Faculty see need for mental health counselors at all Alamo Colleges.
By Bleah B. Patterson
Faculty Senate members intend to confront President Robert Vela after concern that he and the Student Government Association continue to blame the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools on Colleges for the transfer degree change.
Senators informally agreed at a meeting Wednesday to talk to Vela about clarifying the source demanding the college do away with majors, but they did not set a time and date.
In April the Presidents and Vice Chancellor’s Committee, known as PVC, decided not to offer diplomas with specified majors and instead to enforce transfer majors for all students who began in the fall.
Transfer degrees have no set courses in the 18 hours above the 42-hour core curriculum. This would allow students to choose only classes that will transfer to a university.
Students and faculty have addressed administrators and the board of trustees with their discontent, saying they would rather have their accomplishments listed on their diploma.
District officials continue to insist transfer degrees are best for students, but Jo-Carol Fabianke, vice chancellor for academic success, said she will make sure there is something printed on the diplomas to acknowledge a student’s “major,” which will be the same major the student will pursue at a four-year university.
Fabianke admitted Oct. 28, after being asked point-blank by District 1 trustee Joe Alderete, the decision to enforce transfer degrees and remove specified majors was the district’s and not spurred by SACSCOC, as she previously told the board of trustees.
“I was just concerned because at Pizza with The President (Oct. 30) he (Vela) continued saying we were doing this because of SACS, even though that was after Fabianke said that wasn’t the case,” criminal justice Coordinator Tiffany Cox said.
Even though the board of trustees spent more than an hour discussing degrees with Fabianke during the Oct. 28 meeting, Faculty Senate members are still worried about the change.
“What no one is acknowledging is the fact that this isn’t something new. We’ve had transfer degrees all along,” foreign languages Professor Tammy Perez said.
“We’ve been doing transfer degrees forever,” Mike Burton, English reading and education chair, agreed.
Librarian Celita DeArmond, president of this college’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, brought up the Oct. 28 board meeting, saying, “I think they realized they were asleep at the wheel. The board is not happy about it.”
She explained that the trustees were told by the district administration that SACSCOC and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board were forcing the change.
“They lied to their own constituents,” DeArmond said.
However, Fabianke and Chancellor Bruce Leslie pointed out to the board that it is not in the board’s jurisdiction to make any decisions about degrees since it is a procedural issue and not a new policy.
“At some point we’ll have to vote on curriculum though,” psychology Chair Thomas Billimek said. “It’ll have to start at the college level and move up, and I for one will not vote on anything related to the degrees.”
“This isn’t a curriculum issue though, it’s a district issue,” Perez said.
She continued explaining the issue is another example of the lack of autonomy at the colleges.
“The one question that wasn’t asked was, even though Fabianke repeated herself six times, how we’re going to make sure the 18 hours count?” Burton asked.
“That’s a question I’m planning on taking to the next Super Senate meeting,” Faculty Senate President Dawn Elmore said.
The Super Senate Meeting is a gathering of Faculty Senate presidents from each of the five Alamo Colleges and Leslie. The next meeting will be at 2 p.m. Nov. 14 at Killen Center, 201 W. Sheridan. The meeting is closed.
“It’s just hard. Unfortunately, some board members, who may not be from an education background, just don’t understand,” Counselor Steve Samet said.
Because one of the main issues presented at the last board meeting was a lack of communication between administrators and students, Elmore said Leslie suggested installing new kiosks at campuses that would allow students to take quick surveys.
“It’s just an idea. Nothing certain or even close, but just an idea to allow for fast feedback between the two,” Elmore said.
“Right, we always have money for gimmicks but no money for staff or advisers to actually serve our students,” Billimek said.
Elmore pointed out a lack of communication from district officials.
“Also at the (previous) Super Senate’s meeting with Leslie, we requested a report about Covey, just how we’re doing, the trainings and classroom things but we didn’t get it,” Elmore said.
“We also asked for a report about pay, to understand why we’re getting paid what we are,” Elmore said. “We have not gotten a response to that either.”
The board approved a pay increase for faculty and staff to begin in January.
Faculty Senate members also acknowledged a need for counselors with a focus in mental health issues.
Lisa Black, counselor and social work professor, said all five of the Alamo Colleges need counselors with crisis training to serve students dealing with suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues.
Black said Northwest Visa College and Northeast Lakeview do not have any counselors.
“One of the problems is deciding what the role of the district is. This is something each college needs to make a priority and decide what will best serve their students,” she said.
“It’s a funding issue, and that’s a district issue,” Elmore said.
Samet said “it would take a lawsuit” for district to make mental health counselors a priority. He said he believes it will not be long before that happens.
“There’s no real understanding at the district,” he said.
Perez, who leads the senate’s faculty governance committee, said this college needs more of its own policies before this college’s reaffirmation of accreditation with SACSCOC, for which the college is preparing now.
“The district website has a lot of policies; we really don’t have many,” she said.
Perez said what needs to be done is the adaptation of district’s policies to relate to this college’s needs.
“We’re probably going to look at the handbook first, but we need input from the college executives so they can back us up,” she said.
Perez said, for instance, student life director Richard Farias is seeking clarification and updates to policies about taking students on field trips off campus.
“We’re not considered an independent institution without those established procedures,” she said.
Perez also suggested establishing policies for adding and dropping courses, because those are not established.
Some faculty members voiced concern that any policies written for this college would be overridden by district policies, but Perez said it’s important that this college establishes its own to best serve students.
Samet agreed, saying, “I don’t think (district administrators) know what a student looks like. They’re just up there making policies. We need our own to serve students, not just process them.”