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Informal Grievances on Recent Policy Changes

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to inform you that late last week, the Plymouth State University AAUP — at the behest of its Executive Committee — filed two informal grievances with the administration relating to unilateral policy changes enacted over the summer. You can find the text of these grievances at our website:

I will briefly describe each grievance, and its significance, below:

Grievance on academic policy changes

On August 6th, program coordinators and department chairs received an email from the Office of Academic Affairs outlining 13 institutional policy changes. On August 23, the Registrar forwarded these policy changes to all faculty and staff as an attached PDF in an email titled “Reminders and References from the Registrar’s Office.” Of the 13 policy changes that were inserted into the 2019-20 Academic Catalog, at least half are academic policies that require the approval of the Academic Affairs Committee and the faculty. Yet, only two had been been approved by (or even discussed with) the Academic Affairs Committee. None of the other policies had previously been seen by any part of faculty governance, and no attempts were made by the administration to reach out to relevant faculty governance representatives prior to these emails.

Some of these policy changes are sensible, and it is very possible that they would have passed through the vetting process quickly. They never got the chance. This is a blatant violation of our union’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Articles 9.2, 9.2.4, and 9.2.5 (I encourage you to read these articles in our CBA, available at https://plymouth-aaup.org/psu-contract/). The articles state, in short, that the administration is legally obligated to consult faculty governance in the development of policy…especially academic policy.

Last week, the administration hastily agreed to meet with the Academic Affairs Committee to discuss the policies they had already implemented. This is not what shared governance looks like.

We cannot ignore the administration’s disregard for our faculty governance system, which is why we are bringing a grievance on this issue. We seek the immediate reinstatement of the original policies into the current academic catalog until and unless they are successfully vetted through the appropriate faculty approval process in accordance with the principles of shared governance.

Grievance on course cap removal

As June Orientation approached, the administration announced that it would be temporarily removing course caps in order to accommodate the incoming class of 2023. As faculty could have easily predicted, the ensuing chaos created massive amounts of work in order to relieve overcrowded courses, caused the low-enrollment (and, in some cases, cancellation) of many courses, and created confusion and anger among students, whose schedules were changed without their consent or knowledge. Some teaching lecturers lost their assigned courses in the process. Other faculty returned to campus to find their schedules had been changed. By any standard, it was an ill-informed decision. Not surprisingly, it was also a clear violation of our union contract Article 8.3.4.3, which states, in short, that faculty, program coordinators, and the Provost will work in “consultation” to set course caps.

As resolution, we ask for acknowledgement that this terrible decision was made in violation of our contract, and the promise that any such policy changes in the future will be made in accordance with our faculty governance system and CBA. In short, we seek a genuine apology and some sort of reassurance that this kind of decision making process will end.

I stated in the beginning that we have initiated “informal” grievances. Article 10.4 of our CBA outlines both informal and formal grievance processes. You may wonder why we have chosen to take the informal route at this point, despite the blatant violations of our contract. The informal process is designed to allow the resolution of issues in a relatively quick and amicable way, rather than invoking a formal, rigid process that can readily lead to arbitration. By choosing the informal route, we continue to extend a hand to the administration in hopes they will work with us rather than around or against us. However, we cannot long ignore the administration’s disregard for our legally-binding contract, so if needed to satisfactorily resolve these situations, we will move to the formal process.

This morning, I had an initial meeting with the Provost and other representatives of the administration regarding these grievances. We began discussions about how best to resolve them, and as a part of that, they indicated they would be making an announcement as soon as possible with an initial response.

We will continue to communicate to the wider PSU community as the grievance proceedings progress. In the meantime, we encourage faculty to attend the monthly faculty meeting in order to ask questions of the President, the Provost, and other senior members of the administration. Furthermore, we encourage our colleagues on the PAT and Operating Staff Senates, and our student leaders at the Student Senate and the Clock, to press the administration to embrace an ethos of consultation and shared governance.

These hastily enacted policy changes are only the most recent examples that the administration seems to view faculty, staff, and students as obstacles to be overcome, rather than partners invested in the success of the university. This top-down, unilateral process to enacting change at the university has eroded the trust of faculty, staff, and students in the administration, resulted in chaos within our university structure, and driven away many good people at all levels. Plymouth State University’s success will not come as another directive from Speare Hall. Rather, our best hope rests in our ability to create a partnership that leverages the experience, creativity, and leadership of the entire PSU community.

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