Faculty Meeting News and Notes: March 7, 2019
By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief
The Gettysburg College faculty had two substantive items on its agenda Thursday afternoon. It completed neither.
First, the faculty was to discuss and vote on a proposal to make online hybrid courses a permanent fixture of the college curriculum. A motion to move to that vote fell just short of the required two-thirds threshold.
Then, the faculty was to discuss a proposal from the Chairperson’s Council to move all course evaluations online via Campus Mobile. There was time for only a short presentation without discussion before the meeting ended sharply at 5:00 p.m.
Riggs says no decision will be made this spring on arming DPS
While waiting for a quorum to arrive, President Janet Morgan Riggs ’77 gave her president’s report. She announced that she did not anticipate moving forward with a plan to situationally arm trained Department of Public Safety officers prior to her retirement in June. In January, Vice President of College Life Julie Ramsey and Executive Director of Public Safety Bill Lafferty presented the proposal to Student Senate and said that they would make a recommendation to Riggs in March, who would make a decision later in the spring.
A spokesperson for the college did not immediately respond to a request for information about what changed the college’s calculus on the issue, but Riggs said Thursday afternoon that conversations held to date have been characterized by a tenor of caution and that Faculty Council believed the issue should be discussed on the floor of a faculty meeting prior to implementation.
“We really have become a bit of an outlier on this,” Riggs said, noting that most colleges have either sworn police departments or armed security agencies, but she added, “No decisions have been made, and I do not expect to make a decision this spring.”
Riggs mentioned that President-Elect Bob Iuliano has been consulted on the matter and that she intends to consider his guidance as to whether to continue conversations prior to his arrival in July or to wait and let him manage the process moving forward.
The other major component of Riggs’ report contained some of her reflections on how the college should move forward in wake of the resignation of Bob Garthwait from the Board of Trustees after a photo of him wearing a Nazi uniform at a “Hogan’s Heroes”-themed fraternity party came to light.
She summarized the hundreds of emails that she has received and read one from a Jewish alumnus (whose name she did not share) that both accepted Garthwait’s apology and appreciated his resignation.
Riggs also discussed what she described as a “thought-provoking” campus conversation held last Thursday on the matter in which several students of color shared their experiences as members of the campus community. She subsequently met with members of the Black Student Union’s executive board who expressed a desire for more education on issues of inclusion and racism including integration of more diverse perspectives in the college curriculum.
“I have tried to make diversity and inclusion a clear focus for our community during my presidency, and I think we would all agree that we have made, as a community, some tremendous strides over the last decade,” she said. “But, frankly, it became crystal clear to me that our current students don’t care about that progress, and why should they? It is irrelevant to them. What’s relevant to them is their experience that they are having on our campus today. This makes perfect sense that they don’t care about progress. What’s happening to them on campus today should be their concern and it should be our concern as well.”
Riggs closed her presentation with an announcement that the Board of Trustees has approved a second faculty retirement incentive program. 20 faculty members participated in the first iteration of the program, which was connected to a goal in the 2016-2021 strategic plan to increase faculty diversity through replacing retirees with faculty “who can bring diverse curricular perspectives and research agendas and who have experience working with students from a wide variety of backgrounds.” To that end, the college has hired a number of Mellon Faculty Fellows in the humanities through a grant from the Mellon Foundation. Though increasing faculty diversity was not mentioned Thursday afternoon, Riggs said the program will be rolled out after spring break and more information will be available then.
Faculty postpones vote on summer hybrid online courses
After a quorum count confirmed the presence of a quorum, the faculty proceeded to discuss motion from the Academic Program and Policy Committee (APPC) initially presented in February that would make online hybrid courses a permanent feature of the college curriculum.
APPC Chair Brian Meier suggested that increased flexibility for students, a modest potential revenue increase, and faculty development opportunities could be benefits of adopting the motion, and he emphasized that departments and programs would have control over what courses (if any) would be offered.
Harold G. Evans Chair of Eisenhower Leadership Studies Brendan Cushing-Daniels, who taught a hybrid course during the summer 2018 pilot program and described his experience as “not terribly favorable,” rose to dispute the notion that this would increase the college’s revenue, arguing that, unless the admissions office admitted more students commensurately to the number of students who might graduate a semester early by taking advantage of these summer courses, the college’s bottom line could actually be hurt.
From a pedagogical standpoint, he added, “I don’t think this is what we do at Gettysburg College.”
Meier said that APPC and the Provost’s Office intended to monitor those statistics and would report back to the faculty annually, who would have an opportunity to alter or end the program if they so desired.
Numerous faculty members including Assistant Professor of Physics Ryan Johnson, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Monica Ogra, and Associate Professor of Biology István Urcuyo raised concern about whether adding a summer program like this would institutionalize inequity by depriving students with financial need — who would not receive additional financial aid — of the opportunity to keep pace with students who could pay to take the summer courses.
Vice President of Enrollment and Educational Services Barbara Fritze noted that more than a hundred students currently transfer in summer courses each year and do not receive financial aid from Gettysburg College to do so such that this program would not change the current reality. She added that the college could, in the future, consider whether making financial aid resources available to support summer courses made sense, but that, at present, not enough courses have been offered for that calculation to be feasible.
The final line of questions centered on terminology. Associate Professor of Psychology Kathy Berenson said that calling courses that have no in-person, synchronous components “hybrid” is misleading, and Associate Professor of Italian Studies Lidia HwaSoon Anchisi added that other institutions such as Notre Dame have online courses with synchronous components and still call them “online” without the “hybrid” addition.
Professor of English Suzanne Flynn asked whether the notion of online courses would go “poof” if the faculty voted down APPC’s motion. Vice Provost Jack Ryan responded that it would.
After a suggestion to wait until after spring break to vote, Associate Professor of Anthropology and APPC member Amy Evrard moved for a vote. The motion, which required a two-thirds majority, failed 81-40-5. Faculty parliamentarian Kevin Wilson clarified after the meeting that the abstentions still count as votes and, since two-thirds of votes cast needed to be in the affirmative, the motion failed.
The next opportunity for the vote would be Mar. 21. Registrar Brian Reese said that approving the motion then would set up a tight turn-around to get courses approved and scheduled for this summer, but that it could still be done.
Moving course evaluations online
At about 4:55 p.m., Associate Professor of Computer Science Clif Presser presented a motion on behalf of the Chairpersons Council to move end-of-semester course evaluations from paper to the Campus Mobile app after a successful pilot program.
There was no discussion on that issue before the meeting adjourned.