Month: September 2014

Compromises and Alternatives

From The Ranger’s Facebook page this morning:

A Presidents and Vice Chancellors Committee (PVC) meeting is going on right now at Palo Alto College for an all-district “4 Disciplines of Execution,” planning session until 10 a.m. Office assistants for both Thomas Cleary, vice chancellor for planning, performance and information systems; and Jo-Carol Fabianke, vice chancellor for academic success, said the PVC meetings will run all day.
Ruben “Mike” Flores, President of Palo Alto College said yesterday during a student forum the PVC would spend today working on possible compromises and alternatives to the “generic” Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees.

Sounds like they should have had an all day meeting BEFORE making the decision to get rid of majors.

Student Evaluations

Another issue in play right now is how student course evaluations will be used to measure “success.” The SPC Faculty Senate discussed this issue at their last meeting as reported in The Ranger. The excellent TCCTA blog also published an article on this topic: “Student Evaluations Criticized.” Take a read through. It brings up a lot of excellent points that our own faculty have already made. And if you don’t already subscribe to the TCCTA blog, we highly recommend that you give it a go. They are on top of all kinds of community college issues.

Inside Higher Ed: Habitually Disrespected?

There’s an article in today’s Inside Higher Ed which focuses primarily on the degree plan controversy. The author, Colleen Flaherty, also wrote about the EDUC 1300/Covey issue back in the Spring. The comments are always interesting, but this one in particular caught our attention from “Higher ed administrator”:

This is seriously troubling. We’re working on MOUs with the local Community College system to create 2+2 degrees (2 years at community college, 2 at my university), especially for students with AAS degrees (the college within the university is a school that prepares students within a particular profession). The requirement we would have is that the AAS would be in specific majors that prep them for specific majors in our school, that the student have a minimum of a B GPA in the AAS, have strong letters of support, and that the community college interfaces with us with regard to competencies that students acquire in the curriculum at the community college. If they were to drop the specific majors, we wouldn’t pursue the articulation and would require a course-by-course match. It’s likely that would add another year of expense here–and we’re much more expensive than the community college. The trustees and others in charge of Alamo System may think 60 credits mostly made up of “this and that” makes good business sense, since they collect enough widgets to fill their basket to get to 60 credits, but they’re nuts! An AAS with a B average in a specific majors that matches up with our majors is a type of shorthand that tells us that the student comes with preparation that is likely to lead to their completing their degree with us in a reasonable time span.

The Ranger published two articles this week about the change in degree plans:

The San Antonio Express-News also published an article:

Faculty and students are still gathering information in an attempt to understand the impetus for this change. If this change is truly born out of an accreditation concern with SACS (as was suggested when the change was first announced), can Chancellor Bruce Leslie, Vice Chancellor Jo-Carol Fabianke or any other District or College administrator please produce an official email or letter from our accrediting agency affirming the need for this disruptive change?

We look forward to hearing from students at PAC. They are meeting with their college president this afternoon.

Trustee Kingsbery sounds off on degree plan debacle

Posted just now over at Trustee Clint Kingsbery’s Facebook page is an explanation of the degree plan debacle (as it was explained to him by Chancellor Leslie) along with Clint’s thoughts and questions. Please visit his page and leave comments and questions so that can continue to explore this issue. Here is his post:

Clint Kingsbery ACCD Trustee District 8
29 minutes ago

A number of folks have been contacting me about the degree situation that was recently announced and covered by Fox News. I’ll take this opportunity to share with you what I know of it.

I first became aware of the situation shortly before my town hall at NVC, though the details were sparse and I personally had zero information on it. I thought it was a misunderstanding of the “Pathways” program we had been hearing about, and no one else brought it up.

It was only this past week that things exploded into full bloom. The coverage from Fox News and the letters that went out really fleshed out the situation. It obviously demanded some attention and I needed some details. I had a meeting with Chancellor Leslie on Friday afternoon, shortly before the letter went out from Jo-Carol Fabianki, and I asked about the situation. I got a light description of what was going on, but essentially our hands were tied by SACS. Allow me to explain:

A number of years ago THECB cut the number of hours required for an Associates degree. Intentionally or not, this ultimately gave us too few hours to actually have our degrees qualify as majors. We had yet to comply to this change until very recently (thus the memo). If we did not comply, we would risk our accreditation from SACS as we would have been going against the standard set by THECB.

So, rather than risk the accreditation of all the colleges, we had to fall into place and remove the term “majors” from the degrees, making them the generic degrees.

Now that’s what I understand from the situation. I do think that the message was significantly miscommunicated, and I expressed as such in my meeting. The whole thing should have been expressed to incoming students, rather than them finding out a few weeks into the semester. I also fail to see the positive spin on this. It feels like we were forced into this. Why not point out that the issue is with THECB and not ACCD.

What I’d like to explore is a way to ensure that students who concentrate in a particular field have that communicated on the degree in some way. Certainly we can find a way to do that, and give students a sense of accomplishment in their degree, rather than a generic degree.

I was reading this article published by the ranger

http://www.theranger.org/2014/09/22/generic-degrees-awarded-in-lieu-of-specified-major/

and I found a number of things to be quite worrisome. It wasn’t until nearly the end of the piece when it was pointed out that this change really comes down to the accreditation issue, but it feels like it spends the majority of the time trying to justify this change as something positive. I just don’t see it personally.

“The generic A.A. or A.S. degree allows an adviser and student to select courses that are aligned with the degree plans of senior institutions “as opposed to a set plan that may or may not apply to that particular institution,” he said.”

Which is great, but what about those who do not intend to transfer to a 4-year institution? There are a number of details on this I still need to get information on.

So where does that leave us? I’m going to be checking into this. I want to see if other community colleges in Texas have the same requirements and situation, or if we’re unique in this regard. If the other schools in Texas are under these same rules, I don’t see how we can get around it, but if not, then there will be some very important discussions as to why not.

Rest assured, it is my absolute goal to ensure that students get the highest quality of education with our schools. This issue is a monster, and must be dealt with swiftly and with good facts and information. I do not want to jump to conclusions too quickly without considering all of the information that is out there. If you are aware of the issues I portrayed above and would like to elaborate on them more thoroughly, please feel free to contact me: 210-872-8305. Just text or leave a VM if I don’t answer.

Thank you all for your support.

Degree plans being pulled by District decree

Some of you may have seen this story on our local Fox News 29 station: “Alamo College District Considering Changes to Degrees.” We’ve now received word from at least one faculty member at SAC that degree plans are being pulled from our college website. It’s no longer being considered. It’s being done. What is the explanation and rationale for this latest decree by District? This email was sent out to ALL-EMPLOYEES late last Friday afternoon from Vice Chancellor Jo-Carol Fabianke:

Beginning in the Fall 2014 term, new students at the Alamo Colleges with plans to transfer and seeking an Associate of Arts (A.A.) or Associates of Science (A.S.) degree will not have a major listed on their transcripts and diplomas. The Presidents, Vice Chancellors and Vice Presidents made this decision in consultation with our accreditor (the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges) as it was determined that not enough coursework is provided to constitute a true “major field of study” to these transfer degrees. Within these sixty-hour degrees, 42 hours of general education will remain as the required core. The Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) and Certificate workforce degrees will continue to identify majors. Students that enrolled prior to the Fall 2014 term may choose whether or not to seek the A.A. or A.S. under a previous catalog with a field of study included on the transcript.

Moving forward, the Alamo Colleges will be using Advising Guides to assist A.A. and A.S. students in aligning their academic interests with course offerings and, more importantly, with the expectations of their targeted transfer institution (transferable course acceptance differ at the various senior institutions).  This decision ultimately provides students with greater academic flexibility as it allows them to better customize their course selection, develop relevant schedules, and maximize the number of credits they will be able to successfully transfer.

A Committee has been formed to work through all the details related to this change but all involved felt it necessary to move forward quickly with this announcement as it yields such positive benefits to our students.

Thanks,

Jo-Carol

Jo-Carol Fabianke, Ed. D.

Vice Chancellor for Academic Success

Alamo Colleges

Faculty leaders at SAC have asked for a clearer explanation and rationale for this move. Students are up in arms. Are majors coming back after the accreditation crisis is over? Will students still be able to get two A.A. degrees, such as speech and theater arts?

The Ranger reported on this issue last week: “Chairs worried about student motivation to graduate” and in today’s print edition. More to come…

Barking Dogs: Contracts, Covey and CAEL

Barking Dog

Chancellor Bruce Leslie met with the SAC Faculty Senate this past Wednesday to discuss a wide variety of issues. To our knowledge, this is the first time Dr. Leslie has accepted an invitation to appear before the Senate since he was first hired. Senators provided a list of questions. The three major items addressed were: contracts, Covey and CAEL.

Contracts

It’s been almost a month now since the mysterious “written by no one and addressed to no one” 12-month contract memo was circulated. We now have answers to some of our questions from SAC’s new President, Dr. Robert Vela, during an August SAC Faculty Senate meeting, but the main question remains: is it legal to fire tenured faculty who refuse to sign this contract?

Chancellor Bruce Leslie could not answer this question directly, instead choosing to skirt the issue with promises of conference calls with lawyers:

” We’ve ceased calling it a 12 month contract because it’s really just a 9 month plus 3 month contract. And this is not for all faculty, but those who want to work 12 months. I’m still looking at the legal issues and have a conference call next week with the attorneys. But can we make you work? If the program needs you, then yes, we can require you to work.”

This prompted one SAC Faculty Senator to exclaim, “I’ve been here for a long time, but I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was yours for 12 months.”

The AAUP has very specific guidelines on the termination of tenured faculty members:

Tenured appointments are ongoing, extending beyond the period indicated in the annual salary letter. Tenure is a presumption of competence and continuing service that can be overcome only if specified conditions are met.

What are these specified conditions? Tenured faculty appointments may be terminated only because of financial exigency, a condition affecting an institution as a whole; for program discontinuance based on educational considerations, as determined primarily by the faculty; or for demonstrated cause. The Alamo Colleges will be hard pressed to prove financial exigency. There are no current programs being discontinued. And what would be the demonstrated cause as outlined in the District’s own Progressive Discipline Policy? Insubordination? Firing a 9 month contract tenured faculty member who refuses to work an extra 3 month summer contract clearly bumps up against due process. Tenure is also a property right. If District is going to fire a tenured faculty member, they better have a pretty good legal reason to do so or they risk getting sued.

And speaking of the legal concerns, Leslie had one when another SAC Faculty Senator inquired, “If 12 months is needed, then why not pay people for 12 months?”

Leslie replied: “If we pay some faculty pro rata to work the full 12 months, wouldn’t we then have to do it for everyone? From a legal perspective we open ourselves up to lawsuits if we make these kinds of exceptions.”

Yes. But you’re also creating an exception by forcing some faculty to work that extra 3 month contract with the threat of termination hanging over their heads. Faculty are hired as 9 month employees working 9 month contracts. Summer work for these 9 month employees is extra, requires a separate contract, and the contract is purely voluntary. Summer pay prior to Summer 2012 was always pro rata, meaning if you agreed to work during the summer, you would receive a commensurate percentage of your regular 9 month salary. In fact, when the Board of Trustees met back in March 2012 to discuss and vote on changes to the faculty pay schedule, several Trustees expressed concern that summer work be kept as optional. The justification being that as long as faculty had the option of working in the summer then the Board felt a little better about voting to cut full-time faculty pro rata summer pay to 130% of adjunct pay. A SAC Faculty senator reminded Leslie of the Board’s intent for summer work to remain optional by referencing the Board video from the March 2012 meeting. He responded:

“I’m impressed! I didn’t know anyone ever watched those videos!”

Yes, many stakeholders watch these videos, Dr. Leslie. Why? Because reviewing the context around which important decisions are made is vital in holding administrators accountable for later actions. The 12 month memo clearly goes against the Board’s intent for summer work and compensation. Summer pay for full-time faculty was reduced from pro rata to 130% of the adjunct rate. This decision hinged on many factors, one of which was that summer work was to remain optional. Leslie added that he was not sure he would interpret it that way. His final comment on this issue? “We’ve always treated summer as voluntary, but that’s changing.” Faculty are not frightened of change, Dr. Leslie. We are concerned about getting paid what we are worth during the summer months. If you need faculty here for 12 months in order to ensure student success, then pay those faculty at pro rata. Dr. Zeigler tried to do just that for SAC counseling faculty last summer, but the plan was shot down. Was it because of the legal issue you now raise of making an exception to pay some faculty more in the summer? Or was the issue simply because you didn’t want to spend the money?

Covey

Two issues regarding Covey were discussed: the implementation of EDUC 1300 and documented successes of the Covey process at District.

When asked about plans for putting EDUC 1300 back in the core, Leslie responded:

“As you know, we weren’t moving fast enough so I made a decision to put it in the core. Then I changed my decision because of what happened.”

You mean that thing that happened where our accreditation was put at risk because of your quick decision to do an end run around established college procedures for changing the core curriculum? At any rate, Leslie went on to say that he hasn’t given much thought about the core curriculum issues and is instead focusing on advising and his 4DX initiatives. But he clearly is thinking about it because he couldn’t help but chastise us thusly:

“Are two humanities courses necessarily what’s best for students? I don’t know. SDEV courses have been proven beneficial but we’re leaving it up to the colleges on EDUC 1300. I’m not focused on EDUC anymore right now. But we are the only community college district which requires two humanities courses in the core. Brazosport College just got an award for the work they’ve done with EDUC 1300.”

Yes, please leave this decision up to the individually accredited colleges, Dr. Leslie. We will send EDUC 1300 back through the appropriate curriculum change channels and the decision will be made by faculty on whether or not this course belongs in the core instead of the other humanities courses we offer. We’re very sorry if this takes you out of the running for an award but we’re more concerned on giving students a variety of options rather than force them to take this course. We can sympathize on some level with your reasoning that business leaders (and even ex-Mayor Castro?) were in favor of the Alamo Colleges teaching Covey to students because Covey was something business leaders were familiar with. That’s all well and good, but since when do business leaders get to trump the curricular decisions made by college faculty? Employers are concerned with filling positions. They are not concerned with creating an educated, well-rounded person. Education is not a business. If employers want to Coveytize their workers, then let them pay for it and leave student wallets out of the transaction.

As to any documented successes at District from employing Covey principles, Leslie shared that “million and millions” of dollars have been saved by using these strategies. And to that we say “show us the money.”

CAEL

SAC AAUP first reported on CAEL in the midst of the EDUC 1300 fiasco, so some of that information never really received any traction. Now it’s back. CAEL is an organization which does a lot of things, but our primary concern is the District’s sole-source contract with their advising services and competency-based education model. Chancellor Leslie opened up his remarks on CAEL rather defensively:

“I’m on the board of CAEL, but stay out of the day to day operations. The Board of Trustees knows that I serve on the CAEL board and this information was in the Board’s resolution to approve the CAEL contract. CAEL is the only organization that does this training and me being on the board helped me know about them. We contract with a whole variety of organizations for training. Why is CAEL getting all this attention except for the fact that I serve on the board?”

Hmmm. Well, based on your prior history it is only natural for us to wonder at the influence you might have in securing District contracts with specific organizations. Especially when those organizations are making money off of our students. Leslie stated that students can develop and submit a portfolio to CAEL to the tune of $500 to see if that student could receive college credit for life experience. This raises many concerns about our colleges eventually awarding degrees to students who have received CBE (competency-based education) credits. How does this work within a college’s accreditation model?

Leslie said that so far AT&T has been awarding scholarship money for students to submit these portfolios to CAEL so no students have had to pay out of pocket yet. When asked if students could use federal student loan money to pay CAEL for this service, Leslie said he did not know. If fact, it looks like the Department of Education has cleared the way for students to use federal aid for CBE. If students can use their student loan money for CBE credit, then that would supply CAEL with quite a large stream of revenue. Revenue which would then not be coming into the local colleges. Call us paranoid if you want, but “competency-based education” seems like another way to de-fund higher education. It also seems like an effort to filter the “not college ready” students into non-academic programs thus improving our graduation rates. But we’re not the only ones who have expressed concern over the CBE creep into higher ed.

Other CBE news items:

  • Tugged in Two Directions – What is the college accreditor’s role in CBE?
  • Taking the Direct Path – What is direct assessment?
  • Experimenting with Aid – The U.S. Department of Education will give its blessing — and grant federal aid eligibility — to colleges’ experimentation with competency-based education and prior learning assessment.
  • College, On Your Own – Competency-based education can help motivated students. But critics say it’s no panacea.

Bottom line? There is still plenty to bark at this semester and for good reason. If you have more information about any of these topics or others, please send them along to us and we’ll investigate – sacaaup@gmail.org

Sidenotes: Many thanks to the new education reporter for the Express-News Alia Malik for attending and reporting on the SAC Faculty Senate meeting with the Chancellor. The SAC AAUP wishes you all the best in your new job and looks forward to working with you. We’d also like to thank TCCTA for picking up this story.