Faculty handbook revisions cause concerns about tenure, workload

By Madeline Alvarez, Sports Editor

Newman’s faculty handbook has been rewritten, and some of the changes regarding a potential reduction in workforce as well as pay regarding team-taught classes have some faculty members concerned.

The changes were approved at the board of trustees meeting on Feb. 21, and the new policies are now in effect.

Faculty members involved in the process included Joshua Papsdorf, director of the graduate theology program, and Barbara Sponsel, professor of mathematics.

Papsdorf said that many faculty members are concerned about the new policy on reduction in force because the old policy ensured that tenured faculty would be renewed for the following year.

“Tenure...allows faculty academic freedom that they can pursue research and teach without being concerned that what they’re researching or teaching is going to upset people in the administration and endanger their jobs,” he said.

He said that there are now criteria for deciding how the reductions would happen, and tenure may not protect a faculty member from being cut.

“You could have a program where a tenured faculty person was not renewed and non-tenured faculty were, depending on those other criteria,” Papsdorf said.

Previously, the only way that tenured faculty would not be renewed for the following year would be if they did something that warranted being let go, if a program was eliminated or if the board officially declared the university to be in a state of financial crisis. Papsdorf and Sponsel said that they raised concerns about the new policy before the handbook went to the board for approval.

In an email, Provost Kim Long said that she was aware of the faculty concerns raised by Papsdorf and Sponsel.

“They both had significant input into the final language in the handbook as their role was to represent faculty concerns. We spent months working together on the final language, and they were full partners in the decision making and represented the faculty senate well,” she said. “There are new provisions in the faculty handbook that allows the board of trustees to conduct a reduction in force, which is new, but that still requires board action. I am not aware of other options for non-renewals being introduced.”

Sponsel said that, right now, tenure is being threatened in universities across the United States.

“So it’s not just a Newman thing,” she said.

Papsdorf said that, like most liberal arts colleges, Newman is under financial stress.

“There’s only so many cuts in expenses that can happen without affecting personnel,” he said. “And, obviously, tenure...makes that difficult to do.”

Another aspect that will be affected by a new handbook policy is team-teaching, Sponsel and Papsdorf said.

Faculty used to be paid full credit to team teach a class. Now, professors will be paid a half-credit to team teach.

When the decision to change how team-taught classes were counted was discussed back in October, Long said that this is standard practice across colleges.

Sponsel and Papsdorf said that this will have a big impact on the Newman Studies Program Capstone courses (NSPs) which were, before, largely team-taught.

Sponsel said there was some give and take in the process.

“Faculty put forward [that] team-teaching for the first time really requires a significant amount of work. And so we’d like to see that counted full [credit] for each the first time,” she said.

She said, however, that the decision to compensate faculty full credit the first time they team teach a course will be at the discretion of the dean of their school.

Papsdorf said that he thinks the potential reduction of team-taught courses because of this new policy is a loss to the university.

PHOTO: Courtesy Photo, Newman Advancement