WCAAUP Letter to the Board of Trustees

From: Whittier AAUP <wcaaup@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Feb 16, 2023 at 12:24 PM
Subject: WCAAUP letter

To All Members of the Board of Trustees of Whittier College:

We, Whittier College faculty and members of the American Association of University Professors (WCAAUP), must share with you at this moment of turmoil in the college’s history our concerns since you are the Trustees of our institution. 

Action items for the Whittier College Board of Trustees

  1. Reform Board of Trustees governance to increase transparency and restore trust (share enrollment strategies, meet on campus, speak with faculty and staff on campus, publish minutes, eliminate Executive Council, establish checks and balances, restore relationships)
  2. Create seats on the Board of Trustees for elected faculty, staff, and students
  3. Address faculty and staff compensation (restore retirement, create pay equity, respond to the FAC Salary Parity report of 2022- also attached)

Shared faculty concerns

The summary of faculty concerns listed below are drawn from the recent FEC Survey in Spring 2023 with 42 respondents (out of a faculty body of roughly 74), the Faculty Morale Survey that FAC conducted in Spring 2022 with 82 respondents (out of a faculty body of roughly 98), and the numerous meetings of the Whittier College AAUP this past year (2022-23). 1

Erosion of shared governance leading to mistrust, misinformation, and mismanagement

  • Mistrust (losing confidence in administration, not feeling valued by administration, desire for greater transparency). For example, when asked if faculty felt valued by the administration, 49 percent of the faculty indicated they did not (FAC 2022). 
  • Misinformation (unclear on college decision-making structure). For example, numerous faculty stated a desire for clear information and if there was “complete transparency about administrative and Board decision-making,” their confidence in the administration could  improve (FEC 2023).
  • Mismanagement (existential enrollment crisis, poor communication, poor compensation). For example, one faculty member noted “The salary is low, there have been no raises, and it is not adjusted for inflation. The retirement contribution is zero, which impacts my future stability. My expenses are more than my income.” (FAC 2022)

Loss of academic freedom, devaluation of faculty, and the breaking of the liberal arts college model

  • Loss of Academic freedom (hostile climate for grievances). This point was raised in numerous WCAAUP meetings by members concerned about hostile situations and desired greater knowledge about their legal protections.
  • Devaluation of Faculty (number of tenured faculty declining precipitously, retirement, salary, budget management, tenure track lines). For example, in the FAC 2022 Survey, 40.3% of respondents were on the academic job market and 11 stated they were not coming back. We are unclear on our numbers at this time but believe we are down at least 16 faculty.
  • Breaking of the traditional liberal arts college model (cutting of the Faculty Houses, administrative controlling of academic budgets, eliminating sports teams, declining full-time student enrollment). These points were frequently raised at the AAUP meetings. 

Whittier College Enrollment Crisis

Data presented at the February 7th, 2023 meeting of the faculty revealed a very low total undergraduate enrollment of 1132 students in the Fall semester, which  declined an additional 9.3% to a total of 1027 in the Spring semester: 360 Seniors, 235 Juniors, 224 Sophomores and 208 First-Years. We are currently down by 42% from pre-pandemic undergraduate enrollment levels with a growing decline each academic year. 2 According to the Chronicle for Higher Education, “[C]olleges with 1000 students or fewer may be headed for intensive care, or worse”; we are at this threshold. 3 Our enrollment is further threatened by the fact that we can expect, based on previous retention rates, a loss of approximately 18% of returning students (using 2020-2021 retention rates4) and a significantly sized graduating class. Additionally, undergraduate applications for next year are reportedly substantially lower than they were at this time last year. We are unclear as to how, or if, this enrollment crisis is being adequately addressed beyond the “invest in local markets” approach. 

Values of Shared Governance, Academic Freedom and the Board of Trustees responsibilities

Whittier College has benefited from the long tradition of shared governance between the Board of Trustees, Administration, and Faculty, as is standard practice at colleges. “When shared governance is not working, presidents find it immeasurably more difficult and less pleasant to move the institution forward, and board service becomes a burden.” 5 During a crisis, shared governance is even more important because it fosters communication and trust, and yet there is evidence that less collaboration is happening now at Whittier College. The Board of Trustees has the responsibility to finance the college and oversee the administration; that responsibility is an obligation to the students of the institution: legitimizing their degree and retaining our accreditation. Faculty share this obligation in our teaching and that is why academic freedom “includes the right to be heard and the right to comment on, recommend or criticize policies without fear of repercussion.” 6 All constituents should not only have a “place at the table,” but our voices should be recognized and have weight in decision-making processes.

The concerns above reflect the voices of faculty as we continue to call for greater attention to the core principles of shared governance and academic freedom that we perceive are under threat. There are currently 35 faculty members in the WCAAUP, a 500 percent increase in membership over last academic year, suggesting significantly growing concerns among our faculty about the core issues of our organization. AAUP’s primary mission is to “…advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals,… and all those engaged in teaching and research and higher education…” 1

Created by WCAAUP Executive Council with solidarity from AAUP members

Anne Sebanc, Professor of Child Development and Senior Faculty Fellow for the CEC
Jennifer S. Holmes, Professor and Co-Chair of Theater, Film and Communication Arts
Sara Angevine, Associate Professor of Political Science
Serkan Zorba, Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy 
Gina Jordan, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mathematics & Computer Science
Doreen O’Connor-Gomez, Professor of Spanish, Department of Modern Languages
Melanie Householder, Senior Lecturer in Kinesiology, Pre-Health Advisor
Daniel F. Duran, Emeritus Professor of Business Administration
Ralph Isovitsch, Professor and Chair of the Chemistry Department
Adrian Riskin, Associate Professor of Mathematics 
Seamus Lagan, Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy 
Andrew Wallis, Professor of French, Department of Modern Languages
Mike McBride, Professor and Chair, Political Science Dept. and Economics Dept.
Ivannia Soto, Professor of Education, BILA Coordinator
Glenn Piner, Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Rebecca Overmyer-Velázquez, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology & Anthropology
and Coordinator, Environmental Justice Studies Program
Devin Iimoto, Professor of ChemistryJeff Lutgen, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science
Lizardo Herrera, Professor of Spanish, Department of Modern Languages
Ann Hickey, Associate Professor of Kinesiology

Many of our colleagues want it known that they are in support of this letter yet fear personal or programmatic retaliation, and therefore have not added their specific names to the list.

(1) The Whittier College Faculty Executive Council (FEC) are elected by their peers as representatives of the faculty body. This faculty group also functions, among other things, as a custodian of academic freedom and, as per the WC Faculty Handbook, is obligated to act “on behalf of the faculty in carrying out the instructions and directives of the faculty.” The Faculty Affairs Committee’s primary responsibilities include addressing “…issues pertinent to teaching at Whittier College as a professional occupation. These issues include salaries, benefits and perquisites…” and other matters related to development.
(2) These values were computed using enrollment numbers available in the 2022 Whittier College Fact Book and the data presented in the February 7, 2023 faculty meeting.
(3) August 17th article The Perilous Predicament of the Very Small College, by Lee Gardner and Audrey Williams June.
(4) Whittier College Fact Book 2021-2022
(5) Bahls, 2014 Shared Governance in Times of Change A Practical Guide for Universities and Colleges Association of Governing Boards Press
(6) Ibid

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