down from two tenured professors and one contingent – Bonnie Mitchell – last year; Bonnie Mitchell’s contract was not renewed). Wolfgang Hoeschele elaborated on this point, since it involves his own (multidisciplinary) department. Long-term planning for the major and associated minors is impossible with only one permanent position in sociology. Sylvia Macauley added that one of her McNair advisees in sociology now has only one professor in her major to write a recommendation letter for her other sociology professors are no longer here, whereas the McNair Program advises students to get at least two if not three recommendation letters from professors in their major in order to enhance their chances of being accepted in grad schools. Another McNair scholar who is a Justice Systems major is similarly affected by the on-going problem of contingent faculty at Truman. The McNair Program’s reason for being at Truman (or any other institution) is to get its scholars into graduate school. This contingent faculty problem is posing a threat to that mission and, ultimately, subsequent renewed federal funding for the program. More generally, lack of continuity in a department affects the students too.
Provost Poor mentioned that there is a need for flexibility, and that she does not want to see a tenured professor fired again (she saw it happen one time). It’s difficult to move to high-demand areas if one has only tenured professors. However, she acknowledged the arguments for being able to maintain continuity and the strength of programs.
The discussion shifted to attempts to restructure curricula, such as the introduction of JINS courses some years back, proposals to restructure the entire curriculum which were voted down by the faculty, and efforts to introduce interdisciplinary programs that were not backed up with sufficient resources.
Provost Poor responded by observing that re-evaluation of the curriculum is a constantly recurring process at liberal arts schools. When introducing new ways of doing things, in particular interdisciplinary ones, it is key to ensure that resources are appropriately allocated. For example, in one case she observed, a junior values course was introduced, to be taught by professors in philosophy and religion, but they could not handle the huge number of classes and the college was forced to desperately hire adjuncts, even with minimal qualifications.
Concluding the meeting, Steven Reschly mentioned that it is important to have institutional memory, and recommended that Provost Poor talk with David Robinson to fill her in on much of that.
Provost Poor said that going forward, she sees her role as a support role. We need to understand reality and how to respond to it. She hates to see people stressed (faculty, students, everybody). She will seek to understand what we can do together, as well as the budgeting process. She also noted the centrality of academic affairs to the university (without that, there’s no university), and that budget cuts should not affect academic affairs primarily just because they are the largest part of the budget. She’s also meeting with department chairs in order to clarify the roles of department chairs, after which compensation may be reviewed.