December proved to be a time of uncertainty for WKU’s faculty members, as letters sent out to five instructors who taught a total of 564 students last fall in the Ogden College of Science and Engineering notified them their one-year contract would not be renewed for the next academic year.
The five faculty members whose contracts were not renewed came from three departments in Ogden College. Two of the instructors came from the geography department.
Fred Siewers, Department of Geography and Geology chair, said he could not directly comment on the impacts this could have on the department. He said instructors “contribute tremendously” to the education of students.
The decision, made by Interim Dean Greg Arbuckle, was not well received by the Faculty Senate. In a meeting days after the letters were sent, the Senate authored a resolution regarding the non-renewal of instructors. The resolution, which has not been passed by the administration, mentions faculty members were informed via email about their contract not getting renewed, instead of a face-to-face meeting.
The resolution also mentions while the faculty handbook does not require a reason for non-renewal of instructors, “the lack of transparency in the process undermines the morale and loyalty of faculty overall.”
The resolution authored by the Faculty Senate asks the administration for two things: that the instructor cuts are rescinded and no further cuts are made by the Dec. 15, 2019, deadline and that a “transparent process for future non-renewal of instructors is developed and communicated to the Senate by the responsible deans by March 31, 2020.”
Acting Provost Cheryl Stevens commented on the resolution at the Jan. 23 Faculty Senate meeting, saying she agreed with the recommendation. She acknowledged flaws in the process of informing the instructors whose contracts were not renewed and said the more “transparent” process the Faculty Senate requested will be presented in March.
In an email, Stevens said there is currently not an “articulated process” in place, but she plans on asking the deans to work on developing one.
In the Herald editorial board’s Jan. 22 meeting with President Caboni, he commented on the instructor letters saying that in a decentralized budget model deans make the decision based on “economic realities” such as the course load, course demands in that college and the allocation of faculty resources.
Caboni also said those instructors who did not get their contracts renewed should not have found out through an email.
“I will say this, we should never as an institution let someone go or not renew their contract via email,” Caboni said. “That’s a conversation that should always occur in person, period. That meets our values.”
Concerning feelings of insecurity for faculty members moving forward, Caboni said deans have the flexibility to renew or not renew contracts “as they see fit.” He said the comfortability of having a contract that may or may not be renewed depends on the type of person someone is.
“Just because a one year contract has been renewed multiple years in a row, doesn’t guarantee renewal in a future year,” Caboni said. “If that creates uncertainty, that’s kind of how it’s built... And so, if I’m a faculty member who is not renewed, that’s personally painful and I understand that. But if you’re on one track, that should be clear that that contract is for one year.”
Caboni also said he doesn’t believe “passing resolutions and firing them off” is effective when trying to maintain a “productive, ongoing partnership and collaboration” and if governance wants to work on something, he sits down monthly with the chairs of the faculty and staff senates.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated two of the instructors came from the geology department instead of geography. It also incorrectly stated Fred Siewers is the Geology and Geography Department chair instead of the Geography and Geology Department chair. The Herald regrets the error.