UNION COUNTY, NJ — Delegates to the 102nd annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors voted in Washington, D.C. last week to place Union County College on its list of institutions sanctioned for violating AAUP-supported standards of academic government.
Association investigations said it revealed serious departures by the administration and governing board from generally accepted standards of college and university government endorsed by the Association.
In its report, the AAUP reports a change in administration as the advent of the violations. “A new president, shortly after assuming office in 2010, began making changes in the governance of the college that severely diminished the role of the faculty,” the report revealed, referring to UCC president Margaret McMenamin. “In 2012 she initiated, through the college’s attorney, a scope of bargaining petition with the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission. The report found that the administration of Union County College — with the acquiescence of its two governing boards — abolished key structures of faculty representation in governance; arrogated to itself the faculty role in formulating appointment, reappointment, promotion, and tenure policies; and forbade any discussion of governance practices and policies, even outside of collective bargaining negotiations.”
The report outlines further violations. “These include abolishing faculty meetings and replacing them with meetings (at which no votes are taken) of a ‘College Assembly’ consisting of administrative staff and faculty members; eliminating any independent faculty review and vote on curricular issues; and supplanting what was left of the faculty handbook with a new “Employee Handbook” that promulgates such administrative prerogatives as the right to monitor faculty and staff electronic communications for any reason, as well as the right to make any changes to the handbook at any time.”
In November, 2015, the AAUP had released a report on severe departures from generally accepted standards of academic governance at the college.
The report, written by former AAUP president Robert A. Gorman, an emeritus professor of labor law at the University of Pennsylvania, details how McMenamin has allegedly diminished the role and influence of the faculty in the college’s governance system. The McMenamin administration is also accused of successfully petitioning the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission to remove standard, though not mandatory, provisions on faculty governance from the collective bargaining agreement.
According to the report, Gorman sought to meet with representatives of the faculty, administration, and governing boards in response to faculty complaints of governance and academic freedom violations, but that McMenamin declined to meet with Gorman, as did the chairs of the college’s two governing boards.
In response to being sanctioned, Vic Richel, board chair of UCC, issued the following statement to LocalSource. “For the past six years, Union County College’s governing Board of Trustees has, along with our advisory Board of Governors, actively reviewed and participated in the development of President Margaret McMenamin’s plan to transform our College into one that is truly student-centered,” said Richel. “We have unanimously agreed with Dr. McMenamin’s vision and plan, and fully support the steps she and her Administration have taken to transform Union County College into one of the nation’s premier community colleges. We have over 30 outstanding community leaders who serve as volunteers on our Boards of Trustees and Governors, and I believe that our complete support should be understood as total validation of all the steps being taken by President McMenamin and her administration to achieve our objectives. Dr. McMenamin’s leadership and management of Union County College is truly outstanding.”
Derek McConnell, President of the UCC Chapter of the AAUP, issued the following statement to LocalSource in response to the sanction. “Union County College became one of only seven institutions of higher learning currently sanctioned for violating principles of academic government this weekend,” said McConnell. “Three other faculty members and I attended the national AAUP meeting in DC on Saturday, when the situation at Union County College was discussed with great concern, and sanctions for violating standards of academic government were approved unanimously.”
William Lipkin, founder and secretary/treasurer of United Adjunct Faculty of New Jersey, which represents 3,800 adjuncts at 10 of the county colleges in the state, told LocalSource that things have been getting worse at UCC since the new administration took over. “Things have been bad since the new administration,” said Lipkin, who is also a professor at the college. “We are not included in college decisions. We have no say in governance. We did last year, but not anymore.”
According to Lipkin, the school went through a reorganization last year, culminating in the eradication of departments and department chairs, replacing them with divisions and deans. And, according to Lipkin, the deans are under the control of the administration.
Lipkin, who has been a professor at UCC for 28 years, said that the reorganization is just one example of many grievances that many adjunct faculty members, in particular, have against the school. Lipkin cites pressure by the administration to change grades in order to hike graduation rates as just one of the concerns. Other grievances include low pay and an overall lack of respect for adjunct faculty members on the part of the administration.
According to Lipkin, the administration seems to be targeting faculty members that have been at the school for a long time in order to replace them with newer adjuncts who get paid less. “In my opinion, UCC is targeting people that have been there a long time,” said Lipkin. “By throwing out old adjuncts and bringing in new ones, UCC is saving about a $450 a course.”
Lipkin said that new adjuncts at the school don’t last long, however. “Many of them don’t last too long,” said Lipkin. “There’s no room for growth.”
Lipkin called out the school for its retaliatory measures when faculty members speak up against the administration. “Anyone that speaks out is definitely retaliated against,” he said. “Two faculty members spoke out at a board member and they weren’t brought back.”
Stephen Nacco, Vice President of Administrative Services and executive assistant to the president, spoke to LocalSource about what he felt was the most pressing accusation.
“The most important and insidious issue that both full- and part-time faculty have raised is the underlying misconception that faculty were ever asked to give students grades they didn’t earn,” said Nacco. “That never happened and never will happen. Moreover, we would like to think that our faculty have the professional integrity never even to call this into question, that they understand that all of us who have taught college classes know that grading is sacrosanct.”
According to Nacco, graduation rates have tripled over the last six years due to McMenamin’s development of a comprehensive student success plan. “President McMenamin and her leadership team worked hard over six years to reverse a 20-year trend of single-digit graduation rates,” said Nacco. “That is, Union’s students were graduating at 5.9 percent when Dr. McMenamin arrived at Union and last year graduated at a 15.7 percent rate — nearly three times higher than in 2010.”
Nacco maintains that although students were passing their courses at an acceptable rate back in 2010 — at a rate of more than 70 percent — there were policies standing in the way of higher graduation rates. “The college had policies and programs that threw unnecessary roadblocks in front of our
students in their progress toward graduation,” said Nacco. “In order to reverse the legacy of student failure, President McMenamin developed a comprehensive student-success plan in consultation with Academic Affairs Vice President Maris Lown and Student Development Vice President Helen Brewer.”
Nacco said that the college strives to prepare students through dual enrollment programs, mandatory orientations, test preparation boot camps for AccuPlacer, and academic mapping to ensure that matriculated students register for classes that will help them complete their degrees. Ensuring that programs don’t require an excessive number of credits for completion and adopting on-time registration policies are also part of the plan.
Another initiative, according to Nacco, coined “Operation Graduation,” involves tracking students on the road to graduation and introducing measures such as earned credits through CLEP testing to ensure graduation.
But according to a faculty member who requested anonymity, the faculty is, indeed, pressured to graduate students. “They seem overly intent on achieving the goals of Middle States accrediting and they don’t care how they achieve those goals, as long as they can produce a number,” said the source. “McMenamin is on the board of Middle States. Middle States currently has the outlook that a business model is the way to go in education, and that is why you see heavy layers of administrative staff. Many educational experts think this is a faulty model and it will change in time.”
The source said that teachers who critique their students are at risk. “I once was in the office planning classes, and another teacher was there correcting papers and I noted how detailed she was in her critiques to her students and how much time she spent,” she said. “The next thing I knew, she was fired because she refused to pass a student who barely attended class.”
The source said that although she has taught at UCC for a long time, she has received fewer classes in recent months. “In the last two semesters I have received fewer and fewer classes,” she said. “Last semester I only received one class, and
for fall semester I was told no classes for me.”
The source said that she has seen ads put up by UCC for professors in her field, yet told her there were no classes for her to teach. “They put the ads up first, and then they told me there weren’t enough classes,” she said. “That is probably because I get paid more than new, incoming teachers, as I have never received a bad critique. This practice of theirs is an unsustainable model, though, as the younger teachers have to pay off student loans, and the low pay of our work will not allow them to both pay for living expenses and pay student loans.”
The source said that the administration is living high on the hog while many faculty members struggle to make ends meet. “They are adopting the high-flying ways of corporate CEOs — country club memberships, high salaries, and McMenamin not only has her own parking space, she has her own parking lot,” she said, citing McMenamin’s takeover of an entire parking lot outside the administration building just for administrative staff.
Nicole Stewart, a former professor at UCC, told LocalSource that she was asked by the administration to change grades in order to graduate a student. “The new administration has softened their academic integrity and grading policies,” said Stewart. “We are to now pass the students at all costs.”
Stewart said that she taught a class developed for the Trinitas Nursing Program with the previous business department chair. Stewart said that Trinitas used this class to weed out students who did not honor their commitments, pay attention to detail, and who could not manage their time or follow directions, and that this academic integrity policy has been in effect for upwards of five years. “This semester, under the new administration, I had a student who gave his work to another and she turned it in,” said Stewart. “I was told that I could not call it cheating or fail the students because the student who emailed his work “didn’t intend to cheat” and failing would be too harsh on the student who submitted the work.”
Stewart said that she made her case to both the dean and assistant dean of business at UCC and was overruled. When asked if she could appeal the decision, she was told that indeed she could — to the dean and assistant dean who had previously ruled against her. “I was told that UCC overrules Trinitas and if Trinitas didn’t like it, ‘they can take their program and go, but I know they won’t,’” said Stewart, who said that she was told this by an assistant dean at the school. “I requested to have the two students transferred to another section and that was denied also. They continued to cheat, and I failed both for the semester — one on her grades, and the other on the later cheating. UCC reversed the failure.”
McConnell, who is also an English professor at the college, told LocalSource that the administration has created a new job description at the school. “The administration just announced it is creating and hiring a new position called ‘lecturers,’” said McConnell. “We are trying to get the exact job description, but we were told they would teach 9 to 12 credits a semester, and thus be part-time faculty, and thus not be part of the full-time collective bargaining. These lecturers would also do administrative work when they aren’t teaching.”
McConnell said that the college once had full-time faculty coordinators for different programs and departments. “About a year ago, the administration unilaterally reorganized the college, dividing the college into four divisions instead of 13 departments, eliminating elected department chairs and faculty program or departmental coordinators, and replacing those roles with deans and assistant deans, most of which came from outside institutions,” he said.
According to McConnell, committees at the college were restructured as well, making them roughly half staff and half faculty. “The committees do vote, however a lot has been lost democratically speaking,” said McConnell. “Positions, including chair positions, are being held by non-tenured faculty, even on key committees that are really the domain of faculty, like the Curriculum Committee. This means that, between staff and non-tenured faculty, who are fearful of losing their jobs if they go against the administration’s wishes, there is not a working majority of faculty to make decisions about what they — with their frontline, long-term experience — think is best.”
McConnell said that, in essence, a faculty body no longer exists. “We had monthly faculty meetings with an elected chair and the faculty and a Faculty Executive Committee,” McConnell maintains. “With the reorganization, these bodies and positions no longer exist. The faculty is not even allowed to meet as a body. We were told that we no longer exist.”
McConnell asserts that faculty members said that while the administration has increased in number and power, the faculty has been diminished. “The administration is constantly increasing its own numbers and power, while reducing the number and power of full-time faculty,” said Mcconnell. “What used to be an inconveniently democratic public institution, is now a top-heavy, top-down organization. The faculty, who in my estimation are the college, are being systematically crushed. They are being replaced by staff and part-time faculty who have no voice, and can be easily replaced. This may be logistically and financially expedient. However, as our survey indicates, there are major, valid concerns about what the end result will be if the administration succeeds in squashing the full-time faculty,” said McConnell, citing a recent survey issued by UCC faculty members.
McConnell reiterated the fact that the school has violated widely accepted practices.
“What was a functioning micro-democracy resembles more and more a micro-dictatorship,” McConnell said. “Union County College is an institution that, according to its mission statement, ‘strives to promote in students … an understanding of their obligations as members of a democratic society.’ Thus, when widely accepted democratic principles are violated by the leaders of UCC, it is imperative that we speak out as faculty and as citizens. As faculty-citizens, we can only hope that the residents of Union County and New Jersey will take notice of this executive power grab and violation of century-old democratic principles of academic governance, and urge the Board of Trustees and the Administration to return to a more democratic model that preserves the faculty role in shaping the College, and gives faculty the voice and respect they need to help create the next generation of citizens.”
We will be bringing these Sanctions, and this important matter, to the attention of the Board and the public at the next Board meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, June 28th at Union County College in Cranford, and is open to the public.”
Lipkin said that the college he once loved is gone. “Years ago, I used to say that UCC was the best place,” said Lipkin. “Now, it’s the worst — beyond anything you can imagine. You walk in there and you can cut the tension with a knife.”
McConnell said that the sanctions will be brought to the attention of the Union County College Board of Trustees at their next meeting, scheduled for June 28.