Faculty came back to the fall semester to greet many more shining faces in each of their classes.
Without warning, five, or ten, or fifteen students were added to most sections, often necessitating additional work on the part of the faculty member to rework syllabi and assignments.
Each student brings with him or her additional grading time and interpersonal interaction.
All this is happening for good reason. As Dr. McNairy eloquently documented in her Convocation Address, we are swirling in a “perfect storm” of fiscal elements: a state budget agreement of uncertain detail for the current fiscal year and a precipitous rise in university contributions to the state retirement system to accompany steadily declining state support over the past two decades and a tuition setting mechanism that responds to political winds rather than educational need.
Of course we are experiencing an economic climate so pain-filled that our students’ plans to pay for college are in jeopardy.
Those responsible for the “stewardship of state dollars” have cut back spending on furniture and equipment, trimmed student work hours, and reduced departmental operating budgets to meet expected shortfalls.
Here is what we all know well. Roughly 80 percent of any university budget is personnel costs.
The only way to save serious money in the short run is to reduce the number of employees. So what Dr. McNairy did not dwell on in her talk is the phenomenon faculty are acutely aware of: more faces turned expectantly toward each faculty member.
This year we froze faculty and staff (though often not administrative) slots, eliminated temporary positions, and added approximately 100 students to a student body that had already grown by nearly 30 percent in my tenure at Millersville, with faculty complement unchanged.
The deterioration of faculty and staff work conditions is undeniable and worthy of our attention. Something is going to give. It is slipping away from us as I type this essay.
That something is the quality of a Millersville education.
Dr. McNairy and other members of the administration are exhorting us to give more of our time and effort so that we can meet the needs of our students.
But for the faculty members I know, there is no more time and effort to give.
We have neglected our significant others and our children and sometimes our own physical and mental health for the sake of our students and the love of our work.
Class sizes have grown, curricular, governance and accreditation demands have exploded exponentially and artificially (sometimes, self-inflicted as faculty subject each other’s proposals to undue scrutiny), and mentation of the change.”
Her wording suggests that the direction of change is already set. I suggest that our best ideas are not yet on the table.
Here are four ideas I’ll say more about in the weeks to come:
1. Completely reconstruct the curriculum, shifting to a four course load for students (following the lead of the best private and public liberal arts institutions)
2. Implement a radical principal of subsidiarization, so that departments and programs determine curriculum and class size and delivery system within set fiscal parameters.
3. Balance class sizes so that students have truly small classes as well as large lecture courses.
4. Implement demand scheduling so that we offer all and only the courses students want and need.
I know all the reasons why these suggestions are “impossible” (past practice, system structures, politics, union contract, etc.). I don’t care. Dr. McNairy is right. We’re Millersville. Let’s prevail!