The Faculty Senate at Fort Hays State University has voiced a “crisis of confidence” in President Mirta Martin, but not all faculty agree that is the case. Meanwhile, Martin says talk of increasing class size and reducing the number of extra courses faculty can teach are part of a bigger discussion on how the university might address future budget cuts from the Kansas Legislature and not an active proposal.
Faculty Senate members met with the Kansas Board of Regents during the board’s regular meetings conducted on the FHSU campus Wednesday and Thursday. It is a regular practice of the board to conduct meetings at each of the six Regents institutions, visiting each campus every two years.
Thursday’s meeting with the Faculty Senate was requested by the board as a routine method of reaching out to various groups on the campus. The regents were not expecting an airing of grievances, but listened to the faculty members’ concerns, extending the meeting about 20 minutes beyond its scheduled time.
Faculty Senate President Carl Miller spoke on behalf of the senate. He told the Regents there were other faculty who would like to speak, but feared retribution if they did.
“Truthfully, I would rather not be here. But I was entrusted with this position and I take it seriously,” Miller, an associate professor of philosophy, said.
He laid out concerns for the Regents regarding possible changes to course enrollment caps and faculty overloads, which are courses faculty teach for the university outside of their contracts, often through the Virtual College or during the summer term.
According to the Memorandum of Agreement between the university and the bargaining unit of the FHSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors for fiscal years 2017-19, the workload for full-time faculty is 24 credit hours in one academic year for a nine-month contract, essentially four classes per semester. Faculty on nine-month contracts who teach overloads are paid 20 percent of one-ninth of their annual salary per credit hour.
There also were concerns about what Tony Gabel, associate professor of management, called during Thursday’s meeting “a crisis of confidence” and low morale stemming from faculty perceptions of cronyism, favoritism, administrative bloat, lack of transparency and shared governance, and a pattern of making decisions without data to support it.
Caps and overloads
Miller told the Regents that approximately two months ago, Martin went to the FHSU deans saying the university was facing a financial crisis and the administration needed to consider ways to cut costs, including increasing caps and reducing the overload.
The academic deans at FHSU were contacted by email by The Hays Daily News to clarify that statement, but as of Saturday afternoon, none had responded.
That information trickled down to faculty, Miller said, and the Faculty Senate invited Martin and Provost Graham Glynn to its first meeting of the academic year in September.
“Dr. Martin said, ‘Yes this is basically what we’re going to do,’ ” Miller said.
“So then we started asking for information — what’s the data, how much is this going to save?” Miller said.
Glynn said at the Oct. 3 Faculty Senate meeting the calculations on those savings have not yet been done. Martin did not attend that meeting.
“So two months after this has been floating around they acknowledge they have not done any calculations for what savings would actually be realized by this proposal,” Miller said.
That was acknowledged by Mike Barnett, vice president for administration and finance, at the Oct. 11 meeting of the FHSU AAUP. Barnett had been invited to speak to the group to clarify questions about the university’s finances.
During that meeting, Barnett was asked by Larry Gould, professor of political science and former provost, what the reduction in faculty overloads would save.
“We haven’t got enough information yet that I can answer that question,” Barnett said. “What we’re doing right now is pulling all overload costs, if you will, for the last three years and all the adjunct costs for the last three years, trying to generate a comparison there for cost per credit hour and then have the discussion based on that.”
And that is what Martin characterizes the issue as — a discussion.
“I didn’t bring a proposal. There was a conversation,” she said in an interview on Monday. “The conversation started as how we were going to address the budget cuts. I was going to address the budget cuts by looking into everything that we had to look into. Everything includes overloads and course caps.”
Yuri Yerastov, assistant professor of English and secretary for Faculty Senate, said he would not characterize what Martin said at the September meeting as a proposal.
“She was only opening dialog on that issue. There was nothing set in stone,” Yerastov said in an interview Friday afternoon.
Gabel, who also is lead negotiator for the FHSU AAUP bargaining unit, told the regents his “back of the envelope” calculations indicate the university would save only a quarter of a million dollars in shifting overloads to adjunct faculty.
“We’re talking about an infinitesimal number here that’s caused a lot of angst and a lot of frustration among the faculty,” Gabel said.
Gabel acknowledged there might be abuse of the overloads by a few faculty, but said some do depend on those overloads to extend their personal income.
“The question is why not just go after those two or three people the president identified rather than the wholesale elimination of overloads for faculty?” he said.
In regards to increasing class size, a cap of 50 was mentioned by Martin in the September Faculty Senate meeting, but she said that was just given as an example. Her suggestion was a 10-percent increase, which with current course caps at 25, would mean two students extra per class on average.
The average class size, according the FHSU Admissions web page, is 20 to 25 students. U.S. News and World Report, which has given FHSU high rankings in past years, indicates 43 percent of FHSU classes of fewer than 20 students.
Increasing class sizes could mean reducing the number of sections taught for a course, Martin said.
“If there is economic downturn, then at worst a class of 30 might help protect someone else’s job,” she said.
Untenured faculty, like English professor Yerastov, are concerned about being targeted for job cuts.
“One way is to cut faculty and who would be cut first but adjuncts and non-tenured people? I am tenure track. I could potentially one of those people,” he said.
Both Martin and Barnett said the issue of overloads is not directly connected to budget cuts, but rather are a question of efficiency.
“The overload discussion has happened at I guess an unfortunate time as far as what the state’s doing to us,” Barnett told the AAUP, “so naturally people tie it together, but I don’t think it should be tied together.”
For Martin, it is a moral responsibility to be accountable in running a public institution.
“My responsibility is to provide the very best education at the most affordable tuition while being a good steward of the public funds,” she said.
Paying a full-time faculty member to teach an overload course can cost the university up to two or three times what it would pay an adjunct to teach the same course, she said.
“If someone were to ask me how can you justify paying this person twice as much as this person when they have the same expertise, I could not answer that,” she said.
Some faculty have expressed concern that hiring adjuncts could affect the quality of instruction offered by the university.
Martin noted that adjunct faculty must meet the same requirements as full-time faculty.
“The adjuncts have to have the same credentials as those (full-time faculty) teaching the courses. It’s required by accreditation,” she said.
Furthermore, hiring and assessment of adjuncts is handled at the department level, she said.
“The faculty in the department, with the chair in the department look at the credentials of these adjuncts. They are approved by that chair, hired by that chair of that department and by that dean,” she said.
“And if for whatever reason that adjunct faculty does not perform, their contract can either be yanked in the middle of the semester or not renewed for the following semester,” she said.
“Quality rests with the faculty. Curricula belong to the faculty. And the faculty and the chairs are the ones who are tasked with ensuring that curriculum and that rigor,” she said.
Among all of the talk is concern that the views of the entire university toward Martin, especially from faculty, are not accurately represented.
“She’s got my 100 percent trust and support,” said Terry Crull, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities.
“I’ve been under two administrations. For the first time in my tenure here, we’re getting the kind of support we expect from our upper administration,” he said.
He said former FHSU President Edward Hammond was a great president for the university, but his support for the music department wasn’t a visible support.
“We’re getting construction in my building we’ve needed ever since I’ve been here,” he said.
That construction would be a band room addition at Malloy Hall scheduled to be complete in January. The building also received new ceilings and lights recently.
“I know it was started under Hammond, but now Mirta is here and it’s going,” he said.
What really upset Crull, however, was reading about a Faculty Senate survey in Friday’s Hays Daily News that Miller cited in the meeting with the Regents.
That survey was sent to 320 full-time faculty members, asking eight questions about the caps and overloads issues, and allowed for submission of comments as well. About 73 percent of those who received the survey responded, Miller said, and 66 percent of the respondents indicated if they could find a comparable job, they would leave FHSU.
FHSU has a total of 390 full-time equivalent faculty, according to a “quick facts” page on its website.
Gary Brinker, professor of sociology who is also director of the Docking Institute of Public Affairs, said adjuncts and any faculty who also had administrative duties — including himself — were excluded from the survey. He also is a member of Faculty Senate.
He designed the survey for Faculty Senate, but did not analyze the data.
“The survey did not reflect the views of the entire faculty, and second, the survey did not measure broad satisfaction or dissatisfaction,” he said in Thursday’s meeting. “All it measured was their opinions on these two policies, raising caps and moving the overload courses to adjuncts.”
He did say there might have been many comments in the qualitative data — the comments — but he did not look at those.
“I’m not denying that there is a significant percentage of the faculty that is dissatisfied. My point is we do not know the proportions,” he said.
Crull, who is full-time, tenured and has taught at FHSU for 12 years, said he did not recall receiving the survey.
“The word cronyism was used. There’s nothing more crony than selecting the results of the survey or selecting the persons you’re going to survey,” he said.
Crull is not a member of Faculty Senate, but has served on that body in the past, he said.
“Carl Miller does not speak for me,” Crull said.
Yerastov is concerned the Faculty Senate is not representing the views of untenured and adjunct faculty, as well as those who do support the president. He spoke in Thursday’s meeting with the regents in support of Martin and said there were several faculty members who afterward expressed solidarity for his support.
“To say the the university is not behind Dr. Martin is a bit of an exaggeration,” he said.
“I get the impression that the dialog and the discourse in the Faculty Senate has been hijacked by a vocal minority, a legalistically versed minority of tenured elite who are using the MOA and status to entrench their position without necessarily reflecting the opinions of the people who are less privileged on this campus,” he said.
Yerastov has taught at FHSU for four years. Originally from Russia, he has taught at universities in his home country as well Canada and Pennsylvania. He said Martin has brought values to the campus that are appreciated by international and minority faculty members.
The Cuban-born Martin is the first woman president of FHSU and also its first Hispanic president.
As an example, he cited Martin’s opposition to Gov. Sam Brownback’s July 2015 executive order rescinding the state’s employment protections of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.
He also disputes accusations that Martin is not qualified to manage the partnerships with schools in China and other nations around the world.
Yerastov is director of a program, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, that is undergoing expansion to international students through online courses. Yerastov said he has been copied into ongoing email negotiations with partner schools in Asia, and Martin is actively involved.
“She has been discussing financial details of those arrangements with a high degree of precision and attention and care,” he said. “I don’t know about all the issues, but I have seen her from a positive perspective in regard to our operation with China.”
As for the Board of Regents, the 10 members did listen to the Faculty Senate concerns. They did not take any action Thursday, and later adjourned to a meeting with Martin.
The board does have a process for evaluating the presidents of the regents institutions. According to the minutes for the board’s September meeting, that CEO evaluation tool was developed by a Regent-led subcommittee and has been in use since 2011.
According to Breeze Richardson, director of communications for the board, the multi-layer feedback survey will begin in early 2017.
“This process will allow a number of key stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members and others to provide feedback on the President’s performance to-date,” she said in an email.
The process takes about three months to complete.