Below you’ll find a write up of my remarks at the May meeting. It sets out suggestions for members to help with the current impasse and to improve the conditions for faculty and students at the college.
First, a thank you to previous leadership: Kathy T., Ted Gordon (who stays on as past president), Neil Lavender and Linda Henderson.
I’d like to congratulate the faculty who are taking advantage of the incentive and retiring: George Perabo, Judy Angona, Richard Bailey, Art Waldman, Pat Demko, Hy Middleburg, Mary Burke, Kathleen McCormick, Martin Novelli, Linda Burke, Leah Kelly, Karl Kleiner, Joe Kolb, Nancy Politnitza – and a late addition, Randy Monroe.
This list reminds us that students come to college not to be administered, but to learn. And these faculty are the kinds of people central to that mission. In the widely cited Rethinking Faculty Work: Higher Education’s Strategic Imperative, the authors acknowledge “The dramatic changes in academe” in 21st century, but note that “faculty . . . have always been the heart of the institutions where they work, the intellectual capital that ensures those institutions’ excellence” (Gappa, Austin, and Trice x, xi). In fact, faculty are usually reluctant to leave the field: after all, it’s more avocation than occupation. But given our current treatment (and the financial incentive), it’s easy to understand our colleagues’ departure – and their smiling faces (Rich wins the award for biggest grin).
Those of us remaining are left with a question: how are we going to make our working lives – and thus our instruction – better? We are not going to find relief in Middle States (who are playing the “blame the victim” game), or in consultants (after all, they are paid by the college). We are going to have to clean up the college ourselves. At a recent board liaison meeting, Paul Butler and I were told that everything is alright at the college. That everyone is happy. Sure, there are a few malcontents, but they know everything is okay because, and here I quote a board member, “We have our meetings and no one comes.”
That is one thing we need to remedy. We have a Human Resources department. We have an Academic administration. If there is anything you find troubling or problematic, let them know. Many of the limitations and policies the college is putting into place aren’t grievable, but that doesn’t mean we can’t let the administration know that we do not agree with them and that they will ultimately interfere with or harm teaching.
We’ve learned a hard lesson from Middle States and the Board: if problems are not recorded, they do not exist. We need to record problems. We need to establish a paper trail. Think of the difference of a news report that reads “For years the college has received emails from faculty about irregularities in hiring recommendations” vs. “Faculty complain of hiring irregularities.” Yes, we need to talk among ourselves and share information, but we also need to make a record and let the college know when things are not working or we have reservations and objections to policies.
Will they listen? Who knows? Will any change occur if we do not report problems? Definitely not. Write up your misgivings, complaints, and cautionary notes, send them to HR or Academic Affairs, or the President, and cc me. I’ll keep an ongoing list that we can use for publicity and to present to the board.
In short, we need to continue speaking out – and turn that speech into writing.
This brings me to my next topic: fear. Yes, this administration fires people. But all of us now have the protection provided by the State of NJ: tenure. That protection was granted for situations like we find ourselves in: an administration that has lost sight of its educative mission. We need to take the protection that the excellent, but untenured, faculty didn’t have, and use it to help the adminstration see again.
There are advantages to speaking up and working together. At this year’s NJEA Higher Ed conference, Bergen Community College’s union reported that when college president tried to fire 16 faculty members, one of their senior members stood up at a union meeting and said that will not happen. They proceeded to work together and protest the action. The result? All 16 faculty remain. The lesson is clear.
We need to take that kind of energy and desire and bring it back on this campus. We need to remember that being in a union means that an attack on one member is an attack on all. And we do have support: in her remarks at the conference, NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan declared – to rousing applause – “And to the faculty of Ocean County College, we want you to know that the 250,000 NJEA members are behind you!”
I’m under no illusions. This is going to be a challenge for us. We’re over worked and underappreciated – and underpaid; We’re going to be a smaller unit: and will need wider participation from members. You’ll already find new names and faces in union positions: it’s time to join us.
The college will continue to make it difficult: they will schedule committee meetings at the same time as the union meeting, try to break our will with indignities, and chip away at our rights. I believe many of us have adopted a wait it out approach – “Larson’s got 5 more years. I’ll still be here.” We’ve got to shake that off and instead fight for our rights.
I’d like to end by returning to an earlier comment: students don’t come to be administered – they come to be educated. And that education is from us. A recent Gallup poll surveying student achievement and satisfaction found that students who had a deep connection with a faculty member reported highest achievement and contentment. Students will not find that connection with an administrator, or with an adjunct who needs to hustle to another campus or who lacks the time and space to sit and chat with them. We are the college: and while that’s clear to us, the students, and the public, the administration needs to find that out.
Let’s help them. It’s time to write. And if you agree with a point made in an email or at a meeting, let your fingers do the talking and let the college know.
It’s time to be heard.
p.s. We’ll be posting throughout the Summer: I’ll send out an email when there’s a new one.