Faculty respond to statements, discussions regarding faculty cuts

Sharon Bailey Glasco and Amy J. Orr

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Faculty held a closed-door meeting yesterday. The Review received the following letter last night from the Executive Committee of the Linfield American Association of University Professors.*

We are continuing to follow issues of the college budget and institutional restructuring. If you would like to provide information or help us with sourcing, please contact [email protected]

 

Message to the Community from the Linfield AAUP Executive Committee

Submitted by:

Sharon Bailey Glasco, President, Linfield AAUP

Amy J. Orr, Vice-President, Linfield AAUP

Linfield College faces some incredibly tough challenges right now. While Linfield College is financially healthy (see, for example, the 2017-2018 Financial Statement and 2017-2018 President’s Report), our enrollment numbers have dropped significantly over the past few years (see the Fact Book for enrollment trends). Therefore, we will likely face revenue shortfalls for the foreseeable future. Over the past several weeks, numerous discussions have taken place surrounding the budget and the future of the college. They have involved a wide range of participants, and various viewpoints have been shared.

We would like to address some of the claims made and provide further insight into issues involving faculty that can be confusing due to their complexity. Overall, our intent is to educate and dispel myths, as well as to encourage everyone in our community to continue to ask questions, seek facts, and listen to diverse perspectives.

We provide information about matters that are of critical importance to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP): academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance. We also speak about the importance of a liberal arts education. Underlying everything about which we speak is the primary concern that drives the faculty: the students and their education. One of the deepest commitments that faculty at Linfield have is to our students.  Our work with them in the classroom, in research, as advisees, and through other curricular activities is fundamental to our role at the institution.

Our key points (elaborated below) are as follows:

-Academic freedom is essential in delivering a quality education to our students, and tenure is the most effective protection for academic freedom. Tenure and tenure-track faculty lines need to be protected.

-Shared governance is critical as decisions about Linfield’s future are made. The Bylaws of Linfield College charge the Faculty Assembly with oversight of the academic program, as the faculty is in a unique position to understand the curriculum as a whole.

-Liberal arts disciplines are essential to the intellectual life of the college and, of course, are also critical for the long-term success of our students, their intellectual growth, and their preparation for participation in life beyond Linfield.

Faculty Positions and the Importance of Tenure

For those outside of the academic profession, tenure can seem confusing (and even unfair). As many know, tenured appointments are intended to be indefinite. What people may not understand is that tenured positions are competitive, and faculty members are subjected to a fairly long probationary period and rigorous review process in hopes of earning tenure. Not all faculty members succeed, either at Linfield or across the country. After having earned tenure, which presumes the faculty member is competent, a faculty member can be let go only when dismissed for cause, when the institution faces a severe financial emergency, or when the faculty and administration choose to eliminate programs for sound educational reasons (see section IV.6.7.5 of the Faculty Handbook).

Why are members of the faculty afforded such an extraordinary protection? As the AAUP notes,

The principal purpose of tenure is to safeguard academic freedom, which is necessary for all who teach and conduct research in higher education.  When faculty members can lose their positions because of their speech or publications research findings, they cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities to advance and transmit knowledge. … Education and research benefit society, but society does not benefit when teachers and researchers are controlled by corporations, religious groups, special interest groups, or the government. Free inquiry, free expression, and open dissent are critical for student learning and the advancement of knowledge. Therefore, it is important to have systems in place to protect academic freedom. Tenure serves that purpose. (See https://www.aaup.org/issues/tenure)

At Linfield, as is true at colleges and universities across the country, academic freedom is essential in delivering a quality education to our students, and tenure is the most effective protection for academic freedom (as our Faculty Handbook notes, tenure is “essential to the success of the college in fulfilling its obligations to students and society”). A vibrant academic community is one in which risks in teaching and research can be taken, debates can take place, ideas can be questioned, and so on. It is one in which we can have lively, and perhaps even uncomfortable, discussions about politics, race, gender, class, religion, free speech, science, global warming, and much more. It is also one in which students are held to high expectations and standards. We are providing students with the opportunities to partake in these conversations, and to better prepare themselves for becoming thoughtful and engaged members of a larger society beyond Linfield. This environment of open and honest debate is threatened without the protections of tenure, as faculty members may refuse to take risks, address controversial topics, hold students to high standards, and generally “rock the boat” because doing so could cost them their jobs.

We highlight the importance of academic freedom and tenure at this critical juncture in the life of the college for two reasons: (1) it can help to explain the stability in faculty positions at Linfield over time, and (2) it helps to emphasize the importance of maintaining tenure at Linfield as we move forward.

Because of the unique characteristics of faculty positions, comparing faculty to other employee groups at the college is difficult. Faculty positions are often more stable due to the essential protections of tenure. This does not mean, however, that there are not constant changes taking place. For example, when faculty members retire or decide to leave Linfield, their positions are not automatically replaced. Even when replacement positions are approved, they do not always move forward. For example, in the 2018-2019 contingency budget proposal that was distributed on May 29, 2018 (and shortly thereafter endorsed by the Budget Working Group), 6.5 FTE faculty positions were to be held vacant, and the adjunct faculty budget was to be decreased by 25 percent.

[For further information about staffing levels for faculty, exempt staff, and non-exempt staff, please see the Fact Book. The update posted in December of 2018 indicates that, between 2013 and 2018, nonexempt positions decreased by 9.2 FTE. Faculty positions increased by 4.4 FTE (although 3.8 positions were vacant in 2017-2018), and exempt positions increased by 15 FTE.]

We are also concerned about the future implications of decisions being made now regarding faculty positions on the long-term health of the academic program. In higher education today, it is becoming increasingly common to hire contingent faculty members (those without the protection of tenure) to fill vacant tenure-track and tenured lines. We have started to see a similar trend at Linfield College. From 2013-2018, while the number of tenure-track faculty members increased by 2%, the number of tenured faculty members decreased by 3 percent. There was a 2 percent increase in the number of contingent faculty (see the Fact Book). A loss of tenure at the institution will not only have profound consequences for the quality of the educational program (see “Costs of Increased Contingency” in https://www.aaup.org/report/contingent-appointments-and-academic-profession), but also on the college’s ability to attract top-notch faculty members. Overall, as noted in the Faculty Handbook (IV.6.7.5), “Tenure is a means to two principal ends: (a) ensuring freedom of teaching, research, and extracurricular activities, and (b) providing a sufficient degree of economic security for the attraction and retention of a competent and creative faculty.” Therefore, it is in the best interest of the students, and the college as a whole, to preserve tenure-track and tenured faculty lines.

Finally, we want to address claims that (1) faculty have not yet been affected by financial cuts at the college (that this is the “first time”), and (2) faculty members can easily relocate and find jobs elsewhere. With regard to the former, as noted above, faculty positions have been affected. In addition, like others at the college, faculty members have also faced significant cuts to their benefits (health care and retirement). Also, while 60 percent of faculty members have received step increases for the past two years, 40 percent have not.**

Another area in which faculty members have been affected is with regard to professional development. Faculty members are evaluated on professional engagement and achievement, and a high quality education for students depends on having faculty members who are professionally engaged and up-to-date in their fields (see, for example, https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/why-teacherscholars-matter-some-insights-fsse-and-nsse). Over the past several years, faculty members have lost their $600 professional development fund, faced significant cuts to the Dean’s Travel Fund (which helps to cover participation in conferences), and experienced regular cuts to academic department operating budgets (meaning a reduction in travel and professional development funds for many faculty members). These cuts adversely affect both faculty members and students.

With regard to the latter, it is simply not true that faculty members can easily relocate and find jobs elsewhere. The academic labor market works on one year cycles and is, to say the least, abysmal (see, for example, https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-State-of-the-Academic-Job/141283). In addition, most institutions seek to fill positions at the assistant professor level, making it difficult, if not impossible, for experienced faculty members to move elsewhere. Thus, for many Linfield faculty members, who have made the choice to come to Linfield, often after having said no to other institutions, the loss of their appointments may result in their leaving academia altogether. Many faculty members, like those in other employee groups, also have family members who would be significantly affected by a termination, as they would likely have to leave the community in which they have established roots.

Shared Governance and the Academic Program

The Bylaws of Linfield College charge the Faculty Assembly with oversight of the academic program, and the Faculty Assembly takes this responsibility seriously. There are systems/policies in place (see Faculty Handbook, Chapter III) that allow the Faculty Assembly to constantly assess, review, and revise all aspects of our program (course offerings, major/minor requirements and offerings, the Linfield Curriculum, academic departments, graduation requirements, etc.). One simply has to examine Faculty Assembly agendas to see that this process is occurring on a consistent basis. Recommendations for changes are made through the Curriculum Committee of the Faculty Assembly, and the Faculty Assembly, as a whole, votes on these recommendations.

We understand that, at times, the Faculty Assembly may be criticized for being too “slow” in making decisions. However, faculty members understand that many of these decisions have both short- and long-term consequences for the college and therefore make them with care and deliberation. Proposals that may seem simple on the surface can have far-reaching effects. It is important to ask tough questions, gather data, and, in general, ensure that members of the Assembly have considered as many implications/consequences as possible. Faculty members are in a unique position to understand the curriculum as a whole, and not just the sum of its individual parts. They understand the many links that connect various departments and programs together, and they understand the consequences that severing links in one area can have on other curricular offerings at the institution.

Many faculty members also understand the desire to be attentive to “market forces.” Nevertheless, we believe that it is critical to consider the implications of making decisions based primarily on cost-demand analyses and market trends. There are other significant factors to consider, such as the college’s mission, its principles, its uniqueness among other colleges/universities, and, most importantly, the long-term success of its students.

In sum, as a group that has been assigned an important role in the shared governance of the institution, the Faculty Assembly takes its responsibilities seriously, and faculty members are committed to working collaboratively with the administration and the Board of Trustees to address Linfield’s budgetary shortfalls. As we address the financial situation of the college, we should approach the task with both the short- and long-term health of the institution in mind. Some short-term solutions may close the budget gap; however, they may have long-term negative consequences for the college, particularly with regard to the quality of the academic program. We believe that it is important to be deliberative and thoughtful in our decision-making process, avoiding proposals that are reactionary and/or shortsighted. This is particularly important given that national data show an increase in college enrollment over the next several years and that Linfield plans to steadily grow enrollments in the future.

Why the Liberal Arts Matter

Linfield College has historically identified as a liberal arts college, and we continue to identify as such today. For example, our 2018-2019 Course Catalog states that “Linfield College is a four-year, non-profit, coeducational, liberal arts institution historically and currently affiliated with the American Baptist Churches.” The 2017-2018 Financial Report notes that “Linfield College (the College) is a not-for-profit, accredited four year, comprehensive undergraduate, private, coeducational, liberal arts and science institution located in McMinnville and Portland, Oregon,” and boasts that “[f]or three years in a row, U.S. News & World Report ranked Linfield as number 1 among the Pacific Northwest liberal arts colleges…” Several other college documents (all available online) highlight our liberal arts emphasis, as do several of our news reports (see, for example, https://www.linfield.edu/linfield-news/money-ranks-linfield-topcollege-for-value-in-oregon/ and https://www.linfield.edu/linfield-news/linfield-1-best-bang-for-the-buckfor-liberal-arts-in-oregon-and-washington/). Our Carnegie classification is “Baccalaureate Colleges-Arts & Sciences.”

By definition, a liberal arts college is “[a] particular type of institution—often small, often residential— that facilitates close interaction between faculty and students, and whose curriculum is grounded in the liberal arts disciplines” (see https://www.aacu.org/leap/what-is-a-liberal-education). The liberal arts disciplines include the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences (see, for example, https://www.aacu.org/leap/what-is-a-liberal-education, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/liberal-arts, and https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liberal%20arts).

Liberal arts disciplines are essential to the intellectual life of the college and, of course, are also critical for the long-term success of our students, their intellectual growth, and their preparation for participation in life beyond Linfield. As noted in the AAUP’s Joint Statement with AAC&U on the Liberal Arts (https://www.aaup.org/news/joint-statement-aacu-liberal-arts#.XCAc-02WzIV):

The American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges and Universities are not disciplinary organizations, but we believe that institutions of higher education, if they are truly to serve as institutions of higher education, should provide more than narrow vocational training and should seek to enhance students’ capacities for lifelong learning. This is as true of open-access institutions as it is of highly selective elite colleges and universities. The disciplines of the liberal arts—and the overall benefit of a liberal education—are exemplary in this regard, for they foster intellectual curiosity about questions that will never be definitively settled—questions about justice, about community, about politics and culture, about difference in every sense of the word. All college students and not solely a privileged few should have opportunities to address such questions as a critical part of their educational experience. And the disciplines of the liberal arts are central to the ideal of academic freedom, as well, because the liberal arts, by their nature, require free rein to pursue truth wherever it may lead. As a result, they provide an intellectual bulwark for academic freedom…. The free search for truth and its free exposition in the liberal arts are essential components of a functioning democracy. Higher education’s contributions to the common good and to the functioning of our democracy are severely compromised when universities eliminate and diminish the liberal arts.

As noted above, the liberal arts disciplines prepare our students for success. They help our students to become not only engaged citizens, but also successful professionals. With regard to the latter, a recent AAC&U report (https://www.aacu.org/press/press-releases/new-report-documents-liberal-arts-disciplinesprepare-graduates-long-term) noted that liberal arts majors have been closing the earnings gap (and “earn more than professional majors at peak earnings ages”), have low unemployment rates, and “attain graduate and professional degrees and experience earnings boosts when they do.” As the President of the AAC&U concluded, “’As the findings in this report demonstrate, majoring in a liberal arts field can and does lead to successful and remunerative careers in a wide array of professions.’”

[President Miles Davis has also spoken passionately about the importance of a liberal arts education. See, for example, https://www.linfield.edu/linfield-news/linfield-president-touts-liberal-arts/.]

Conclusion

As Linfield College navigates its current enrollment challenges, we believe that it is critical to prioritize students. Our goal should be to continue to offer them an excellent education provided by the highest quality faculty members. For this to happen, we need to abide by the principles of shared governance, protect academic freedom and tenure, and defend our liberal arts core.

As we move forward, we encourage everyone in our community to continue to ask questions, seek facts, and listen to diverse perspectives. Seek evidence for claims made, and be careful to not buy into divisive rhetoric. We all need to work together to solve our current challenges and build an even brighter future for Linfield College.

Where to Find Linfield College Documents

2017-2018 Financial Report, 2017-2018: https://www.linfield.edu/assets/files/accounting/201819.pdf  2017-2018 President’s Report, 2017-2018: https://digitalcommons.linfield.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1010&context=presreports)   2018-2019 Course Catalog: https://www.linfield.edu/assets/files/catalog/19-catalog.pdf Bylaws of Linfield College: https://www.linfield.edu/assets/files/policy/bylaws.pdf  Fact Book: https://www.linfield.edu/research/fact-book-online.html (password protected) Faculty Handbook: https://www.linfield.edu/assets/files/academic-affairs/faculty-handbookcurrent.pdf

 

*The story initially published stated that the letter came on behalf of faculty, which was an inaccurate representation. The Linfield AAUP represents the views of some faculty, but not all.

**The statement we first published read: “Also, while 40 percent of faculty members have received step increases for the past two years, 60 percent have not.” This was an error in the statement. 

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