Commentary by Steve McQuiddy, Adrienne Mitchell, Elaine Pray and Susan Reddoor,
Academic Learning Skills/Tutoring Department faculty instructors
We have witnessed much in the last week regarding the use of power here at Lane. Like others, we feel that we can no longer remain silent. We offer here another example of how President Spilde and her administration have used their power within this institution’s systems. Readers can decide if they find such use acceptable or not.
In 2009, Academic Learning Skills, where we teach developmental-level credit courses in writing, reading, math and study skills, proposed a redesign of its three-course writing sequence based on research and best practices. The proposal sailed through the curriculum approval committee with unanimous praise, including a suggestion that it might be used as a model for other departments.
When the proposal reached executive administration, we were told by our dean that then-Vice President Sonya Christian gave a verbal approval. Before the official form was signed, however, we were told that executive administration would not approve it after all.
No specific explanation was given, although it was vaguely suggested that our class sizes were too small.
We reiterated how the proposal had been unanimously approved by the official committee, and that research and best practices made clear that increased class size was not good for writing students. But administration was obdurate: without significant cost reductions defined by their calculations, our curriculum proposal would not be approved.
We came back in 2011 with a new redesign that reduced the number of credit hours students would spend in developmental courses and created college-level co-requisites based on best practices. This time, we checked with Sonya Christian and then-Executive Dean Don McNair, who both encouraged us to “go for it.”
This proposal also sailed through the curriculum approval committee, with congratulations on our innovative manner of addressing the economic challenges we were all facing. But again it stopped at the executive level, this time with a more direct comment that reducing credits was not enough and that class size was an issue that needed to be addressed “across campus.”
So we developed a third proposal with the already approved curricular changes. This time, we included increased class sizes while proposing a reasonable workload for faculty in accordance with contractual provisions.
We showed how this would save the college money — more than a quarter million dollars per year. We presented it to upper-level administrators. Then we waited.
We waited almost a year. We asked for feedback. No response. Again, again and again.
Meanwhile, Adrienne Mitchell took our proposal as a savings measure to College Council’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee. The LCCEA and LCCEF readily adopted the proposal as a means to save money and after careful evaluation of all the figures, the ASLCC and Management Steering Council representatives did the same.
For a time, all representatives on that committee except for the administration recognized that the college would save approximately $250,000 per year by allowing ALS to move forward with its curricular redesign, which would also serve students’ needs better. However, the Management Steering Council suddenly rescinded its support, and the proposal did not move forward. We never learned why.
Finally, in spring 2013, Mary Spilde and Don McNair attended a meeting in our department. Mary explained that the savings were not there, that our proposal “didn’t pencil out” and that Don was “the numbers guy,” so we should trust that what they said was true. Since we did not understand how increasing class sizes dramatically, in some cases by 40 percent, would not result in significant savings, even with a modest change in workload calculations, we asked to meet with Don to better understand how our calculations could possibly be wrong.
When Adrienne met with Don McNair, he explained that our calculations were not incorrect — our curriculum redesign proposal, coupled with class-size increases and a different formula for calculating workload consistent with the contract, would indeed save the college money as we had projected. But a quarter million dollars was not enough. They wanted more.
Meanwhile, we had lost three of our eight full-time faculty to retirement, with no replacements, even though the number of sections we offered nearly doubled due to demand. We repeatedly brought this up at every level to no avail. At one point, President Spilde told us point-blank that any proposal that incorporated full-time vacancies being filled in our department would be denied.
We conceded that we had been painted into a corner. We had a thrice-approved curriculum proposal aimed at helping some of the most marginalized populations at Lane, but it was frozen until we met the administration’s financial demands. We had lost, but we couldn’t let our students lose even more.
We asked the LCCEA to represent us in negotiations with the administration; the result was a Memorandum of Agreement codifying increased maximum class sizes for all our courses, and also ensuring approval of our writing sequence redesign, all of which save the college several hundred thousand dollars each year. Interestingly, we also were awarded curriculum development funds for this after we had been told for years that no funds were available.
Today, our department has lost half of its full-time faculty positions, with no replacements, even though our enrollment is still higher than it was when we had eight full-time faculty. We have been moved from a highly visible location in the Center Building to a hallway on the edge of Building 11, and we have lost our dedicated classrooms and computer lab.
In fairness to President Spilde and her administration, we cannot say that our empty full-time positions and other losses were specifically due to our resistance to class size increases. But we also cannot ignore the fact that our pedagogically and fiscally sound proposals for redesign of our writing sequence were blocked by administration for five years — until we agreed to significantly increase class sizes.
How much more money could have been saved during those five years? How much more successful could our students have been? How many more did not even get the opportunity during those five years to reach college-level coursework more quickly?
We can no longer pretend that things will be okay if we just remain patient and work with what we are given. Things are not okay, and the manner in which we got here is unacceptable. The college is, indeed, “broken.”
We still welcome an open dialogue with all members of administration, a respectful exchange grounded in collaborative problem solving and creative thinking. But we must first frankly acknowledge where we are and how we got here. Only then can we get where we want to be.