The focus of this brief is on the 2019 January term (J-term), which was scheduled by Community College of Rhode Island administration without the research-based input and relevant experience of faculty. This issue is an excellent example of the conflict between the current college administration and the faculty. To many faculty members’ dismay, the administration continues to push its own narrative that college leadership is successfully implementing new programs while being obstructed by a group of dismissive professors who resist change, regretfully voted No Confidence in administrators, and most recently, refused to teach courses during a three-week J-term. Faculty's continual “opposition to J-Term, a project forced on the college by the administration that broke norms of shared governance, involved dubious processing of paperwork in relation to the Curriculum Review Committee, and portends an erosion of an educational institute in Rhode Island that has been a major pillar for working class, African American, and Latinx students for decades” (Stewart, 2019). In fact, all stakeholders (e.g., students, faculty, staff, taxpayers, PEC, legislators, etc.) should be as weary as the faculty is about the negative results of problems created by the current administration, as this brief will demonstrate.
A review of the literature focused on compressed terms, which are courses that meet the hourly requirements of typical semester-long classes but in shorter time frames, and developmental coursework demonstrates why CCRI faculty had initial concerns about the administration's quickly rolled-out J-term. To clarify, developmental education supports the academic and personal growth of underprepared college students through instruction, counseling, advising, and tutoring (“Welcome”). Specifically, current research from a variety of fields would discourage enrolling in a three-week term to any student who enters community college needing developmental coursework in one or more academic subjects (i.e., reading, language, writing, math, study skills). According to reputable studies from between 2010 and 2018, compressed terms for developmental courses proved beneficial to many students in community colleges when terms were at least five-weeks long, with an optimal duration of eight-weeks (Boeding, 2016; Ganga, 2018; Kops, 2014; Sheldon and Durella, 2010; TYCA, 2014). Unfortunately, the administration seems to be misusing research about students in college-level courses and ignoring research about students in developmental courses in a way that serves their agenda as evidenced by the three developmental English courses offered during this winter term (that the full- and part-time faculty refused to teach).
Contrary to the administration’s position that faculty is adverse to change, CCRI’s faculty is not against improving the curriculum, adding a winter term, or pursuing innovative methods. Additionally, most faculty members are not necessarily against the concept of a three-week J-term in general because research has shown that compressed terms encourage program completion for college students in credit-bearing courses (Aguilar, 2004; Anastasi, 2007; Birkholz, 2004; Furr, 2012; Kucsera & Zimmaro, 2010; Lutes & Davies, 2013; Van Scyoc & Gleason, 1993). This body of research points to reasons why winter terms at schools like Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island are successful. Each of the three RI state institutions of higher education is different, and “the difference is manifest in the character of the institution. RIC began as a teacher training school before expanding into a wider number of subjects. Their class sizes are limited to below 35 students and the pedagogy is defined by more traditional liberal arts norms. By contrast, URI [a land grant and sea grant institution] is a research institution with much larger class sizes” (Stewart, 2019). CCRI’s character as an institution is defined by the ways the school meets the needs of a uniquely diverse population. Students needing remediation through developmental coursework are a major part of this student population. According to the CCRI’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, in the fall of 2014 about 65 percent of the 1,469 full-time, degree-seeking students (953 in total) “were placed in one or more developmental courses” (“Does Developmental Placement Affect On-time Completion?” 2018). This percentage is similar to national trends, which in 2010 saw “[a]bout 60 percent of incoming [community college] students...referred to at least one developmental course…[Therefore, a]ddressing the needs of developmental students is perhaps the most difficult and most important problem facing community colleges…[as these students] face tremendous barriers” (Bailey and Cho, 2010). To reiterate, CCRI is unlike RIC and URI, which do not offer developmental courses. Those institutions select students based on ability and achievement. So, the RIC and URI winter terms (and all their other terms) do not have to consider, for example, the needs of students requiring remediation in order to be placed in credit-bearing classes. Such developmental classes, for those who need them, are readily available at CCRI, where there are few barriers to enrollment. CCRI does enroll students with the ability and determination to complete a credit-bearing, three-week J-term, and if faculty had been part of a more responsible planning process that would have considered applicable research about appropriate courses for compressed terms, many CCRI faculty members would have encouraged students to enroll and would have gladly signed up to teach during J-term.
In media statements and email responses to students, the administration states that faculty is resistant to change. However, by the nature of their jobs, CCRI faculty continually embraces change to provide effective instruction. Typical activities in the lives of professors includes revising coursework, finding new, relevant materials, researching and proposing new courses, implementing new methods, participating in conferences to share and/or learn about new pedagogy, and publishing original work that contributes to their fields. Faculty supports change, but not the kinds of unsound change that can hurt students, that can impede faculty’s ability to provide the most efficacious instruction, and that can affect the reputations of both CCRI and those who answer for the work that goes on within its walls. Because they are open to effective change, faculty would most likely support a winter term had it been developed and implemented with research-based methods and in a manner that actually considered the expertise of skilled faculty in the process. However, the wider community of taxpayers, students, higher education overseers, and legislators (who authorized the terms of RI Promise, which seems responsible for the attempts to rush students through coursework), should realize that CCRI must constantly address the issue of the large number of high school graduates needing developmental coursework when arriving at the college’s classroom doors. In addition, faculty must also consider and try to address the challenges facing English Language Learners and students with disability conditions, among others who could have been impacted by the hastily-conceived J-term.
The faculty is not against a compressed semester; it is clear that the CCRI faculty supports six-week compressed summer sessions at CCRI. These summer courses are helpful options for students in both credited and developmental classes looking for effective instruction and a shorter road to completion. As a result of sound planning and collaboration between Academic Affairs and faculty in past administrations, some courses are not offered during the summer because they would not work in a six-week period. And like those compressed summer sessions, our Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) is an effective, research-based practice proven to help students needing developmental classes move through the curriculum more quickly and successfully by taking co-requisite classes. ALP was started as a faculty initiative at the Community College of Baltimore County in 2007 and “has consistently produced dramatic improvements in student success rates” for students in developmental coursework (“ALP”). While ALP is still a relatively new program to CCRI, overall, most faculty members have embraced this approach and eagerly attend meetings to learn new strategies and stay current with developments in the program. In the English Department, for example, the ALP coordinator and ALP English faculty often bring up any issues and work hard improve its ALP and tailor it to the CCRI student population. The math department ALP faculty has worked hard to implement this program, having to balance faculty flexibility and benefits to students with many of the curricular changes foisted upon them.
It is important to state that many folks on the faculty have chosen careers at CCRI because of its mission; CCRI professors believe in access to post-secondary education and believe that education is the key to upward mobility and a more enriching life and society. Therefore, the faculty works tirelessly to design, facilitate, and improve courses, applying the best methods to support students in their quests for success. What does not work for many on the CCRI faculty is the current administration’s misuse of research (Fenton, 2018) and misleading data reporting (Nagle, 2018) to support their unilateral curricular decisions with no input from faculty, many who have spent years teaching, have completed advanced or terminal degrees, have published scholarly work in their fields, and have valuable insight into CCRI’s diverse student population. The faculty has twice registered its lack of confidence in the administration’s eagerness to push forward with an agenda that ignores best practices, cherry-picks talking points out of context, and refuses to consider truly innovative, research-based approaches.
Whether it is incompetence, a desire for praise, lack of both experience and understanding of community college administration, a desire for the power to install friends and political allies of the college and state administration into high-paying positions, or a combination of one or more of these options, the fact remains that the current administration of CCRI is using taxpayer money for ineffective programs that diminish the benefits of CCRI, the largest community college system in New England, to all enrolled students (DePetro, 2019; Forleo, 2019). The results of this administration’s poor choices will be brought to light eventually. When it is shown that many of the current administration’s initiatives only benefit a few students and simply appease the political ambitions of those in power, when students retention rates do not increase, and when student program completion time does not decrease, those on the state level who have stood behind the current CCRI administration will certainly be viewed as complicit in funding and supporting an avoidable failure, a failure that the faculty has warned about. Twice. And this faculty--the lowest paid professors who put in the most classroom hours at a RI public college--will remain, providing the same kinds of support, challenge, training, and education that has been provided since 1964 (“Our History”). CCRI is too valuable to the Rhode Island community, which is why the faculty is steadfast in its opposition to this current administration.
According to the college’s website, CCRI follows “a shared governance model…[which] is a set of processes and procedures through which college faculty, staff, and administrators collaborate in making recommendations about issues of college-wide importance in the following areas: Academic, Business, Facilities, Institutional Planning, Student Affairs, and Technology” (“College Governance”). It is an expectation that makes it frustrating and demeaning to watch policies and programs introduced with little, if any consultation with faculty. Burns (2010) claimed that community college students spend most of their on-campus time in the classroom. Instructors spend the most time involved with student learning, and instructors also spend the most time with students of all those employed by the college. Therefore, when Tinto (2012) postulated that the classroom is the center of the educational experience and the place to focus on success, perhaps the administration could also begin their work by looking into classrooms, not just calling on faculty to fulfill political agendas.
It has long been accepted that “[c]urriculum approval processes reflect the collective will of…[an] entire college as an accredited institution, encompassing all the rigor, privileges, and obligations that come with being fully accredited. The primary responsibility for curriculum rests in the hands of faculty” (ASCCC year). Faculty members need to be closely involved in the development of the curriculum that they are responsible for delivering. Faculty does understand shared governance, and does not see shared governance as a way to micromanage administrations or reject any new initiatives. Faculty just wanted to have a voice in curricular changes, especially if the changes would be detrimental to CCRI students.
The faculty’s position has received encouragement from and positive coverage in GoLocalProv, which named the CCRIFA as one of the “18 Who Made a Difference in 2018”. Also the news coverage in Uprise RI and in other outlets has gotten our story out there. Any some faculty members, including the CCRIFA leader Steve Murray and the writer/English Department faculty member Steven Forleo, have appeared in the local media representing the Faculty Associate’s concerns. What J-term needed was evidence-based practices and true shared governance. However, that time has passed. The current administration, namely Meghan Hughes, Rose Mary Costigan, and Dean Thomas Sabbaugh, do not seem to have faculty, and therefore students’, best interests in mind, and they should be replaced with administrators with experience and integrity, not just with the desire to score political points and add as many high-paying positions to allies.
- Aguilar, S. K. (2004). “A study on the efficacy of compressed scheduling formats in higher education.” (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest (Order No. 3135930).
- ALP – Accelerated Learning Program. Community College of Baltimore County. Retrieved January 5, 2019, from http://alp-deved.org/
- Anastasi, J. S. (2007). “Methods and techniques: Full-semester and abbreviated summer courses: An evaluation of student performance.” Teaching Of Psychology, 34(1), 19-22.
- Bailey, T. R., & Cho, S. W. (2010). Developmental education in community colleges.
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- Fenton, J. (2018, December 05). CCRI President Hughes Responds to Faculty's Call for Resignation. Retrieved January 9, 2019, from http://www.golocalprov.com/news/ccri-president-hughes-responds-to-facultys-call-for-resignation
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- Letter: John DePetro: What made former flack worth an extra $43,000? (2019, January 08). Retrieved January 9, 2019, from https://www.providencejournal.com/opinion/20190108/letter-john-depetro-what-made-former-flack-worth-extra-43000
- Lutes, L. & Davies, R. (2013). “Comparing the rigor of compressed format courses to their regular semester counterparts.” Innovative Higher Education, 38, 19-29.
- Nagle, K. (2018, October 04). CCRI & Raimondo's RI Promise Claims Are Not Supported By School's Documents. Retrieved January 9, 2019, from http://www.golocalprov.com/news/ccri-raimondos-ri-promise-numbers-questioned-by-head-of-ccri-faculty-union
- Our History. Community College of Rhode Island. Retrieved January 3, 2019 from https://www.ccri.edu/about/history.html
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- Stewart, A. (2019, January 08). Professors Protest the CCRI J-Term: A Symptom of What is Changing in the Democratic Party. Retrieved January 9, 2019, from https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/01/09/professors-protest-the-ccri-j-term-a-symptom-of-what-is-changing-in-the-democratic-party/
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