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Fort Lewis College: Shared Governance Denied.

February 24, 2014

The following is a guest post from Mark Seis and Janine Fitzgerald of the Fort Lewis AAUP:

On February 7th, 2014, the Fort Lewis College (FLC) Board of Trustees (BOT) unanimously voted to change FLC curriculum from a three- and four- credit mix to an all three-credit model against the apparent will of a majority of faculty and students at the institution. This is the first time in the history of FLC that the BOT, advised by the FLC Administration, has overruled the will of the faculty on matters pertaining to curriculum, violating the AAUP’s principles of shared governance. This vote was based on a manufactured crisis generated by Provost Barbara Morris and President Dene Kaye Thomas.

The FLC Administration, claiming to adhere to AAUP principles of shared governance, misled the BOT, faculty, and students on several counts. First, the administration convinced the BOT that the three and four credit mixed curriculum was such a contentious issue among the faculty that “exceptional circumstances” (the only situation deemed by AAUP to constitute a need for administrative overreach) required the administration to override faculty governance by recommending to the BOT that FLC move to a three-credit model. However, the three- and four-credit issue had already been studied, debated, and voted upon by the faculty. The faculty senate convened a task force to study the issue in April 2013. The committee surveyed all departments and received 18 out of 22 responses. The committee agreed based on the responses that the best way to move forward was to maintain the three- and four-credit mix.

The three- and four-credit issue has long been conflated by the administration with workload inequity issues in some of the STEM disciplines because of the way lab hours/credits have been counted toward faculty workload. The committee report called for addressing workload inequities for the sciences by suggesting a two-course two-lab workload, reducing the workload for faculty in the sciences. The committee also recommended solutions for dealing with scheduling both three and four credit courses in a more uniform way to avoid overlap, another perceived problem with the mix of credits. The report was approved by all committee members and passed the faculty senate by a 12 to 3 vote in favor of keeping the three- and four-credit mix. In a survey conducted of voting faculty members, 56 percent overall favored keeping the mix, and among faculty who would be directly affected by the change, 90 percent favored keeping the mix. In a poll conducted by students, 84 percent of students surveyed believed that an all three-credit curriculum change would have negative consequences for their education.

In the face of a clear faculty and student majority against the three-credit model, the administration next put forward what they perceived to be four irrefutable justifications for moving the college to a three credit model: 1) HLC accreditation; 2) transferability of courses; 3) scheduling; and 4) workload inequality. In a document submitted to the BOT by the FLC AAUP chapter each of these administrative justifications were addressed separately.

Provost Morris has repeatedly insisted that our current three and four-credit mix was put into place without approval from HLC. However, the three and four-credit mix has been in place for over two decades in some disciplines, without ever having raised any red flags on previous accreditation visits. She has also stated both orally and in email communications that a massive shift to an all three-credit model would not require approval of HLC. Both of these claims are spurious and disingenuous. Neither claim is supported by previous HLC reviews, by substantive change policies and requirements available from the HLC’s website, or by email communications directly from the HLC. In a recent email to FLC’s Provost, Barbara Johnson, HLC Vice President for Accreditation Relations Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association explains the ramifications of changing to an all 3-credit model:

I have reviewed the requirements for submission of a substantive change form (Length of Term Affecting Allocation of Credit attached for your convenience) and whether the form is necessary depends on whether 25% or more of the courses will be impacted (i.e., the four credit hours that will be converted to three credit hours). So if 25% of the total courses are four credits then you will need to complete the form but if less than 25% of the total courses are four credit hours then you will not need to complete the form (Barbara Johnson, February 17, 2014 3:35 PM).

The BOT’s decision will require far more than 25% of the total courses at FLC to change from four to three credits and will clearly require special review and approval by the HLC. President Thomas and Provost Morris clearly misled the BOT and faculty by suggesting that this entire process of moving to a 3-credit model was being driven by the need to avoid such added review and scrutiny by the HLC. This is obviously not true.

The next justification offered by the FLC administration was the argument that transferability requires by statute that FLC must move to a 3-credit model. The Colorado Statutes cited by the FLC administration 23-1-108 (7), 23-1-125(1-5) as well as CCHE Policy I, L. do not in any way suggest that Colorado public institutions of higher learning should adopt a three-credit model. These statutes refer to the ability of transfer students to transfer unimpeded between Colorado public institutions of higher learning to ensure that students can satisfy general education requirements within 60 credits on their way to earning a bachelor’s degree within the 120-credit limit. Because other Colorado colleges have some 3- and 4-credit mix, seamless transferability does pose some challenges for students transferring. However, students transferring to FLC get full credit for every course they take elsewhere. In short, all students transferring to FLC who have completed gtpathways courses at other institutions are given full credit for having completed those requirements. Statutorily, it is clear that the FLC Administration was being disingenuous regarding the interpretation of the law to both the BOT and the faculty.

There is no doubt that there are some scheduling conflicts with a three and four-credit mix as demonstrated and argued by the FLC Administration. In some cases, scheduling conflicts do cause students to have to enroll in slightly overlapping classes. Faculty are concerned about this problem and have proposed five different models for resolving most of these scheduling problems while maintaining a three and four-credit mix of courses. These scheduling alterations involve starting courses earlier and ending them later. Faculty members have voiced no objections to adjusting their schedules to accommodate student needs. In addition, with required labs scheduling problems will remain regardless of what model we have. While scheduling presents challenges, it does not constitute, as the FLC administration suggested to the BOT, an “exceptional circumstance,” justifying the usurpation of faculty governance and the dismantling of an entire curriculum.

Yet another justification for moving to an all three-credit model by the FLC administration has been the issue of workload inequities raised by colleagues in the sciences. The FLC administration has misled the BOT and attempted to divide the faculty by emphasizing this issue as a major point of contention among disciplines. However, faculty members across the entire campus agree that the sciences have a greater burden when teaching three courses and two labs per semester. There is no doubt that three courses plus two labs require more preparation than three courses alone. Both the senate created committee on the three- and four-credit mix (referred to earlier in this article) and FLC’s chapter of the AAUP support the change to a two-course/two-lab model for faculty in the sciences. This accommodation to deal with workload issues for the sciences is a non-issue among the faculty, yet the FLC administration has repeatedly misled the BOT and the faculty by conflating workload issues in some disciplines with the completely separate issue of changing the entire curriculum to a 3-credit model. Forcing every discipline to operate under a 3-credit model would not change the workload issue in the sciences. This is a disingenuous effort on the part of the administration to obfuscate the issues.

In spite of the usurpation of faculty governance by President Thomas and Provost Morris, FLC’s AAUP chapter and general faculty body remain committed to the principles of shared governance. Fort Lewis College AAUP is working to restore these governance principles and is considering options regarding the administrations’ miscarriage of AAUP shared governance principles. It is important to emphasize that this entire process was in no way presented as a fiscally motivated decision. In fact, it will cost the college more money to make this massive transition to a three-credit model than it would to maintain the current mix of credits. A fact admitted by the administration. If the decision is not about money, then it must be about power and the complete usurpation of faculty governance processes. This episode is alarming and should jolt all faculty out of their complacency and complicity with the trend of hiring ambitious, careerist administrators whose sole purpose is to gratify their own egos at the expense of the collective knowledge and history of our esteemed institutions.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. FLC Visitor permalink
    October 9, 2015 2:33 pm

    Dr. Estler is hardly an outside observer. As of last year, he was still being paid $120,000 a year for his “Post Retirement Employment” at FLC. He is, in fact, the highest paid faculty member (though retired) by a significant margin. Does that affect his position on the administration? Let’s only assume that he hasn’t been disappointed in his salary negotiations.

  2. Tyler Nordgren permalink
    March 18, 2014 2:17 pm

    As a physicist at the University of Redlands where Barbara Morris served as dean before going to FLC, the description of her leadership style expressed above is sadly in keeping with how she divided faculty and generated false emergencies to justify her pet causes here.

  3. Bob Graham permalink
    March 3, 2014 9:15 pm

    Dr. Estler, an outside observer of this situation asks, “How many?” Has there been a faculty vote on this, and what would be the faculty arguments supportive of the administration’s position?

  4. Carrie Meyer, Associate Professor of Exercise Science permalink
    February 24, 2014 10:08 pm

    I agree with Dr. Estler’s comments. This post only provides one side of the faculty’s view on this issue and is not representative of the entire faculty at FLC.

  5. Ron Estler permalink
    February 24, 2014 7:11 pm

    The readers of the posting above should be aware that the opinion offered there represents only one portion of the faculty. There are many supporters of the entire Administrative proposal and the BOT decision.

    Ron Estler
    Professor of Chemistry

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