In early June, delegates of the American Association for University Professors voted to place Union County College on its list of institutions sanctioned for violating AAUP-supported standards of academic government, as investigations revealed serious departures by the administration and governing board from generally accepted standards of college and university government endorsed by the association.
At the June 28 meeting of UCC Board of Trustees and administration, a frustrated and beleaguered faculty body packed into Richel Commons on the UCC campus in Cranford in the hopes of receiving a glimmer of hope in resolving some of the more pressing issues. But the administration, led by the college’s Board of Trustees Chairman Vic Richel, appeared to offer nothing in the way of compromise, nor did Richel address the sanctions.
As the almost 80 full-time faculty, adjunct faculty, and AAUP organizers from Rutgers looked on, UCC professors and adjunct professors took the floor to address the board.
Derek McConnell, President of the UCC Chapter of the AAUP, addressed the board regarding the sanctions. “These sanctions are kind of a big deal,” McConnell told the administration. “The AAUP is 102 years old, with roughly 47,000 members from over 500 campuses nationwide. Part of what it does is support collective bargaining, but I am not here to negotiate. The AAUP’s original and primary concern is maintaining quality in higher education, which is why the AAUP documented these governance standards 50 years ago, working closely with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.”
McConnell noted that the overwhelming majority of institutions of higher education, including community colleges, work in harmony with these governing principles, and that out of 500 AAUP affiliated schools, just seven are currently under sanction, including UCC. “Until our reorganization one year ago, UCC functioned under a democratic system that was in alignment with these AAUP guidelines,” McConnell said. “Under this system, the faculty and administration worked together collegially to determine and meet the needs of our students. The faculty had a meaningful role in guiding the school through running its own faculty committees, departmental elections on changes and chairs, and whole faculty meetings with votes on key changes, all while being steered, overseen, and checked by the executive power of the administration, and ultimately, the boards. This system of academic governance valued faculty expertise in teaching methods, subject matter, and student needs. These sanctions confirm that the current administration, with the board’s explicit support, has taken away the faculty’s vote and voice, even threatened its right to exist, and taken more and more power for itself, while silencing those with expertise essential to the college’s mission.”
McConnell told the assembled audience that he was unsure why such radical changes were necessary, considering that in 2007 Middle States review deemed UCC a leading institution. “I’m guessing that one reason given for such extreme changes was to increase our low graduation rates,” said McConnell. “However, to her credit, Dr. McMenamin managed to nearly triple graduation rates before dismantling the old, AAUP-approved system of governance.”
While graduation rates have indeed tripled at the college, many professors and adjunct professors at the school have accused the school of pressuring them to pass undeserving students, and some say they have been threatened. “We do want students to pass,” said one faculty member at the meeting. “But it’s us, the teachers, that make the students pass. I was once very proud to be at Union County College, but now my feelings have changed. People are afraid to talk because they won’t get classes. The First Amendment doesn’t exist here. Everyone is afraid to say how they feel.”
In a recent survey of UCC faculty members, and during the course of several interviews with LocalSource, many others have expressed similar sentiments.
Jeff Shalan, a full-time senior professor of English and former coordinator of the Honors Studies and American Honors programs at the college, was at the meeting. “I was impressed by the faculty turnout — the largest in memory — and the evident synergy between full-time and part-time faculty,” Shalan told LocalSource. “That’s an important synergy to maintain and cultivate as we seek to engage the administration and the board more fully.”
Shalan maintains that the administration uses retaliatory measures, as well as attempting to marginalize the increasing number of faculty members who oppose the new policies. “More faculty need to make their views known,” said Shalan. “Fear of retaliation and, frankly, the complacency of some, no doubt discourages this. But it’s the only way to fully discredit the misguided or disingenuous claim of senior administrators that most faculty support their policy initiatives and managerial style. In fact, the administration has repeatedly sought to marginalize wide-scale and ever-growing faculty opposition to, and discontent with, its policies and/or management style by categorizing it as a handful of malcontents resistant to and fearful of change. Dr. Nacco’s published response to the excerpts of the faculty survey read at the May Board meeting is indicative of this position. Mr. Richel’s response to faculty present at the June board meeting is only its most recent iteration.”
McConnell told the crowd that he would hope that no one wanted to witness a public institution transform into a dysfunctional dictatorship. “These sanctions, like the survey you heard about last month, point to a communication breakdown between faculty and leadership,” he said. “The faculty have been distanced from the leadership process, and this is a problem. But these sanctions cannot force UCC to return to a government that values faculty input.”
McConnell addressed both Richel, UCC Board of Trustees Chair, and UCC President Mary McMenamin directly. “I am speaking tonight out of concern for the college we all love, and because I believe you can solve this problem,” he said. “As you move us forward, I ask you to consider moving back towards a more democratic model that preserves the faculty’s role in shaping the college, gives faculty the voice and respect they need to help create the next generation of citizens, and gets these sanctions removed as soon as possible.”
William Lipkin, an adjunct professor at UCC and co-president of the American Federation of Teachers chapter at UCC, as well as Secretary/Treasurer of United Adjunct Faculty of NJ, Local 2222, AFT, also addressed the administration and told LocalSource that even the physical arrangement of the meeting was designed to keep faculty members far from the administration. “You could tell from the way that they had it set up that they were trying to keep us far away and make it harder for us to speak.”
Lipkin said that he has experienced a continued campaign of retaliatory measures on the part of UCC administrators. While in the past he has been offered three or four classes, Lipkin said that he was offered just one class for the coming semester, and that the same thing happened with summer courses. On top of that, Lipkin maintains that he has been offered a class at a time when classes never run at all. “I called a dean and asked him if I’ll be getting a course, and he said no,” Lipkin said. “They don’t want me or any other adjuncts who have spoken out against them there. Where are we going with this? It’s a situation that’s not getting better.”
According to Lipkin, several administrators, along with faculty members, have recently left the college. “People are leaving a sinking ship,” he said.
Several adjunct professors spoke, some sharing comments from their own adjunct faculty survey they conducted, while some shared unpleasant experiences working under the McMenamin administration and the recent reorganization. One professor who has taught at the school for decades shared past triumphs of filling up classes, getting nominated for the Neblett Award, and receiving excellent peer and student reviews, yet now is being told by the new dean that she was not qualified and would not be given classes to teach. Ironically, because the class that she was supposed to teach was not being taught by her anymore, it was cancelled due to low enrollment.
According to many faculty members, the administration is hiring new adjuncts to replace more experienced and proven teachers in order to save as little as a few hundred dollars per course.
Faculty members were sure that once Richel heard the multiple pleas for improved communication with the administration and board, the mounting resistance to their leadership, and negative survey results, that he would give his assurance that he would look into the issues. Instead, however, Richel effectively told the faculty that the changes were there to stay. “We as a unit have supported and studied and worked with Dr. McMenamin and her staff, and we fully endorse the plans and the steps that she is taking. Change is never easy, change is always difficult, and I think some of you are having more difficulty with change than others. But change is here to stay. This program that Dr. McMenamin and her staff have developed has been done with our approval, with our concurrence. We support them fully and totally.”
Richel was met with loud and angry hissing at the conclusion of his speech, but it did not end there. Just after the meeting, a Rutgers AAUP representative loudly confronted Richel. “That was incredibly patronizing — that was disgusting to listen to,” she shouted to Richel, who pointedly ignored her and walked away. “When you read those headlines about what’s happening to the middle class in this country and you wonder who’s making that happen, walk in the bathroom, look in the mirror, and look at yourselves.”
Shalan said that he is unnerved by the demise of the democratic process at the school. “It’s extremely disconcerting to see the administrative leaders and board members of an institution of higher learning, which includes as central to its mission the education of a democratic citizenry, show such apparent disregard for the sacrosanct democratic process of open deliberation and debate and participatory decision-making,” said Shalan. “What exists in place of that process at the college now is largely a charade.”