Faculty advocates for voices in Quinnipiac’s decision-making process

Chatwan Mongkol, Digital News Editor

Budget transparency. COVID-19 responsiveness. Terms of employment and work overload. These are some of the priorities that Quinnipiac University’s American Association of University Professors is pushing for.

Chapter President Ruth Kaplan said the organization was founded in the fall 2020 semester after the university made multiple unilateral decisions that directly impacted faculty members in response to COVID-19.

Those decisions included precautionary layoffs, contract changes and a mandatory workload increase throughout the last academic year, which the group said also “disserved our students.”

Shavonne Chin

Kaplan, who is also an associate professor of English, said the faculty should have more voices in the administration’s decision-making process.

“Shared governance is essentially the principle that universities should be run collaboratively by faculty, staff and administration,” Kaplan said.

Provost Debra Liebowitz said having an AAUP chapter on campus “makes a lot of sense,” citing her commitment to enhance an open line of communication between administrators and educators.

“Each of us has our own lane, but it’s very important that we collaborate and engage across areas in order to help make the institution as strong as it possibly can be,” Liebowitz said.

One of the issues faculty members said they faced was the increased workloads the leadership assigned them in 2020.

“Our conditions of appointment are not supposed to change during continuous employment at the university,” Kaplan said. “But because of the financially uncertain landscape brought about by COVID in part, the university added extra work without extra pay for faculty in 2020-21.”

But because of the financially uncertain landscape brought about by COVID in part, the university added extra work without extra pay for faculty in 2020-21.”

— Ruth Kaplan, associate professor of English

The provost said the university made decisions related to additional workloads before her tenure in July 2020 with the mindset that COVID-19 was going to be a short-term issue. Faculty members eventually raised the concerns, and Liebowitz said those were valid given how the pandemic has persisted.

“I was able to make good on that promise and we delivered effectively a year ahead of the schedule I had promised, which I promised we would get back to a normal workload by this coming fall, but in fact, we were able to do it this past fall,” Liebowitz said.

Kaplan said while most professors have returned to a “sustainable” workload as of the spring 2022 semester, problems still exist.

Some professors still face issues with their terms of employment, according to the AAUP-QU — lack of compensation for some program directorial posts and for professors who oversee credit-based independent studies. Some appointments have been shortened from one year to 9 1/2 months and they haven’t been restored. The group also mentioned there have been proposals within schools around increasing workload.

“The financial landscape remains treacherous and COVID continues to evolve, and we want to make sure that kind of thing does not continue to happen or happen again because we need sustainable workloads to do our best,” Kaplan said.

Although Kaplan applauded the administration’s work to change things back, she said there is always room for improvement.

I was able to make good on that promise and we delivered effectively a year ahead of the schedule I had promised.”

— Debra Liebowitz, provost

She hopes that faculty members can have time to do what they love to do – engage with their students.

“We’d love to see the administration continue (its) commitment to ensuring that workload remains sustainable,” Kaplan said. “And we’d love to see them give serious consideration to how to make sure that we just keep up with inflation.”

Faculty Senate Chair Bernadette Mele, a clinical professor of diagnostic imaging, echoed that workload has always been an issue and faculty has always been vocal about it.

“I wouldn’t fault anybody about what occurred in the beginning (of the pandemic) because it was different. It was difficult,” Mele said, referring to decisions made in response to COVID-19 that she believed were in the “best interest” of the health of the community.

With rising inflation, another priority the AAUP-QU is pushing for revolves around budget transparency. However, the group said the provost’s office has taken actions to be more straightforward in recent months.

“We often hear that the budgets are tight, programs need to work with less, faculty lines are scarce, and cuts are inevitable,” the group wrote in its spring 2022 newsletter. “But how are funds being allocated to the schools in the first place? What do budget priorities look like on the administrative side?”

Liebowitz said there has been a “sea change” when it comes to budget transparency that the university hasn’t historically done.

“On institutional budget finance-related issues, we now engage in detail with the set or in on specifics with the Senate Executive (Committee) and also with the Finance and Future Plans Committees of the Senate,” Liebowitz said.

The university also engages with each school regarding priority spending within it that involves faculty members, especially in schools with an enrollment decline.

“There’s less revenue, but there’s also fewer students to educate, and figuring out how to do that in schools that have had a decline in enrollment is sensitive and difficult and has to be done in the most careful ways possible,” Liebowitz said.

Through productive conversations with faculty, Liebowitz said she is confident they are making more progress. She frequently meets with faculty representatives who were elected by their colleagues.

That’s the same mechanism the AAUP-QU encourages concerned faculty members to do — connect with their faculty senators.

The Faculty Senate is a governing body of Quinnipiac faculty, consisting of 25 elected voting members from across all schools.

We have our input as to what we feel (are) our priorities associated with the budget. It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to happen, but it just was the voice of the faculty.”

— Bernadette Mele, clinical professor of diagnostic imaging

Mele said she and her Senate Executive Committee meet with the administration every other week. The communication is better than it was with the prior administration, Mele said.

“We have our input as to what we feel (are) our priorities associated with the budget,” Mele said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to happen, but it just was the voice of the faculty.”

Despite the recognition of the AAUP chapter on campus, neither the faculty senate nor the provost has a history working with the organization.

“They’re an advocacy for the faculty, whereas we’re more of the governing body,” Mele said. “I think that we can complement each other.”

For the AAUP-QU, Kaplan wants the organization to be a platform for all faculty members, regardless of their titles and tenure status, to share their uneasiness about their work conditions at Quinnipiac. She said the space is devoted to making the university “a place that really prioritizes education above all.”

“One of the very special things about AAUP is that we provide a non-hierarchical space for faculty to come together and share concerns and ideas,” Kaplan said. “I think people find it a very special nourishing experience to participate.”

The group will hold six more meetings throughout the spring semester. Interested faculty can contact the chapter’s leadership for meeting information.