Friday, January 29, 2010

Faculty Layoffs: Who and When?

A quick Google search of "university faculty layoffs" (without the quotation marks) reveals many recent news stories on state universities terminating faculty and staff.

For those who want to know the typical scenario, there are standards set by the AAUP, the American Council on Education, and legal precedent ("protected classes," including those over age 40 have special consideration under the law).

The best guide I found was from the American Council on Education.

The following is a typical situation explaining who is most likely to be laid off and in what order. This layoff procedure is from Wayne State (where a previous SIUC provost went) and fairly typical of unionized colleges:

"A. Faculty Layoffs

1. Normally, part-time faculty will be laid off first followed by lecturers. In unusual circumstances when special experience is essential to the unit, a full-time or fractional-time faculty member may be laid off, while the part-time faculty member is retained. If the budgetary constraints prove it impossible to staff the range of courses with the full-time and/or fractional-time faculty, then the full-time and fractional-time faculty may be offered the opportunity to teach the courses on an overload basis without additional compensation rather than to use part-time faculty during the academic year.

2. Additional faculty layoffs shall occur in the following order: (a) non-tenure-track faculty by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University, (b) untenured faculty on tenure track by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University, (c) tenured faculty by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University. For purposes of this paragraph, untenured lecturers and senior lecturers with more than seven years service shall be treated as tenured faculty."

Life is not simple when it comes to layoffs, particularly when tenure and unions are involved. The wise faculty member will consult their union representative (if they have a union), read their state education labor law, and do what I have done--consult with a lawyer.

"Hope for the best, plan for the worst" is the motto for these times.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Colleges as "Attendance Centers": Why So Many Students Never Graduate

Several years ago, I chuckled when I dropped my young daughter off at a friend's elementary school. In fact, the school was named an "Attendance Center." I never learned why "school" was suddenly out of fashion.

How apt a phrase for what is happening in higher education, as every politician and president (Bush and Obama included) promise "more, more, more!"

A new book is getting acclaim for documenting how simply funding more college "attendees" is a waste of money: Jackson Toby, The Lowering of Higher Education in America: Why Financial Aid Should be Based on Student Performance. Toby hammers home the message that always shocks people when I tell them that most of those who go to college will never graduate with a degree. Moreover, mere "attendance" at a college does little to improve earnings and leaves many in debt.

The situation is even worse at community colleges, where politicians at the state and national levels are heavily subsidizing two-year college education. By accepting all, the old whip of "working hard in high school" to "get into college" is gone--every K-12 student knows they can go to college whether they prepare themselves or not.

The following excerpt from an article on the abysmal state of community college "attendance centers" highlights how much worse the problem is at that level:
"A cursory look at the data is not encouraging. Although 41 percent of America's college-bound students enter community colleges each year , only 28 percent of this cohort actually complete their studies and earn a degree , an even more dismal outcome than that displayed at the nation's baccalaureate colleges, where 56 percent manage to graduate . These depressing statistics haven't dampened the general consensus favoring support of community colleges because proponents appear to believe that college "access" trumps successful college completion and that "some college is better than none." Refuting the latter point, U.S. community college non-graduates have only marginally higher earnings and lower unemployment rates than high school graduates and do far less well than their counterparts that manage to complete their studies.

The disappointing outcomes at community colleges are to some extent hard-wired into four aspects of their design. These institutions are proudly and aggressively "open admissions" which means that there are no academic criteria to get in except, in most places, a high school diploma. . . ."
Readers interested in learning the graduation rates (and other vital statistics) of any college in America can find it at

Will financial aid be tied to merit rather than a free lunch for everyone, regardless of performance? The political incentives work against any such reform. After all, the citizens of Entitlement U.S.A. believe it is their unalienable right to a discounted (or free) college education. Furthermore, politicians count votes and "something for nothing" is always popular. On we go . . .