Below is the body of message sent to TTU President Phil Oldham by TTU-AAUP Chapter President Julia Gruber, re: the recent satisfaction survey conducted by TTU-AAUP.
As announced, this report summarizes the results of the survey undertaken by the TTU-AAUP in order to ascertain TTU faculty opinion regarding the general condition of the university and administrative policy. The number of respondents was 149. Given that the faculty distribution list provided by the university to disseminate the survey contained approximately 435 individuals, this number was used to determine the response rate of 34%. Along with this report we are submitting a set of copies of the 149 surveys returned by respondents. In the case of the questions, a ‘no response’ was not used in calculating the reported percentage share.
- Would you say that the university is better off than it was a year ago, or is it worse off?
Better off: 8 or 5%
Worse off: 117 or 79%
About the same: 13 or 9%
Not sure/no opinion: 10 or 7%
No response: 1
- What about your department or college? Would you say that your department or college is better or worse off than it was a year ago?
Better off: 15 or 10%
Worse off: 98 or 66%
About the same : 33 or 22%
Not sure/no opinion: 2 or !%
No response: 1
- How about your students? Would you say that they are better or worse off than they were a year ago?
Better off: 11 or 8%
Worse off: 89 or 60%
About the same: 42 or 28%
Aot sure/no opinion: 6 or 4%
No response: 1
- Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “Shared governance is working well at Tennessee Tech”?
Strongly agree: 2 or 1%
Agree: 5 or 3.4%
Neither agree/disagree: 5 or 3.4%
Disagree: 17 or 12%
Strongly disagree: 117 or 80%
No response: 3
- Do you have confidence in the university’s strategic planning and budgeting process?
Yes: 5 or 3%
No: 136 or 92%
Not sure/no opinion: 8 or 5%
No response: 0
- Are you confident that President Oldham is leading the university in a positive direction?
Yes: 9 or 6%
No: 123 or 84%
Not sure/no opinion: 15 or 10%
No response: 2
- Are you confident that the Administration has been upholding its responsibilities?
Yes: 9 or 6%
No: 132 or 89%
Not sure/no opinion: 8 or 5%
No response: 0
College of Respondent:
Engineering: 28 or 19%
Nursing: 6 or 4%
Education: 38 or 26%
Business: 11 or 7%
Arts & Sciences: 37 or 25%
Interdisciplinary Studies: 5 or 3.3%
Agriculture/Human Ecology: 8 or 5%
Other: 4 or 2.7%
No response: 12 or 8%
The following letters have recently been sent to the Herald-Citizen by current and retired TTU faculty (and AAUP members).
In her May 4 Herald Citizen article “Faculty senate president responds to no confidence vote,” Lindsay McReynolds mentions the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and correctly cites as among its goals is to “advance academic freedom and shared governance.”. Each term assumes that faculty members are the experts in the mission of the university: to educate students in faculty members’ fields of expertise. I will leave academic freedom for another letter; “shared governance” means that faculty shares in the governance of the institution, especially when it comes to areas of faculty expertise, like “curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process” (AAUP Statement of Governance of Colleges and Universities). Recent decisions at TTU enumerated by the TTU AAUP and reported in a previous article by Tracy Hackett (April 29) bypassed meaningful faculty participation, like the parking plan – which raises the annual parking fee for faculty by 4 times the present rate and for students, 5 times — appointment of administrators, establishment of new degrees like the Public Safety master’s degree (though faculty opposition largely ended when the name of the program was changed from Criminal Justice) . There is a fear among many faculty members that as the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) is displaced by a local governing board at TTU (and at other universities in TBR), the faculty voice will continue be marginalized. The AAUP advises that in university governance “The structure and procedures for faculty participation should be designed, approved, and established by joint action of the components of the institution. Faculty representatives should be selected by the faculty according to procedures determined by the faculty.” In the Boards prescribed by Governor Haslam’s FOCUS Act, only ONE of the ten Board members must be a faculty member, and that faculty member will have a term of only two years, whereas all of the others (aside from a non-voting student board member with a one year term) will eventually have 6 year terms. Obviously, the structure of the local boards minimizes faculty input by its very constitution, and that sole faculty member will have a crucial role in channeling the faculty voice. Although the FOCUS act stipulates that the faculty representative will be selected “in a manner determined by the faculty senate” of the individual institution, I would hope that at TTU the faculty representative will be selected by an actual vote of the entire TTU faculty. Only thus can the process of selecting a faculty representative for the new local governing board of TTU be called truly democratic. Also, although the governor appoints the other board members, there is nothing that stipulates that other board members cannot be present or past faculty members in the institution, and I would hope that as many as 3 more board members – or more – be present or former faculty from TTU.
Dr. Josephine A. McQuail
President of the TN Conference of the AAUP
Professor of English, TTU
The opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author
To the Editor:
TTU’s Office of Communications and Marketing emailed TTU employees (3/24/16) to explain that because a new science building is to be built on a commuter lot, the lot must be replaced, creating an “opportunity” for TTU “to restructure its parking to better fit the university’s master plan and better serve the campus community.” This plan costs $26 million: $14,250,000 for 1,000 parking spaces with a shuttle, modifications to Dixie and William L. Jones Drive, and a move to zone parking; and $11,856,000 for a parking garage with 600 spaces.
TTU states the 1,000 parking spaces will cost $3,000-$5,000/space and that the parking garage spaces will cost $12,000-$20,000/space. This was the only cost analysis given.
This is very disturbing.
The TTU community needs to see itemized projected costs if it is expected to pay. The increase in fees is almost five times more for students and four times more for employees for next year. Fees are to increase yearly. These new fees do not cover the construction of the parking garage. That charge will be assessed later. With no concrete financing plan for it, students and employees wonder if they will pay for it though they will not be able to afford to park there. Who will use it?
It has been reported that President Oldham recently said in a meeting that unless TTU wants to turn down a $90 million science building, then it could take lots more time to figure this out. Tying the science building to the $26 million parking plan is a false trail. Using TTU’s numbers, to replace the lost 650 spaces would cost about $2-$3.25 million, for 1,000 spaces $3-5 million. How are the remaining millions earmarked? Students and employees need to know.
In the same meeting the President reportedly said that he had no vested interest in this particular plan, and while a good plan, maybe it’s not the best. Isn’t it strange that we are then proceeding with it? Why not do what needs to be done now and save millions? In this meeting, the President reportedly also used UTK and Memphis as comparisons. We are not UTK or Memphis.
Parking is becoming a financial hardship for many students and employees as well as a logistical nightmare for others who, forced to park further away, will have trouble getting to classes and worksites carrying materials.
TTU is a regional school serving mainly Upper-Cumberland students and their families. Their needs must be put ahead of expensive restructuring that has not been justified or proven crucial to their welfare. TTU must rethink its “opportunities” and scale back to fiscally responsible action.
Too many changes, too fast, far too expensive.
To the editor:
Increasingly, the TTU faculty has deep concerns with the governing style and substance of the university’s president, Phil Oldham. A recent survey of faculty opinion carried out under the auspices of the TTU chapter of the Association of University Professors [TTU-AAUP] corroborated the widespread nature of the dissatisfaction. The 149 respondents represented fully 34% of the 435 tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct professors and instructors that compose the faculty and that received the survey based on the faculty list provided by the university. This was a large response rate as anyone who has conducted a survey of this type would appreciate. The survey indicated that 79% of the faculty felt the university was worse off compared to a year earlier, while 60% felt the students were worse off. Eighty four percent of the faculty believed President Oldham was not leading the university in a positive direction and 89% felt that the administration has not been upholding its responsibilities. The vast majority of respondents—92%–indicated that the common practice of ‘shared governance’ was not working at TTU. Instead of hearing the message, President Oldham and others attempted to dismiss the survey as unrepresentative, arguing that there were too few respondents for it to be reliable. If the administration wants to conduct a census of faculty opinion, it should by all means do so. In lieu of a larger sample and instead of denial, President Oldham and his administration need to face the facts and those facts indicate widespread dissatisfaction with: a top-down governing style, questionable hiring practices, curriculum development in certain instances that eschewed or ignored faculty input; the dismantling of successful programs such as the TTU Water Center and the creation of failed programs such as the Center for Healthcare Informatics; and expensive infrastructural projects—such as a planned parking expansion the costs of which will be borne by faculty and students and that may jeopardize the university’s fiscal condition.
A ‘To Be Continued’ Open Letter to TTU’s Administrators
Deep concerns have arisen among TTU faculty and staff regarding the style and substance that mark the manner by which TTU’s top administrators govern the university. Relative to the past, the governing style of the current administration is that of a top-down, authoritarian nature that diminishes the morale of faculty and staff. At the same time, the substance of the current administration’s policies is likely to threaten the quality of education. TTU, a public university, is increasingly governed as if it were a private, for-profit corporation. The problems with administrative ‘style and substance’ recently came to a head over Governor Haslam’s proposal known as the Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act which would separate the six non-UT public universities from the Tennessee Board of Regents and, instead, create new governing boards for each of those institutions.
The secrecy to which the TBR university presidents pledged themselves in prior discussions of the FOCUS Act and the suddenness of its announcement—as a kind of fait accompli—highlighted the generalized, unilateral governing style that was already apparent at TTU. Of particular concern for faculty is the fact that the Oldham administration has shown that it is prepared to run roughshod over the traditional practice of ‘shared governance’ whereby administration and faculty have jointly consulted and collaborated on matters related to the university’s educational and fiscal affairs. Examples of this non-collaborative, unilateral, and even self-enriching administrative behavior at TTU proliferate.
Criminal Justice/Sociology & Political Science
In the Fall of 2015, a member of the Department of Sociology and Political Science faculty heard only by chance that upper level administrators were developing a new online Criminal Justice (CJ) degree that would be offered by the School of Professional Studies. A conversation subsequently ensued between the department chairperson and the School of Professional Studies. The Sociology and Political Science faculty not only learned there were plans for an online CJ program, but that the curriculum had already been developed; that the adjunct faculty had already been selected (even though there are Tech faculty who then currently taught CJ courses in Sociology); and that the program had been readied to launch in the Spring of 2016 under a now rebranded ‘Public Safety’ program. When questioned why the department had not been involved in this process, the administration provided no acceptable answer. Earlier and at a meeting of the TTU chapter of the AAUP, President Oldham had explained that the administration needed to act quickly and flexibly to take advantage of what he perceived as a kind of business opportunity to acquire a new student clientele.
The faculty of the Department of Sociology and Political Science attempted in various meeting and forums to involve themselves in this process and thereby deter the administration’s efforts to launch the program unilaterally. Unfortunately, this program was recently passed by (as one voting member described it) an “unenthusiastic” GSEC and Academic Council despite a significant concern raised that the university was not prepared to launch the courses in such an accelerated manner. Adjunct teachers—with backgrounds in fire safety and counseling, not CJ—have been hired to teach the courses in the recast ‘Public Safety’ program. This process of program development established a dangerous precedent whereby upper level administration can take unilateral action to create a low-cost curriculum of questionable quality despite clear and loud objections from the faculty.
TTU’s Water Center [now the renamed Center for Management, Utilization, and Protection of Water Resources]
In the case of the Water Center, a hiring decision to replace the retiring Director was made without following the usual process of establishing a search committee that would involve faculty and Water Center staff. The person who was ultimately hired came from the auto industry and has no academic background in water-related issues. By way of explanation—and again in a meeting of the TTU Chapter of the AAUP–President Oldham stated that the administration needed to move quickly and that it was an ‘interim’ hire. The President offered no timeline regarding the establishment of a search committee to fill the position on a permanent basis.
Confusing the matter is the fact that the position held by this person is listed not as Interim Director but as Managing Director and Associate Vice-President for Workforce Outreach. In fact, the Interim Director for the Water Center is listed as the person who also is the Vice-President for Research and Economic Development.
Center for Healthcare Informatics
Another instance of unilateral hiring also highlighted the move toward a private sector business model at a public university. TTU’s recently established Center for Healthcare Informatics (CHI) advertises that it is a ‘business incubator’ that ‘analyzes data to find ways to improve the quality of healthcare while reducing healthcare costs.’ Again, and with no search committee, a psychologist, who has been described as a ‘serial entrepreneur,’ was hired as CHI’s Director. The CHI ‘targets’ solutions and ‘partners’ with organizations to ‘implement’ the solutions, all presumably for a fee. One of the Center’s corporate ‘partners’ is Cumberland Health Associates and its Executive Vice President is the self-same director of the CHI. Apart from questions about why a public university should be involved in such a business venture, the inter-locking nature of this relationship raises serious conflict of interest questions as well. In none of these instances of educational and corporate program development and hiring were faculty consulted.
As of April 2016, the CHI was summarily shut down, its director dismissed, and all with no explanation from the administration.
The Campus Parking Expansion Project
Led by TTU’s Vice President of Finance and Planning, the administration has decided with no prior consultation of faculty, staff, or students to greatly expand the number of parking spaces on campus. The plan foresees 1,600 new parking slots. In Phase One, a perimeter lot of approximately 1,000 spaces will be constructed and in Phase Two a parking garage with around 600 spaces; and all this to replace only 650 parking slots that will disappear due to another building project. Moreover, this effort is being undertaken in spite of falling enrollment which is likely to persist given the Tennessee Promise program that funds two years of community college education and that diverts freshman and sophomore students from four year schools. Of great concern for TTU faculty and students is the fact that parking fees will rise considerably and in some cases by many orders of magnitude for those who would choose—or be required—to park in the proposed parking garage. A system of shuttle buses that will ferry riders from the perimeter parking to the university will represent considerable time lost in the commute.
The higher fees would be used initially to pay for the parking expansion which comes with an overall [Phases One and Two] estimated cost of almost $26 million. With the administration suggesting an estimated cost of $4,000 per parking slot in the perimeter lot, it should be possible to more than replace the lost parking at a cost of around $4 million. Apart from the lack of consultation with the university community, projects such as this come with the prospect of considerable fiscal irresponsibility and will impose a large burden on students, in particular.
Administrative Positions and Administrative Salaries.
In an era of otherwise tight fiscal budgets and diminished public support for public universities, university administrations have greatly increased the costs of administering universities by expanding the numbers of administrators, doling out new job titles, and granting themselves lavish raises in salary. Not only is TTU not an exception to this pattern, but TTU’s administrators and managers now earn an average salary of $139,105; a value that is 37% higher than the U.S. national average of $101,500 for this category.
President Oldham currently earns over $280,000, after having received cumulative raises of around $27,000 since 2013. TTU’s Provost currently earns over $227,000 and has received no significant raises. The Vice President for Research and Economic Development is TTU’s highest paid administrator, earning over $305,000 annually. The Vice-President for Planning and Finance—the same person responsible for the costly new parking project noted above—currently earns around $200,000; a figure that represents a 55% increase over that individual’s 2013 salary of about $127,000. The Director of the Center for Healthcare Informatics—discussed above—earns over $151,000 with his TTU salary plus whatever he presumably earns as Executive Vice-President of Cumberland Health Associates, a client of the Center he directs. The once Director, now Associate Vice-President of University Development earns $122,000, up from $56,000 in 2013. The Managing Director and Associate Vice-President for Workforce Outreach—the individual who supposedly heads what was the Water Center (see above) earns $160,000 up from $125,000 in one year. The Assistant to the President for Strategic Projects earns almost $175,000, up from $160,000 in two years.
The point to be emphasized, again, is not simply that these are large salaries or that administrators frequently give themselves lavish raises, rather the point is that at TTU administrative incomes now significantly exceed the U.S. average for such positions. The relative standing of TTU administrative pay levels raises eyebrows and invites skepticism for an administration that is ostensibly concerned with its ‘bottom line’.
The Focus Act
The Focus Act, noted at the outset of this letter, exemplifies the further abandonment of ‘shared governance’ and will likely speed the drift toward the effective privatization of public universities that operate increasingly on a ‘pay-their-way’ and even ‘for profit’ basis. President Oldham has positioned himself as one of the main boosters of the Focus Act. In this capacity, he has spoken in unconditionally glowing terms of what the Focus Act will mean for TTU: it will offer the ‘autonomy to move freely and respond quickly to the changing dynamics and demands now placed on higher education…we need speed and agility… The ability to become the best university possible is ultimately what the FOCUS Act promises.’ If recent past experience serves as a guide to the future, the new ‘speed and agility’ celebrated by President Oldham promises to open the door to even more unilateral decision-making.
Under the Focus Act and following amendments, the Boards that will govern the respective universities will be composed of ten voting members, many of whom will likely come from the business sector as they do in other universities that have followed this model. There will be one voting student and one non-voting student permitted on the Board. Of the ten voting members, eight will be individuals chosen by the state’s governor and will serve six year terms. The sole, voting faculty member will serve a two year term. The autonomous Board format contrasts notably from the current TBR structure which has a faculty sub-council that offers a substantially broader voice to faculty.
Given the new governance structure, the traditional practice of shared governance all but becomes a dead letter by design. And the abandonment of shared governance is all the more assured given the broad powers that are granted to the board. The new Boards are given the right to:
“confirm the appointment of administrative personnel, teachers, and other employees of each state institution and to fix their salaries and terms of office” (Section 21, (a), 1.A)
“prescribe curricula and requirements for diplomas and degrees.” (Section 21, (a), 1.B)
“approve the operating budgets and set the fiscal policies for the schools and programs under its control.” (Section 21, (a) 1.C)
The new structure grants apparently sweeping powers to the Board that will now make hiring—and firing—determinations affecting faculty and staff; tenure determinations affecting faculty; and even curriculum determinations.
The issue of the working relationship between the respective administrations and their Board emerges as very opaque. Boards will be dependent on their administrations for much data and even policy recommendations as would affect courses, curriculum, hiring, and budgets. In all likelihood, that relationship will be a cozy one that provides the university administrations with a kind of ‘firewall’ of protection against unpopular policies and decisions which the administrations propose yet are formally determined by the Boards. It remains unclear just how transparent communications between the university administrations, their Boards, and the wider university communities will be. So much remains unclear about the process that extreme skepticism, rather than a banal booster-ism, is warranted.
At the limit, the Focus Act is part of the larger trajectory and project that would transform Tennessee’s formally public universities into what are effectively private, for profit corporations. In an editorial in The Tennessean from February, 25, 2016, President Oldham noted that state funding for the TBR universities had dropped from 70% or 80% of total costs in the early 1970s to no more than 20% or 30% today. The difference is accounted for largely by higher tuitions, adjunct hiring, and outsourcing of university services. Far from lamenting or resisting the decline in state funding–or making a case as to why more public funding is needed if Tennessee is to supply the optimal amount of quality, higher education–President Oldham uses those numbers to facilitate a course of action that will maintain the status quo: historically low–or even lower–state funding for higher education. President Oldham’s position all but guarantees both higher tuition costs for Tennessee’s students and more low-cost programs of questionable quality. His actions present us, finally, with a self-fulfilling prophecy and throw into question his suitability to lead a public university.
We of the Tennessee Technological University Chapter of the AAUP along with many other faculty on this campus, find the issues outlined above to be deeply disturbing and of a nature that threaten the principles of academic freedom and shared governance that AAUP was formed to defend. We resist the move toward making higher education conform to a business model rather than being funded and administered as the public good that it is. Therefore we, the Tennessee Tech chapter of AAUP, have voted to release and distribute an open letter documenting our concerns. [See attached]. Moreover, we see the current document as a more detailed account of the problems and plan to update it over time.
As issues arise and as more information becomes available, we hope to update this ‘to be continued’ open letter.
We encourage your comments, and any additional concerns you wish to express.
The Tech Chapter of the AAUP held recent elections in which the following slate of officers were elected.
President – Julia Gruber
Vice-President – Troy Smith
Secretary – Josephine McQuail
Treasurer – Wali Kharif
Assistant Treasurer – Jordana Navarro
An Open Letter to the (Tennessee Tech University) Community
A lack of transparency and a pattern of unilateral decision-making at Tennessee Tech University (TTU) have created concern over the execution of fiduciary responsibility by current administrative leaders. The perception of many faculty, staff, and students is that the net effect of most initiatives has been a reduction in the quality of education, an increase in the cost of degree programs, a bypassing of the tradition of shared governance, and an unsustainable fiscal situation for the university.
Examples that illustrate these concerns are as follows:
- A risk assessment conducted by faculty in the College of Engineering suggests that the integrity and sustainability of the University’s signature college are being compromised.
- A plan to replace 650 parking spaces displaced by a new science building with 1,600 new spaces for a cost of $26 million is presented as a fait accompli without involving faculty, staff, or students.
- Dramatic pay increases for existing administrative positions and the creation of a multitude of associate vice-president positions has resulted in a more than 75 % increase in recurring administrative costs.
- In addition, administrative pay contrasts with TTU faculty, staff, and adjunct pay. Such gross disparity in pay diminishes workplace morale and undermines the morality of our common mission.
- The application of a corporate, business model requiring ‘speed, flexibility and agility’ has served as a justification by the President to ignore the practice of shared governance and established university procedures in order to make questionable hires and program development decisions.
- The appointment of a Vice-President of Research and Economic Development with an exorbitant salary (305k) that has produced few substantive results.
- The appointment of a Director of the Center for Healthcare Informatics (CHI), an apparently for-profit enterprise which seeks local corporate partners, one of whom is Cumberland Health Associates, the Executive Vice President of which is the CHI director himself.
- The appointment of an individual to head what was TTU’s Water Center who has no background in water-related issues. Staffing decisions such as at the Water Center possibly involve patronage-like practices.
- The development of an on-line Criminal Justice program—renamed “Public Safety”—that circumvented standard program development procedure and the Sociology Department where a similar degree was already offered. Those hired were adjuncts with no background in Criminal Justice. A major player in the establishing of this program is the President’s own preacher.
There are numerous other incidents of ignoring shared governance and the institutional, domain knowledge of the faculty. With the passage of the Focus Act—of which The President is a vocal supporter—the unity of the Tennessee Board of Regents is abolished and university governance is handed over to an independent board with little faculty, staff, or student representation. President Oldham has proclaimed that TTU does not want to resemble the ‘Walmart of Higher Education’. Sharp wage inequality and a lack of workplace democracy, however, indicate just such a climate. TTU should choose a culture of inclusion where all members collaborate. Otherwise we continue on the trajectory toward a corporate culture that undermines the goals of public, higher education. On behalf of concerned faculty, staff, and students at TTU, the members of TTU-AAUP have voted to release and distribute this open letter documenting these concerns. Based on our recent confidence survey and recurring items at AAUP membership meetings, we believe there is widespread campus sentiment that indicates a lack of confidence in the TTU administration, and their engagement of the faculty in decision making. We feel that there is an opportunity to re-engage the faculty and staff in the future of TTU, and the decisions that will take us there.