SPS plan: a dangerous model for CUNY?
Late last year, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (SPS), whose faculty is over 90 percent adjunct instructors, released a draft of a new governance structure that alarmed union leaders and faculty activists. At issue, they said, were proposed governance structures that would limit academic freedom, would not permit an independent faculty voice and would not be in compliance with the PSC collective bargaining agreement.
During an open forum on February 7 at the Graduate Center, a group of faculty advocates laid out their concerns and argued for the need of a better plan. Administrators, faculty and students from SPS responded that they value the unique structure of SPS and the “community” it provides. PSC President Barbara Bowen said, “The proposed plan lacks the institutional structures for elected faculty leadership and therefore for independent peer evaluation and personnel and curriculum decisions, essential for academic freedom.”
Bowen stated that SPS has a unique mission and is still expanding and needs to be flexible in its offerings, but said it was not a reason to establish a governance plan that failed to institutionalize shared faculty governance. She added that the structure of SPS, in which most full-time faculty are in non-tenured or consortial positions, combined with the large number of contingent faculty with little proposed voice in governance, disempowers the faculty.
FIRST SPS, THEN...
Faculty across CUNY should be concerned because the SPS approach could be taken as a model to erode faculty governance, not just at SPS but throughout CUNY.
Government disinvestment in CUNY has resulted in too few full-time faculty and staff to provide support services for students, plus a heightened dependence on low-paid adjunct faculty.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Katherine Conway, the president of the University Faculty Senate (UFS). She noted that throughout the university, about two-thirds of campus senates have adjunct representatives. There are some laudable efforts to increase part-time faculty involvement. At Bronx Community College, for example, adjuncts are paid for participation in governance activities, as their pay rates often preclude them from taking on responsibilities outside of class.
As a school that started as a continuing education program offering certificates to working people, whose lives and schedules often do not conform to regular class schedules, SPS has a courseload that is online. The bulk of its faculty are adjuncts, who, unlike full-time tenured faculty, lack the job security that allows them to speak candidly enough to participate in a meaningful governance process.
“The underlying problem is the SPS structure,” Conway said. “More full-time, tenured faculty are needed.” She noted further that UFS has sent proposed SPS-specific changes in the draft plan to clarify the independent role of faculty. SPS now offers undergraduate and graduate degrees and the number of SPS-based, tenured, full-time faculty has not expanded accordingly. In addition, noted Conway, it is a problem that a number of academic directors are quasi-management. UFS has offered feedback on the draft governance document that tries to address these issues, emphasizing that shared governance is about transparency.
THE GUTTMAN MODEL
Alia Tyner-Mullings, a faculty member at Guttman Community College and PSC chapter chair there, described briefly her colleagues’ efforts to develop a more transparent and effective governance plan at their new, growing CUNY college with no departments. A number of tasks that are traditionally fulfilled by faculty were being conducted by deans and the provost, because of the lack of departments and department chairs.
The newly approved revised governance plan at Guttman, puts most committees under a governance structure, assigns all faculty to “practice areas” and establishes a faculty personnel committee for reappointment, promotion and tenure decisions.
Although most campuses are not as reliant on adjunct instructors as SPS, the union and other faculty advocates fear that if the state does not significantly increase investment in CUNY’s operating budget to make up for decades of disinvestment, the university will be more reliant on adjuncts (who teach nearly half the courses already). The troubling elements of SPS’s proposed draft governance model – contingent faculty with little or no voice in governance, no institutional structures for independent faculty voice and application of proven contractual procedures, as well as management appointment of untenured faculty in many decision-making roles – could be the norm.
Kate Moss, who worked for nine years as an adjunct at SPS and is now a full-time lecturer in general education, said, “My opinion was sought in evaluation and curriculum decisions when I was an adjunct, but most adjuncts are not on campus.”
Several consortial faculty who teach online courses at SPS expressed concerns about the union’s “attack on online education.” David Hauser said “academic freedom should not mean getting rid of adjuncts.” A faculty member from Bronx Community College noted that SPS has been recognized nationally for the quality of its programs. “Teaching online well is different from teaching online.”
PSC Secretary Nivedita Majumdar noted that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) studied the inclusion of adjunct faculty in governance in 2014 and presented numerous recommendations. Colleges without departments – where faculty roles in curricular and personnel issues reside – present serious challenges and should have the strongest governance plans.
During the meeting, SPS administrators stressed that they could work with their faculty in a transparent process to come up with a final governance plan, as the draft was only a proposal. In a letter to Clarion, SPS administration said, for the sake of transparency, it had shared the proposal with the CUNY SPS community, including all current adjunct and consortial faculty, and comments and feedback were invited via an “anonymous online survey” and that “the drafting committee heard suggestions from the community that included a call for broader representation of adjunct faculty and agreed to expand adjunct faculty participation in governance.”
SPS IS ‘DIFFERENT’
Shakima Williams-Jones, co-chair of the SPS Student Association, said students at SPS feel a strong sense of support and community from the SPS administration: “It is not our intention to undermine existing practices, but SPS is different and is responsive to students.” She emphasized the need to foster more good will and to work together.
Philip Pecorino, a professor of philosophy at QCC who has taught at SPS and serves on the UFS executive committee, said that he was optimistic that a mutually beneficial governance plan at SPS would eventually emerge if the union, the Faculty Senate and SPS administration keep having open discussions about best practices.