With the Oct. 15 deadline for faculty PARs looming, concerns about who sees these reports and how they are used take on new urgency. And since many faculty find the reporting system to be cumbersome, incomplete, or misleading, this makes it especially alarming that the PARs might be used by administrators to assess faculty achievement, as has occurred recently.
For example, on the tail end of phased retirement, Prof. Kent Baldner is finishing up a three-decade career at WMU, one that has combined research, service, and a predictable teaching load. He was surprised, then, to receive an email last semester informing him that, with only two semesters remaining at WMU, he would now be required to teach an additional course.
“When I queried about why I was being asked to teach an additional course, the reply was that we were short-staffed that semester,” explains Dr. Baldner. “I wasn’t happy, but felt it was my turn to ‘pay my dues,’ and so I agreed without arguing or complaining. When I asked what additional course they needed me to teach, I was told it didn’t matter. That struck me as odd.”
Dr. Baldner’s experience is not isolated. A number of other College of Arts and Sciences faculty members also report having been suddenly informed by their chairs that they were to be assigned additional teaching work. As with Dr. Baldner, institutional financial constraint was sometimes offered as the rationale, at least initially.
For example, another senior professor reported that his chair insisted that his sudden extra course assignment was a consequence of “lack of college funds for part-time instructors,” as directed by the CAS dean, Dr. Carla Koretsky. “But when I asked the dean about it, she denied that that was the case,” he said, and he was no longer required to teach the extra class after all.
Financial exigency is not the reason given to all faculty members unexpectedly faced with increased teaching loads. Others, the majority of them long-time, senior professors, have reported being told by their chairs that, last year, the CAS dean had conducted a unilateral, comprehensive review of faculty professional activity reports and that their names had appeared on her resulting list of underperformers with respect to scholarly activity. Apparently, no other workload category was scrutinized, nor were details provided about what criteria the dean had used. The result, their chairs informed them, was that they would be assigned more teaching, either in the form of additional classes or higher enrollment caps.
For example, Prof. Sarah Hill first learned of the prospect of a higher teaching load from her departmental director, who explained that he had been obliged by the dean to increase it. Dr. Hill points to lengthy email exchanges she had with her director and Dr. Koretsky, confirming that the dean insisted that Dr. Hill’s work was insufficient to justify a research-faculty teaching load. Dr. Hill has been told she will face this increased teaching load for the foreseeable future, unless and until she has met the dean’s standards.
“The whole situation has been demoralizing and time-consuming,” says Dr. Hill. “After going back and forth with my director and the dean, and gaining little clarity about who came up with these evaluation standards or whether they had even been written down anyplace, I gave in and accepted that I would have to teach the extra course.” The “kicker,” says Dr. Hill, was when the “extra course” she had been assigned to teach was cancelled on August 26 due to poor enrollment, just two days before the start of the Fall semester.
“So,” Dr. Hill explains, “all summer long I worked to prepare for this extra class — further reducing my time for research, and then they cancel it.” Dr. Hill is also concerned that the consequences of this belatedly cancelled, extra teaching assignment had ramifications for students beyond the impact on her workload. “An apparent desire to punish me for alleged underproductivity,” she explains, “has punished students who were left to scramble at the last minute to find a new class.”
Although the stories shared by faculty differ in the details, they have much in common: Faculty were informed by chairs either that WMU can no longer afford part-time instructors, necessitating additional teaching labor from them, full-time bargaining unit faculty, or told that the dean had identified them as underperforming scholars based on her personal review of their professional activity reports. Again, the criteria used for assessing research, and scholarly and creative activity across the diverse departments that comprise CAS — everything from physics to creative writing — were not provided. Nor were faculty apprised of an appeals process to challenge their new designation as teaching-active, rather than research-active, professors.
Some faculty have successfully challenged the additional workload assignment through appeals facilitated by the WMU-AAUP, and this is an option that all affected faculty can explore. However, some faculty colleagues report they are giving up. Some describe feeling shamed at having been singled out through an unscheduled evaluation of their research that they did not even know was underway, and exhausted at the prospect of yet another bureaucratic battle. As one faculty member put it, “I don’t have the energy both to be an effective professor and fight with administrators about whether my scholarship is worthwhile.”
An additional damaging consequence of this administrative initiative seems to be that some mid-career and senior WMU faculty members are now considering retirement. “It simply isn’t worth it,” explained one professor, who is still over a decade away from traditional retirement age. “My department is seriously understaffed, so I was stressed out plenty before all this began. I simply can’t remain healthy working in an environment in which admin never seems to think I’m working hard enough.”