What do the Modern Language Association and the Baylor University student newspaper have in common?
Both think the Kentucky Community and Technical College System’s Board of Regents made a bad move when it voted to end tenure for new faculty.
The MLA’s Executive Council “deplores the Kentucky Regents' decision to abolish tenure for all future hires in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.”
The Modern Language Association is a national group that encourages the study and teaching of language and literature. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is the scribe’s bible in thousands of high school, college and university English classes. KCTCS colleges use it. So does the English department at Baylor, a Baptist university in Waco, Tex.
In March, the KCTCS board eliminated tenure for faculty hired on or after July 1. Few, if any, teachers doubt that Dr. Michael McCall, the KCTCS president, supported, if not encouraged, the board action.
"KCTCS faculty will continue to have the same rights and privileges afforded to faculty in other higher education institutions through existing organizational policies regarding academic freedom, promotion, shared governance and due process,” said Board Chair Richard Bean in a KCTCS news release.
Not many KCTCS faculty are buying Bean’s claim. So far, nine of the system’s 16 community and technical colleges have approved resolutions of no confidence in the board and McCall. A tenth school voted to oppose and condemn the board’s actions. All resolutions passed by hefty margins.
Meanwhile, the MLA and the Lariat didn’t mince words in their criticism of the board.
“Neither administrative expediency that takes advantage of the current financial crisis nor short-term budgetary gains justify a decision that threatens to undermine faculty governance and peer review, forestall curricular innovation, and impede the academic advancement of students,” the MLA council said.
Likewise, the Baylor Lariat editorialized, “It might appear as simply a financial move to save the university money, but it would cost a college what makes it a college. It will cease being a place of diverse learning.”
The editorial added, “Students are more stimulated from open discussion than a formula of dogmatic doctrine. Colleges are designed to be well-rounded places of learning, and tenure is conducive to the free exchange of ideas intrinsic to higher education.
“Non-tenured teachers can lead engaging classroom conversation, but tenure is the only guarantee professors won't lose their jobs for guiding a class conversation on a taboo topic or for expressing unconventional opinions.”
The MLA brass concluded, “There is every reason to suppose that KCTCS students will be ill served by a situation in which the teaching faculty is expected to be committed to the educational enterprise while serving at the pleasure of an institution unwilling to make long-term commitments to its most essential employees.”
The Lariat argued that without tenure, it will be difficult for Kentucky’s community and technical colleges to attract quality teachers. While McCall was the highest paid community college system president in the country in 2008, KCTCS faculties are not – by a long shot – the most handsomely compensated community college teachers in the U.S.
KCTCS teachers overwhelmingly opposed the elimination of tenure and told the board so before it voted. The KCTCS Faculty Senate passed a strong pro-tenure resolution. Faculty organizations at most of the community and technical colleges endorsed the resolution or passed resolutions of their own.
The board ignored the pro-tenure resolutions. It may choose to ignore the no confidence votes. Maybe the regents and McCall think the fuss over tenure is a tempest in a teapot, and that eventually the teachers will get over it.
I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.
Several of us who teach in the community and technical colleges belong to American Federation of Teachers Locals 6010 and 6083. Our union leaders started knocking on lawmakers’ doors in Frankfort soon after the board voted. They huddled with State Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, chair of the powerful Labor and Industry Committee.
Nelson helped get the House of Representatives approve a non-binding, voice-vote resolution of support for continuing tenure in the community and technical colleges. It was too late to file a tenure restoration bill. But Nelson told the Harlan Daily Advertiser he will pre-file one before the next regular session of the legislature, which will be in 2010.
Meanwhile, I suspect more than a few teachers at our community and technical colleges will manage to find time during their summer breaks to contact their members of the legislature. More than a few of us who are in AFT already have communicated with our representatives and senators, and we are finding friends.