President explains intent behind 12-month faculty contract memo

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President Robert Vela answers questions at the Faculty Senate meeting Aug. 27 in the nursing complex. The executive team attended the meeting and addressed faculty’s concerns about 12-month contracts for faculty.  Photo by Neven Jones

President Robert Vela answers questions at the Faculty Senate meeting Aug. 27 in the nursing complex. The executive team attended the meeting and addressed faculty’s concerns about 12-month contracts for faculty. Photo by Neven Jones

Psychology and sociology chair points out lack of sensitivity toward faculty.

By Bleah B. Patterson

bpatterson13@student.alamo.edu

President Robert Vela this week attempted to ease faculty concerns about a district memo that would require faculty to work through the summer for lower pay or risk termination.

He plans to advocate for this college’s faculty to the PVC, a committee of presidents and vice chancellors, with the goal of preventing faculty burnout by dispersing the workload over 12 months, he said at a Faculty Senate meeting Wednesday in the Nursing Complex.

Faculty Senate President Dawn Elmore invited this college’s executive team to the first meeting of the semester, where the team was asked to clarify what Faculty Senate members described as vague and hostile language in the memo.

The memo was from the district’s human resources department and was sent to PVC. A copy was leaked to faculty.

A final draft of the memo, to be sent to selected faculty members, expressed a districtwide need for counselors and faculty to work 12 months.

Addressed to no one in particular and not signed, it read that faculty would be asked to sign 12-month contracts and be paid at the adjunct rate plus 30 percent during the summer.

This is the rate full-time faculty are paid for summer classes, but teaching in the summer is voluntary.

History Professor Mike Settles says the district’s current payroll model is top heavy during the Faculty Senate meeting Aug. 27 in Room 218 of the nursing complex. Settles added that in the end students are suffering.

History Professor Mike Settles says the district’s current payroll model is top heavy during the Faculty Senate meeting Aug. 27 in Room 218 of the nursing complex. Settles added that in the end students are suffering. Photo by Neven Jones.

 

Faculty who do not sign the contract would be asked to resign, according to the memo.

“As a PVC we began to look at faculty and counselors across the district,” Vela said. “We acknowledged here (at this college) specifically complex situations and overloaded schedules in fire science and nursing departments.”

The solution, Vela said, would be to have a group of “super heroes,” the most capable counselors and faculty, transition from their original nine-month contracts to 12-month contracts.

“The problem I saw was that our faculty and counselors are getting burned out. These programs require an intense amount of course work for students and an equally intensive caseload for those advising the students,” he said. “If we found a way to keep the best people around all year, we could keep up with the demand we’re facing.”

DR. Conrad Krueger, dean of arts and sciences, interjected, saying there have been 274 students enrolling in Start 2 classes who weren’t able to get registered in time to begin classes Aug. 25.

“I’d like to note that 180 of those were on Friday alone. And more are coming in as we speak. There will be even more looking to get into Flex 2 courses.”

“ACCD wants to open up certain critical need areas to 12 months so that everything is more manageable for everyone involved,” Vela said. “In accessing which areas at SAC qualify as critical need, we’re also looking into the library staff and overall counselors, not just nursing.”

Fine arts Chair Jeff Hunt expresses concern to fellow Faculty Senate members about an unsigned memo shared with PVC and distributed to faculty regarding 12-month contracts for nine-month employees Aug. 27 in Room 218 of the nursing complex. Hunt is suspicious that the district might have a bigger plan by putting the policy in place for some programs, then later forcing it on others.  Photo by Neven Jones.

Fine arts Chair Jeff Hunt expresses concern to fellow Faculty Senate members about an unsigned memo shared with PVC and distributed to faculty regarding 12-month contracts for nine-month employees Aug. 27 in Room 218 of the nursing complex. Hunt is suspicious that the district might have a bigger plan by putting the policy in place for some programs, then later forcing it on others. Photo by Neven Jones.

Vela noted that the only decision made so far has been for the nursing and fire science departments; nothing has been decided for counselors or library faculty.

He explained that areas not considered “critical need” may soon become such.

“Because the district is using a new counseling model, one that’s more intrusive and hands on, we have to anticipate certain areas already in high demand will continue to face more pressure. My goal here is to make sure the faculty and staff I’m responsible for don’t burn out because we’re expecting them to carry a load they can’t handle.”

The new model, Vela said, will be more “intentional,” requiring counselors to spend more time with students, more time reviewing their files and more time intervening.

“These counselors will be hearing from teachers saying ‘so-and-so didn’t come into class for the second day in a row,’ and it will be the responsibility of that counselor to call that students and find out what’s going on. This whole process will mean more work and more time, but what we’re seeing in other universities who have adopted this model as it will also mean more completion rates and more success.”

Vela expects that not only would moving to a 12-month contract spread the workload out and make cases more manageable, it would also allow counselors to be more accessible to students during the summer.

Senate Vice Chair Lisa Black vents frustration about a new caseload model during the Faculty Senate meeting Aug. 27 in Room 218 of the nursing complex. When put in place, the model will give the Alamo Colleges a 350 to 1 student to counselor ratio. Black said the model does not take into account the human capacity to do the work.  Photo by Neven Jones

Senate Vice Chair Lisa Black vents frustration about a new caseload model during the Faculty Senate meeting Aug. 27 in Room 218 of the nursing complex. When put in place, the model will give the Alamo Colleges a 350 to 1 student to counselor ratio. Black said the model does not take into account the human capacity to do the work. Photo by Neven Jones

 

Elmore acknowledged, on behalf of the faculty, a need for the contracts in some areas but brought into question the lesser pay.

“I think the issue is that if you need people this badly, you need to pay them pro-rata,” she said.

Vela agreed, saying he is doing everything in his power to work with the PVC to accurately represent the needs of the faculty of this college, trying to come to a reasonable solution.

“I don’t think it’s about the money at district; it’s just about finding a solution to the problem and working within our budget,” Vela said.

“I hope you’re right,” Jeff Hunt, theater and speech chair, said. “Unfortunately money usually is the issue. I want to trust that they have everyone’s best interest in mind. But I just can’t help but think they wrote this (memo) up in such a way that they could say ‘oh yeah, it’s just for these certain areas’ and then once it’s on the books they can enforce it with everyone.”

Psychology Chair Thomas Billimek later spoke up and said there is “absolutely no sensitivity on the impact district is having on faculty.”

“We take all kinds of pay cuts, but we always have extra money lying around to spend on Covey. I know that you can’t fight anyone up there directly,” he said of Chancellor Bruce Leslie and the board of trustees.

“But I’m tenured and I’m going to speak up. We’re always told how sacrifices have to be made for students, but when those have to be made, we’re the ones who have to bleed while the chancellor gets a bonus for doing such a great job. Well, I dare the chancellor to fire me. I’ll see him in court. And I know you (Vela) can’t say that, but we need to stand up for ourselves.”

Faculty in the room applauded.

“I want to alleviate the concern for everyone,” Vela responded. “I was in that meeting, and I can honestly say, because it’s my responsibility to let you know the intentions of ACCD, there was no agenda of anyone in that meeting.”

Vela said he does not intend to force anyone to sign a contract or threaten them with termination. Instead, he hopes he can work with departments on an individual basis and create systems, shifts and agreements that solve the problem.

“My hope is that we’ll have enough volunteers from each department to satisfy the need,” he said. “And we will include faculty in that decision-making to decide what exactly should be reworked.”

Vela said this college currently is currently working towards a 350-to-one ratio and currently has 10 faculty counselors.

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