Letter to the Editor: Silencing faculty voice in decisions hurts students

To the editor:

I am writing in response to the recent announcement in The Rider News of faculty retirements, the President’s Town Hall Meeting, and recent letters in the paper from faculty.

Retirements and Rider’s Future

I wish the very best to faculty retiring at the end of the semester or in the near future; I know many. Uniformly, and over many years, they have provided exceptional service to their students, the university and their professions. These are tenured, full-time faculty who have attained the top or terminal certification in their fields. Tenure-track faculty and their students, primarily, have established the reputation Rider enjoys today.

Based on their proposals to the faculty union in recent years and because of a concession made by the union to reverse the cuts announced in the fall, the university’s administration will be loath to replace these key people quickly, if at all. Models for the administration are other colleges in New Jersey with lower faculty costs — and I assure students that our faculty is superior to theirs.

The administration seeks to use as substitutes many more lower-paid, non-terminally qualified adjuncts and non-tenure track faculty. This, despite the significant savings that occur when junior faculty are hired to replace more highly compensated departing senior faculty. The administration has also steadily sought to reduce the compensation of Rider’s full-time faculty and support for their scholarship; and their proposals to the faculty union suggest that, if the administration could, it would pay adjuncts less.

Every student should be concerned about these issues in the short and long term. For one, it is a maxim in organizations that when it comes to personnel, you get what you pay for. Also, you cannot continually press for, and actually lower, employee standard of living over time and offer no hope of improvement without impacting motivation, employee engagement and morale, and Rider’s attractiveness to promising faculty and good employees. The benefits to students of a fully and professionally trained, full-time faculty are obvious, and my previous letter in The Rider News listed many of these (Dec. 8, 2015).

For decades, and to many different audiences, the administration has highlighted and publicized the high percentage of Rider faculty with terminal degrees.

Spring Town Hall and Continuing Faculty Influence in Academics

Announced at the Spring Town Hall were new programs in sports management and healthcare management, and two new programs to begin in the fall of 2016. Students should know that these and other programs added in recent years, such as criminal justice and entrepreneurial studies, are outcomes of successful work by the university’s current academic governance system, where faculty have a strong voice.

Maintaining this system — in the face of recent threats — is in every student’s interest, as it supports high standards across the university and has regularly led to new programs and courses preparing students for the world in which they will live and work.

It is important to understand our current governance system, which brings together for collaboration members of the faculty, the administration and students. Typically, seven-member committees in each of Rider’s colleges and schools discuss and decide upon a range of academic issues, including new programs and courses. There is also a similar university-level committee. While faculty members comprise a committee’s majority, in my experience there is robust discussion and no lock-step block voting by faculty.

An attempt by the administration to eliminate this system, in 2014, was rebuffed by the faculty. At the start of faculty contract negotiations in the Summer of 2014, the administration, through the Provost, proposed eliminating the current governance system and replacing it with a faculty senate. A senate typically serves an advisory function only. Decision-making on all academic matters, including proposed new programs and courses, is made by the provost and the administration.

It was such an unnecessary and extreme proposal, guaranteed to be opposed by faculty on solid academic grounds, that I thought it had been proposed simply to extract concessions from the faculty later. The rationale put forward was essentially that many colleges and universities are organized in this way, certainly an insufficient reason for jettisoning a governance system that had worked well — one that had benefitted students by permitting faculty to have its proper voice and influence on academic issues. These issues include: core curriculum; degree, co-op, and internship requirements; transfer credit policy; and student academic standing.

The elimination of programs and personnel announced by the president and administration in the fall gives a good idea of what unilateral decision making at Rider could look like. The proposal to create a faculty senate was fashioned by the same group that fashioned this decision, without our current president.

Faculty and students generally were astounded by the method and quality of decision-making that cut programs and personnel. To me and others, the process and decisions revealed a breathtaking lack of appreciation for the significant contributions of especially the more senior faculty scheduled for termination, and a lack of awareness of the important and negative longer-term consequences for the university. From the faculty perspective, this was not something that we would eventually all soldier through — not at all, in no way.

The administration took this action in the fall to shift resources to other areas, and perhaps chase enrollment through the introduction of new (and uncertain) programs. In my view, to boost enrollment and majors in particular areas, it would be better for Rider to more fully, professionally, and widely publicize what it currently offers academically to prospective students — and we have to do a far better job of promoting Rider. I live 30 miles west of campus and Rider is largely unknown here. The increased external publicity announced by the president is a step in the right direction.

Academically, Rider is a great place, with rich learning opportunities that prepare students for these times. With rare exceptions, prospective students are academically fluid and uncertain, that is, not fixed in what they want to pursue at college. In correspondence with the university I have suggested that Rider present itself honestly and in ways likely to be attractive to today’s prospective students. What struck me and others in the fall was that the university was actually cutting academic assets that would have great value here. I suggested ad copy that included the following examples:

  • Rider vocal arts students sing with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
  • Students can major in entrepreneurship at Rider — our students win national awards.
  • Students can study marine and atmospheric science at Rider.
  • At Rider, every business student has the opportunity to create a career plan.
  • Rider accounting graduates are always in demand.
  • Students can work with scientists on discoveries at Rider.
  • Undergraduates at Rider receive training in enterprise-level software and software development.
  • Rider’s state-of-the-art facilities are used to train students as reporters and news anchors.

Obviously, there are many other positive statements about Rider that would function to build enrollment and majors, if conveyed to a larger public.

Some Final Points

The university must make sure that it has the right strategies and personnel in place to soon restore fiscal health. Our endowment must be raised, as its revenue can provide the university with operating funds, scholarship aid and funds for capital improvements. Some area institutions and their endowments are: La Salle, $87.5 million; Villanova, $564 million; St. Joseph’s, $216 million; Rowan, $150 million; Drew, $203 million; and Stevens Institute of Technology, $153 million. Considering that Rider has graduated students for 150 years, many in business, our endowment, at $65 million, should be higher.

Enrollment shortfalls must end, and financial projections and remedies with which those affected do not agree cannot continue to be used to freeze or reduce employee wages and reduce benefits and university retirement contributions.  No organization can afford to be blind to the desire of employees to maintain their standard of living. When conditions warrant these actions in business organizations, a promise is often made to employees to make them whole again when conditions improve. I would like to see the president and administration make such a commitment. Leading employers I have studied that have committed to employees in this and other ways have obtained commitment and support in return.

—Dr. Gerald D. Klein
Professor emeritus, Organizational Behavior and Management

 

Printed in the 3/30/16 issue.

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