Unrest in Academe
Faculty members at Tarrant County College are chafing under the reign of Chancellor Erma C. Johnson Hadley, a longtime TCC employee who rose from the post of instructor in 1968 to the school’s top position in 2010.
Hadley became the state’s highest paid community college chancellor in 2010 and remains so today with her $375,950 salary. Along the way, she’s distanced herself from faculty members via a series of decisions that many disagree with, including moving toward more standardized textbook selections.
One new program in particular is creating dissent. TCC Connect was designed to offer a virtual campus and to fast-track online education through a program called Weekend College. TCC Connect is an evolution toward a college system with fewer bricks and less mortar. Faculty members don’t necessarily disagree with Hadley’s vision of increased reliance upon technology and convenience for students, but they resent how she wants to rely on adjunct professors with less experience and lower paychecks to administer the online courses that full-time faculty helped to develop.
Faculty members are also feeling left out of the decision-making process. Some say Hadley has disrespected them by rarely soliciting their input. The full-time teaching staff isn’t saying it on the record for news media, but they’re making their point in other ways. An overwhelming majority of faculty members at the Northeast campus in Hurst approved a no-confidence vote for Hadley this spring, with about 70 percent of the faculty voting.
A no-confidence vote is considered official only when all of the campuses participate. Faculty members at TCC’s South campus allegedly voted in alignment with the Northeast campus, although those vote totals were unavailable. The three other campuses haven’t joined in the push thus far. And even if the other campuses were to join in approving a no-confidence measure, there are no real repercussions for Hadley other than a potentially scarred reputation.
“It used to be a kiss of death to get a no-confidence vote [in higher education],” said TCC trustee O.K. Carter, a former teacher and longtime local newspaper columnist.
Nowadays, the vote is often used as a tool by faculty to grab the attention of administrators and trustees, he said.
“They [faculty members] don’t have that many political tools they can use; this is one of them,” Carter said. ”You want to get the trustees’ attention, and they have.”
But getting the trustees’ attention doesn’t guarantee much, particularly since the trustees are pushing some of Hadley’s most controversial changes, such as adoption of common course materials and an increased reliance on adjunct teachers for TCC Connect.
“The chancellor is working off quite a few things that have been requested of her by the trustees,” Carter said. “One of those is that we are going to cut down on this wide-open selection of textbooks. We are going to have weekend and online college. It’s a new world. We have more constituents than just faculty. We’re trying to get maximum value for all those constituents paying for this multi-million dollar campus,” referring to the whole TCC system.
Issues such as common courses, standardized textbooks, online teaching, and the use of adjunct professors are controversial on many campuses. Bringing together the various parties — administrators, teachers, board members, and students — might increase the chances of developing successful solutions, said Elisabeth Barnett, senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College at Columbia University.
“Generally, faculty want a fair amount of control over the materials they use because they are experts in their field,” she said. Still, “There can be good reasons why administrators might want to have some say over it. You hope in a college you have shared governance. Ideally they are working together on those discussions.”
Many professors at TCC feel they’ve been ignored too often by Hadley’s administration.
TCC serves more than 100,000 students each year, making it the country’s 15th-largest higher education institution. The two-year college with five campuses spread around the Fort Worth area serves as a springboard for students to earn basic credits before heading to more heralded — and more expensive — four-year universities.
Early in 2014, a faculty member sent an anonymous letter to Fort Worth Weekly and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram describing the no-confidence vote and myriad other concerns. Afterward, however, faculty clammed up.
At that time, Robert Edmonds was president of the Joint Consultation Committee, the faculty body that consults with the administration and represents faculty interests across all the campuses. He met with the Star-Telegram editorial board at the board’s request but wouldn’t answer their questions.
“It was not the right thing to do,” he said. “[The board] left callbacks for five or six members of the faculty senate, but nobody called them back.”
Faculty members at the five campuses are unified in their desire to work within the system to get things done, Edmonds said. Soliciting help from news media “makes it tough to get things done. It sets an acrimonious feeling between faculty and administration,” he said.
The Star-Telegram didn’t publish a story on the no-confidence vote.
The Weekly also hit brick walls in trying to get faculty to discuss the issues publicly. Most of the information about faculty grievances and voting totals in this article came from documents provided anonymously.
“That sounds like somebody very frustrated with the pace of this,” Edmonds said. “People want to see things done. There are issues that are affecting people very strongly.”
However, he discouraged others from providing information to news media.
“It usurps the proper chain,” said Edmonds, whose term as president of the faculty group expired in April. “It’s not the way we can get things done as a faculty.”
Richard Moore, executive director at Texas Community College Teachers Association, has been keeping up with the TCC textbook discussions. He sees good intentions from administrators, trustees, and faculty members, even when they disagree.
“It’s everybody trying to help the students,” Moore said.
However, faculty should have a strong voice in how matters involving student learning are handled, he said.
“It is the responsibility of the faculty to ensure that students are learning what they need to learn. How the faculty achieves those ends needs to be managed at the level closest to the students,” he said.
Hadley has been visiting campuses regularly in recent months and talking to employees, although not always with blissful results. Hadley met with South campus faculty in April and agreed that her administration’s communication regarding TCC Connect had been “less than desirable,” according to a South campus faculty association newsletter published April 16.
In the article, Hadley defended her administration by saying that TCC Connect was originally designed to rely solely on adjunct faculty, who typically have less work experience, work for lower pay, and get few if any benefits. After faculty expressed concerns, the program was altered to include two dozen full-time staff members as well. Still, Hadley was quoted in the April 18 issue of the newsletter saying that relying on full-time faculty to run an e-learning program would be a “financially unsustainable model.”
“There has been some good communication with faculty and administration,” Edmonds said. “But there are some people who are very distressed. It remains to be seen what happens.”
Some observers speculate that the impending departure of campus president Larry Darlage, who is retiring at the end of August, emboldened his Northeast faculty to vote against Hadley and to release confidential information. Darlage was hesitant to comment when contacted by the Weekly.
“They have a right to their feelings,” he said about his faculty.
Does he agree with them?
“Why would I want to go public on something like that?” he said.
His summary of the situation: “There has been a lot of miscommunication coming from both ways.”
Carter encouraged all faculty members to keep sharing their thoughts with trustees and administrators. All the parties want to provide the best education possible to prepare students for their futures, and everyone must remain open-minded because changes are surely coming, he said.
“My sense is [the board is] not going to back off some of these main issues,” he said.