A Northwest College faculty committee voted unanimously against a set of proposed policy changes over concerns it minimized their input. Their objections influenced the NWC Board of Trustees’ …
A Northwest College faculty committee voted unanimously against a set of proposed policy changes over concerns it minimized their input. Their objections influenced the NWC Board of Trustees’ decision to table part of the proposed changes at its regular meeting this month.
The proposed revisions, which are part of a much larger effort to unify the college’s policy manual, would change how the board adopts and revises policies that govern the college.
Under the current policy, revisions or new policies can be proposed by anyone at the college. The proposed policy says changes would need to come from a group, such as a committee, division or department. The policies would then be reviewed by a committee made up of staff or faculty leaders, a vice president of the college, the human resources director and the college compliance officer. This committee’s summary would then go to the college president, who would review it in consultation with other administrators, and submit the policy changes, along with the summary, to the board for consideration.
The change would effectively eliminate the Faculty Employment Policy Review Committee (FEPRC), a faculty organization that considers and votes on issues impacting faculty interests.
In a memo on the proposed policy revision, the college vice presidents supported the changes, saying that they affirm the board’s authority to make policy changes, eliminate delays in policy updates, create a standard pathway for policy review and provide equal opportunity for all employee groups to participate in the policy review process.
However, Jeannie Hunt, assistant professor of speech communications at NWC, shared objections to the changes during the public comment portion of the board meeting. Hunt stated that she was not speaking as a representative of the faculty, but since the faculty votes on the proposed changes were unanimously opposed, her own position aligned with that of most of the faculty.
She disputed the vice presidents’ rationale for supporting the policy changes, arguing that by eliminating FEPRC, the changes reduce the number of voices and undermine shared governance. That, she said, exacerbated the dissatisfaction felt among many NWC faculty members.
Hunt pointed to the most recent results of the Personal Assessment of College Environment (PACE), a survey of 157 NWC employees that rates their level of satisfaction on a few dozen questions.
The 2020 results, presented at the same board meeting, showed the overall average level of satisfaction among college employees sank slightly from 2018.
Among the questions that received the greatest level of dissatisfaction were “I feel my job is secure,” “I am able to appropriately influence the direction of this institution,” and “I have the opportunity for advancement.”
Hunt also objected to provisions in the changes that would eliminate deadlines and allow for faster decision making.
“It’s a good idea that we can’t just change policy instantly without thinking about things and going through a longer process. We have a history of being very reactionary at this college and it hasn’t served us very well,” Hunt said.
The college vice presidents, in explaining their rationales for supporting the changes, also said the revisions would correct the situation in which one constituency has a separate and negotiable contractual relationship with the board of trustees.
Hunt disputed that the proposed changes would achieve that goal. She pointed out the board would, for example, negotiate the president’s contract separately from other groups, and she argued that these kinds of separate relationships are not happening.
“I’ve been here for 16 years and have never had a negotiation with the board about contract language for the faculty over the staff,” Hunt said.
She urged the board to maintain a “meaningful collaboration” with faculty and “not just the administration.”
The board didn’t address Hunt’s concerns directly, but Trustee Mark Wurzel explained that the way the procedure is currently set up, if the board makes any changes to proposed changes, even if they align with FEPRC wishes, it has to go back through the whole process again. This creates a procedural delay.
Citing the unanimous objections from FEPRC, Wurzel motioned to table voting on the parts of the proposal that dealt with procedure. The motion directed NWC President Stefani Hicswa to discuss the procedural changes with all employee groups and come back with a new proposal for the board to consider, by January. Wurzel’s motion also stated that the new proposal should contain language that deals with the procedural delays the current process requires when the board alters proposed changes.
Prior to the vote, Trustee Lawrence Todd said that, while it’s hard to craft policies that everyone agrees with, he’d like to see something better than 0% approval.
Trustee John Housel also expressed concerns about the policy changes reducing fairness and due process. He suggested the board should have a more involved discussion with stakeholders on the proposed changes in a study session before they go forward.
The board voted unanimously in favor of tabling the revisions FEPRC opposed and sending them back through the process, as is laid out in the current policy.