Ivy Tech Needs Professional Standards for Faculty

Like other institutions of higher education, Ivy Tech Community College aspires to contribute to the economic and social development of the state of Indiana; but its treatment of its faculty does not look like that of colleges and universities in this and other states. Ivy Tech's  recent controversial treatment of Becky Meadows Wilson reveals how its peculiar faculty policies imperil the quality of the education it offers its students.

As President of Indiana's American Association of University Professors, I'm proud to say that the AAUP was the first educational organization in Indiana to support Ivy Tech's expansion into a full-fledged community college. AAUP members have from its inception chaired the State Transfer and Articulation Committee, the organization that works to increase the number of Ivy Tech courses that transfer to other colleges and universities. It's thus with some regret that I must publicly observe that Ivy Tech's faculty policies fail to live up to professional best practices, and the school's shameful treatment of Becky Meadows Wilson illustrates how this failure threatens to undermine its educational mission.

Prof. Meadows Wilson was a part-time faculty member at Ivy Tech Community College at Madison. At Ivy Tech statewide only 25% of all faculty members are full-time and even they are hired on yearly contracts, which means they have no assurance they will be brought back the following year. The rest are part-timers, hired on a course-by-course basis at approximately $1200 for a three-hour course. When Prof. Meadows Wilson got sick, she was docked for every class hour she missed. She would often be forced to choose between staying home sick and losing money, or else risking her own health, and that of her students.

According to accounts in the Louisville Courier-Journal and Inside Higher Education, when Prof. Meadows Wilson became a full-time faculty member at the Madison campus and President of the Faculty Senate last year, she decided to help the part-timers. A country music singer recording under the name Foxx for Stardust Records, she decided to hold a benefit concert to build up a medical emergency fund for part-time faculty at Madison. The money would be donated to the Ivy Tech Foundation.

At first, Ivy Tech officials were supportive. Then, with plans for the concert underway, Ivy Tech administrators, apparently nervous about how the publicity might affect their reputation, insisted that the college’s name be removed from the tickets being sold. But Ivy Tech still wasn't satisfied with tickets that merely said "college relief fund." So, Professor Meadows Wilson had that phrase blacked out on the tickets.

Nonetheless, a few days later, she received a formal "cease and desist" order from the college. When Prof. Meadows Wilson contested the order, she received a letter stating that her contract for the coming academic year would not be renewed. Prof. Meadows Wilson eventually filed a grievance. She was supported by the national and state bodies of the American Association of University Professors, as well as the state and national chapters of the American Philosophical Association, all of whom defend the century-old standard of “academic freedom.”

Academic freedom is not just “free speech.” It is the lifeblood of higher education and the foundation of a community of scholars and teachers because it allows them to investigate topics and publish views that are oftentimes controversial, but are necessary to the advancement of knowledge. Because faculty share in the governance of the institutions of higher education, academic freedom is also necessary to protect faculty’s freedom of speech outside the classroom.

As a general rule, academic freedom requires tenure for the core faculty of a university or college, and such is the norm in American higher education, including almost all community colleges. As the Becky Meadows Wilson case indicates, academic freedom is non-existent throughout that institution. Many Ivy Tech faculty members have expressed great fear of publicly airing any controversial views.

Faculty members are afraid even to hold a meeting of the AAUP—the major professional association of faculty in this country—on campus.AAUP has long advocated the full professionalization of Ivy Tech’s faculty, which would involve the possibility of tenure for full-time faculty, multi-year contracts for senior part-time faculty; and establishment of a faculty senate that would be responsible for curriculum, rigorous faculty review procedures, and shared governance. These conditions, currently in place at all other higher education institutions throughout the state, would lift standards of student accomplishment, provide a common standard against which educational attainment can be measured, and assure faculty at transfer institutions that Ivy Tech conforms to “best practices.”

AAUP’s recommendations are in accord with two important studies of Indiana’s community colleges. One, commissioned by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education in 2001, found that Ivy Tech lagged behind 14 peer institutions in offering professional protections for its faculty. Most recently, the 2004 Report of the Subcommittee on Higher Education to the Indiana Government Efficiency Commission gave our community college system grades of “D” in providing its students with general education, transfer preparation, community service, and serving as a delivery site for other providers. The report stated that there was “an immediate need in bolstering [Ivy Tech’s] full-time faculty in the general education area.”

Becky Meadows Wilson has settled her grievance with Ivy Tech and moved on. But, the rest of that institution's faculty still suffers from less than professional working conditions; and part-time faculty members still lack health care.

It is AAUP’s hope that Ivy Tech will professionalize the standards by which it treats its faculty. Doing so will make it easier for four-year institutions in the state to give transfer credits to Ivy Tech students; will improve Ivy Tech’s ability to attract and retain high quality faculty; will enhance Ivy Tech’s reputation; and enable Ivy Tech to better contribute to the economic and social development of our state.

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Richard Schneirov is president of the Indiana State Conference of the American Association of University Professors and a member of the national AAUP's Committee on Contingent Faculty and the Profession.

 


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