Last Thursday, I had the good fortune to visit Dale Adams, who distinguished himself by serving this school in the English Dept. for over 50 years. He was deeply concerned, flummoxed, and flabbergasted by the decision of the board to support recent changes that will forever change this institution.
Along with the likes of John Britt and Dan Mendoza, Adams became a lifelong advocate for faculty and students; together with countless others they carved this school’s reputation into a lodestar – Lee College became known regionally, even nationally, as a welcoming, diverse, affordable, forward-thinking school that served as a magnet to teachers who valued a sense of community, academic freedom, and scholarship of the highest levels.
For instance, I have published books with the likes of Univ. Press of Mississippi and the University of Texas Press, but I just celebrated my 10-year anniversary here because I desire to be an ambassador for a school that is unlike the top-down models of nearby institutions that operate more like streamlined factories than places of critical thinking.
Yet, now I must sign a yearly contract and filter every lecture, discussion and assignment. On this campus, students and teachers can carry weapons of unimaginable power and ferocity, yet the faculty is worried about uttering occasional foul language, or using film and stories that contain the same irreverent speech, while that exact same language has become commonplace in the everyday language of our president and political campaigns right here in Texas. That is just one aspect of the new termination policy that is simply not just worrisome, it is un-American, a free speech issue, and bewildering. Fear not weapons of destruction, fear the slip of the tongue.
I have faith that you do understand the balance and benefits of shared governance, long-term contracts, and sensible institutional policies. If we do not change course, we will never see the likes of Mendoza, Britt, or Adams again. If you lack such a belief, then visit my department, where staff has been retiring, or leaving for “greener pastures,” in great numbers. If you just graduated after years of scholarship and research, critical thinking and hard work, would you dedicate yourself to a school that ignores faculty to the point where they are compelled to mount legal challenges, or would you seek employment elsewhere?
Our students deserve the best and brightest faculty members. Every student has an incredibly story of ambition, resilience, and pride. With every cent they pour into this college, they believe in a transformative education designed by faculty who are empowered and well-regarded, who are leaders and shakers, and who carve new paths and became living examples. They seek instructors who develop cutting-edge courses, provide the latest technology, and embrace theories and practices that provide bridges to universities, employment and lifelong learning.
You are now changing that calculus. You risk this school sliding into a new, lesser role; students will vote likely vote with their dollars. Do you want to shrink and cast a pale shadow in this community (in which we should remove John Britt’s name from his namesake hall), or project strength, endurance, academic excellence, and a framework for trust and good will, thus re-ignite our place in East Texas?
The time is not too late.
Killing shared governance, hurting academic freedom
I worked at Lee College for 30 years as a faculty member and as chairperson of Allied Health Division. I am appalled that Dr. Brown texted the Lee College faculty during the summer informing them that three-year faculty contracts were eliminated and the chairperson position was removed from the organizational chart. He did not seek input from the faculty for decisions that affect their livelihood. In essence, the regent’s vote to approve these policies kill shared governance and hurts academic freedom.
The chairperson is a faculty member elected by the faculty members in the division and is the link between the faculty and the administration. The chairperson interprets administration’s policy for the faculty and advocates for the faculty to administration.
Believe me, the faculty cooperates better when one of their own interprets administration’s policy. A large part of my job as chairperson was to evaluate faculty member’s performances in the classroom and performances in the clinical setting. Dr. Brown proposes that the chairpersons will be replaced by deans, who are far removed from actual teaching. The purpose of evaluation is better teaching. The faculty deserves evaluation of teaching performance by a peer, the chairperson.
On the matter of one year contracts, I fear that administration can non-renew faculty contracts based on faulty evaluation of teaching performance. Without the chairperson as a faculty advocate, the faculty member faces administration alone. With three year renewable faculty contracts, there was time to remediate areas of teaching performance concerns and time for faculty due process. With the one-year faculty contract, academic freedom will be impeded.
If a faculty member can be non renewed in the matter of nine months, he/she might be refrained from expressing their true thoughts in the classroom, in meetings and in public. The students suffer as a results for academic freedom is the hallmark of colleges.
I commend the two board members who voted against Dr. Brown’s egregious policies, Gina Guillory and Susan Moore-Fontenot. I applaud Jerry Hamby whose eloquent explanation of the role of the chairperson in shared governance and the wisdom of three-year faculty contracts was heard by only two board members.
In conclusion, Dr. Brown convinced you to vote for these two policies as he exits, leaving you with the consequences, which will be many and ugly. Please ask the candidates for president of Lee College their thoughts on shared governance and faculty contracts. It is my hope that the next president will be more transparent and does not have the need the be surrounded by deans. The president’s cabinet should have a dean, a chairperson, a faculty member, a staff member, a maintenance department member and a security department member. In my opinion, a flat organizational structure is more effective than a top heavy organizational structure. I worked with a flat organizational structure while at Lee College, for example it was student, faculty, chairperson, dean, president and board.
The students are the most important people on the campus. The faculty that teach the students are the second most important people on campus. The chairperson is a faculty member. The staff supports the faculty. The faculty and deans create policies.
The president presents policy to the board. The board approves policy. The president should not dictate policy without input from the faculty. The board hires the president.
Board of Regents, good luck in finding Lee College’s 10th president. I retired 19 years ago, but I love Lee College and I stand with the present faculty. Thank you for your consideration of a Lee College retiree’s opinion. We retirees are a valuable, untapped source of experience. Consider using us as consultants.
Dr. Rene Maher