First, Do No Harm: Why Laying Off Full-Time Faculty Is Bad for NCC


April 25, 2016

A few days before Tax Day the College quietly sent out letters to about two dozen of our full-time temporary colleagues containing very unwelcome news: for budgetary reasons it was not likely that their contracts would be renewed for the 2016-17 academic year. The letter wished them well in their future endeavors.

This news is, of course, devastating, devastating to us the full-time and part-time faculty who have come to know and greatly admire these talented new colleagues; devastating to students who have felt the power and enthusiasm of these professors in the classroom or lab or office or in places in between where they have done so much of their work; and devastating most of all to the faculty who received the dreaded letter and now face an uncertain future.

We would like to make the case that the Administration should seriously re-consider its decision to not renew the contracts of NCC’s full-time temporary faculty for the coming academic year. Our case is pretty simple: NCC’s leadership since 2010 has done great harm to the quality and integrity of what was once an outstanding community college. And the Middle States Report of April 16, 2016 confirms this basic truth. When we claim that the leadership is damaging the College, we are not blurting an unsubstantiated opinion. We have unambiguous evidence supporting this view. The leadership is failing us, not the faculty. So we simply ask: Why do more harm by cutting faculty jobs when we are not the problem?

Now here is our case against cutting faculty lines in a bit more detail. We use the Middle States Report of April 16, 2016 and scholarly research on over-reliance on part-time labor as our primary evidence:

The Middle States Report of April 16, 2016:
The Report goes into devastating detail about how NCC’s leadership has failed us. Let’s just look at three particularly grievous ways in which Middle States found fault with the leadership.

Standard 4: Leadership and Governance: The summary of evidence and findings makes no mention of any fault existing within the Academic Senate (despite Newsday’s recent groundless assertions). The Report focuses on two main problems: “instability at the highest levels of leadership” and a Board of Trustees that: has no “process for orienting new members”; has no “process of self-assessment or evaluation”: and that has no process for ensuring effective shared governance. A quick summary: For several years NCC has lacked permanent, competent president (no one has been effectively leading the College) and the Board of Trustees appears to have no process in place to train new Board members about the College’s governance system nor any process to monitor or manage dysfunction in its practices and procedures.

Standard 5: Administration: The summary of evidence and findings details a pattern of instability in filling key positions in institutional administration and governance, including (most urgently) a permanent college president, various dean’s positions, and Vice President of Academic Affairs. There was also an intimation of concern about the lack of college-level administrative experience of the current interim president of the college. Our quick take: Leadership is absent: lacking stewardship and steady hand, the College has been drifting towards this calamitous Middle States Report for years.

Standard 6: Integrity: The wording of the standard: “In the conduct of its programs and activities involving the public and the constituencies it serves, the institution demonstrates adherence to ethical standards and its own stated policies, providing support for academic and intellectual freedom.” The Report raises concerns about the integrity of the Board of Trustees conduct of the presidential search process and the fairness of its hiring practices (the report cites the December 8, 2015 hiring of the Assistant to the President for Government and Media Relations). The report describes a “complete breakdown of standards related to fair and equitable hiring practices.” Our quick take: The Report seriously undermines the faith and trust the College community should be able to place in some of those appointed to make decisions and establish policies for the good of the College. We should all ask: Whose interests are being served? Are our students being served? Are their parents being served? Are the citizens of Nassau County and New York being served?

There are four more violations, equally damning of the leadership, but let’s ponder the three described above. When we ponder the train wreck spelled out by Middle States, it is impossible to construct a “both sides are at fault” narrative. One side, the leadership, is at fault. In fact, seen correctly, there is no real leadership and hasn’t been since 2010. In its place we have questionable ethics, bungling raised to an art form, and an absence of enlightened leadership. In fact, contrary to Newsday’s editorial page the only “gamesmanship and constant sabotaging” is on the part of the leadership. There is not a shred of evidence in the Report of any such conduct by the Academic Senate. Our Senate is justifiably standing up honorably and ethically to a politicized and incompetent “leadership” while trying to minimize damage to our reputation.

A few questions follow logically from this analysis of the Middle States Report: Does it make sense to fire the competent people, the faculty? Isn’t firing faculty just another manifestation of a pattern of hostility and ineptitude? Why is it that those who have failed NCC are not being released instead?

Now, let’s turn next to the research.

The Research: Firing Full-Time Faculty Hurts Retention, Graduation Rates, and Rates of Transfer: First point: it is illogical to fire full-time faculty when enrollment is hemorrhaging. Study after study tells us that students, especially in vulnerable populations like the kinds we serve, are much more likely to thrive when they have the extra support and the expectation of availability that come having with full-time faculty. Study after study makes the same point: over-reliance on part-time faculty hurts retention, reduces graduation rates, and reduces rates of transfer to four-year institutions. [1] It is a vigorous and substantial full-time faculty which provides the office hours, mentoring, chaperoning, club advisement, and all those endless minutes and hours in between, before and after class, in the evenings and on weekends when students have the assurance of knowing we are there for them. Retention is about availability and continuity, and the conviction among students that we have the time to care.

The small sample of research cited below (see footnote) is clear. Students are harmed when institutions of higher education rely overly on part-time faculty. We need more full-time faculty, not less. More of our extraordinary part-timers should be made full-time.

The bottom line: We have no confidence, in the “leadership” that decided it was time to send letters of non-renewal to two dozen of our full-time colleagues.
[1] M. Kevin Eagan Jr. and Audrey J. Jaeger, “Effects of Exposure to Part-time Faculty on Community College Transfer”: “With community colleges representing a more convenient, affordable, and flexible educational option for a number of students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, examining how exposure to part-time faculty relates to students’ academic goals represents an important area of inquiry. This study draws from social and human capital frameworks and uses hierarchical generalized linear modeling (HGLM) to examine how exposure to part-time faculty relates to community college students’ likelihood of transferring to a four-year college or university. Findings suggest that students tend to be significantly less likely to transfer as their exposure to part-time faculty increases.” (Emphasis added). Source: Res High Educ (2009) 50:168–188.
Adrianna Kezar: “Empirical research studies suggest increased reliance on non-tenure-track faculty has negatively affected retention and graduation rates. Ehrenberg and Zhang (2004) and Jaeger and Eagan (2009) found that graduation rates declined as proportions of non-tenure-track faculty increased. Increases in part-time faculty employment, in particular, have been found to have the greatest impact on graduation rates, as well as retention rates (Harrington and Schibik, 2001; Jacoby, 2006).” Source: The Imperative for Change: Fostering Understanding of the Necessity of Changing Non-Tenure Track Faculty Policies and Practices.

Daniel Jacoby, “Effects of Part-Time Faculty Employment on Community College Graduation Rates.”: “The principal finding of this study is that community college graduation rates decrease as the proportion of part-time faculty employed in- creases. The finding is corroborated using three different measures of graduation rates. It is important to note that there appears to be a limited tendency among community colleges to substitute part-time for full- time faculty and that this increases faculty-student ratios. This increase in faculty-student ratios partially offsets the decreases in graduation rates arising from reliance on part-time faculty, but preliminary analyses strongly suggest that the net effect is still negative. While a more detailed cost study is needed, the dangers in expanding part-time faculty appear to outweigh any benefits. There now appear to be few real defenses that can justify maintaining a system of employment that evidence increasingly suggests has adverse results for students as well as for faculty.” Emphasis added. Source: Journal of Higher Education (November 2006).

Timothy Schibik and Charles Harrington: “Caveat Emptor: Is There a Relationship between Part-Time Faculty Utilization and Student Learning Outcomes and Retention?” “One problem is that part-time faculty may not typically provide the first year student with the academic integration opportunities necessary to permit students to feel connected to faculty. Part-timers usually do not have office hours (or even an office), conduct research with students, meet with students on an informal basis on campus, advise student organizations and groups, or participate in the academic life of the campus. Because of their transient professional lifestyles, part-time faculty can pose a significant challenge to the at-risk student.” Emphasis added. Source: AIR Professional File (No. 91, Spring 2004).

the NCC AAUP Executive Committee

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