The AAUP chapter at Lebanon Valley College, a small private institution in Pennsylvania, was reestablished in 2009. Twenty-eight of the college’s one hundred faculty members are in the chapter.
Here, chapter president Robert Valgenti speaks with Academe about how his chapter has built membership and addressed key faculty concerns.
What is your chapter’s proudest accomplishment?
Our first initiative was to raise the issue of “family-friendly policies” on campus—policies that have to do with maternity or paternity leave, health care, campus day care, issues of that sort.
We put together a report on family-friendly policies, which we shared with the faculty and human resources, and we held a brownbag lunch discussion, which was open to the entire campus, to talk about these issues. The outcome was a survey distributed to faculty in November. In the spring semester we hope that we can put together some proposals based on the collected data.
We’ve been proud of our process as well. There had been some resistance to an AAUP chapter, both from the administration and from some faculty—some people saw it as an attempt by faculty to get around the faculty governance structure. We’ve overcome a lot of the fears, and the evidence of that is in our membership.
What has been the best strategy for recruiting new chapter members and leaders?
For membership in the chapter, it’s been the combination of professionalism on the one hand and collegiality on the other. We’ve been lucky, as a young group of faculty, to increase our numbers by setting the standard for taking on issues seriously and being serious about faculty governance. But we’ve also had some nice social events. I think young faculty, who are new to the area and are trying to make social connections, see that we’re a good way to get involved. But we don’t want to be reduced to just social functions. We want people to know that we have an important role to play on campus.
For training leaders, the Summer Institute that the AAUP runs has been really helpful. I was at the event in Boston this summer. The future of the organization depends on having people who are trained to step up into leadership. It’s easy to feel like you’re in a vacuum when you’re working in a small college like ours, and the AAUP helps us connect with faculty around the country.
What is the biggest concern of faculty at your institution right now?
I’m wary of speaking for the faculty as a whole; we have a divided faculty, generationally, but also in terms of disciplines, so it’s hard to speak to any one concern. For a good number of faculty, it’s the balance between teaching and scholarship that has been a source of division. We have a pretty heavy course load, and some new faculty come in with serious research already under way. We used to be an all-teaching college, so trying to find the right balance between the commitments of teaching and scholarship is important.
We don’t have as much of a financial concern as other schools, even with the recession. We are tuition-driven, and we’ve played our cards conservatively, which has helped us a lot these past few years. Except for 2008–09, raises have been decent. No programs have been cut. We’re hiring a new president this year, so we are certainly looking forward to see what changes and challenges lie ahead.
What is the most divisive issue within the chapter?
We’re a pretty happy bunch, at least for the time being. Administrators recently made a decision by fiat that affected the faculty, and that was unifying for the campus as a whole. We had to respond, and the administration has at least put a temporary hold on its plans, which is a minor victory. For the most part we’ve tried to pick issues that are positive, and not reactive, and we try to include the whole faculty.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing higher education now?
One that’s been central to my concerns is the impending student debt crisis, and the ripple effects this would have on colleges and our mission. Pennsylvania, like many states, has cut its public education funding drastically. As professors and as institutions, we have to think about the experience that students are getting here. It makes us think about all the costs that schools have and whether they benefit the student. The chapter will be organizing an event in the spring semester to discuss student debt.
What is the best thing done by administrators or trustees in recent years?
Well, to speak very selfishly, in the slow process of making us more scholarship-minded, they’ve promoted more faculty-student research. The idea had been to get undergrads involved in high-impact experiences and research and to inspire faculty to submit proposals for projects done with students. Administrators encourage interdisciplinary research, and grants for such research have been responsible for some of the most exciting work on campus recently.
Can you give an example of the sorts of grants they’ve given?
Some colleagues and I put together a seminar that will run all of next year. We’re bringing in the philosopher Catherine Malabou to give a lecture in the fall and in the spring. Students will be reading her work, and she’ll be on campus to hear students give papers on her work and to comment on student work.
What one thought or piece of advice would you pass on to other chapters?
Try to form your chapter and your goals outside of, or beyond, a crisis. Seek out a good working relationship with your colleagues, the administration, and the college as a whole. Administrators sometimes think you just want something out of them. But the positivity of purpose is contagious. It’s easy to become insular on your campus or in your department, so it’s appealing to have an organization that is made up of faculty of all kinds and can bridge some of the gaps that naturally develop when we are focused on our own disciplines.
What projects would you like to undertake if you had more resources?
We would love to begin thinking about improving faculty governance on campus. That means taking up more responsibilities related to operations, the budget, and the general direction of the entire college. Over the years, there have been overlaps in committee work, and that work could be done more efficiently and with greater purpose. Ultimately, we want to get more faculty buy-in. We want faculty, especially younger faculty, to stand up and have a stake in governance.
What other elected faculty bodies exist on campus and how does the chapter work with them?
We have a hundred faculty members, so our “senate” is the entire faculty. There are elected committees—the highest committee is the Executive Committee of the Faculty, which consists of five senior faculty members. They are the most direct liaison to the administration. There’s the Faculty Standards and Policies Committee, which is in charge of the faculty handbook—I’m the chair of that. There’s a committee that undertakes evaluations of departments and programs. There’s an assessment committee. There’s a tenure and promotions committee. There’s a curriculum committee, which puts forward proposals for new courses and programs. Those are the main elected committees, and there are other nonelected committees.
The structures are there for effective faculty governance, but that doesn’t ensure that it isn’t just some kind of shadow play or, as former AAUP staffer Pat Shaw called it, “faux governance.” We are always looking to improve our work on campus.
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