Monday, June 01, 2015

Yet Another Reason to Read Helen Oyeyemi's Boy, Snow, Bird

Given my interest in fairy tales and fairy tale re-visions, Helen Oyeyemi's Boy, Snow, Bird was at the top of my summer reading list.  I'm so glad I read this slim, sly novel for so many reasons, but the one I'll put the spotlight on here and now has to do with the evocativeness of Oyeyemi's Hawthorne allusions.

At first glance, the scene where 13-year-old Bird and her 15-year-old friend Louis Chen team up to challenge the classmate who wrote "LOUIS CHEN IS A VIETCONG" in yellow chalk to fight them at "the corner of Pierce Road and Ivorydown" in Flax Hill includes what some might see as a fairly conventional Hawthorne invocation:
After ten minutes, we decided, with a mixture of disgust and relief, that Yellow Chalk Guy (or Girl) wasn't going to show, and we were ready to leave when three hefty boys from the eleventh grade showed up.  These three didn't take lunch money; they were less predictable than that.  They might stop you and give you a stash of comic books, or they might rip up your homework.  We knew their names, but never said them in case it made them appear.  One of them was directly descended from Nathaniel Hawthorne who wrote The Scarlet Letter; that one's mother had mentioned it at one of Grammy Olivia's coffee hours.  Mom says everybody immediately began to feel oppressed by their humble backgrounds because they'd forgotten (or didn't know) that anyone who's descended from Nathaniel Hawthorne is also a descendant of John Hathorne, the Salem judge who put just about as many innocent people to death as he could, so was it any wonder that Hawthorne was so good at describing what it felt like to be racked with guilt day and night. (182-183)
Bird's mom is Boy, and she and everyone in her family knows a lot about "what it felt like to be racked with guilt day and night," but she doesn't know that Bird and Louis are soon "caught in a circle of sniggering kids, without a single one of our so-called friends in sight," or that "the eleventh grader with the witch-hunter's blood," as Bird describes him, becomes the group's literal ring-leader, counseling "Patience, my friends, patience," as he refuses to allow the two friends to leave (183).  Fortunately, before they try to fight their way free, Grammy Olivia breaks the circle, leading Bird to reflect:
It put me in awe of Grammy Olivia's Saturday morning coffee hour, because that was part fo the reason we went in peace--everyone's mother, aunt, grandmother, or great-aunt goes to Grammy Olivia's coffee hour.  Also Gee-Pa Gerald regularly plays golf with the Worcester's chief of police, et cetera.  Also Grammy Olivia's tone of voice offers you ten seconds to do as she says or the rest of your life to be sincerely sorry that you didn't. (184)
I won't go any further into this scene right now, because unpeeling some of its layers would give away too much of the characters' back stories and entanglements to avoid spoilers, but trust me that Hawthornean themes of family, descent, inheritance, and guilt invoked by this scene are at the heart of Oyeyemi's novel--in quite surprising and revealing ways.

And these themes carry over into the relationship between Bird and her older half-sister Snow, whose correspondence starts not long after this scene and eventually moves into trading stories (literally twice-told tales) about a figure they call La Belle Capuchine.  I'll skip the one Bird writes to Snow, which has a distinctly Chesnutt feel to it, and jump straight to the Snow's story, which might be read as a rewriting of "Rappaccini's Daughter," with a twist of "Earth's Holocaust":
La Belle Capuchine has a wonderful garden filled with sweet-smelling flowers of every color.  She plants all the flowers herself, and she tends them herself, and every single one of those flowers is poisonous enough to kill anyone who comes close to them, let alone picks one.  La Belle Capuchine is beautiful like her flowers, but she's a poison damsel.  She eats and drinks poison all day long and she can rot a person's insides just by looking them in the eye.  I don't think Mother Nature likes us much.  If she did, she wouldn't make the things that are deadliest so beautiful.  For instance, why does fire dance so bright and so wild?  It isn't fair.
So far La Belle Capuchine has ended the world seventeen times.  She does it by making her poison garden bigger and bigger until it's the only thing in the world.  After that she takes a nap.  But the world starts again from the beginning.  And every time a few days after the new beginning somebody comes across a beautiful flower and picks it.  That wakes La Belle Capuchine up, and then there's hell to pay.  I think we'd better get used to La Belle Capuchine, since she'll never be defeated. 
The End. (230)
Again, to close-read either this story or Snow's reading of it or Snow's reading of Bird's La Belle Capuchine story would be to give too much away to readers who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy Boy, Snow, Bird and its revelations for themselves.  So of course it's even more premature to use that close-reading to explore how and to what ends Oyeyemi is re-envisioning Hawthorne texts as much as she is re-envisioning "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty."

Consider this post, then, a promise to continue that exploration later!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

I'm Baaaaaaack!!

Hey folks, my apologies for the radio silence for most of the spring semester.  I decided to keep a low profile after helping organize Fredonia's answer to National Adjunct Walk-Out Day for a variety of reasons:
  • I was teaching over 30 novels, graphic novels, short story collections, and other books this semester and meeting regularly with students on their writing and other projects, so keeping up that pace required me to sleep whenever I could (yep, I'm really in my mid-40s now!);
  • negotiations over the appointment, reappointment, and promotion of contingent faculty at Fredonia went into an even higher gear and I didn't want to come close to skirting our ground rules of keeping negotiations confidential while they were ongoing;
  • thanks to an extension, the first draft of a  group-authored article on university-level shared governance I was working on got submitted almost in time;
  • the election/appointment process for Chairperson of my department ground away this academic year and I chose to devote my time to meeting individually with all my colleagues after my department held an election and recommended me to the Dean to prepare for the transition and assemble my leadership team;
  • I got appointed to a Title IX and Sexual Violence Task Force and an Academic Affairs Review Committee, both of which were (and are) vitally important and added to my time commitment;
  • my younger daughter broke her forearm in two places on the same day my Nissan Versa's engine melted on the Thruway;
  • I tried keeping up with as many new graphic novels as I could (including Saga, The Unwritten, Black Science, Morning Glories...) along with classics I missed by Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, and Kurt Busiek....
  • I tried keeping up some semblance of an exercise schedule and family life outside work....
No wonder I needed to sleep so much!  But it all came together.  My students kicked much butt this semester, particularly in my Major Writers course on Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.  Negotiations concluded successfully and our new Handbook on Appointment, Reappointment, and Promotion goes into effect 8/1/15 (on which much more later).  The President appointed me Chairperson and the department approved new minors and restructuring of the major.  Imoto's cast came off and she's working hard to get full range of motion back in the joints of her left arm.  I might even find out soon if Nissan USA will replace an engine that didn't even make it to 50,000 miles in just over 6 years, despite consistent and quality service from my Nissan dealer in WNY.  Plus, I won an election to become the new University Faculty Senator for Fredonia, representing the campus on the SUNY University Faculty Senate and returning to the Fredonia University Senate's Executive Committee.

I'll close this post with my election statement:

I ask for your vote in this election for University Faculty Senator. I welcome the opportunity to represent Fredonia in Albany as a voting member of the SUNY University Faculty Senate. I am prepared to shoulder the official and unofficial responsibilities that accompany such a privilege. The former are defined in Fredonia’s and the UFS’s Bylaws. The latter can be learned only by experience.

As a former Chairperson of Fredonia’s University Senate, I have attended multiple UFS plenaries and UFS-sponsored conferences in the last seven years. I know many Campus Governance Leaders, Senators, and current and former members of the Governance Committee--and the UFS Executive Committee. And they know me.

They know that I can be counted on to do my homework, to pull my weight, to step up to the plate, to listen to and engage my colleagues with respect and care, to remain calm and constructive in the midst of chaos and controversy, to develop reasoned positions on complex issues, to generate innovative solutions to pressing problems, to use persuasion, diplomacy, and charm to move the body and its leaders to speak and act on behalf of SUNY’s mission and faculty, and, above all, to do what it takes to make shared governance and public universities work--better and better.

They know that I wouldn’t become Fredonia’s UFS representative only to stay on the sidelines. They would expect more from someone...
  • ...who challenged a newly-appointed Chancellor to consider incorporating into her campaign for the power of SUNY Christopher Newfield’s case in Unmaking the Public University (2011) that robust state investments in public higher education were crucial to America’s post-WWII prosperity and expanding middle class.
  • ...who pushed a then-President of United University Professions to risk opening a window of opportunity for strategic partnerships with new SUNY leadership.
  • ...who encouraged UFS leaders to stake out common-ground positions that could bring all the organizations representing SUNY together to change Albany politics.
  • ...who helped upgrade Fredonia’s Bylaws and helped Fredonia win SUNY’s first-ever Shared Governance Award.
If you don’t know me, I invite you to examine my c.v., web page, academic blog, and twitterfeed. If you don’t know what to expect from me, I invite you to find out from the Fredonia University Senate Executive Committee (on which I served from 2008-2010 and 2011-2014), the Executive Board of the Fredonia Chapter of UUP (1999-2006, 2009-up), and the English department (1998-up; Chairperson as of this fall).

If you know me, I hope you share my confidence that my decades of experience in department-level and university-level shared governance, as well as chapter- and state-level union service, will serve you well in--and keep you well-informed about--system-wide shared governance. I hope you trust me to bring your views and voices not only to the UFS but also to the Chancellor and Chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees. I hope you’ll make me your advocate for affordable quality public higher education in Albany.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

NAAW Reminder: Survey Wednesday

Survey Wednesday
National Adjunct Action/Awareness Week at Fredonia
2/25/15

Please help the Contingent Faculty Subcommittee kick off their survey of contingent faculty at Fredonia, which gathers data on contingent working conditions and perceptions of campus culture to discern work patterns, compensation, working conditions, governance participation, and integration into the life of the campus.  It should help us all better understand the goals, needs, and desires of colleagues and instructors on appointments that are not eligible for tenure at Fredonia.

Dear Contingent Colleagues,

As you know, New York State law prohibits our participation in any job action or strike, so the organizers of Fredonia’s contribution to National Adjunct Action/Awareness Week wanted to come up with a constructive way to honor National Adjunct Walkout Day without participating in it.  Instead of walking out--something many adjuncts who aren’t represented by a union and are shut out of governance of their universities may well be doing today--why not provide key information to your union leaders and governance representatives so that they may better serve you?  Instead of risking your job, why not help us improve your working life?

This survey is for faculty on contingent appointments at Fredonia only.  It may be filled out any time before 5 pm on Friday, March 13, 2015.  It can be found at

https://docs.google.com/a/fredonia.edu/forms/d/1UXgV9NkPnRbRJNMDAPzWBITYNtoH-6as8ILy4dW_2j4/viewform?usp=send_form

This survey is anonymous and individual responses will NEVER be shared.  Only aggregate data will be made available.

Please take a small part of your day today--or any day before Spring Break--to help make a difference at Fredonia.  Thanks,

--John Arnold
Chair, Contingent Faculty Subcommittee

--Bruce Simon
Officer for Contingents





Tuesday, February 24, 2015

NAAW Reminder: Open Letter Tuesday

Open Letter Tuesday
National Adjunct Action/Awareness Week at Fredonia
2/24/15


It’s time to get personal! Please post on your office or dormitory door or bulletin board a statement on what National Adjunct Action/Awareness Week means to you, and consider sending it to The Leader or The Observer and/or posting it on a blog or other social media.

The personal experiences of adjuncts are too often dismissed or ignored completely by tenure-stream faculty and administrators.  Here is an opportunity to express the value of these colleagues to academic institutions.   Many disciplines regard ethnography and qualitative research as valuable tools to explore life experiences and valuable contributions to the world at large; personal stories and reflections can supplement statistics and allow for understanding and identification.  Quantification of contingency is important, to be sure, but so is thinking through the particular structures of feeling that arise from working in a system of higher education increasingly reliant on contingent labor, whatever your place(s) in that system.

Many contingent faculty have decided there is great value in sharing their stories and views.  Some, like James Hoff, Amy Lynch-Biniek, and Elizabeth Salaam, have been doing it on their own.  Others have responded to calls for papers (cf. Hybrid Pedagogy) or calls for testimony (cf. “The Just in Time Professor” [compiled by the Democratic Staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in January 2014]).

There are many organizations collecting such stories even now:




So why not take the opportunity to write a short piece that might take on a life of its own after being posted on your office or dormitory door or bulletin board, on your blog or Facebook page?  Why not explore what it means to be a student?  Or a tenured faculty member?  Or a contingent faculty member?  Why not consider the pros and cons of National Adjunct Action/Awareness Week relative to tomorrow’s National Adjunct Walkout Day?  Beyond better understanding the system, why not help the Fredonia community consider what will change it?

Monday, February 23, 2015

NAAW Reminder: Scarlet Letter Monday at Fredonia

Scarlet Letter Monday 
National Adjunct Action/Awareness Week at Fredonia
2/23/15

We are encouraging everyone on campus
to make and wear a badge
like Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter,
using your A
to signify Adjunct/Ally/Awareness/Appreciation
all week—and beyond.

What Is an Adjunct?
An adjunct is a member of the faculty at a college or university on a contingent appointment type that is not eligible for tenure—an institution that guarantees academic freedom, due process rights, and peer review.  The implication from most dictionary definitions that adjuncts are unnecessary supplements does not apply to the growing number of faculty on contingent appointments today.  Organizations such as the American Association of University Professors, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, and New Faculty Majority, among many others, have been sounding the alarm that roughly 75% of all faculty appointments in the U.S. are contingent.  For more information and background, please see:

AAUP’s overview (2015): http://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency
AAUP's background facts (2015): http://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts
CAW's portrait (2012): http://www.academicworkforce.org/CAW_portrait_2012.pdf
CAW Members’ Policy Recommendations (2015): http://www.academicworkforce.org/statements.html
CFHE’s principles (2011): http://futureofhighered.org/principles/
CFHE’s report (2012): http://futureofhighered.org//wp-content/uploads/2012/08/ProfStaffFinal1.pdf
New Faculty Majority's website (2015): http://www.newfacultymajority.info/equity/

What Are Adjuncts’ Lives Like in SUNY?
Over decades of collective bargaining with the state of New York, United University Professions has made progress in improving the terms and conditions of employment and access to benefits for SUNY faculty on contingent appointments (see the latest Agreement for details), but there is still a long way to go.  Fredonia is one of the few campuses in the system to have set a university-wide floor for starting compensation for part-time contingent faculty (others include Cortland and Oswego).  UUP’s New Paltz chapter (http://www.uuphost.org/newpaltzwp/) has become a national leader in highlighting the value of contingent faculty members’ contributions to their students’ learning and success with their Mayday $5K Campaign and October 2013 forum on contingent employment.


If you see someone wearing a Scarlet A this week
outside of their classroom,
please ask them why!


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fredonia's National Adjunct Awareness/Action Week Overview

February 23-27 is National Adjunct Action/Awareness Week.  To learn about the projects organized by members of the Contingent Employment Advisory Group of Fredonia's United University Professions chapter (a union body) and the Contingent Faculty Subcommittee of our Faculty and Professional Affairs Committee (a governance body), along with a firm caution against participating in any job action or strike associated with National Adjunct Walkout Day on February 25, please visit our overview.

We'll be sending out further information about each project each day of the week!

--John Arnold (Chair, Contingent Faculty Subcommittee) and Bruce Simon (Officer for Contingents)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fredonia's Got Talent!

My students in Fantasy Fiction and Novels and Tales did some amazing work throughout the semester, and particularly at the end.  Unfortunately, most of them chose not to do web authoring projects, so I can't share their work here.  Fortunately, a good number did; here are links to their work:
Please check 'em out while you're waiting for me to finish grading!

[cross-posted at Mostly Harmless and sf@SF]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Western NY State Legislators to Discuss SUNY's Prospects in New York State Budget at Fredonia

Fredonia, N.Y. - 21 November 2014 - Fresh from their successful reelection campaigns, New York State Senator Catharine Young (R,C,I-Olean) and Assemblymen Joseph Giglio (R,C,I-Gowanda), Andrew Goodell (R,C,I-Chautauqua) and Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo, Lackawanna, Hamburg) will be converging on the Fredonia campus on Friday, December 5, 2014, to participate in a panel discussion sponsored by the Fredonia Chapter of United University Professions.

Fredonia community members, students, faculty, professionals, administrators, and staff will come to McEwen 209 from 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. to hear the panelists’ views on SUNY’s prospects during the 2015 New York State budget process. They will address such questions as:
  • What do you see as the role of public higher education in the state of New York?
  • What do you see as the role of the New York State Legislature with respect to public higher education?
  • How is SUNY viewed by your colleagues?
  • What kinds of investments in this generation of undergraduate students is the New York State Legislature prepared to make?
  • What can students, parents, faculty, professionals, staff, and administrators do to help ensure that public dollars go to public higher education, both for operations and the capital budget?
This event is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

First Principles of Shared Governance, Part VII: The Chair Selection Process III

Following up on yesterday's post about who should be eligible to serve as department chair...

Who Should Be Eligible to Participate in the Chair Selection Process, and How?

Unless we're going to come up with some kind of Hunger Games, Celebrity Death Match, haiku contest, or other model for determining the department's recommendation for who should be its next chair, voting is the time-tested way for a group to come to a decision.  So who should be eligible to vote for chair?  Before we consider the possibilities, let's start with an important caveat.

Eligibility to vote does not imply a responsibility or expectation or obligation to vote.  If any eligible voter feels for any reason that they should not exercise their right to the franchise, that is their choice.  The key principle here is that nobody should be forced to vote or forced to explain their reasons for not voting.  That's as important an aspect of academic freedom as any other.

So now let's consider the possibilities, from most inclusive to most exclusive, and their rationales:
  • everyone who teaches in the department and for whom the department chair is their immediate supervisor (including TAs); or
  • everyone in the above category except those whose teaching responsibilities in the department constitute less than half their total teaching obligation at Fredonia; and/or
  • everyone in the above category except those whose administrative responsibilities constitute more than half of their total professional obligation at Fredonia.
This is the most inclusive set of options and its assumptions are democratic.  Everyone affected by the choice of who should lead them should have a say in who becomes their leader.  Since the chair is everyone's immediate supervisor, either everyone should vote by secret ballot in a departmental election, or, if the franchise is limited on other grounds, should have the right to submit a signed letter to the Facilitator and/or Dean.  The chair should feel obligated to stitch together a majority of supporters in the department that cross whatever constituencies and/or factions exist within it.  A chair who can win an inclusive election resoundingly has a stronger mandate than one who wins a more limited election, both as the recommendations move up the administrative chain and in terms of institutional capital within the university.

The only safeguard that's needed in this model to protect the integrity and legitimacy of the election is the secret ballot, whether the election is held during a meeting or online.  The assumption of the democratic model is that people will of course vote their interests and that the will of the majority should prevail.  Conflict of interest considerations are irrelevant to the question of who should lead the department.  Candidates may vote, anyone they're in a financial partnership with who also teaches in the department may vote, any family members who also teach in the department may vote, contingent faculty in the department may vote:  everyone with a stake in the outcome of the election should be eligible to vote in it.

So this model has its appeals.  But it also has its complications and difficulties.  Once elected, the chair does not just represent the department to the rest of the university and to various publics outside the university.  In addition to being a Faculty-delegated governance leader, the chair is also the President's designee and immediate supervisor of everyone in the department.  Under the current Handbook on Appointment, Reappointment, and Promotion, the chair is responsible for appointing and reappointing contingent faculty members and hence is in a unique position to reward or punish colleagues for their votes.  Even if this is changed during the negotiations that are about to begin on Article IV, the department needs to decide on its voting policy now.  Even if the department institutes its own no retaliation policy for governance activities in the near future, that policy is not on the table for today's vote.  So I can imagine some colleagues taking the position that until systems and structures are in place that place appropriate checks and balances on the chair's authority, they can not vote for the completely inclusive model.

I can also imagine three kinds of responses to this line of reasoning.  The first asserts that the secret ballot is the only protection contingent faculty need.  The second asserts that since the new chair won't take office until the current chair's term expires, we have plenty of time, at both the department and university level, to institute appropriate checks and balances, so there is no need to limit the franchise for the chair election.  The third asserts that the franchise should be limited to tenured faculty, since they are the only ones whose academic freedom, due process rights, and job security are truly protected in academia and at Fredonia right now.

Whether the franchise should be limited to those teaching in the department who are not primarily administrators or not primarily teaching in the department is a separate question.  Personally, I don't think the Dean, Provost, and President should be eligible to vote for someone who will be below them in the administrative chain and who would not be their immediate supervisor.  Since they are the ones receiving recommendations, I'd also be against them trying to influence those below them on the administrative chain, although I can't imagine how to prevent that happening and I can imagine situations where a lower-level administrator would want to consult with a wide range of appropriate faculty, including those above them on the administrative chain.

For me, then, the key criterion is that the chair is one's immediate supervisor.  Since the chair is the immediate supervisor of anyone who teaches in the department, no matter how little, even those who teach only one course in the department should be permitted to vote for chair.
  • all academic staff members (faculty in the United University Professions bargaining unit) in the department; or
  • everyone in the above category except those whose teaching responsibilities in the department constitute less than half their total teaching obligation at Fredonia; and/or
  • everyone in the above category except those who administrative responsibilities constitute more than half of their total professional obligation at Fredonia.
The logic and difficulties for this position mirror the above.  The only substantive difference is that it prohibits graduate teaching assistants from voting eligibility, on the grounds that they are represented by a different union than UUP and hence are not eligible to participate in shared governance activities.  In response, proponents of the more inclusive position could respond that since the chair is the immediate supervisor of TAs as much as anyone, they should have the opportunity to participate in the election.  And opponents of it would bring similar objections to participation by anyone without the protections of tenure.
  • all academic staff members who have taught in the department for four consecutive semesters (whether on a tenure-track or contingent appointment); or
  • all academic staff members in the department except part-time contingent faculty members on temporary appointments (those who have taught fewer than four consecutive semesters at Fredonia); or
  • all academic staff members in the department except contingent faculty members on temporary appointments (those who have taught fewer than four consecutive semesters at Fredonia); or
  • everyone in the above category except those whose teaching responsibilities in the department constitute less than half their total teaching obligation at Fredonia; and/or
  • everyone in the above category except those who administrative responsibilities constitute more than half of their total professional obligation at Fredonia.
The logic for this position mirrors the one above it, with the addition of a "residency requirement."  The analogy here is that those seeking to vote in virtually any elections in the U.S. need to establish residency upon moving outside their previous voting district.  Instead of leaving it up to new faculty to choose to abstain or not participate in the election, this option forces them to go through an acclimation period.

Whether that "apprenticeship" should be limited to contingent faculty only or apply equally to tenure-track faculty depends on how much importance is placed on the peer review that comes with a national search and the evaluation procedures for tenure-track faculty in place in HARP, as well as how much faster you believe one can acclimate to a department with a full set of teaching, service, and research responsibilities than one can with a less-than-full teaching obligation.  Personally, I find it hard to believe that if residency matters, anyone who's taught in the department only for a few months would be ready to vote in an election for chair, whether they went through a national search or not.

The odd consequence of using the "temporary appointment" designation (a contractual term), is that not all full-time Visiting Assistant Professors are on term appointments.  Hence the distinction between only excluding those on part-time contingent temporary appointments and excluding all contingent faculty on temporary appointments in the above list of options.
  • all academic staff members in the department whose term of appointment is at least one year; or
  • everyone in the above category except those whose teaching responsibilities in the department constitute less than half their total teaching obligation at Fredonia; and/or
  • everyone in the above category except those who administrative responsibilities constitute more than half of their total professional obligation at Fredonia; OR
  • all academic staff members in the department whose term of appointment is at least two years; or
  • everyone in the above category except those whose teaching responsibilities in the department constitute less than half their total teaching obligation at Fredonia; and/or
  • everyone in the above category except those who administrative responsibilities constitute more than half of their total professional obligation at Fredonia; OR
  • all academic staff members in the department whose term of appointment is at least three years; or
  • everyone in the above category except those whose teaching responsibilities in the department constitute less than half their total teaching obligation at Fredonia; and/or
  • everyone in the above category except those who administrative responsibilities constitute more than half of their total professional obligation at Fredonia.
This set of options introduces a new wrinkle to the eligibility question:  length of appointment term.  For some who want to limit the franchise, what matters is the likelihood that someone will be back teaching in the department to live with the consequences of their vote.  While theoretically anyone in the department could leave at any time for almost any reason, those with shorter-term contracts are more likely to be on the job market.  Should people who happen to be teaching one course in the department on a semester-long contract at the time of a chair election be eligible for the franchise, when it's entirely possible they won't be around for the new chair to become their immediate supervisor?

Now, according to the Agreement between UUP and New York State, contingent faculty who have taught in the department for at least two consecutive years must be given a 12-month prior notice of non-renewal, so those people working in the department in the fall that a chair election would normally take place during would know if they were going to be teaching in the department in the following academic year.  If they were not going to be renewed, it's highly unlikely they'd want to do anything beyond what's in their appointment letter, except perhaps to vote against the chair who participated in their non-renewal decision.  So I can imagine some colleagues wanting to limit the franchise to contingent faculty with term appointments of at least two years.  And others responding that if you're going to do that for those on contingent employment, you should put the same requirement in place for tenure-track faculty.

The practical effect of combining this requirement with any of the others would be to prohibit all contingent faculty from voting in the upcoming chair election, unless the two-year term of appointment would be applied to tenure-track faculty, as well, who then wouldn't be able to vote until their third year (or perhaps later, if they're not offered a two-year contract during their second-year review process).  The university may well decide to move to longer-term contracts for most contingent faculty as a result of HARP Article IV negotiations, but with this restriction in place, that wouldn't affect any contingent faculty until the next chair election.
  • all tenure-track and tenured faculty in the department; or
  • everyone in the above category except those whose teaching responsibilities in the department constitute less than half their total teaching obligation at Fredonia; and/or
  • everyone in the above category except those who administrative responsibilities constitute more than half of their total professional obligation at Fredonia.
The logic for this set of options is one of "citizenship."  Just as you need to pass certain hurdles to gain U.S. citizenship and vote in elections in the U.S., so, too, do you need to earn the kind of citizenship that can only come on the tenure stream, according to proponents of this position.  Whether the key criterion is the peer review that comes from a national search or the full range of professional obligations to the department and university, or both, the distinction here is between citizens and resident aliens.  Appointment type is not an arbitrary category in this view, and since the department, the union, the University Senate, and the administration have not put a system in place that approximates the rights and responsibilities of those on the tenure stream for those on contingent appointments, and may never succeed in doing so, making a distinction based on appointment type is justified.

In the future, there may be enough peer review and professional obligation structures in place to extend the franchise to contingent faculty who meet similar citizenship standards as tenure-stream faculty, and it may happen before the next chair takes office.  So some might argue that the "citizenship" requirement is not as big an obstacle to contingent voting as its proponents suggest.  Others could argue that gaining employment at the university is the only "citizenship" hurdle that matters.  Contingent faculty are not responsible for the lack of symmetry with tenure-stream faculty when it comes to peer review and professional obligation and should not be punished for it when it comes to eligibility to help decide who will be their representative and leader.
  • only tenured faculty in the department; or
  • everyone in the above category except those whose teaching responsibilities in the department constitute less than half their total teaching obligation at Fredonia; and/or
  • everyone in the above category except those who administrative responsibilities constitute more than half of their total professional obligation at Fredonia.
The logic for restricting the franchise to those with tenure was laid out in response to the first, minimal-restriction position.  It combines citizenship, residency, and academic freedom rationales for limiting the franchise.

So there you have it.  Can anyone think of other possibilities?  Other rationales?  Other responses?

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

First Principles of Shared Governance, Part VI: The Chair Selection Process II

Picking up where I left off yesterday...

Who Should Be Eligible to Serve as Department Chair?

In the English Department at Fredonia, our current handbook doesn't specify any limitations on who may serve as department chair.  So could a graduate assistant run?  A part-time contingent faculty member who's in their 1st semester of teaching in the department?  How about a full-time contingent faculty member who's taught in the department for 20 years?  How about someone from the department who's on the tenure track, but not yet tenured?  Or someone who's already serving in another administrative appointment?  (Our Dean, Provost, and President are all tenured faculty in the English department.)  For that matter, how about someone from another department?

These possibilities are not as outlandish as they may appear at first glance.  Consider a small department faced with such a large wave of retirements and resignations that it has lost all its tenured faculty and where remaining faculty on the tenure track do not want to make such a big and risky commitment as serving as chair.  Let's say in that situation that the remaining department members recommend that their most senior member, who's on a contingent appointment, should serve as chair.  And let's say the Dean recommends instead that a tenured member from another department serve as chair.  And the Provost recommends that the Dean serve as chair.  What's the President to do?

Fortunately, our department is large enough that it's extremely unlikely we'd lose all our tenured members in one fell swoop.  But what if nobody is willing to be nominated for chair during our internal decision-making/recommendation-generation process?  Should we place any restrictions on the Dean's and Provost's recommendations, or on the President's decision?  What sorts of restrictions would be justified?

In discussions with my colleagues on the RHC, several kinds of potentially legitimate restrictions emerged:
  • candidates can't be appointed to a term as chair that is longer than the term of their appointment at Fredonia;
  • candidates for department chair must have tenure;
  • candidates must have at least half their total teaching obligation be in the department;
  • candidates must have less than half their total professional obligation be administrative in nature.
The first would conceivably allow long-serving contingent faculty or intrepid tenure-track faculty to serve as chair, but typically for a shorter period than the typical 3-year term; the second would restrict eligibility to be nominated (or self-nominate) for chair to those with the academic freedom, due process rights, and job security that tenure exists to protect; the third would restrict eligibility to faculty whose teaching responsibilities lie predominantly in the department; the fourth would restrict eligibility to faculty whose teaching responsibility outweighs any administrative responsibilities they may have.  The question was which to recommend and how to combine them. 

In the end, we decided to recommend that "All candidates must have attained tenure in the English Department."  

I was at first against the tenured requirement, on the grounds that we should look to our Handbook on Appointment, Reappointment, and Promotion (HARP) and the current Agreement between UUP and the state of New York for models that allow for minimal restrictions and maximum flexibility to find and appoint the best candidates for chair.  But then I realized that until the university strengthens academic freedom protections by instituting a university-wide "no retaliation" clause for governance activities of all members of the Faculty (including chairs, who are both Presidential designees and Faculty-delegated governance leaders), both tenure-track and contingent faculty who might be appointed to be chair would be particularly vulnerable to pressure from higher-level administrators to allow the former aspect trump the latter when push came to shove.  Since University Handbook revisions and negotiations on Article IV of HARP are the venues for instituting a university-wide "no retaliation" clause for governance activities (modeled on an existing clause for union activities), since those processes will likely take months to play out, and since we need to decide much sooner than that how we ought to elect our next chair, better to err on the safe side and restrict nominations to tenured faculty members.

I was also at first in favor of the third and fourth restrictions we were considering, but decided on reflection and after discussion that they were too restrictive.  If someone had earned the department seal of approval via tenure in the department, shouldn't that be enough to make them eligible to be nominated for chair, however much teaching they were doing outside the department or however many other administrative responsibilities they had?  If no other tenured member of the department were willing to serve as chair, why shouldn't our Dean be eligible for nomination?  Better to have someone with tenure in English supervising the personnel and educational program of the department than somebody who hadn't attained tenure in the department, right?

That's not just a rhetorical question.  What do you all think about these issues?  And my reasoning?

Next up:  who should be eligible to vote for chair?

Monday, November 03, 2014

First Principles of Shared Governance, Part V: The Chair Selection Process I

Last spring, in advance of speaking on a Fredonia panel during the first SUNY-wide conference on shared governance--a conference during which Fredonia received the system's first SUNY Shared Governance Award--I surveyed the progress my campus has made in its approach to shared governance here at Citizen of Somewhere Else.  In making the case that proceduralism matters in university governance, I tried to get across the importance and value of conceiving of shared governance as a system for working out/through disagreements during the institutional decision-making process.  I surveyed the range of revisions we've made to the Fredonia Faculty and University Senate Bylaws as we attempted to codify that understanding.  And I identified the issues and questions that we were tackling and wrestling with right then--many of which we are still figuring out.

Since then, I've been focusing on departmental-level governance issues as a member of the English Department's Review and Hiring Committee, which has been charged with proposing revisions to our department handbook.  With a department vote approaching this Wednesday on the committee's first set of recommendations, I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify my own thinking on the range of choices facing the department with respect to the chair selection process, and hopefully help others do the same.

At Fredonia, as at many colleges and universities, department chairs hold dual appointments, both academic and administrative, and they play dual roles, both representing their departmental colleagues to external audiences and serving as their colleagues' immediate supervisor.  In those latter roles, they are appointed by the President, serve as the President's designee, and may be removed by the President at any time.  Chair appointment and reappointment is not a unilateral presidential decision, however.

The SUNY Board of Trustees Policies require the President to consult with "appropriate faculty including the department or division concerned" on the appointment and reappointment of that department's chair.  Although the Fredonia Bylaws refer to an older (and more ambiguous) version of the Policies, and much remains to be hammered out in University Senate consultations and the UUP Chapter's negotiations with the administration on University Handbook revisions (including Article IV of the Handbook on Appointment, Reappointment, and Promotion, which I wrote about here in mid-October), my take is that the Faculty has delegated its consultative authority to academic departments as governance bodies closer to "affiliate committees" (which determine their own internal policies and procedures) than "standing committees" (which follow basic policies and procedures laid out in the Bylaws but can develop their own on matters not covered by the Bylaws).  So long as departments follow the Bylaws by defining voting eligibility and clarifying internal decision-making processes in ways that are consistent with and subject to higher-order policies (such as the Bylaws, the University Handbook, the Policies of the Board of Trustees, the Agreement between UUP and the state of New York, and New York state law), and so long as they share the document that codifies such definitions and clarifications with the Senate's Governance Officer and all new hires, they may act as shared governance bodies and consult on several kinds of decisions, including the appointment and reappointment of their chairs.

This is why department handbooks (or bylaws or policy manuals) matter:  they specify the process by which consultation with the President happens and they define the roles of the academic staff in the department during this process.  So in proposing revisions to our handbook, the committee I sit on seeks to help the department improve its current framework for making a recommendation to the President as to who should serve as our next department chair.  Of course, we can control only our own internal decision-making and recommendation-generating process.  After the department makes a recommendation to the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Dean makes a recommendation to the Provost, and the Provost makes a recommendation to the President.  The Dean and Provost are free to seek input as they decide what recommendations to make and the President has that same freedom to seek input as she decides whom to appoint.  But the better our process and the clearer our recommendation, the more likely it is that the our recommendation will go up the administrative chain unchanged.

Now that I've covered the big picture, I'll do a series of posts on different kinds of specific decisions facing the department.  Next up:  who should be eligible to be nominated for department chair?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Back to the Table

This appeared in the latest issue of the Fredonia UUP Chapter's newsletter, FredUUP! It's an update from me, the chapter Officer for Contingents.

As you may know, negotiations between Fredonia chapter leadership and management on the Handbook on Appointment, Reappointment, and Promotion (HARP) concluded in August. Both sides agreed that Article IV.E, on review of contingent faculty, would be suspended until negotiations could restart during the academic year and agreement could be reached on revisions to Article IV in its entirety.

The chapter leadership has been preparing for this restart of negotiations in the following ways:
  • Ziya Arnavut, chapter President and a member of the HARP negotiating team, held a membership meeting on contingent employment issues on October 3, added me to the team, invited members of Fredonia’s full-time contingent faculty to consider volunteering to represent that constituency on the team, and began forming working groups on issues specific to smaller groups of contingent faculty, such as those in the School of Music and College of Education;
  • Cynthia Smith, Vice President for Academics and also a member of the negotiating team, developed and distributed a survey on Article IV—there’s still time to complete it!
  • I’ve been working with the Contingent Employment Advisory Group (John Arnold, Angelica Astry, Derrik Decker [who’s also a member of the HARP negotiating team], Jeanette Ellian, Anne Fearman, Leonard Jacuzzo, Susan McGee, Tiffany Nicely, Vince Quatroche, and Rebecca Schwab) to turn our demands from last academic year into HARP revision and addition proposals. While attending a statewide Contingent Employment Committee retreat in Albany at the end of semester, I was also able to consult with committee members and statewide Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler, UUP’s lead negotiator for the new contract.
Through these and other means, the chapter leadership is attempting to be as transparent and inclusive and deliberative as we can be before negotiations officially restart. To that end, I would like to share some of the widely-shared, reasonable, and implementable goals may well guide negotiating team activities this academic year:
  • developing a comprehensive system of ranks/titles that creates advancement opportunities/paths for all contingent faculty at Fredonia (along with policies and procedures for application and review);
  • improving compensation by establishing a university-wide minimum per-credit-hour rate for current and future part-time contingent faculty at Fredonia, by tying promotion to increases in salary or compensation rate, and by tying service to increases in salary or compensation rate for those who want to do it;
  • reducing precariousness and improving predictability by developing a system for increasing lengths of contracts and for incorporating seniority into reappointment procedures;
  • streamlining and specifying review procedures so that they become more useful to contingent faculty and academic departments.
Of course, there are no guarantees in negotiations, it takes two to tango, and we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good or even just the better. But making progress on any of these goals would materially improve terms and conditions for contingent faculty at Fredonia. Please help us by emailing me your stories and suggestions and/or by filling out our survey.



Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Recommended Reading: On Labor

Still no time for substantive blogging, but I thought I'd call your attention to the blog On Labor, which I'm adding to my blogroll!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Recommended Reading: Building Alliances for Access, Equity, and Quality

If you're not following the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, this May is your chance to get up to speed.  On May 16-18 in Albany, NY, CFHE is hosting its 7th national gathering:  Building Alliances for Access, Equity, and Quality.  Please make every effort to attend!