shared governance wins in small college?
- Delphia Harris
Layoffs, pay cuts, disregard of faculty input, withholding of critical information, and attacks on tenure. Many campuses currently feel more like a war zone than an institution of higher learning. And yet, I am privileged and blessed to work on a campus where: mutual respect reigns, shared governance flourishes, information is shared, and the finances are sound.
What relevance can such a campus have for those in the trenches? We, too, have been in the trenches. We, too, have suffered and fought. We have overcome many obstacles. We are the faculty of LeMoyne-Owen College. Perhaps our story, a story of hope, is just what is needed at such a time as this. Perhaps that is why I have been nominated for Chair of the Assembly of State Conferences.
I have been fortunate enough to serve on the Faculty of LeMoyne-Owen College for 6 years in the eighties and twelve more years since my return in 1999. It is the strength and courage of the LeMoyne-Owen Faculty Organization that have formed and supported my professional career.
In 2000 our faculty came to a crossroads. In May of that year, there was a major layoff of college employees on a single day. In October, it was announced that the remaining employees would have a substantial pay cut. The College was in crisis: a crisis of which we had no prior knowledge; a crisis in which the faculty would be excluded from deliberations about solutions. We hired an attorney.
There were long anguished discussions. We did not want to hurt the College in the eyes of the community. We wanted to solve our problems internally. We needed to be heard. The College was in desperate need of our participation in the deliberations. In a final, impassioned plea to the Board of Trustees, we asked for a role in the decision making with the statement: �Do not underestimate the depth of our commitment to LeMoyne-Owen College.� In 2001 we filed a petition to the National Labor Relations Board. Thus began years of legal battles, emotional battles, and daily battles in the workplace. A small faculty of 55, in solidarity, clung to each other and a fervent desire for shared governance. It felt like we were alone in the world, locked in an uphill struggle.
Then unions started contacting us. Slowly it dawned on us that the nation had been watching. We talked with representatives of various unions wondering what we could possibly have in common with them, yet longing for the strength in numbers that they offered. Among those that contacted us was the AAUP. They came alongside us and walked with us. Not only did they refresh our strength and renew our hope, they knew faculty. They had set the very standards and policies for shared governance, due process, and professional conduct. We were not alone.
In 2003 our entire Faculty Organization affiliated as a Chapter of the AAUP. Since that time we have asked for help and guidance from the AAUP in many and varied ways. The national office has always been there for us. And as we continued our path within the AAUP, there was also a shift in the dynamics on our campus.
The Board of Trustees approved faculty representation on Board Committees and the Board itself. The increased interaction between faculty and board members fostered a mutual respect and appreciation of what each had to offer and recognition of our joint commitment to the College. President Watson included two faculty members on his cabinet. In 2008, we hosted a Shared Governance Conference, for the Tennessee Conference on our campus. The panelists included two college presidents, Dr. Nathan Essex and our own President Johnnie B. Watson, two of our Board members, Rev. James Armstrong and Robert Simpson, and two faculty members from the national AAUP, Dr. Jane Buck and Dr. Glen Howze. We had received much from the AAUP and felt that it was time to give back.
In 2008, I accepted the nomination and was elected President of the Tennessee Conference, on behalf of the Faculty Organization. During my two years as president, the state of Tennessee and many of its public institutions found themselves in crisis. We sought the aid of the national office and the response was overwhelming and continuous. The ASC and the staff provided resources and personnel to assist us every step of the way. We have received much from the ASC and the national office and it is time to give back.
That is why I have accepted the nomination for Chair of the Assembly of State Conferences. Shared Governance is not just insisting on being heard when a decision is made. It also requires stepping to the plate, doing the work, and making ourselves available when there is a need.
I stand before you as someone who:
� has been a part of a faculty that felt alone, fighting an impossible battle
� felt the relief and invigoration when we joined the AAUP
� has experienced the difference in a campus that a strong, courageous faculty can make
� sees the need and is working to institutionalize the strides that we have made
� has seen and worked on the challenges and opportunities faced by a state conference
� shares a message of solidarity and hope with those in the trenches
� is offering to serve the Assembly of State Conferences
I offer you my skills, experience, and a desire to serve. I believe that the lessons learned at LeMoyne-Owen College and the Tennessee Conference, have direct relevance to the challenges faced by higher education nationwide. Donna Potts brings a wealth of experience, as well. Choose the candidate who best meets the needs of the ASC at this time.
Delphia Harris is a Physical Chemist who has mentored thirty undergraduate students in community-based environmental research projects. She has served as a tenured faculty member at University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, University of St. Thomas in Houston, and LeMoyne-Owen, the Historically Black College in Memphis, TN. She currently serves as the Chair of the Division of Natural & Mathematical Sciences.
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