“Change is Here to Stay” at Union County College

BY MICHAEL DECESARE

In June, delegates to the AAUP’s 102nd annual meeting voted to add Union County College (NJ) to the Association’s list of institutions sanctioned for “substantial noncompliance with standards of academic government.”

The unanimous vote was based on a scorching report by Robert A. Gorman, former AAUP president and emeritus professor of labor law at the University of Pennsylvania, which documented numerous “actions taken by the administration and governing bodies of Union County College to eliminate virtually all structures for faculty participation in academic governance.” These included, among others, eliminating faculty committees; replacing the Faculty Executive Committee with a “College Assembly” of faculty, staff, and students; ending or restricting the faculty’s role in choosing its own representatives to committees; and abolishing the faculty’s role in reappointment, tenure, and promotion decisions.

As part of his initial effort to mediate between the faculty, administration, and governing boards, Professor Gorman had sought to meet with President Margaret McMenamin, Mr. Victor Richel (chair of the board of trustees), and Ms. Elizabeth Garcia (chair of the board of governors). All three declined the meeting. Their decision was unfortunate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they could have learned a great deal about what shared governance means and how UCC might return to it.

Instead Mr. Richel, at least, continues to demonstrate that he is either oblivious to or unconcerned with the meaning and importance of shared governance (or perhaps he is both), while also treating faculty as if they are mere employees.

An August 4 Union Daily News article reported that at the June 28 meeting of UCC’s board of trustees, a number of faculty pleaded for a return to shared governance principles and practices. One of them was Derek McConnell, president of the AAUP chapter, who offered these cogent remarks:

Until our reorganization one year ago, UCC functioned under a democratic system that was in alignment with . . . AAUP guidelines. Under this system, the faculty and administration worked together collegially to determine and meet the needs of our students. The faculty had a meaningful role in guiding the school through running its own faculty committees, departmental elections on changes and chairs, and whole faculty meetings with votes on key changes, all while being steered, overseen, and checked by the executive power of the administration, and ultimately, the boards. This system of academic governance valued faculty expertise in teaching methods, subject matter, and student needs. [The AAUP’s sanction vote] confirm[s] that the current administration, with the board’s explicit support, has taken away the faculty’s vote and voice, even threatened its right to exist, and taken more and more power for itself, while silencing those with expertise essential to the college’s mission.

Mr. Richel responded to Professor McConnell and the other nearly 80 faculty in attendance as follows:

We as a unit [the board] have supported and studied and worked with Dr. McMenamin and her staff, and we fully endorse the plans and the steps that she is taking. Change is never easy, change is always difficult, and I think some of you are having more difficulty with change than others. But change is here to stay. This program that Dr. McMenamin and her staff have developed has been done with our approval, with our concurrence. We support them fully and totally.

In light of the irrefutable evidence in Professor Gorman’s report and the unanimous vote of the 2016 AAUP annual meeting, one would have hoped that Mr. Richel and the other trustees would come to their senses and begin working with the faculty, administration, and board of governors to re-establish the “joint effort” called for in the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities.

Mr. Richel instead chose to dismiss the faculty’s grave and entirely justified concerns with the insulting pronouncement that “change is here to stay” at New Jersey’s first and oldest community college.

Unfortunately, it also appears that UCC is here to stay on the AAUP’s sanction list.

3 thoughts on ““Change is Here to Stay” at Union County College

  1. While I applaud the AAUP’s work in sanctioning schools that fail to abide by the tenets of shared governance, it is becoming clear that such sanctions have minimal effects. It is past time for faculties to organize collective bargaining units. Mr. Richel is correct. Change is here to stay.

    • The 2016 annual meeting’s vote to sanction UCC indeed appears to have had a minimal effect. Then again, it hasn’t even been two months.

      We have reason to be sanguine about the effect that an AAUP sanction can have. Consider the example of Lindenwood University, an institution that worked with AAUP national staff to achieve “substantial compliance with Association-supported governance standards.” Those efforts paid off, and the sanction was removed by unanimous vote of the 2016 annual meeting.

      Ultimately, the effect of the AAUP’s sanctioning of Lindenwood was anything but minimal. It dramatically improved the working conditions of the faculty there.

    • It alerts faculty at future institutions when hiring firms bring in these “innovators”, allowing them a great deal of ammunition in rallying faculty against the candidate and preventing faculty from being conned by #badmin false collegiality techniques.

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