Faculty Senate Minutes

October 11, 2006

 

Officers attending: Nick Reeder, President; Jackie Meyers, Vice President; James Brooks, Secretary

 

Senators attending: Derek Allen, Moez Ben-Azzouz, Mark Echtner, Luis Gonzalez, James Houdeshell, Eric Kraus, Amanda Romero, Cindy Schoonover, Thomas Singer

 

Senators not attending: Mohamed Ali, Jennifer Barr, Charles Williams

 

Others attending: Shari Rethman, Dona Fletcher

 

Nick called the meeting to order at 2:28 pm in Rm. 7L21 and asked to suspend the Order of Business so that Dr. Helen Grove, Senior Vice President and Provost, could first address Senate and answer questions about the realignment initiative, the Faculty Performance Review Committee, and any other issues of interest to senators.

 

1. Discussion with Dr. Grove

 

Dr. Grove opened with brief remarks about the program realignment process. She indicated that the Operations Committee was very close to finalizing a document with respect to program alignment guidelines for campus-wide distribution; this document will provide details about next steps and a timeline. She mentioned that the Operations Committee had considered feedback from the open forum sessions (October 2 and 3) in the development of the document. She then opened the floor for questions.

 

Moez Ben-Azzouz asked whether Senate could have more direct involvement in the process, even possibly representation on the Operations Council, which appears to be the group that will be making final decisions after receiving input from the yet-to-be-formed Cross-Functional Program Alignment Panel/Team (tentative moniker). Essentially, he asked, “What will allow Senate to have an impact on the process or some oversight capacity?” Dr. Grove explained that the process that would be outlined in the forthcoming document would give all units/departments an opportunity to submit recommendations for expansion as well as for realignment to the Cross-Functional Panel. This Panel would, in turn, be charged with making recommendations to the Operations Council. The process would include the opportunity for representatives from units/departments to meet with the Cross-Functional Panel before its final recommendations were forwarded to the Operations Council. According to Dr. Grove, the best avenue for Senate involvement would be to recommend appropriate faculty to sit on the Cross-Functional Panel. 

 

When pressed with respect to Senate’s having a seat on the Operations Council, Dr. Grove indicated that she had discussed this option with the Operations Council, and that group had rejected the request because the Operations Council was formed as an administrative body by President Johnson, not as a representative body. Therefore, membership by Senate would be inappropriate. That being said, Dr. Grove reiterated and re-emphasized her and the Council’s “commitment to being collaborative,” acknowledging that the work would be difficult. Jim Houdeshell raised the question of “defined criteria,” asking whether there would be specific, quantifiable criteria that could be applied fairly so as to avoid the impression that decisions were being made arbitrarily. Dr. Grove responded by admitting that the Operations Council had asked that very question and attempted to define criteria and establish metrics that would apply across the college. However, given the complexity of the various units/departments/divisions of the college, they concluded that they could “not craft meaningful criteria,” which is why all units/departments are being asked to submit their own recommendations based on the program alignment guidelines referred to above, which will include a set of common criteria and, in response to suggestions at the open forums, an opportunity for faculty and staff to meet with the Cross-Functional Team or the Operations Council even after recommendations have been made.

 

When the question of cost-effectiveness as a key criteria was mentioned, Dr. Grove clarified the Board of Trustees’ view, allowing that they did expect analysis and accountability, but that their major focus was on being sure that Sinclair was aligned for the future, that all opportunities for expansion were being considered, and that the college was being strategic in its approach to growth and fiscal responsibility.  Dr. Grove referred to a truism often used in the business arena as she reminded Senate that “no organization ever cut its way to greatness” while she also acknowledged the necessity for the college to balance the budget within three years as directed by the Board.

 

Mark Echtner then asked about the future of 297 special topics courses, citing a rumor that these would be abolished or, if not abolished, then severely curtailed in the process of realignment. Dr. Grove assured the group that there were no plans to abolish 297 courses; however, she reminded the group that the purpose of a 297 course is to try a new idea, to incubate and test new ideas to determine whether the courses should be adopted as part of a program or not. The original purpose was to provide room to experiment, not to provide a place for a special topic to run repeatedly as a 297offering. Sinclair values innovation, and we have always operated under the “additive model,” promoting the David Sinclair mantra of “find a need and endeavor to meet it,” but the downside of this approach is that it can promote courses that are peripheral to the curriculum. This can spread students and faculty too thinly, be difficult for students to navigate, adversely affect average class size, and create a bloated inventory of courses (Dr. Grove noted that Sinclair’s inventory of courses is larger than the entire higher education offerings in the state of Colorado, including doctoral study programs). Therefore, while the intent is not to take away the innovation fostered by the 297 option, Dr. Grove indicated there would be an ongoing review of 297 offerings to assess transferability and possible program or work-force linkages. Derek Allen offered an example of a special topics course (Cooking at Home) which had consistent enrollment on Sunday afternoons but was not linked to a program or course of study, so it has been discontinued. It appears that as the realignment process moves forward, there will be added emphasis on strategic planning and integrating special topics courses rather than allowing them to run in perpetuity.

 

The issue of duplication of courses across divisions was raised, with word processing basics cited as an example. Many areas have their own basic introduction to word processing course, which raises a question as to efficiency of resources. Are there opportunities to combine some sections, increase average class size, and achieve some economy of scale without sacrificing the quality of instruction?  The point was made that sometimes state subsidy is a reason to keep courses in a specific division; for example, health and engineering courses have traditionally received higher state subsidies, so it benefits the college to offer more sections in those areas. Whether this will continue to be the case as the state looks at various funding models for higher education remains to be seen. Another example of possible duplication is in management courses, now being offered in engineering and business. Here again, are there opportunities for combining sections, for faculty to cross over into other divisions to team teach, etc? And would this provide enhanced learning opportunities for students? Dr. Grove commented that “our faculty reflect a rich array of skills” and that this would allow us to look for ways to collaborate with colleagues across the traditional divisional lines. She also mentioned that “FTE is not everything,” not the only metric to consider in the realignment process, and that we should “be courageous” as we consider ways to realign and improve our student’s learning outcomes.

 

The discussion about crossing over from division to division, or department to department, led to a question about the process for full-time, tenure-track faculty not just teaching in other areas but becoming permanent members of other areas; this could happen in the event that realignment creates a scenario that a faculty member could no longer make load in his/her original department of hire. In such a case, would the faculty member seeking to move to another department be expected or required to be interviewed as any other prospective hiree would be interviewed? Should the department have the right to accept or reject a faculty member seeking permanent transfer, or not? Moez pointed out that there is no procedure in the Faculty Handbook for such a screening process to take place. It was suggested that Senate consult with the college attorney, Saundra Schuster, with respect to this issue.  Dr. Grove explained that recently several EBE faculty had been moved into other departments for which they were qualified when that department was realigned.  She observed that since Sinclair has had a history of collegiality among its employees and a strong commitment to avoiding layoffs, “we can work things out and, if necessary, shift assignments through conversions.”  She also said that it would be up to Senate to recommend any changes to the Handbook to address the issue of faculty reassignments. Moez reiterated that he felt the final decision should rest with the department faculty and that procedures should be included in the Faculty Handbook. Finally, Dr. Grove suggested that it was also important to consider whether a faculty member, if not already qualified, could become qualified for another position on campus with additional institutional support through staff development. This led to a brief discussion about the status of a Sinclair retrenchment policy, which would presumably include guidelines for retraining, among other guidelines for action in the event the college was forced to reduce its workforce. To this, Dr. Grove responded that retrenchment was a very complicated issue in Ohio and that it was not a policy that would be developed anytime soon at Sinclair.

 

Dr. Grove was then asked directly whether realignment would result in faculty losing jobs.  She responded by saying that no decisions had been made about that and that it would be premature to discuss that possibility before giving the realignment process a chance to work. She did add that in her experience as an administrator (including experience prior to her time here at Sinclair), she has had many opportunities to match people with the needs of an institution and that she has always found there are many opportunities to retrain people to help find the proper fit when circumstances change; furthermore, at Sinclair she felt that the administration had a high commitment to finding the proper fit for employees who might face reassignment because of changes brought about by realignment. Those comments generated another round of responses from senators about the need for Faculty Senate to help establish specific criteria for making realignment decisions. Several senators expressed how important it was for clear guidelines to be communicated, comparing the process to rubrics faculty develop for their courses so that students understand the criteria for grading and classroom assessment/evaluation. To these comments, Dr. Grove again made the point that the Operations Council had come to the conclusion that one set of criteria for a one-size-fits-all approach did not seem suitable, given the size and complexity of the various departments and units across campus. The Council feels strongly that the first step should be to allow departments to make judgments based on their own criteria and that the Cross-Functional Panel would then analyze each department’s recommendations. These recommendations would be a response to a set of nine questions and be limited to five pages of narrative, the deadline for submission to the Panel being December 15. (The document with the nine questions is the same document Dr. Grove referenced at the beginning of the meeting as being nearly finalized and almost ready for campus-wide distribution.)

 

When asked by Dona Fletcher whether any realignment changes would occur as early as winter quarter, Dr. Grove said that the college was looking to make changes beginning with the new fiscal year, July 1,  2007, and she again stated that the key questions which would guide decisions would be, “What do we need to be doing that we’re not doing?” and “How can we be more efficient?” At the same time, she emphasized that there are already initiatives which should have a positive impact, such as creating on-line degree programs by fall 2007 and expanding opportunities with respect to workforce development with the creation of a new administrative position dedicated to that special area. Also, the college is already looking at internal processes, such as the cumbersome process for recording payload. Another area is average class size, for only ten departments made their average class size targets last year, and for each 0.1% a department is below its projection, the college loses $100,000.  Shari Rethman noted that “stacked” classes in art allowed small sections to be maintained but were efficient in that one faculty member taught them concurrently, with students from the different sections all using the studio at the same time. There could be opportunities in other areas to do this as well.

 

Tom Singer asked for clarification about the process, asking whether it would be the Cross Functional Panel who would set up criteria after they collected each department and unit’s recommendations. Dr. Grove responded with confidence that the “process will turn on the informed professional judgment of reasonable people.” She likened it to the college-wide merit process and the promotion and tenure process. Several senators were less than comfortable with that analogy and felt that there should be clear criteria and an appeal process, with Senate acting as a buffer to increase the comfort level for all of those involved in the process. Dr. Grove indicated that the March 1 deadline for this phase of the realignment initiative would be the beginning of an ongoing process. In other words, not all realignment decisions would have to be made by March 1, but clear progress would have to be made as the college attempts to meet the Board of Trustees’ mandate to balance the budget by July 2008.

 

When asked whether the college was looking at a faculty buyout as part of the realignment/cost savings initiative, Dr. Grove said that though this was a very complicated legal issue, it is being researched. To a question about whether the college has already waited too long to purchase property for a facility in Warren County, Dr. Grove said that a great deal of work has gone into the effort to find an appropriate site, and that work will continue until the right location for the right price presents itself. The college will not put itself at risk economically as it seeks a suitable site for classes in Warren County. 

 

Mark Echtner then brought up a point about Sinclair’s image, noting that while students seem to have a very positive image of the college and the community surveys also reinforce this positive view, could we be in danger of damaging our image by appearing to cut back on services in the name of realignment? A brief discussion followed, with comments about possible cut backs in our services to seniors and negative reactions from Appalachian constituencies on Dayton’s east side. Dr. Grove mentioned President Johnson was aware that in increasingly desperate times, referring to Dayton’s struggling economy, the community expects even more of higher education.  She explained that having the confidence of the community is important, and that we would have to communicate well to offset negative perceptions about higher education in the media.  For example, many in the public feel professors have “soft” workloads and see tenure as an unfair privilege of the profession. Also, there is frustration with waiting lists for fields such as nursing, so Sinclair has to communicate well so as not to be identified with such negative perceptions; for example, our teaching loads tend to be much heavier than those at research universities, and even though our nursing program has a waiting list, it is not as long as that at other colleges, and we produce more nurses who achieve higher pass rates on the state exams than any other community college in Ohio. This is what we need to communicate to the public. Finally, she reiterated that the goal of program realignment is not to shrink but to think strategically and promote growth while at the same time capitalizing on opportunities for efficiency.  Dr. Grove did acknowledge that dealing with the unknown and with uncertainty, along with the accompanying anxiety, is understandable and to be expected. 

 

Again, questions were raised about the Cross Functional Panel’s role in evaluating the recommendations from the departments. For instance, what if the recommendations submitted are not helpful and do not result in identifying either enough opportunities for growth or viable options for identifying redundancies and inefficiencies in internal processes?  Dr. Grove responded by saying that the Cross Functional Panel would have the authority to ask departments/units for clarification, for added input, if necessary. However, she also stated that both staff and faculty had expressed keen interest in realigning and trying to become more efficient, so she thought that the time was right for this process to occur.

 

Dr. Grove then turned to the subject of faculty evaluation, observing that there has been a long-standing item on the Faculty-Administration Matrix that refers to the formation of a task force charged with looking at the faculty evaluation process.  This task force has not been active, and she encouraged Senate to name a new committee/task force with a clear charge to research this topic. She noted that there is a substantial body of literature, and that she would provide references as a starting point, and she also noted that all the League schools had been contacted to provide Sinclair with benchmarking data on faculty evaluation. She also said that it was important that “faculty must not be held hostage by student evaluations,” but that the evaluation process ought to consider “multiple points of information gathered over time” in order to be useful and fair. Above all, “faculty must have confidence in the process,” she added, as she suggested Senate find “respected, experienced faculty” to serve on this committee/task force. She envisioned that this group would do some research and then solicit input from faculty as part of the process to assess and improve our current system of faculty evaluation.

 

Dr. Grove expressed her thanks for having been invited to speak with Senate and agreed to return at any time in the future to discuss important issues. She also agreed to have Saundra Schuster, the college attorney, attend the next meeting with her and the Senate officers (October 18) to provide an update on the audit of the Faculty Handbook.

 

2. Approval of Minutes

 

Minutes for the Faculty Senate meeting of September 27, 2006, were approved with minor corrections.

3. President’s Report

Nick reported that the amendment to allow Senate elections to be held on-line passed 252 in favor to 4 opposed.  He also commented that the 2006-2007 Faculty Handbook is on-line. Finally, he announced that the On-Boarding Faculty Resource Sub-Committee had met on October 4 and that Jennifer Barr, the chair of the committee, would provide an update for Senate at its next meeting.

4. New Business

         Shari Rethman, representative to the Ohio Faculty Senate, reported on that  group’s meeting of October 6. At that meeting, Tom Raga, Republican candidate for Lt. Governor, and Janetta King, Ted Strickland’s Policy Director, along with Jan Allen, an advisor to the Strickland campaign, attended to address issues in higher education and answer questions.  Shari reported that Mr. Raga focused on promoting the Tech Prep model, combining work with education. He also talked about the idea of leasing the Ohio Turnpike to help with the funding of higher education and expressed interest in improving the transferability of credits from institution to institution across the state. Strickland’s representatives focused more on their candidate’s character and his desire to support education, referring participants at the meeting to his website which contained specifics about his views on higher education. Both Mr. Raga and the Strickland representatives agreed that it was valuable to have a chance to address the group and that it would be important to maintain an open dialogue with community college faculty as legislation on higher education was developed.  Shari closed by saying that the interim chancellor would be attending the next meeting of the Ohio Faculty Senate (December 1).

   4. Announcements

            Next meeting: October 25, Rm. 7342, 2:30 pm.

 

The meeting adjourned at 3:58 pm.

Submitted by James Brooks

Approved by Senate: October 25, 2006