The University of La Verne chapter of the American Association of University Professors released a statement last week calling attention to the University’s increasing “corporatization” and the need for true shared governance between faculty and administration to improve the student experience.
In the document, “Corporatization and the State of Shared Governance and Academic Freedom at the University of La Verne,” the La Verne AAUP chapter claims the steady increase in corporatization has increasingly negative effects on academic freedom, shared governance and academic excellence.
“We are not corporate, as the article says, because any revenue that comes to us is reinvested into the institution, whether it is into the buildings or faculty positions or student support positions,” University President Devorah Lieberman said in response to the AAUP document. “This is open for discussion, and I would welcome conversations, but I believe in our shared governance process.”
Janis Dietz, professor of business administration, added: “Corporate values are just as important as university values.”
Dietz spent more than 25 years in the business field.
“I don’t see any difference between good corporate values and good academic values. Corporations are not the bad guys and the mission statements don’t talk about profits,” she said.
La Verne’s AAUP chapter leaders emailed a link to the statement to faculty and administrators April 20, just after Lieberman’s State of the University address.
“The intention was to put into perspective the trend at La Verne – as it is across the country – outlined in that document, where what we see is this increasing pressure, this speeding up of decision making that excludes faculty in ways that are really relevant and serious under the presumption that we have to be in a hurry to compete with other institutions or we’ll be left behind,” said Matt Witt, La Verne AAUP chapter president and professor of public administration.
In fall 2014, the University hired Michael Estrada, associate professor of health, to spearhead a new graduate physicians assistant program in response to a growing demand for healthcare professionals.
“I really don’t have a problem with the administration coming up with an idea for a program, but by the time it got to the faculty they had already hired somebody in a tenure track position and they had already started investing in the program,” said Hector Delgado, AAUP Chapter treasurer and professor of sociology.
“So basically eventually they were just asking the faculty to vote on something that they had already started investing in. It was already a fait accompli.”
Proper faculty governance would have administration consulting with faculty before initiating new academic programs, Delgado said.
“I think the University works really hard for transparency and tries desperately to be as transparent with the faculty and staff as they possible can,” Dietz said.
“I don’t think the administrators are the bad guys, I think they try really hard to live up to our mission. It’s a privilege to work here, with wonderful people, and they’re here for La Verne, the culture of La Verne and serving our mission.”
Lawrence Potter, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, included the AAUP report in the agenda of this month’s CAS department chairs meeting.
“The point of bringing the document and including it on the agenda is to begin having the conversations on a leadership level because the department chairs are representative of the faculty,” Potter said. “I would say that no dean would proceed with business as usual after seeing the document.”
Potter was critical of the report’s rhetoric, however, particularly when talking about the physician’s assistant program.
“I think one of the glaring oversights of the report is that it does not include specific time tables and actions that involved faculty specifically in the College of Arts and Sciences,” Potter said.
Potter said a 2012 subcommittee composed specifically of faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences designated a physician’s assistant program as a priority for the University along with other health-related programs.
In April 2015, the College of Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee and the CAS department chairs approved the program.
“The report is very misleading when you don’t have a data point that is as critical as this to include,” Potter said.
“There is this kind of historical nuancing to suggest that faculty were not involved. Faculty have been involved every step of the way.”
According to the document, an online criminal justice program is also being considered as an addition to the Regional and Online Campuses catalogue. The AAUP document states that when the department’s faculty had asked whether the program would proceed with or without their participation, the response they received was that it would.
The administration could do so because the ROC could operate as a separate college in the future, and they would not have to have the main campus faculty members buy-in to the program, Delgado said.
For the University to function at its highest level, the AAUP chapter argues that the administration, faculty and students must be interdependent and must be able to communicate with one another.
“It is important to ask questions, but it’s not enough. We have to have discussions that, on a consistent regular basis, feature dialogue that is informed by what only the academy can produce,” Witt said. “(Faculty) are the soul of the institution. The moneymaking is not the soul of the institution – that’s the muscle of the institution. The soul is the academy.”
The tradition of faculty governance in a university is to make sure that the faculty, administration and board of trustees are communicating and making the best decisions for the university and its students.
“To me, the principal relationship is… between faculty and students, that’s the principal relationship. So to me any expenditure, anything you do, any policy that you have, the No. 1 consideration that I think you should have is in what way does this enhance the relationship between students and faculty. Everything else is icing,” Delgado said.
The AAUP document also touched on the concerns of adjunct faculty members, who constitute the majority of instructors on college campuses in the United States.
Adjunct faculty members are on semester-to-semester short-term contracts and have little job security. Adjuncts earn an average of $20,000 a year and do not have health care or retirement plans included in their contracts.
The document explains that the wages, working conditions, and prospects for full-time employment with benefits for adjunct faculty are dismal.
“Many adjuncts in the United States, I would assume our own adjuncts as well, qualify for food stamps. These are people with Ph.Ds,” Delgado said.
La Verne adjuncts sought to unionize during fall semester of 2013, and were met with significant pushback from the University administration. Ultimately the Service Employees International Union withdrew its petition to represent the La Verne adjuncts in fall 2014.
Despite the failure to unionize, university adjuncts did benefit from the battle. The University has increased adjunct salaries. They also now compensate adjunct professors in the event of a late cancellation of one of their planned courses.
Adjuncts are also provided funds to attend and present at conferences and workshops, as of a recent decision by University Provost Jonathan Reed.
“We have an elegant shared governance process that is very much aligned with AAUP’s philosophy about faculty having a voice in the decision-making process,” Lieberman said. “When I say faculty, I mean all faculty because I don’t differentiate necessarily between adjunct and full-time faculty because these are the faculty that students are exposed to.”
The AAUP document also states that students should be viewed as “students” rather than “customers.”
Because universities tend to be financially driven, students are unable to afford a higher education or if they are, then they are left with large debt. In turn, students face many situations that impact their learning, including larger classes and less interaction with faculty members.
Witt said students are encouraged to speak up about this issue.
“We need students who can resist those extraordinary forces out there because they are our future, and the future is more than just one student’s ambition at a time,” Witt said. “The future is a collective ambition.”
According to its website, AAUP is an association whose mission is to advance academic freedom and shared governance, define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education and ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.
“We just wish for people to be able to say, ‘Hey, this is what AAUP is talking about,’” Witt said. “The problem we face here is a lot like what other people are facing at other colleges. That’s what I hope is achieved from this that people go, ‘Wait a minute, this document speaks to a pattern,’ that it’s no one’s fault, but it’s everyone’s responsibility.”
Des Delgadillo contributed to this story.