Thresholds and Endings at WAU

Saying goodbye to WAU’s 2014 departees . . .

Washington Adventist Community

There are liminal moments in the history of an institution in which a threshold is crossed.  One such threshold has arrived for WAU: for the first time in recent months we are hearing from people whose judgment we respect worrying out loud about the demise of Washington Adventist University. Years of misguided decisions and instability in academic leadership at the Cabinet level have taken their toll on departments across the campus. Programs have been reduced, suspended or scheduled for closure, departments have been cut and faculty members dismissed. That has inevitably had an effect on student retention.

Just as worrisome is the apparent lack of concern on the part of the board for the direction of the university. A majority of the board are conference presidents, some of whom would be just as happy to see WAU close—and have privately said as much. The fact that there is little, if any, inquiry…

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How WAU Can Win (Back) Friends and Influence People

Washington Adventist Community

None of us want to see WAU close. That includes us here at WAC. Although we’ve been accused of being an “evil” website trying to bring down the university, that is far from our intention. What we want is what many others want: a healthy, financially stable educational institution, with a clear sense of purpose, that is dedicated to helping students learn how to learn and how to transform their world into part of the kingdom of God. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

But you can’t achieve good ends by shifty means. You can’t build on sand and you can’t cut corners in the construction of “present truth.” What we’re looking for from the administration of Dr. Spence, Provost Kisunzu, and VP Farley first, is transparency. There are tough problems right now at WAU, and bunkering down behind false promises and self-interest isn’t going to help. We’re all…

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Down the Rabbit Hole

Washington Adventist Community

One of the purposes for which Washington Adventist Community, aka WAC, exists is to raise questions about the actions of the administration at Washington Adventist University, aka WAU. And there is no end to the questions that come to mind. In fact, trying to figure out the logic behind their actions can consume more time than any of us should spend. Nevertheless, we here at WAC do it so that you don’t have to. However, a word of caution: if you should plunge headlong down the rabbit hole into this alternate reality don’t expect to find your way back to the light without considerable effort. With that in mind, we’ll begin.

Despite almost seven years of contradictory evidence we continue to look for a clear plan for this university. We’re not talking about “The Plan,” the prosaically-named revision of the strategic plan of the early part of the century. We’re…

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Why Adjuncts Can’t Replace Full-Time Faculty

We knew this day would come: Washington Adventist University (WAU) is trying to fill the gaps in their faculty ranks with adjuncts—lots of them. The NAD Employment site is filled with listings for openings at WAU. In fact, there is an Adjunct Faculty Career Fair coming up on June 4 on campus in which prospective adjuncts can meet with representatives of various departments to discover “what it’s like to teach at WAU” (see a copy of the Email with more information here: WAU_Today’s News (05.28.2014).

“We are currently seeking to expand our pool of qualified adjunct faculty,” says the announcement, “and to fill several openings in key discipline areas, such as English, Math, Business, Computer Studies, Nursing, Biology, and Chemistry.” (Full details are also on the WAU website)

We here at WAC thought those were “key discipline areas” too. And we thought that those areas were being covered pretty well by the full-time faculty who not only taught in their disciplines with expertise, insight, and dedication, but advised, served on committees, participated in research, coordinated on-campus and off-campus events, found internships for students, led out in worship and spiritual events, were available to students during office hours and more, and generally provided not only information but experience and wisdom to students year after year.

But now those classes will be covered by adjuncts. Covering the instructional material is all an adjunct can generally do. One of us here at WAC is a full-time adjunct. Whereas some adjuncts have steady jobs from 9 – 5 and teach in the evenings, many of us do this full-time.

Nationwide, adjunct faculty now make up 76% of college instructors. They make on average $20,000 to $27,000 per year, with no benefits (NPR, Feb. 3, 2014) . This trend began in the 1970s when adjuncts were few, but usually professionals who wanted to share their expertise with students and pick up some extra money on the side. They brought their “real-world” experience to the classroom in business, criminal justice, health care, vocational, and social work.

The difference now is that most of the part-time instructors are of two types: either they were cut from full-time teaching or they are just out of graduate school and hoping to hang on long enough for a full-time position to open up.

That almost never happens.

As long as administrators can hire a competent instructor for less than a third of what they would have to pay an associate or full professor—and no costly medical or retirement benefits—they have no incentive to change.

Colleges and universities have differing attitudes toward adjuncts. Some go out of their way to make them feel part of the campus by offering orientation sessions at the beginning of each school year, parking privileges, access to the library, recreational and dining facilities, and invitations to campus events.

Other colleges are late with contracts, don’t provide information about schedules, important dates, access to copy machines, or remedial services on campus that a teacher might refer students to. Information that the teacher needs is difficult to find or is contradictory or is simply not available, all of which is frustrating for someone on a schedule that is sometimes calculated down to the minute.

Adjuncting full-time means juggling schedules on two, sometimes three or four campuses, with five to seven different preparations for classes that can begin at 8 am on a campus an hour away and conclude that night at 10 pm on another campus—usually with two to three other classes in between on yet another campus.

When you’re racing from one campus to another there isn’t much time for face-to-face advising with students, even if you can find a place on campus that offers some privacy. Advising must be done through email, throughout the day, between classes on one’s phone or at the end of the day after hours of preparation, teaching, driving, and grading.

The reason why most full-time adjuncts teach overloads is because most campuses will not give an adjunct more than two classes a semester, lest they have to pay them benefits. So in order to make a living wage one has to teach as many courses as possible. I know adjuncts who not only teach three or four courses a week, but have another job as well.

When you read the comments after articles or podcasts about the grind of adjunct teaching, it’s clear that many people have no idea what teaching is really about. They can’t understand why anyone would work so hard for such low wages. “Get another job!” they say. “Nobody needs your sacrifice.” The full-time adjuncts I know live with these conditions because as stressful as it can be at times, all of that usually fades away once we step into the classroom. There’s an excitement and anticipation that just can’t be found in a lot of other jobs.

But this is not an ideal situation for anyone but the financial officers of a campus. No matter how dedicated and innovative an adjunct may be, they can rarely replace a full-time faculty member who has more resources, more time, better facilities, and a fuller sense of the mission of the college.

As WAU tries to fill these positions they will quickly find that there are precious few qualified Adventist instructors who are willing and able to meet the schedules and to work for the wages that WAU offers. They may be hiring people who are content experts in their respective fields, but who will be unfamiliar with the unique culture and ethos of an Adventist campus. Fitting into that culture will not only take explaining but coaching. Given the fact that most faculty at WAU are already overworked, not much time and attention can be given to adjunct faculty beyond basic instruction.

Fasten your seat belts and lower your expectations. This could be a bumpy flight come September.

What is Shared Governance?

As the Washington Adventist University campus prepares for Graduation weekend there remains among faculty, students, and alumni a palpable sense of distrust in the statements released by the university on the loss of accreditation by the Nursing Department, the reasons for the laying off of four full-time faculty, and the financial state of the university.

So it’s interesting to note that Washington Adventist University was the subject of a dissertation, A Qualitative Assessment of the Meaning of Shared Governance at a Parochial University (2012) by Shaton Monique Glover-Alves, a doctoral candidate in education at Northeastern University in Boston. The author gathered data through surveys and interviews with administrators, faculty leaders, and even a student leader, to determine the meaning of shared governance on campus. Not surprisingly, she discovered that it had different meanings to various groups on campus, but that the diversity of perceptions could lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication. While the official statements in the bylaws and regulations defined shared governance, the actual practices in interactions between faculty and administration often diverged widely from the required processes.

When asked to define ‘shared governance’ both administrators and faculty leaders interviewed said ‘it all depends.’ This led the author to coin the term ‘situational shared governance,’ meaning that while there were official descriptions of the role of shared governance on campus, the changing situation often dictated how that was interpreted. In other words, due process was often not followed.

The faculty interviewed all said that the many committees on campus had a ‘voice but not a vote,’ that they functioned merely in an advisory capacity, and that their recommendations were often vetoed by the administration. Committees appeared to make a decision, but the real decisions were made elsewhere at another level. Administrators readily agreed that this was the case and one interviewee, referred to as ‘Shane’ (described as the chairman of the Board of Trustees), took care to reiterate that faculty did not have a vote in major decisions.

Faculty have served on search committees in which they spend countless hours recruiting candidates for positions on campus, vetting them, conducting extensive interviews with them, and then making their recommendations on the best candidate, only to have the President summarily appoint someone else. Their disappointment and frustration suggests that in practice, at least, they have a different perspective on their role as a search committee than does the President. One example of this was the appointment by the President of a person to develop a program in Homeland Security. Neither the program nor the position nor the instructor went through any faculty committee or Academic Council. As it enters into its third year on the budget at an estimated cost of over $100,000 per year, the program still has no students. While it was touted as a full four-year degree it is currently advertised as a six-month certificate training program.

The researcher noted that “When faced with questions and definitions about collegiality, “Paul” [a pseudonym for one of the administrators] reported that the governance structure supported the collegial model, and that faculty, staff and cabinet got together to engage in the strategic planning process to discuss mission, vision, and goals. Both Frank and Holly [pseudonyms for top-level administrators] describe collegiality in terms of faculty power and reported that faculty committees only had advisory power, but the administrator had veto power (71).”

The response given by “Paul” is a non-answer. It is a demonstration of his mastery of the sidestep in which the goal is diversion. However, the researcher was not fooled.

Trust was the second major theme that emerged in the study. There was a strong emotional connotation to the idea of trust among the faculty interviewees. The researcher described an interview in which a faculty leader struggled to control his tears as he talked about the humiliation he experienced in actions taken by administrators. Trust was equated with transparency about financial matters, academic decisions, and the goals and visions for the university. While benevolence, competency, and reliability were highly desired by the faculty interviewed, none of those dimensions mattered without trust.

“Paul” noted that “trust takes a long time.” Other administrators talked of “deferred trust” and “delayed trust.”  While some of the faculty interviewed felt that they were trusted to do their job by the administrators, they still had deep reservations about the consistency of care exhibited by administration. In a carefully nuanced statement the author commented, “Researcher reflection suggested that without the formation of a relationship, and a sensitivity to the corresponding emotions, there would be little basis for the success of situational shared governance.”

So when President Spence insists that he operates from a position of shared governance, he means something quite different from what faculty actually experience. He thinks if committees gather, discuss, and talk about an issue that shared governance has taken place. He is then free to disregard or veto the committee’s recommendations. Thus, faculty and administration operate with decidedly different expectations and goals about shared governance. The result is miscommunication, misunderstanding, and constant inefficiency.

The author offers three recommendations:

1. Campus leaders should assess the level of trust in the leader. “There may be a need to build trust before shared governance can be fully effective.”
2. It is wise to periodically “review all documents that describe shared governance to bring them into greater reality with practices on campus.”
3. Campus leaders should “engage in discussions on shared governance to clarify campus meanings before embarking on project which require shared governance.”

The research was done to discover the meaning of “shared governance” at a religiously-based university. It resulted in more questions about the nature of Seventh-day Adventist higher education. The dissertation concludes with this sentence: “If the institution is academic, then shared governance will flourish; if it is not, then market-driven, corporative, non-input and handed-down decision will be the order of the day.”

The provost and the president have made it clear in videos, written statements, and public forums that their decisions are market-driven, data-based, and handed down. They have consistently resisted input from faculty and alumni and have couched their language in corporative terms. If we take the findings of this research seriously we can only conclude that shared governance, however defined, no longer flourishes at Washington Adventist University.