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.

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