Rhonda Longworth Named Provost

Well, “EMU names Rhonda Longworth new provost,” though a more accurate headline to that Detroit News article might be something along the lines of “Longworth continues as provost” since she’s been in the interim role for over a year now. A few weeks ago, I blogged about the four finalists coming to campus. Here’s what I wrote about Longworth then:

It was probably inevitable that Longworth would be in the mix since she’s been in the interim position for a while now– not to mention the fact she’s had other administrative positions in Welch Hall in recent years. I don’t know what her chances are of getting the job, but quite frankly, I hope the committee and the president give one of these other folks a chance. I don’t really know Rhonda as a person that well, but I’ve always had pleasant small-talk exchanges with her, so this is nothing personal from my point of view. But for better or worse, she’s been the point person on both this equivalency mess and the controversial “Academic Partners” agreement. So if she gets the job, then I think it means that the powers that be must think that everything at EMU is just hunky-dory– a “stay the course” hire, if you will. And to be honest, I think that would send a pretty bad signal.

So now I guess we’ll have to see how this works out and if anything changes now that Longworth gets to cross “interim” off of her business card. I’m not optimistic.

As I understand it, the “Academic Partners” thing is the subject of a grievance the EMU-AAUP is pursuing right now. But for me, the more pressing issue is the equivalency mess. I had a tiny bit of hope a new provost would take a look at what Longworth and former EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller wrought and put the brakes on implementing this in the fall. Now it’s probably going to be full speed ahead. And it’s not going to at all pretty– at least not in my department.

First, you can’t add threes and fours together and get to twelve: that is, 3+3+3+3 = 12, 4+4+4 = 12, but 3+4+3 or whatever combination of threes and fours ≠ 12. Go figure that a bunch of English professors have noticed this mathematic fact but the business and science people who were at the table to craft this equivalency deal didn’t figured this out. Further complicating the issue is faculty cannot be scheduled for more than twelve credits in a semester because that would mean that person would be teaching an overload, which means additional pay (and of course EMU doesn’t want to do that).

Anyway, what this means in our department is we are inevitably going to have a fair number of faculty scheduled for 10 or 11 hours because there are courses that are going to be worth three and courses that are going to be worth four. In my mind, that means that anyone who is schedule to teach 12 (with the approved equivalencies), has a grievable complaint against the department head for every faculty member scheduled to teach less than 12 simply because it’s not a fair and balanced teaching load across all faculty. In my department, I think this could result in hundreds of grievances.

The other problem that’s emerging (at least in our department) has to do with reassigned time to do quasi-administrative work. English is a large department and there’s really no way that one official administrator– our department head– can do all the various administrative things that need to be done. So what we do is grant release time to some faculty to be program coordinators to take on some of this quasi-administrative work. I’ve done this before and I was getting ready to do this again for the Written Communication program. The work involves a lot of recruiting and advising (particularly with graduate students), more meetings, more paperwork, more responsibility, etc. What this has meant is program coordinators teach two instead of three courses a semester. I’m pretty sure there are similar arrangements in other departments at EMU, particularly larger departments.

Well, based on the way things are moving right now, this arrangement is potentially going to go away: that is, because of the ways these equivalencies might or might not be applied, the reassigned time of being a program coordinator might not be enough to continue what has been the practice for decades in our department. Given that there is no contractual obligation for faculty to step up to be program coordinators (this is an internal arrangement in departments), reducing the release time dramatically reduces the reasons why anyone would volunteer to be the program coordinator. In theory, all of the quasi-administrative work being done by the coordinators– and there are I think eight faculty in my department who are coordinators right now– I assume would fall on the desk of the department head.

Oh, and let’s not forget the first year writing program. There’s a director of that program who is on a half-time release from teaching and an associate director (that’s me right now) on a third-time release from teaching to do all of the things that need to be done to run a large first year writing program. Depending on how this plays out, that’s all in jeopardy right now.

So yeah, Longworth being named Provost– while perhaps inevitable– doesn’t exactly make me optimistic that this equivalency mess is going to be solved anytime soon.

Kullberg’s “Update on Equivalencies” Email Reveals Union/Administration Backroom Deals

Members of the EMU-AAUP received a bit of a bombshell letter and memo today from current EMU-AAUP President Judy Kullberg titled “Update on equivalencies from the AAUP.” I include the whole email and also the attached memo after the break. Though I was going to title this post something like “Moeller Secretly Sold Out the EMU-AAUP Membership,” and maybe that would be more accurate.

The issue of teaching equivalences and the train wreck of a deal that the EMU-AAUP and the Administration have negotiated has of course been a vexing and irritating discussion for quite a while. And it’s also complicated, so I don’t know if I can do much to get newbies/non-faculty-types caught up with this. I did blog about this in some detail on stevendkrause.com with the post “Why I’m voting for a Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP” and also with a post on this site back in early January, “Responding to ‘Setting the Record Straight From Susan Moeller, Outgoing EMU-AAUP.'” So if you are coming across this and wondering what all this equivalency stuff means, you might want to check out those posts.

Kullberg’s email outlines the timeline for how we got into this equivalency mess in the first place, and I’ll skip some of those details for my purposes here. The EMU-AAUP and the administration worked through summer 2016 to try to sort out the problems with the equivalencies. On August 30, 2016, Moeller sent an email to all faculty at EMU in which she said (in part) “Because of the difficulties with this process however the Joint DID Committee is not going to be able to complete its work on all aspects of the required DID changes by August 31, 2016, so the union has negotiated with the EMU administration a MOU to delay the August 31, 2016, deadline for our involvement in this process. The new deadline will be April 30, 2017.” (Bold in the original). Folks in my department kept working in the fall to try to figure out how these equivalences are going to work out, in part because there was an assumption that we’d have a chance to make changes through the end of the winter term in 2017.

Meanwhile, there was an EMU-AAUP election going on, an election that ran from November 7 to November 22. Now, I don’t know if Moeller et al sensed they were not going to be re-elected because of a general vibe, because of the chatter on social media, and/or because they took a peek of the ballots that were coming in. But they must have sensed something because on November 18, 2016 (a few days before the voting ended), Moeller and EMU Interim Provost Rhonda Longworth signed an Memo of Understanding that basically voided the previously promised April 30, 2017 deadline. (PDF)

And if that wasn’t bad enough: Moeller and the rest of the bunch voted off the old EMU-AAUP didn’t bother to tell the new leadership or anyone else, and they clearly did this on purpose. Here’s a quote from Kullberg’s email on this:

We, the new AAUP Executive Committee, took office on January 1 and began operations on Tuesday, January 3, 2017 (the university was closed on Jan. 1 & 2).  We understood that we had a mandate to revisit the equivalency documents as soon as our term began.  However, we discovered on January 6, while reviewing the actions of the previous EMU-AAUP executive committee, that outgoing EMU-AAUP President Moeller and Interim Provost Rhonda Longworth had signed an MOU on November 18 which terminated the DID review committee on December 22, 2016 and finalized its work on that date.  Neither Longworth nor Moeller have disclosed the existence of this MOU. (bold and italics in the original)

So, to sum up:

  • Moeller and Bunsis and the rest of the EMU-AAUP leadership encouraged folks in my department (and I presume other departments)  to work in the summer to try to resolve the problems created by this DID Committee agreement.
  • Then Moeller told the membership that we were going to have until April 2017 to iron out the problems with the equivalencies, which again meant lots more work on how to make this all work.
  • Then, in secret and probably after she realized she was going to lose the election, Moeller signed a deal that basically said a) we’re done talking about this, and b) all of you people who spent hours and hours working on this stuff in summer and fall of 2016 have wasted your time.

That’s a straight-up “fuck you, I’m burning the house down while you sleep in it” move by Moeller. She sold us out.

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Thoughts and Red Flags About “Academic Partnerships” and EMU

Hey, did you miss me again? Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written anything here. It certainly hasn’t been the result of a lack of news around campus– there have been lots of things posted on the EMUTalk Facebook Group. I’ve just been pretty swamped with both life and the day-job over the last month. But I am sensing a little breathing room now.

Anyway: last Tuesday, I went to one of the informational discussions about EMU’s deal with Academic Partnerships. I blogged about this a bit back in December. Because there was some push-back from faculty and the EMU-AAUP, Provost Rhonda Longworth (and other folks in that office) decided to hold a couple “Dialogue Sessions” with faculty about the deal.  There’s another one of these sessions coming up on Friday February 10, by the way.

On the plus-side of things, it appears this isn’t going to cost EMU anything– meaning I don’t think EMU is putting money into this on the front-end; it’s all Academic Partnerships’ resources and risk. So I guess that’s kind of okay. But there was a lot that came up directly and indirectly at this discussion that makes me wonder.

First, there’s the legitimacy of Academic Partnerships and it’s founder/CEO, Randy Best.  I was going to describe AP as “sketchy,” but that might go too far, though maybe not. One example of what I mean: When you visit their web site and click on the link “AP University Partners,” you don’t actually get a list of universities that AP has partnered with at all. It’s more of a “why universities partner with AP” (and the answer is to boost enrollment in online programs). Longworth et al seemed kind of vague about knowing what other universities AP is/has working/worked with. Not really knowing who else has partnered up with AP is red flag number one.

It’s not that hard to find some articles about AP deals gone bad. For example, “Deal Dead in Ohio” is a 2009 Inside Higher Ed piece about how a deal between “Higher Education Holdings” (which is what the company was called before AP) and the University of Toledo went bad. Also from 2009 and Inside Higher Ed comes “So Many Students, So Little Time” which goes into detail about an arrangement with Arkansas State that went off the rails. One line from that article I worry might be foreshadowing for EMU’s partnership: “Administrators are all very clear about what they demand upon entering these contracts; whether that’s what they actually get, however, is a matter of increasing debate.” That’s another red flag.

A little more Googling pretty quickly turns up some eyebrow-raising articles about Randy Best too. Best is not an educator who became an entrepreneur; he’s an entrepreneur (among other things, he used to be in a business that manufactured Girl Scout cookies) who got into education. Say what you want about the rise of MOOC providers like Coursera, Udacity, and EdX– and by the way, AP is not about facilitating MOOCs but online programs– but at least those providers were founded by educators who became entrepreneurs. The most damning article on Best comes from the Texas Observer, “Randy Best Is Going to Save Texas’ Public Universities, or Get Rich Trying.” It’s a long article that goes into Best’s background with how he got rich off of “No Child Left Behind” and then steadily built HEH which became “Academic Partnerships.” Red flag number three.

In the meeting with Longworth, we heard that AP provides what it calls “retention specialists” to recruit students into online programs and keep them enrolled. To me, that sounds way too much like the terminology proprietary schools use to scam/recruit students into worthless degree programs. There was also was some confusion/lack of clarity on the role of “academic coaches” assigned to these online courses/online programs– who hires them, what their qualifications are, and so forth. Red flag four.

And then there is just the whole “why does this make sense” question. The big program that AP wants us to launch as an online program is the BSN Completion degree (and apparently, that is still not a done deal yet with the School of Nursing). This is a very high in demand program all over the country because there is a lot of incentive for Registered Nurses to get the BS degree– in fact, it seems like most of AP’s business is in these kinds of programs. What AP brings to the deal, according to Longworth, is marketing and support, but EMU (and the School of Nursing specifically) gets to maintain academic control and integrity of its program. But the reason why EMU’s Nursing program can’t admit all of the students it wants to admit into the BSN Completion program right now is there aren’t enough faculty to teach in the program, and that’s all about maintaining academic control and integrity. It has nothing to do with recruiting/marketing to new students.

Conversely, if we had an online degree program in Written Communication (which is the program I teach in), we would probably need some marketing to recruit students. We’re kind of small, and while it is a great major for all kinds of reasons, it’s not in the same level of demand as the BSN Completion program. So if a company like AP came in and could help us attract students to an online degree in writing, well, that might be a good thing– because we have the faculty but we could use more students.

In any event, I tried asking a version of this question several times: Why does EMU need a company like AP to help “market” a program that already has a higher demand than we can possibly satisfy with our current faculty staffing? I don’t feel like that question ever got answered.

Last but not least, there’s the other program that AP is apparently interested in, which is an online degree of “General Studies,” which would basically be an online version of a program that exists at EMU now, the Individualized Studies Program.  How this would work seems pretty murky to me.

Right now, the program is run out of the University Advising and Career Development Center and it is basically set up to help students who have a lot of miscellaneous credits get some kind of college degree. I’ve actually had a fair number of these students over the years because I happen to teach a couple “Writing Intensive” courses online (and these students need at least one WI course just every other student at EMU) and I have to say these students are almost always “unique cases,” so to speak. I’m talking about students who have transfer credits from four or five different universities going back a decade, and they still can’t graduate because these credits aren’t in a coherent program of study.

Now, I’m okay with EMU’s ISP program as it is because it’s small and personalized, and if we can help individual students resolve their unique situation, that’s fine. But we sure as heck don’t want to get into a situation where EMU (via AP) is recruiting hundreds or maybe even thousands of these students into this program. That’s where we start crossing the line from legitimate online program of study into diploma mill.

Let me end with a longish quote from that Texas Observer article that sort of sums things up for me overall:

“’I think the big picture is that higher education is becoming more and more a business and less and less a public service,’ says Jack Zibluk, a former faculty senate president at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro, who spoke out against a deal with Best in 2008. ‘This may be part of the business of higher ed in the future, but my concern is, at what cost? What kind of education are you going to get as part of that business model?’”

Best’s critics aren’t against online education, but they wonder why a university, with all its resources and scholars, needs a for-profit company to develop online courses and recruit students. Couldn’t the schools launch online courses themselves and avoid turning over so much tuition money to Best? Some critics see administrators and for-profits like Academic Partnerships cashing in while faculty get saddled with more work. To them, the company looks like a pipeline from the public coffers to Best’s bottom line. It’s a familiar charge against him.

 

Responding to “Setting the Record Straight From Susan Moeller, Outgoing EMU-AAUP”

Happy 2017, everybody!

I was at home minding my own business on New Year’s Eve when (like other members of the EMU-AAUP), I received an intriguingly angry, bitter, and kind of crazy email from outgoing EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller. After I skimmed through it, I posted this on Facebook:

After getting a screed of an email from Susan Moeller on New Year’s Eve, I am even more thankful that she got voted out of office. Much of what she says is flat-out wrong, all of it is sour grapes, and I’ll put together a very detailed post for EMYoutalk.org in the next day or two. Stay tuned.

I have to say that when it comes to the EMU-AAUP, I want to be in the mode of moving on from the election and letting bygones be bygones– and as a slight tangent, Howard Bunsis sent an email more or less in this tone a week or two ago, so good for him. But the more I read Moeller’s email, the more it pissed me off. So, perhaps against what might be better judgement, here’s that promised very detailed post.

Sorry for the length, and if you just want the email Moeller sent without my commentary, click here or scroll to the very end of this post and after the read more part. And as a bit of a primer/context of this (for those of you who didn’t follow the EMU-AAUP Executive Committee elections), you could read a long post I had about this on my own blog back in November.

Moeller starts off by talking about “right to work,” which was a challenge for the old union leadership and will be for the next. I actually don’t disagree with much of what she has to say here, though I would argue that the best way to keep faculty in the union is to listen to the membership and try to engage new voices (instead of cling to power for over a decade). And you certainly do not want to foster divisiveness within the union by singling out one department as the problem.

Then she gets to the equivalency fiasco.

To start, my own general take on teaching loads and equivalences:

I have always thought that at a regional university like EMU– one where we have graduate programs and where faculty are expected to maintain a modest research agenda along with teaching– a 3-3 teaching load (or its equivalent) is reasonable across the board/across all departments, and I think there are good reasons why all departments can make the argument that we’re doing the equivalent of a 12-hour a semester contractual amount of work while teaching 3-3. We are not (and shouldn’t be) a major research-focused university like Michigan or Michigan State where the teaching load in a field like mine is more typically 2-2 or 2-1. But we are also not (and certainly shouldn’t be) a community college like Washtenaw CC where the teaching load in my field is 4-4 or 5-5.

I have also always thought that individual departments/disciplines ought to be able to make the argument about what they believe are equivalences in their department/discipline, as long as they can make reasonable arguments based on agreed upon evidence (for example, based on past practices and what similar universities do). Who am I to say what should count as an equivalency for Music or CMTA or Nursing or whatever? I don’t  know what is involved in the day to day for teaching in any of those disciplines. Why this has been so hard to work out for the EMU-AAUP over the last decades is unclear to me.

Anyway, this is where I have to parse out a lot of what Moeller wrote because she is so fundamentally wrong. Moeller’s words are the block quote part. She wrote:

The English department believed that a 1976 arbitration protected their 9/9 load.  The EMU Administration and the EMU-AAUP attorney do not agree.

First off, Moeller came to an English Department meeting in Fall 2015 and told us that the 1976 arbitration protected our 3-3 load and that both the administration and the EMU-AAUP agreed this was settled law. Moeller is lying here, full stop. This was NOT some sort of whimsical fantasy from a bunch of “lazy” English professors; this was what we were told by our union president just over a year ago.

Second, we don’t really know what the EMU-AAUP attorney said because there was no written explanation of the change of legal interpretation in Summer 2016, and the EMU-AAUP leadership refused to provide any explanation to faculty in the English department when asked to do so. Frankly, we have no idea what the legal thinking is here other than “oh, we don’t want to do that anymore.”

First, because the arbitration award was to allow a department head to give equivalencies for freshmen composition classes and because few, if any, of the current English faculty teach freshmen composition ( most are taught by GAs), their 9/9 load was not protected under the arbitration.

This is wrong in two important ways. First, the 1976 arbitration (here’s a link to a PDF of it) does not limit equivalences to freshman courses. The arbitration does not name any specific course; the closest it comes to this (according to my reading at least) is on page 3 where it says “Those faculty members teaching one composition class– whether freshman or advanced— were assigned two other literature courses for a total of nine student contact hours each week.” (emphasis mine)

Interestingly, the arbitration is oddly specific as to the reasons for the equivalency: teaching writing is a lot of work, and the arbitration even goes into the detail of how many words students write, about how much time it takes to grade these writings, about the time it takes to work with students individually on revisions, and so forth. Not surprisingly, a lot has changed about the specifics of what and how we teach writing in the last 40 years; but the basics of the workload described in the arbitration are still accurate.

Second, most of the sections of WRTG 120 and WRTG 121 are actually taught by part-time instructors and full-time lecturers, NOT  graduate assistants. And here’s the thing that is so galling to me about this: I know that Moeller was told this by me and others in several different meetings. So when she writes here most sections of first year writing are taught by GAs, she is either lying or she completely ignored what faculty told her multiple times.

In addition, the arbitration only was in effect if the contract it was awarded under did not change, and since the contract has changed many times, the 9/9 load was being given as a deal to the English faculty.  Many CAS faculty approached the union about the unfairness of this arrangement.

The idea that the arbitration was only in effect for the contract in which it was enacted doesn’t make sense. We’ve been referencing this arbitration for 40 years, and the provision of the contract that the arbitration references of the “supervision of special learning activities” is still a part of the contract.

But the real meat here is Moeller singling out the English faculty as getting a “special deal” and how “other faculty” in the College of Arts and Sciences didn’t like it. In other words, Moeller is confirming that much of this equivalency nonsense was specifically aimed at faculty in the English department. We had a president of the EMU-AAUP actively working against members of the union in a particular department because of some sort of long-simmering feelings about “unfairness.”

But wait, was Moeller saying that English is the only department where faculty were teaching three classes a semester? Apparently not:

At the table in 2012, the EMU Administration agreed to work with the faculty on collecting the equivalency data on the Joint Workload Committee.  The data resulted in faculty and the administration discovering that the ‘real’ teaching load at EMU was on average 9- credit hours a semester, with a range of 5 to 12-credit hours.  So it appears that the EMU Administration was now in a position to force all faculty to 12 hours a semester loads.

What Moeller is saying here is most faculty at EMU were already teaching a 3-3 load. So other than a clear goal to “go after” faculty in the English department, why not make the argument that most faculty at EMU were already teaching a 3-3 load? I don’t know the answer to this, but what I’m seeing here is Moeller saying that faculty in the English department don’t teach enough because they teach a 3-3 load even though the average teaching load across the university is 3-3– and by the way, lower than 3-3 in some departments and colleges, like (surprise surprise!) the College of Business.

Moeller goes on:

As the EMU Administration was moving to enforce a 12 hour load for all faculty, the EMU-AAUP team negotiated that equivalencies would be placed in the DIDs so that they become contractual.  Without this protection, I believe that the EMU Administration could require all faculty to teach a 12/12 load and is very willing to do so for budget reasons.

So while I understand that the new equivalency system requires an accounting of equivalencies toward teaching loads that is new for some faculty,  it does allow for all faculty to participate in a system of banking work load credits also.  As it was discovered that some faculty in the past were given release for banking hours and others were not – again unfair treatment.

Many universities have policies that define teaching load equivalencies, however few have them in their union contracts.  With only a policy this then allows management the right to, at any time, enforce a 12/12 load.  I believe that in the long run if one truly believes the union’s mission to make sure all faculty are treated, this contract provision will be one of the best achievements of the EMU-AAUP.

I don’t know enough about what the EMU Administration could or couldn’t do to force everyone to teach 4-4, and I certainly don’t understand why the changes in right to work would somehow give the administration a magic wand to change the teaching loads that have been in place for decades. I do have a sneaking suspicion though Moeller thought if she threw the English department under the bus and get their teaching load increased, then maybe that would protect the low teaching loads in places like the College of Business.

In any event, the system that Moeller et al have created– including this “banking” system– is unworkable in my department, and, as I understand it, many other departments. I’m not going to go into it now (this is already way too long), but if the current equivalency scheme does indeed go into effect in Fall 2017, there are going to be hundreds of grievances filed about unfair treatment because of not equal individual teaching loads. The EMU administration and the EMU-AAUP have agreed to a train-wreck. Stay tuned.

Three last things. Moeller wrote:

The final issue from the election is the accusation that the old union leadership was running a business union.  Even though I am a member of the faculty of the College of Business, as is Howard Bunsis, we have never favored one group of faculty over another.  Our record shows that in the last five contracts we have negotiated a contract that helps all faculty and have gotten good raises and kept benefit costs down.

The main problem I’ve always had with the EMU-AAUP when it comes to negotiating for salary increases is the union almost always seeks an across the board percentage raise. This means that the highest paid faculty end up getting the biggest raises, and guess which college has the highest paid faculty?

As for benefits: in this last contract, the union negotiated away insurance coverage for spouses who could get insurance someplace else. Maybe there was no way to prevent this, I have no idea, but I do know that this has cost a lot of my colleagues a lot of out of pocket money for health insurance.

In terms of “Academic Partnerships,” Moeller wrote:

Finally, the new leadership recently in an email to you stated that the old leadership is responsible for a marketing contract with a company that promotes on line programs.  While This just happened and no faculty had complained to us about the contract, there has been no contract violation as the five departments receiving the help gave input on it and do not have to use the company.  However, the new leadership needs to realize that some faculty may want their programs marketed and that the unions job is to protect the contract and it processes.  There can not be a grievance if there is no contract violation and no grievant faculty member.

I am sure there will be more about this in the coming weeks, but I have already heard from a faculty person in one of these five departments about how this decision to get into bed with Academic Partnerships happened without faculty input and how this is likely to be grieved. Moeller’s comment here almost suggests that there was some kind of not exactly in the open negotiations going on between the administration and the old EMU-AAUP regime.

Finally:

We have always worked for the best interests of all faculty at EMU.  I am disappointed that the entire past leadership is no longer on the Executive Committee as their experience would have been valuable in the union’s workings with the EMU Administration.  We built a strong union over the last 12 years with your support and many faculty have benefited from that work.   Hopefully the new leadership will not just support special groups of faculty and realize all faculty are to be supported whether they are members or not.

Susan, thank you for your service. I’m not entirely sure why the past leadership who were re-elected in the most recent election decided to resign after you lost, but that is what it is and I’m sure that will be a topic of discussion in the new year. But 12 years on the Executive Committee is too long, and it’s time to loosen the grip and let others continue the hard work. And I am confident that the new leadership will not have the agendas against faculty and departments that has been made nakedly clear with this email.

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