Academe spoke with the president of the new AAUP chapter at Purdue University Calumet, Dave Nalbone, associate professor of psychology and director of the Social Science Methodology Center at the Institute for Social and Policy Research. The Purdue University Calumet chapter was founded in September 2013; about a fifth of the university’s faculty members have since joined the AAUP.
What was the impetus for starting an AAUP chapter?
In late summer, one week before the new semester began, the administration sent out letters of nonrenewal to six tenure-track faculty members and one long-serving full-time lecturer. The administration also offered early retirement to other folks; the overall goal was to reduce the number of faculty. Administrators claimed these actions were based on a serious drop in enrollment, but they did not involve the faculty in the decision-making process. They could have called an emergency meeting of the faculty senate, but they did not do so. They sprang this on us without preparation or warning and without consultation. With assistance from the AAUP’s national staff, we convinced the administration to rescind the new letters of nonrenewal, and they did in fact rescind them.
That was the red line that was crossed. We formed the chapter when the administration said it was going to cut tenure-track faculty. There was (and still is) hiring in other parts of the university like the administration and athletics, which seemed to undercut their earlier argument about financial need.
What is the biggest concern of faculty at your institution right now?
It’s a tie between two issues. One, there’s a lack of faculty input, a lack of shared governance. And two, there are general issues of due process. Purdue has certain policies in place to protect these standards, but in several cases at Calumet, including the one that precipitated our chapter’s formation, the administration did not follow them.
What’s the worst idea that the administration or trustees had in recent years?
Issuing the letters of nonrenewal was the biggest one. But it was more than just sending those letters, it was also the process—that administrators did something this big without adequate faculty input. They either didn’t think about how it would affect the faculty or they didn’t care. This is something that will affect the ranks of the faculty, will bulldoze right into the faculty, and they did it without consulting us to discuss alternatives.
Can you talk about the new administration?
We don’t have a campus president; the president of the Purdue system is Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana. He is president of the entire system; each campus has a chancellor. We have a new chancellor, who oversees our campus.
As governor, Daniels appointed most of the Purdue trustees—eight out of ten, actually. Any issue we might take to the trustees would be an issue we would have with the system president, but they seem to be in lockstep with him, so it will be hard to find an issue that divides the trustees from the president.
What one piece of advice would you pass on to other chapters or other groups of faculty thinking about starting a chapter?
Try to act before it’s too late. Just because the administration claims something is true doesn’t mean it’s so. Trust but verify—make sure all claims are backed up, and even if you are excluded from decision making, make sure you understand the basis for those decisions, and then demand to be part of the decision-making process in the future.
What projects would you like to undertake if you had more funds?
What we need at this point is better data. Many administrative actions seem to be based on a perception of how the faculty, staff, or community will respond, and I don’t think the perceptions are correct. Athletics is a good case in point. The administration wanted us at Calumet to move up to Division II or Division III, but there’s been no case made about what that means and how the campus and community could respond. We don’t know what it would cost, for example, or if there is support for any additional costs. We are starting to survey the faculty on issues of importance, and the early results have been encouraging in demonstrating a need for greater transparency and shared governance.
What is the faculty senate’s role on your campus?
Our Calumet faculty senate tends to be rather weak. Historically, it’s had control over only two things: the academic calendar and the curriculum. It’s largely used by the administration as an advisory body, and often, when administrators haven’t liked our advice, they’ve ignored it.
Our senior administrators are part of the faculty senate, which has also proved problematic recently. There was a resolution to rebuke the senior leadership because of those letters of nonrenewal. We made a motion to have the chancellor leave the room, and we discussed that motion for half an hour, and it was not passed, so he was still in the room. It feels like the senate is not a place where we can have a vigorous debate while the senior administration is in the room.
More recently, as the dust has settled a bit, we’ve been working to strengthen the Calumet faculty senate, as it is the best place for faculty to have a voice on campus. Specifically, we want to have greater latitude to change the constitution of the senate (at present, it is about a two-year process) and to give it greater authority to shape decision making on academic matters.
What is the biggest challenge facing higher education now?
We have to figure out how to demonstrate that what we’re doing matters. We’re asked to do more and more with fewer funds. People need to know that we can’t do high-quality work for free, or on the cheap, without affecting academic quality.
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