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AAUP to investigate possible violations by Maricopa Community College system

Maricopa Faculty Association files 13-page complaint with accreditation body.

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AAUP to investigate possible violations by Maricopa Community College system

Maricopa Community College District Office

Maricopa Community College District Office

Sarah Hall/SCC

Maricopa Community College District Office

Sarah Hall/SCC

Sarah Hall/SCC

Maricopa Community College District Office

Jesse Tannous and Brian Palm

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The professional standard of academic freedom is defined by the 1940 statement of the “Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure”—this— according to The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

The AAUP, based in Washington D.C., will be coming to Arizona in October in order to “formally investigate apparent departures from widely adopted standards of academic governance at Maricopa County Community College.”

The formal investigative announcement comes from a released AAUP document dated Sept. 6.

The investigation centers around the February resolution of the college’s governing board in a 4-3 vote terminated the “meet-and-confer” provision of the faculty policy manual.

The board then ordered the creation of a new manual that— according to the AAUP— would “severely limit the participation of the faculty in institutional governance.”

The long-standing “meet-and-confer” process had been implemented as a way for faculty and administrators to come to an agreement on changes pertaining to “responsibilities, wages, governance, benefits and all other terms and conditions of Residential Faculty employment.”

In addition, the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by the AAUP with the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities, observes—

“The structure and procedures for faculty participation should be designed, approved, and established by joint action of the components of the institution.”

So what does an investigation by AAUP actually mean for Maricopa Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the U.S.—serving more than 220,000 students?

That may depend on who you ask, but the AAUP organization has specific criteria in place and when possible violations are investigated and “serious violations” are evidenced by the AAUP, colleges (or in this case—possibly— the entire Maricopa Community College system) may be placed on a censured or sanctioned list—a vehicle used to inform the academic community and the regional accreditor (the Higher Learning Commission HLC) if “conditions for academic freedom and shared governance are unsound.”

John Schampel a Phoenix College biology professor and the President of the Faculty Executive Council told nevalleynews.org that regional and national accrediting bodies are often “informed of the results of the investigation,” while Hans-Joerg Tiede, the Associate Secretary of the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance at AAUP echoed that policy in a recent KJZZ interview.

“We will inform the regional accreditor, which in this case, is the Higher Learning Commission,” Tiede said.

So…what does it mean for a college system to be placed on the censured or sanctioned list?

“AAUP informs the national academic community that the sanctioned institution does not adhere to accepted norms of academic practice and governance. Of course, the ramifications of that would almost certainly depend upon the nature and seriousness of the violations,” said Schampel.

“This particular AAUP investigation is looking into issues such as “shared governance,” so that the faculty is involved in educational decisions, as well as “academic freedom.” Those are two areas that accrediting bodies consider very important and ought to be taken seriously by the district governing board.”

What does it mean to the average student considering enrollment at a Maricopa Community College if the AAUP investigation finds violations and places the district on the sanctioned or censured list?

At a minimum—it means going forward, the District will have diminished ability to attract and retain the same highest quality full-time faculty as it has in the past, because the best faculty do not want to work for an institution that lacks respect for academic standards and by extension, faculty themselves,” Schampel said.“Beyond that, if the higher accrediting body concurs with the AAUP’s findings, launches its own investigation and arrives at similar or worse findings, the District could lose accreditation, which would impact students’ abilities to receive federal financial aid, and to transfer their credits earned in Maricopa to other colleges and universities.

Northeast Valley News contacted the office of the Maricopa Community College Chancellor and requested an interview with regard to the October AAUP investigation. The representative of record for the Chancellor’s office, Communications Director, Matt Hasson, responded with the following full statement.

“The District is confident that its policies and procedures are more than adequate to allow for productive, collegial participation in decision-making by faculty and staff.  When the Higher Learning Commission inquired in February on this same issue, they were satisfied with our response as it relates to faculty participation in college and district governance.”

Nevalleynews.org contacted Schampel for a response to the Hasson statement of record from the chancellor’s office.

“I would just say that the Chancellor and Governing Board deserve a “D” for announcing that “adequate” is the new, lower standard for the Maricopa Community Colleges. That will come as news to the thousands of taxpayers and students who have been promised “excellence. We know it is not acceptable to the faculty,” Schampel said.

“Later today the Faculty Association is releasing the comprehensive complaint just filed with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The complaint relies on facts drawn largely from documents and transcriptions we received in response to public records demands, not empty public relations statements. The taxpayers will be rightfully shocked by the story told by an honest review of the Board and Chancellor’s own words and actions. We know we were.”

Associate Secretary of AAUP, Tiede also responded to the Hasson statement provided on behalf of the chancellor’s office.

“First, I should say that I have no first-hand knowledge of whether the HLC conducted an investigation,” Tiede said.

“The district’s general counsel shared the chancellor’s response with the AAUP and the AAUP’s investigating committee will have the opportunity to consider that response when it conducts its investigation. To the best of my knowledge, the HLC did not talk to members of the faculty about whether they have an interpretation of the board’s actions that differs from that given by the chancellor to the HLC, nor did the HLC consider evidence other than that provided in the letter,” Tiede said.

“The AAUP’s investigating committee, on the other hand, will interview members of the faculty and administration, and consider a large amount of evidence beyond the chancellor’s statement. It will consider this information in light of widely-observed standards for faculty participation in institutional decision making and assess to what extent the actions of the board violated these standards,” Tiede said.

Northeast Valley News asked Tiede about his reaction to the reported lack of response to AAUP’s subsequent calls after official notification of the investigation to the district officials as well as the repeated attempts to meet with the chancellor or a representative from the chancellor’s office—Tiede admitted that the district’s disregard was surprising.

“I would have to say that it’s unusual for an administration or board to fail even to acknowledge our correspondence,” Tiede said.

“It does happen at times that administrations or boards do not meet with the investigating committee (which appears to be the case here, both with respect to the administration and the board), but it is unusual not to communicate with us at all (the administration has communicated with us in the matter; the board has not). The AAUP has advocated for shared governance and academic freedom for over 100 years and is widely respected in the academic community for that work,” Tiede said.

The AAUP investigation is scheduled for October.

On Sept. 24 after receiving the Hasson response nevalleynews.org contacted Steven Kaufman, the media representative from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) via email through the listed contact information from the organization’s website.

Northeast Valley News asked Kaufman for a response or an interview with regard to the AAUP investigation and the subsequent Hasson response on behalf of the chancellor’s office.

Kaufman was also specifically asked in the email by nevalleynews—“Has the HLC has already conducted its own investigation/inquiry into the matter of “shared governance” at Maricopa Community Colleges?”

Kaufman was also asked for the HLC’s official response with regard to the upcoming AAUP investigation of the Maricopa Community College System.

As of publication, Kaufman did not respond to nevalleynews.org with a statement nor the interview request.

 

Reaction over AAUP investigation from faculty outside of Arizona

 

Nevalleynews.org contacted several professors from universities outside of Arizona for their reaction to the upcoming October AAUP investigation.

Dr. Rory Kraft, Jr., Assistant Professor of Philosophy, York College of Pennsylvania, was “alarmed” by the removal of shared governance at Maricopa through the long-standing meet and confer policy and addressed the AAUP organization specifically.

“The AAUP is the only organization of its type. Instead of representing a discipline (like the American Philosophical Association, or the American Chemistry Society) it is often described as representing the profession of the professorate. For over a hundred years the AAUP has been working alongside faculty, administrators, and boards of trustees to promote best practices in higher education,” Kraft said. “Core to this is the idea of shared governance. Shared governance is the idea that the members of the campus community each have a role in the running of the institution, and that each should be consulted as decisions are made.”

“In the MCCCD system the way that shared governance had been operated was through “meet and confer”—The unilateral removal of this is alarming and significant,” Kraft said. “This displays a disregard for the norms of academia, the past practice at the schools, and leaves the institution standing apart from the mainstream.”

 

Maricopa Faculty Association files formal complaint with HLC accrediting body

 

On Sept. 25, nevalleynews.org received an email that was sent out to Maricopa faculty from the Faculty Executive Council President, John Schampel.

Schampel wrote in the email.

Faculty Colleagues,

Tonight I informed the members of the Governing Board and the Administration that the Faculty Association has filed an official complaint with the Higher Learning Commission, in order to bring to HLC’s attention many of the problematic behaviors this Board has consistently exhibited.   

We did not take this step lightly, nor without due consideration as to the potential ramifications of such an action. The Association has filed this complaint because this Board has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of respect for higher education, its mission, its principles, and the value it provides to the community we serve. The complaint is attached, and the exhibits referenced in the complaint can be found here.

We will keep you informed of any updates when we receive them.

Regards,

John

 

Contained within the 13-page complaint are allegations that range from using political partisanship to influence the funding of certain educational programs that did not line up with conservative views, to discriminatory practices as well as requests made to the Arizona legislature from one board member to effectively end funding to the state’s community colleges— as well as alleged discrepancies in the decision to end the decades-long football program at Maricopa colleges— to name a few.

After the complaint was made public, an Arizona Republic article reported that the complaint included allegations that MCCCD board member Johanna Haver wrote to board member McGrath and stated-

“Chicano Park is a highly controversial park with murals and anti-Trump stuff. Our students have no business going there. This is a trip to convert students to the ultra-left.”

Additionally, the Maricopa Faculty Association complaint alleges another example of an email reported in the article—this time—an exchange between Haver and McGrath when the board members ask the chancellor and college to stop funding the “Cultural Bridges Tour”—a learning program designed to teach students about Southwest history through lectures and trips to places such as Chicano Park.

Documented records used by the Maricopa Faculty Association to evidence the allegations were obtained under the Arizona Public Records Law by the faculty association. The full complaint can be downloaded along with the documented materials attained through the public records requests.

On page three of the Faculty Association complaint filed with the HLC it states…

“The Board President, Mr. Hendrix, commented to the Chancellor on the approving comments he had received at the state Republican party convention during an election year about the “conservative direction of MCCCD” and then went on to suggest a policy agenda that included rejecting any state funding and eliminating the District’s longstanding practice of joint policy development with faculty through a meet-and-confer process that he admitted he did not understand in sufficient detail to discuss publicly.”15

Northeast Valley News contacted the office of Maricopa Colleges Board President Lauren Hendrix and asked for his response or a statement to the HLC complaint and allegations.

Hendrix did not respond to our request.

Maricopa Community Colleges Chancellor, Marie Harper-Marinick, issued a statement with regard to the Faculty Association’s complaint filed with the HLC through a Sept. 27 faculty-wide email from her office.

It reads…

Dear Maricopa, 

At this week’s Governing Board meeting, we learned that the Faculty Association has filed a formal complaint with the Higher Learning Commission, the agency that accredits our ten colleges. The complaint filed by the Faculty Association is mainly concerned with the actions of Governing Board members. Our Board members are elected officials and, like any individual citizen, have the right to express their opinions. We have not received communication from HLC but are ready to cooperate and provide all pertinent information that may be requested.

Our collective focus must remain on serving our community and the important work we are doing to transform Maricopa to a system that delivers an exceptional student experience and affordable, high quality education.

I am proud to lead the Maricopa Community Colleges, and thank our faculty and staff for dedicating countless hours to providing a world-class education and experience for our students.

When we have more information about this matter, we will send an update.

Sincerely,

Marie Harper-Marinick, Ph.D.

Chancellor

 

Northeast Valley News asked Faculty Association President John Schampel if he would care to respond to the chancellor’s statement with regard to the HLC complaint.

Schampel provided the following quote—in full.

The complaint filed with the Higher Learning Commission has nothing to do with Board members expressing their opinions. The complaint has to do with actual decisions by those Board members in conducting the governance of the colleges. The evidence in the complaint demonstrates a pattern of governance that violates the accreditation standards of the Higher Learning Commission.  So in focusing on ‘opinions,’ it would appear that both the Chancellor and the Board have missed the point, or they misunderstand the nature of the complaint.”

“When a citizen is working as an elected trustee of this community college system, and they are conducting business for the institution for which they have been elected to serve, they must be held accountable for decisions they make that directly conflict with the mission of the institution.  They are trustees of the colleges, which imposes upon them fiduciary responsibility. The Higher Learning Commission, our accreditor, also requires this from Board members, which is delineated in the complaint to the Commission. The Commission requires Governing Board members to make decisions in a non-partisan manner. To cite just one example from the complaint, Board members threatened to withhold funding from Mesa Community College because they didn’t like the politics of an event held by students there. While that is problematic on a number of levels, we believe this constitutes a clear cut violation of Higher Learning Commission criteria. So both the Chancellor and the Board have missed the point of the complaint.  They’ve either not read it carefully, or they have failed to understand the nature of it.  Neither have actually responded, they have missed the target completely.”

Some student reaction to Faculty Association complaint with HLC

 

Northeast Valley News spoke with several students on Sept. 27 after the release of the HLC complaint.

For the students that were aware of at least portions of the complaint either through local media reports or through the downloadable document—the reaction was similar.

One student who is involved in at least two student clubs on her campus told nevalleynews.org that she was aware of a hashtag #savemaricopacolleges circulating after some media reports on the HLC complaint and the allegations and information contained within.

Phoenix College student, Stephanie Felkins, was concerned that the district might actually consider eliminating trips because they don’t line up with people’s political points of view.

“It’s one thing to have an opinion, we all have our opinions, but to try and keep students from a trip where they can maybe see different things and cultures is not why we are going to school,” Felkins said.

A Maricopa student and vet who attends one of the east valley community colleges asked not to be identified because he is a work-study recipient and works around faculty and administrators.

He told nevalleynews.org that he was made aware of the HLC complaint after he specifically asked some of his co-workers about what it was and said he was pretty surprised by the report.

“Some of the stuff in there is kind of unbelievable for a school. I don’t think most students want this going on.”

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Reporting from the Northeast Valley, Phoenix, and surrounding communities. State, National and International coverage- from the campus of Scottsdale Community College.
AAUP to investigate possible violations by Maricopa Community College system