By Kalia Braley
As of February 2015, FSU has been ordered by the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board to come into “immediate compliance” with a contractual obligation regarding its percentage of part-time faculty members.
The University, along with its sister institutions in the state university system, is obligated to ensure that no more than 15 percent of faculty in any single department containing six or more professors are part time (also known as visiting lecturers), as per the contract negotiated and agreed upon by its union representatives.
This contract is renegotiated every three years, with the 15 percent rule having gone into effect almost three decades ago.
Psychology Professor Robert Donohue, the president of the Framingham chapter of the union (the Massachusetts State College Association), said the union supports the language in the contract dictating the 15 percent rule, as “it serves the mission of the university, and the students.”
The 15 percent rule was first incorporated into the contract in April 1987, but included certain
“exemptions” for some departments, as well as for part-time faculty filling in for those on sabbatical.
In March 2002, the union filed a consolidated grievance against the system of colleges after finding that 14 departments across the five schools were in violation. Two of these were at Framingham State.
At this point, the union put the issue on hold to allow the schools to resolve the problem. However, in January 2006, it found that the number of departments in violation throughout the system (now with seven institutions) had increased to 29. Five of these were at Framingham.
By the academic year 2013-14, with the 15 percent rule still active, the total number of violating
departments in the system had increased to 63. Ten of these were at Framingham.
By this point, the Department of Labor Relations had investigated the issue, taken testimony from the union and university representatives and ordered the Board of Higher Education to bring the institutions into compliance. The BHE appealed this ruling to the CERB in February of this year, but lost, and was ordered to comply immediately with the 15 percent rule.
Donohue said the process has been “very tense,” with “hard feelings” between the union and
management of the institutions.
“Management set this path,” he said, referring to the State College Council of Presidents. “They’re the ones who decided to go to this very expensive legal process rather than complying with what they had agreed to, repeatedly.”
He said that although it was management’s right to appeal, they developed no “contingency plan” in case they lost, leading to the current situation.
Donohue explained that the union has consistently supported the 15 percent rule due to the likelihood that it would create more better-paying jobs with benefits, as opposed to simply creating more jobs overall.
Additionally, he cited the duties that full-time faculty perform – specifically student advising and committee work – as crucial to ensuring student success, and said that although the union is also working toward securing better rights for part-time faculty, full-time faculty remain essential.
Vice President of the Framingham union chapter Virginia Rutter, a professor of sociology, said part-time faculty are “not empowered” or “supported” in their ability to mentor and guide students effectively due to their lack of benefits.
“That’s why we’re committed to the 15 percent decision,” she said. “What it will take in order to reduce reliance on part-time faculty is to hire more full-time and tenure-track faculty members. That seems pretty clear.”
According to data provided by Executive Vice President Dale Hamel, the number of full-time faculty has increased by six percent since 2011, while the number of part-time professors has increased by 9.7 percent. The number of students increased by 1.7 percent, which Hamel emphasized is much lower than the increase in faculty.
The total number of courses has not significantly increased in relation to the increase in faculty, he said, because more “release time” – such as sabbatical, research time and allowance for extracurricular program development – was allotted to faculty.
Hamel said the rapid increase in part-time faculty, in comparison to full-time, is due to “changes in the hiring process.
“We’ve got many more people involved in that process who are new,” he said. “I don’t think there was a complete understanding about what actions in one individual area impacted the overall budget that had been put in place.”
Though Hamel said the departments and their academic deans had “good intentions” when making hiring decisions, aiming to expand their programs and quickly replace departing faculty, the increase in part-time faculty has been larger than necessary.
“We kind of caused a significant portion of the 15 percent issue by the fact that while we were more than meeting the increase in enrollment through new full-time faculty, we went significantly over in terms of visiting lecturer positions,” Hamel said.
According to Provost and Academic Vice President Linda Vaden-Goad, the school has had a hiring plan in place for years which took into account the 15 percent rule. This includes hiring five new full-time faculty members per year, as well as “converting” some part-time into full-time positions.
The current plan is set to run through 2019, and there was initially no intention to amend it. This past week, however, according to Vaden-Goad, the administration decided that two more full-time temporary positions would be allocated to the departments most in need.
Part-time faculty members such as Christopher Abrams (who is finishing his second semester teaching in the art and music department) expressed concern about the University’s obligation to lower its number of part-timers.
“It cuts back on some of the opportunities for someone like me,” he said, adding, “Beyond next semester, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Abrams described the uncertainty of his position’s security as “the plight of adjuncts [part-time faculty],” and said he “would jump at the opportunity to be a full-timer.”
Math department visiting lecturer Joseph Caruso said, “Personally, I’m at a stage of my life that if they said, ‘We really don’t have any classes for you to teach,’ I’d say, ‘OK,’ and ride into the sunset. ... If they said, ‘We’re not going to have you teach these courses,’ I’m just going to say, ‘Well, it’s been nice knowing you. I’m just going to move on.’ No hard feelings or anything. I’ve had a great time being here.”
Donohue said he understood this concern by visiting lecturers, as he was in the same position earlier in his career.
“I know what it’s like to work contract to contract – I know what it’s like to have the prospect of losing your income,” he said. “That is a bad situation, and there’s nothing I can say that will make that a better situation for those individuals. The union doesn’t have the option of deciding what parts of the contract are enforced and which are not.”
A large number of faculty have expressed concern that the enforcement of the 15 percent rule will result in an increased number of students in classes.
Though Vaden-Goad emphasized that seating cap maximums will remain the same as they have been for years – 35 students for 100- and 200-level courses, 25 for 300-level and 20 for 400-level – she said many of the exemptions which allowed certain courses to lower their caps were abandoned once immediate compliance with the 15 percent rule was ordered.
Sociology Department Chair Benjamin Alberti confirmed that a letter was written by four department chairs and signed by 13 others, then delivered to Vaden-Goad after the course cap exemptions were put aside. Although he declined to release the letter to The Gatepost, he said that “the target of the letter was the threatened eradication of course cap exemptions in general.” Only two department chairs did not sign the letter.
Alberti said that the involved chairs “wanted to signal to the administration how pleased we were with the fact that they were sticking to the 15 percent VL cap, and at the same time to encourage them to not make any potentially rash decisions about course caps as a consequence of that decision.
“We know the administration also supports student preparation,” he said, “so we wanted to let them know what our views were on the new course caps and how we felt it might impact student education.
”Vaden-Goad, who also declined to release the letter, said she received it while working out a set of possible plans to comply with the 15 percent rule. The first one offered no exemptions whatsoever to enrollment caps, while the second offered one exemption to each affected department.
She described how she took the letter into account, saying, “I believe in the importance of faculty voice in governance.”
After meeting with Donohue and Christopher J. O’Donnell, the MSCA president, FSU administrators received the union’s official endorsement of the second plan on April 3.
On April 15, Vaden-Goad met with the department chairs to discuss the way FSU would work toward compliance. She said she wished she had spoken with them earlier in the process, but that she wanted to wait until she knew what decisions would be made before making a statement.
She added that the academic deans were in frequent contact with the department heads to answer questions and discuss concerns in that interim.
The Gatepost contacted most department chairs, and did not hear back from the majority before publication of this article. Some declined to comment.
Vaden-Goad said, “Having to pull away from some of the exclusions was necessary in order to be compliant” with the 15 percent rule. She said FSU’s cap sizes are “not unusual,” and small in comparison to those at universities nationwide.
Mathematics Department Chair Robert Page said he thinks larger class sizes will be “less effective.”
Page said all students are required to take a math course, and if the students who struggle with math are unable to receive the extra attention they need, it might inhibit them from graduating on time.
He added, “In my experience, a math course at the college level goes from being manageable to more than I would like, somewhere between twenty and twenty-five, so it’s not a huge issue, but it’s definitely more than we would like to be in the classroom.”
“It’s going to hurt some students,” he said.
Academic Dean of Arts and Humanities Marc Cote said the reduced number of visiting lecturers has also stymied the hopes of faculty to expand departments and experiment with the courses offered.
“We aren’t able to meet the needs of the extra classes that they were hoping to offer,” he said. “It’s making it a little difficult to test out some classes. ... There’s issues where you can’t experiment as much without visiting lecturers.”
Cote called the use of part-time and temporary full-time faculty for new courses “an opportunity to grow without necessarily committing a tenure-track faculty to it.”
Although variety of courses will decrease according to Cote, Vaden-Goad said the administration still aims “to make sure that we’re offering the students exciting opportunities.
“We believe we have been doing so,” she said. “We’ve been working to invigorate the curriculum, and everyone has enjoyed that, and profited from that. And we’re still doing that, but we’re going to do it more carefully now.”