St. Augustine Faculty Vote “No Confidence” in President
By Lee Maltby
On November 13, 2006, the faculty of St. Augustine College resoundingly voted “no confidence” in President Z. Clara Brennan, who was appointed president of St. Augustine in July 2002. While complaints against the president had been growing for some time, recent events in the Fall 2006 semester proved too problematic to be ignored.
Enrollment—St. Augustine’s primary source of revenue has always been tuition. In Fall 2002, total student enrollment was 1642 students. In Fall 2006, 1279 students were enrolled. Already strapped for revenue, the semester enrollment figures mean that cuts in staff and faculty appear inevitable. The decline in revenue also means that the college will have great difficulty paying its annual debt obligation, which totals around eight million dollars.
NCA site visit—The second issue that undermined support for the president was the inability of the college to prepare its self-study in anticipation of a site visit in 2007. It was 1999 when the college was last re-accredited by the NCA of the Higher Learning Commission. Preparations to begin the self-study for the site visit were slow starting. Then once preparations began, it became obvious that the college was not ready to perform the self-study. This discovery resulted in Dr. Brennan requesting a one-year delay in order to better prepare for the crucially important accreditation site visit.
Faculty concerns—A third long term issue has been the working conditions for faculty, which have historically been very poor at St. Augustine. Faculty pay, workload, and the academic calendar are more difficult when compared with other two-year schools. While faculty understands that it is difficult to compete with publicly funded community colleges for salary and benefits, St. Augustine faculty rank in the 99th (probably 100th) percentile (the bottom) of faculty compensation, while living in one of the most expensive areas for housing in the country. Not surprisingly, many faculty members have side jobs, teach extra courses to make ends meet, or they migrate to other schools, such as the Chicago city college system. For years, the college has suffered a ‘brain drain’ as many of its faculty find better positions elsewhere.
Academic freedom—When Dr. Brennan interviewed for her position at St. Augustine, she promised to improve faculty working conditions. Upon her arrival she was given a draft of a faculty manual. That manual has not been completed. The current (and past) condition for contracts is that faculty are issued a ten month contract annually. Thus, faculty receives no guarantee of a job the following year should their actions displease the administration. Furthermore, faculty members have never had any significant role in governance at the college. Any exercise of academic freedom has always been at the discretion of the administration. Obviously, the lack of academic freedom has made it very difficult for faculty members to speak and act against administration’s actions. The threat of no contract for the following year is a very serious reason to keep one’s mouth closed and eyes averted even when faculty are and have been treated in an uncaring, unprofessional, and unethical manner. Academic freedom has always been an idea—not a reality at St. Augustine.
Library, etc.—The library is another area of serious concern at St. Augustine College. Understaffed and under-funded, the recent and positive advances made in the library are now at risk. There are also many other issues related to management, personnel, organization, and ‘people’ skills. The fact that the faculty was able to unite to hold this vote, and then to vote so strongly against the president, demonstrates the depth of the problems at the college. The faculty now hopes that the Board will listen.