The gloves are finally coming off, and things are getting interesting in the modest rural town of Hays, Kansas.
A group of Fort Hays State University Students and faculty gathered on the president’s house lawn at noon Monday to show their support for the university president Mirta Martin. Ironically, most students had little understanding of the underlying issues that has led to Faculty Senate President Carl Miller expressing a litany of concerns about Martin, from cronyism to administrative bloat and mismanagement.
The protest is in response to recent statements directed to the Kansas Board of Regents made by the Faculty Senate President Carl Miller, and other faculty members who lack confidence in Martin’s leadership.
Many faculty are saying that two main decisions she is advocating for, increasing class caps and reducing teacher overloads, could have a negative impact on the quality of education at FHSU.
A poll sent to 320 out of the 390 full-time faculty members at FHSU – the other 70 members were not contacted because they hold administrative positions – asked eight questions about caps and overloads. 73 percent responded to the survey, and 66 percent of those respondents indicated if “they could find a comparable job, they would leave FHSU”.
Jared Tadlock, a FHSU graduate student, posted an invitation Saturday afternoon on Facebook for the protest.
“We really tried to take an approach that isn’t taking a stance on this,” Tadlock said, “The [Hays Daily News] article that came out, I know a lot of people felt that there was maybe a lack of voice for the student body, so they were looking for an avenue to express their support of the president as we’re going through this.”
“I’ve not yet read [the article], I’ve heard it’s pretty extensive though,” Brock Arvesen, FHSU Freshmen said.
The root to this shit-storm goes back to a FHSU faculty senate meeting last week between the faculty senate members and members of the Kansas Board of Regents. The Hays Daily News attended the event in a moment of serendipity, published an explosive article Friday along with a follow up for the Sunday paper.
Miller told the Daily that Martin met with FHSU deans expressing she wants to cut costs to the university. Two ways she wants to do that is by increasing maximum class sizes, commonly known as caps, and reducing the number of overload classes that a faculty member can teach.
In an October 16th email, Martin argued in favor of reducing overloads as a cost savings, according to an all faculty email written by the FHSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, a labor union created to ensure academic freedom for faculty members.
“Overloads should be used for an unexpected surge in enrollment, to cover unexpected illnesses, and/or to meet course needs/demands in highly specified fields where adjuncts many not be found,” Martin wrote, “as a practice, overloads should not be assigned to courses where we know demand will exist semester after semester, year after year. Adjuncts should be hired allowing our full time faculty to instruct expert-based courses.”
Still not sure what we’re talking about? Let’s explain.
An “overload class” is a class taught outside a full-time instructors contract, and is paid out by a certain percentage of their original contract. Full-time instructors are generally contracted to teach 24 credit hours per year, which usually translates into 4 classes per semester. Any classes taught in addition to that are “overload” and typically are done through summer semesters or through the Virtual College.
The cap size sets the maximum classroom size for a class. Increasing the cap size would save money by reducing the number of sections per class and reducing the number of instructors needed to teach at the university. Less flexibility when choosing classes and larger student/faculty ratio could be consequences of increasing the cap.
Martin had failed to produce any data showing budget savings for her proposal, which led up to the Senate’s backlash.
“The actual numbers simply do not suggest either widespread abuse or that curtailing overloads would produce costs savings necessary to save jobs,” the FHSU-AAUP email wrote.
“In the September Faculty Senate meeting, President Martin suggested that restricting faculty overloads would save thousands of dollars per course. In her October 16 email to the campus community, she asserted that, ‘often, an overload may be as much as twice the cost of an adjunct.’ In fact, according to information provided to us by VP Barnett, the picture was much less exigent.”
The total cost of savings for FHSU for the 2015-2016 school year would have been $339,703 out of a nearly $150,000,000 institutional budget.
“The entirety of all faculty overloads represents only 0.002% [of the total institutional budget],” the FHSU-AAUP email wrote.
Yuri Yerastov, assistant professor of linguistics, expressed a dissenting view at the faculty senate/KBOR meeting.
“I believe that the discourse in the Faculty Senate has been hijacked by a vocal, legalistically-versed tenured elite,” Yerastov said in an email addressed his FHSU colleagues, “The alternative to cutting overloads would be to cut faculty without tenure, a measure which, of course, does not bother the tenured faculty elite.”
Yerastov expressed his support for Martin, appealing to the emotional social justice warrior in all of us.
“Dr. Martin has served as a beacon of diversity and cosmopolitan values,” Yerastov said, “She has stood with minorities on this campus when she firmly opposed the Governor’s executive order to remove protection from discrimination of LGBT people. Recently there have been regrettable reports of T-shirts with swastika and the slogan ‘Make FHSU great again’ surfacing in Hays. This is disheartening to President Martin and we need to stand with her against bigotry and racism, as she has stood with us in the past.”
The tail end of the email discloses a grim conspiracy.
“It is no longer a secret on this campus that a certain past administrator is stirring up the present unrest in hopes of grabbing the presidency from President Martin,” Yerastov wrote, “I urge everyone to act to prevent that.”
While The Leader was unable to confirm or deny this coup conspiracy, we believe it is important to take in both sides of this issue and examine the facts in an objective light. For students, it is important to weigh the benefits and consequences of changes to caps and overload limits as it relates to the quality of education. For educators, it is important to examine these issues in terms of attracting quality teachers and giving teachers a situation to perform to their highest ability.
Follow www.TheLeader.us as we continue to follow this developing conflict.