UNION COUNTY, NJ — An atmosphere of fear, low morale and declining academic standards are just some of the issues cited in a recent survey conducted among the faculty at Union County College.
The survey was crafted and conducted by a group of concerned faculty and posted on Survey Monkey. Almost all full-time faculty members participated in the survey, and the results show an overwhelmingly negative perception of the college’s administration by faculty members. Survey results can be found on the Survey Monkey website, https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-WZV66VNR/.
When asked about morale at the two-year college, professors said that the climate on campus was at an all-time low. “This is the worst I have ever seen regarding faculty morale in more than a decade at the college,” wrote one professor. “No one truly wants to be on campus anymore because we feel forced and that every step we make is being watched. There is no sense of collegiality and respect for faculty. Everyone is on edge and worried about what will be held against us next.”
Another comment mirrored this same sentiment. “The morale of faculty and staff is very low,” read the comment. “Many valued and talented faculty and staff have left the college, as they do not want to work in the current environment. This is evidenced by the large number of faculty and staff who have left or retired in the past three years.”
Other faculty members referred to the campus as having an “atmosphere of fear,” and that, “professors and support staff feel disenfranchised and feel that their potential for effective decision-making is being squelched by administrators’ need for absolute control.”
A subsequent question on the survey addressed the administration’s prioritization of students and the accuracy of the school’s slogan: Students are #1. “Very seldom does the administration seem to put the needs of the students first,” read one comment.
One faculty member wrote that, “the administration has total disregard for students as well as faculty. This slogan is designed to present an image that couldn’t be further from the truth. Administrative actions have no regard for the interests of students. If students were #1, required courses would not be cancelled well before the first day of classes. We would still have some office hours by appointment and students would not be advised to switch their major to liberal studies, if students were #1. It is clear that administrators are #1 at UCC. Students are a distant #2.”
A faculty member, who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation, told LocalSource that faculty members are mistreated, calling out college president Margaret McMenamin. “She uses intimidation,” said the source. “She unilaterally makes the decisions.”
Seventy-eight percent of faculty questioned on the survey said that they fear retaliation if they challenge the administration’s actions or policies. “Faculty don’t comment or question the administration because they are concerned with repercussions,” said one. “Everyone who is in line for a promotion or tenure is concerned with retaliation. Even when we dare to comment, it’s in the back of your mind.”
Another comment read that, “fear of retaliation is the new norm.”
A May 24 board meeting, at which the survey was addressed, resulted in faculty members complaining of getting shut out of the meeting while administrators filled the room.
Derek McConnell, an English professor at the college, said that the anti-faculty administration is increasing in number and power, and asserts that the administration is trying to diminish the faculty’s voice and influence on campus.
McConnell was at the meeting and said that there was more than enough room to allow faculty members in. “With 50 people in a meeting room that holds approximately 80 and many empty seats, a security guard began telling faculty that the room was full and they could not enter,” said McConnell.
McConnell said that he asked the guard why he wasn’t allowing people in when there were empty seats. “He said something to the effect of, ‘What do you want me to do, man?,’ implying that this was not his decision and he was just following orders,” McConnell said. “Meanwhile, as faculty were held outside the room, several administrators, who, as far as I know, were not presenting that night, were allowed to pass the line and go into the room, even though they arrived after the faculty who were denied entrance.”
McConnell maintains that the guard closed the door, insisting that it had to remain closed, and that faculty members continued to wait outside. “We were not making noise and certainly would have listened quietly to this open public meeting if given the chance,” said McConnell. “We are looking into the best option for filing a complaint for being denied access under the Open Public Meeting Act.”
Stephen Nacco, Vice President of Administrative Services at the college and executive assistant to the president, told LocalSource that the survey cannot be trusted. “The survey the faculty cited was bogus, bogus, bogus,” said Nacco. “We’ve never seen a survey. There’s nothing authentic about it. We never saw data. It was not authorized, there was no data shared, it was anonymous, and there is no way to verify whether any of it was accurate. We’ve never seen it. It doesn’t seem real to us,” he said.
Nacco said that the college does conduct its own surveys. “We do employment attitude surveys, and these are shared and transparent,” said Nacco. “The college has a process of legitimately vetting employee attitudes through its collegial governance system, the College Assembly, with a committee of faculty and staff producing a survey that can generate authentic, accurate, and verifiable data about employee attitudes. What they are presenting has no data behind it. We have no reason to believe than it is anything but bogus. The information presented in this bogus survey didn’t pass the smell test.”
Nacco responded to comments regarding declining academic standards by citing increased graduation rates. “Over the last five years, our students’ graduation rate has nearly tripled.”
But survey results show that academic standards are down and that graduation rates are not necessarily indicative of much. When asked to comment on whether the administration’s policies help to maintain academic excellence and standards at the school, responses from faculty were consistently negative. “Check the scores,” and, “to the
contrary!” were some responses in the survey.
Michael Z Murphy, a communications professor at the college, corroborates some of the comments. “Things are not good on the campus,” said Murphy, who is in his 10th year at the school. “Full-timers are going and they are hiring more adjuncts.”
One professor said that “the policies seem to be made to try to increase the graduation rate.”
Another stated that “multiple queries about student progress and identifying students ‘on course’ to graduate puts pressure on me to pass students. ‘Surveys’ from the VPAA which identify the pass rates in my classes and then demands to know what I will do to ‘improve’ those rates are a not-especially-subtle form of intimidation.”
This sentiment was repeated throughout the survey, with comments citing a “push to improve graduation rates at whatever cost including sacrificing academic standards.”
One comment read that “there is implicit pressure on faculty to increase passing rates regardless of if it results in passing grades for students who have not met the course learning objectives. When administration does not support faculty upholding academic excellence and standards, how can they really care? It is all about graduation rates. Pass the student even if they don’t deserve it. Just graduate them with a liberal studies degree.”
Nacco was critical of faculty members who participated in the survey. “This was a bogus survey done by a handful of malcontents,” Nacco said. “Our faculty is among the highest paid groups of faculty in New Jersey. They’re not only malcontents, they’re also overpaid,” he said.
Nacco asserted that “a few disgruntled faculty hijacked the May 24 board meeting by enlisting about a dozen other faculty to read from a script that prefaced their remarks with the disclaimer that they are speaking ‘not as faculty but community members.’”
Nacco maintains that the AAUP and the college are currently engaged in contract negotiations. “Trying to negotiate through the media is counterproductive,” said Nacco, accusing the faculty members of using the media to manipulate negotiations.
In 2011, Union County College had an enrollment of 11,000 students throughout its four county campus locations.