Faculty and administration clash at UCC

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.


5 Responses to "Faculty and administration clash at UCC"

  1. Tom McDonald   June 7, 2016 at 9:27 am

    Imagine what your students think?

    Where, students = revenue and the institution is focused on the institution, at the direct expense of advancing student success outcomes, your students will cease to come, your revenue will dry up and everyone will wonder what happened.

    No surprise here of what the future will bode

  2. Mark Thompson   June 7, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    I’ve worked in NJ community colleges since 2002. Whether “it seems real” or not folks, adjunct ranks grow and full-time ranks decline. Readiness levels of entering students decline and failure-to-graduate rates increase. Finances and support for critical resources like faculty training, libraries, and new technology decline and poor morale increases. Retention rates and the many students I have talked with tell the tale – students do not stay because if they have any other option, either job or alternative education, they go. The actions of the community college leadership has led in only one direction- lower quality.

  3. Elana Knopp   June 8, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Thanks very much for your comments. I appreciate your input!

  4. Jay Siegel   June 12, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    The survey had responses from 99 full time faculty out of about 143 surveys that were sent out to all the full timers who had private emails. There are about 153 full timers all together. VP Nacco states “bogus bogus bogus…” (Let’s see that’s 3 bogus’…Sounds soooo defensive doesn’t it?) Aside from screaming bogus I would like to know what is bogus about it. Credibility for surveys are virtually tamper proof. Survey Monkey is a major independent 3rd party research site. Results can’t be altered. The response rate was extremely high. The questions were structured in such a way to encourage positive answers that would favor the administration. However, the results for the administration were disastrous and telling…This survey tells an important story to the residents of Union County.
    I attended a board meeting and suggested that the board should conduct their own surveys. With these results doesn’t the board want to know how others feel at the institution? The cost?…hold on let me add it up…Hmmm that would be $0 on Survey Monkey. Does the board want to know about the morale of adjunct professors (numbering over 500!)? Does the board want to know about the staff morale? And most importantly, does the board want to know the students perceptions about the college? All this information for free…Isn’t it valuable to find out problems that exist and try to improve the environment of the college? Of course, this survey conducted among full time faculty is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The passage of time fades memories, but that won’t happen in this case. VP Nacco claimed that 12 faculty members read a disclosure statement and prepared script. Maybe he forgot my commentary stating that I was “disclaiming the disclaimers”. Perhaps he didn’t notice that I did not read anything from a prepared script.
    Probably the most revealing part of the survey is reading through the massive and extremely negative commentary that faculty included. Faculty spoke with open minds and truth because it was anonymous and they did not have to fear retaliation. Having been a full time faculty member at UCC since 1978, I am deeply saddened by the morale deterioration at the college. To say morale is at it’s worst in the time that I have been at the college, is simply an extreme understatement.

  5. Anne English   June 13, 2016 at 11:50 am

    This comment is in response to Mark Thompson. It’s even worse than you think: Yes, they are hiring more adjuncts. Go take a look at HERC and you will see they have ads running for every conceivable job. Why? Because they are replacing experienced adjuncts with inexperienced, fresh-out-of-school adjuncts because they’re cheaper. There are many experienced, good adjuncts at this school, some with a decade or more of experience at this institution alone. They are not being re-hired this year because they can save money; then they use this money to turn around, hire more full-time staff, and bloat the administrative staff even further.

    I also know of situations where they fired excellent adjuncts because they refused to pass students who didn’t deserve it.