Maricopa Community College’s class cancellations: perplexing ‘go-no go’ policy—at discretion of individual college—some schools need greater transparency

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Maricopa Community College’s class cancellations: perplexing ‘go-no go’ policy—at discretion of individual college—some schools need greater transparency

Brian Palm, Ivana Venema-Nunez, Jesse Tannous, Siti Hajerah, Jesse Milioto, Ashu Yadav, Brenda Kochevar, Monse Apud, and Humberto Arredondo

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Scottsdale Community College student, Imariah Moritz, told Northeast Valley News,

“I kept an eye on the number of students who enrolled in the course (last fall) —eventually I knew that it’s going to be cancelled at the last moment.”

SCC student, Mohammed Javed, enrolled in the course “Introduction to Ethics” and had not expected it to be cancelled.

It was.

Alexis Riley has had classes cancelled in both the last two semesters along with fellow SCC student Phillip Pekajana who experienced class cancellations in both the last two semesters and anticipates for a class to get cancelled now upon registering—even though in previous semesters he did not.

“I think the class drop is at eight,” said one student at a west side Maricopa campus, another student interrupted and said, “No, I heard it’s nine.”

Student Amy Rodgers now anticipates that some— or at least one class, will be cancelled when she registers.

Josh Scott, an SCC criminal justice major said “Ah, two of my classes were cancelled.”

A gathered group of six students said they have had classes cancelled within the last semester and one student said her class was a required course in her healthcare and wellness program.

Brianna Lopez from Scottsdale Community echoed some of the anxiety over class cancellations and told Northeast Valley News, “I’m really conscious—like I check how many are enrolled in each class because I know the drop number is lower than 12.”

Some students we interviewed had not had a course cancellation within the past two semesters.

Admittedly, the interviews of forty students on the campus of Scottsdale Community College and additional interviews at two west valley Maricopa college’s is not scientific polling, but it does say something—and it’s not particularly good for students at the largest community college district in Arizona and one of the largest in the country.

Just what is the ‘drop’ number and more important, how is a course cancellation determined with so many varied experiences among students across the Maricopa college spectrum?

For example, how does a college located on one side of the Valley “go” with an enrollment of six students, while the exact same course at another campus is cancelled at 10 students?

How do students that need courses for a program degree or just desire certain elective courses they enjoy, justify the additional travel, added expense and the often frustrating requirements to gain admittance or to simply register for a course located on another campus?

Too often, they just don’t bother.

Students and faculty want to know why this is happening more frequently and how it can be remedied.

SCC Residential Faculty Professor of Sociology and American Indian Studies, Manuel Pino, spoke with Northeast Valley News about the go-no go policy.

Pino told us that he has had classes cancelled in the past two semesters.

He believes that employment opportunities outside of academic requirements and degrees account for some of the decline in enrollment in American Indian Studies. Students might look at an immediate job, with secure employment and benefits from the businesses on or near the Salt River—“the reservation where our college sits”—and where businesses are springing up along the 101—and this creates the possibilities for employment for tribal members. He sees this as a factor for declining enrollment.

“I also see financial strain among students. You know, loans, FAFSA, you know, are not exactly sufficient to meet all the needs that a student might have to achieve a college education,” Pino said.

“I poll my students every semester and I ask. How many of you are students and employees or have jobs and come to school? And it’s always over 90% of the class. Almost everybody has to work to meet their economic needs as well as coming to school,” Pino said.

“I think that cutting some programs to meet the economic necessities or demands of the institutions are—in some cases—  justified. Personally, I feel any time we cut a program that hurts the students is a negative outlook on our mission, our vision as a community college district because we always have first and foremost out front to meet the needs of our students,” Pino said.

Northeast Valley News asked Pino if the go-no go policy negatively affects student and faculty morale.

“It certainly does. I’m an occupational program director for our tribal development program and I have to be there when the axe comes down you know, and some faculty are just totally frustrated ‘I’m doing everything in my marketable power to get students into my classes and it’s not working’—so you know, where does the college as an institution come in to help us achieve those goals?” Pino said.

Pino is in favor of less stringent deadlines and more flexibility and more time “it happens too quick—by the second week they’re making that determination.”

“They can go another week, possibly two, to allow students to enroll and come in.”

“If I was an administrator, I would be more flexible with these dead set deadlines,” Pino said.

Another Scottsdale Community residential faculty member who did not want his name identified, told Northeast Valley News that class cancellations are like a “cancer” now, and they should be the exception, not the rule.

“We need to stop focusing on cancellations—as though it’s expected. There are other options. I remember courses 10 and 15 years ago that had six or seven students and were never cancelled.”

Allegations surrounding Scottsdale Community College—go-no go, decisions

An allegation brought to nevalleynews.org in early September by a source that wishes to remain anonymous over fear of retaliation, alleges, that, at Scottsdale Community, “There is improper subjectivity—little accountability and favoritism among some administrators who have the authority and influence with the final decisions of go-no go, course cancellations.”

A separate source told nevalleynews.org that it was their intention to be more involved, even “nosey” in all areas of course review (with regard to cuts) and within an SCC administrative “wheel,”—in order to decrease the chance that the programs they are concerned with—are not left to the mercy of individuals that know little about their program.

These allegations, at least suggest, that there is a sense of inequity in the go-no go procedure and policy — or, what has become increasingly apparent—a lack of a uniform policy, surrounding course cancellation decisions at SCC and other Maricopa colleges.

Since the beginning of the fall semester similar allegations have come from at least three faculty members and staff to nevalleynews.org.

Northeast Valley News began to look into whether these allegations had any merit and to gain access to information, records, guidelines and procedure for the go-no go policy on the SCC campus and other Maricopa colleges.

We recorded a step by step chronology that include numerous attempts made by Northeast Valley News to gather information about Scottsdale’s go-no go policy beginning with the administrators we thought might direct us to the correct individuals/departments to explain  SCC’s procedure.

Since the allegations brought to Northeast Valley News were specific to SCC we started there.

Sept. 6: Northeast Valley News emailed the office of Scottsdale’s Interim President, Chris Haines requesting an interview or information about go-no go procedure. We did not receive a response about the interview. We attempted again on Sept. 12 and made a visit to the office and left a message. No response.

Sept. 19: Emailed an interview request to Charles Silver, (Development Director, Institutional Advancement) —that request was forwarded to Eric Sells, (PR Marketing Manager, Office of the President)

Oct. 1: Emailed Eddie Lamperez (VP Instructional Services) requesting same interview and/or possible information or source for the information.

Oct. 1: Sells advised us to speak with Matt Hasson (MCCCD Communications Director-Office of the Chancellor)

Oct. 2: Lamperez sent nevalleynews.org an abbreviated pdf document with some go-no go guidelines for SCC, but declined an interview, he recommended Hasson as well. Lamperez later sent the full document when we requested.

Oct. 3: Contacted Hasson for an interview.

Oct. 7: Hasson told nevalleynews.org he could not speak on the cancellation policy as it was up to each college and was not a district policy. Hasson suggested Sells.

Oct. 8: Received an email from Sells asking us to contact him about an interview.

Oct. 15: Interview with Sells took place.

“Scottsdale Community College’s overall enrollment, over the past five years has dropped about 20% and so by default, that’s going to have a significant impact on the total number of courses we can offer,” Sells said.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, that as enrollment declines, just the sheer number of courses that we can offer has to decline in tandem.”

Sells claims that the district’s “Guided Pathways Initiative” (Fall 2020) will help with strategic planning and reduce the number of go, no go classes.

There were some questions asked by nevalleynews.org that went unanswered by Sells during the interview, including, the question of a detailed process and accountability for go-no go class cancellations—and those who make up the ‘task force’ responsible for the decisions.

We also posed a hypothetical situation to Sells that set up a scenario where those responsible for making cancellation decisions might have a particular agenda, motive, or personal opinion unrelated to policy guidelines.

“I appreciate the example, and I appreciate that you are asking that, I just don’t feel comfortable discussing just…you know, ‘what if’s,’ Sells said.

“I will try to figure out for you…and get a listing of, you know, accountability—who makes the decision and the kind of flow.”

Nevalleynews.org received an email from Sells with the following statement…

“Here are the answers to the questions you posed during Tuesday’s interview — and the information I can provide at this time.”

“Response to accountability question: Discussions, planning and decisions take place regularly at the program and division levels, up to 12 months in advance of a semester, around which courses to offer, how many sections of a course to offer, and the time/location of the sections – all to ensure the course is made available to as many students as possible. These recommendations take into account numerous factors, such as past enrollment, data trends on upcoming enrollment, faculty and classroom availability, and budget constraints,” Sells said.

“The response to ‘who’ are the Task Force members: Participation on SCC’s Strategic Scheduling Task Force is part of SCC’s internal operations, and therefore job functions and team member names are confidential.”

We sent Mr. Sells a follow-up question on Oct. 18 asking, “Why would an ‘SCC Strategic Scheduling Task Force’ comprised of individuals responsible for making go-no go decisions need to be confidential?”

We did not receive a response.

Northeast Valley News sent the same question regarding accountability and confidentiality to Lamperez.

Lamperez sent the following response on Oct. 31.

“I brought the question to the “SCC Scheduling Task Force” directly about your desire to acquire their names and they do not wish to have their names released. You have discussed go, no go with Mr Sells, Mr. Hasson as well as received a full copy of the go, no go guidelines from me; as you may gather — it is straight forward process,” Lamperez said.

To correct Mr.Lamperez—nevalleynews.org conducted an interview with Sells, not Hasson.

Furthermore, Northeast Valley News never asked Mr. Lamperez to approach individual task force members and ask them if they wanted their names “released.”

We asked the question, “Why would an SCC Strategic Scheduling Task Force need to be confidential?”

The question still stands.

The word, transparency, has been circulated within the verbal and written (district email) statements made by various Maricopa administrators, including SCC. The question of confidentiality, where transparency is lauded, is warranted.

With regard to the source allegations about “improper subjectivity” surrounding the go- no go process on the part of some SCC administrators, we cannot state, at this time, that we have found strong evidence to support the claims—but nevalleynews.org will continue to look into the allegations and seek additional public records and documents.

In contrast to the SCC confidentiality response—we were given full access to the identity of the individuals charged with go-no go decisions at Mesa Community College.

In fact, Northeast Valley News was provided the names on the spot.

Mesa Community College, go- no go, decisions.

We interviewed Lori Berquam, the Executive Vice President for Student and Academic Affairs for Mesa Community College on Oct. 24.

We asked Berquam to describe the process by which Mesa identifies classes that may need to be cancelled.

Berquam said she was actually glad we posed the question—since she has also had many questions and a bit of confusion over the process.

“I’m brand new to the district—I just came here, started in August, and it’s actually been an area that I’ve had a lot of questions about, so I’m with you on the questions,” Berquam said.

She described a procedure at Mesa where each of the deans in the academic colleges is where the go-no go process begins.

According to Berquam, the deans look at lots of variables including class capacity, enrollment history and then take an individual approach.

Even if a class is low enrollment, for example, Berquam said that many questions arise such as—is it a Capstone course or a required course for a particular field, major or interest?

She explained that low enrollment, per se, should not be the primary factor for a class cancellation. In addition, the process must be transparent, equitable and include the faculty senate.

“I formed a committee to take a look at the go-no go, process and to identify what principles we want to use in helping us make a decision—so we’re a little more consistent and so that we can best serve the needs of our students. I’m excited to have a team of faculty and administrators who are actually working on this issue—literally—they met the day before yesterday,” Berquam said.

Northeast Valley News asked Berquam if she could outline the cross-section of the faculty and administrators working on her committee and whether or not they would be made public.

“I don’t know if it’s available in writing somewhere—but I can tell you who it is,” Berquam said.

Interim Dean of Instruction: Dr. Jeff Andelora (Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences)

Jennifer Stroops: (College Curriculum Coordinator)

Dr. Jeffrey Messer: Chair-(World Languages, Exercise Science and incoming faculty senate president)

Dr. Jennifer “Gingher” Leyendecker: Residential Faculty (Life Drawing/Art Anatomy)

“The idea is to present their work to the faculty senate-so the department chairs are aware of it—is there also a forum in which we should outreach to Leah and Elizabeth who are our ASMCC student government, so that we’re really trying to be transparent about the ‘why’ behind our decision making regarding go-no go.”

“I believe we have to understand the ‘why’ behind a low enrolled class…maybe it’s designed to have only six students or eight students. Simply pulling the raw data or the numbers—I don’t think is enough to tell the full comprehensive story. So we ask. The deans would contact either the faculty or department chair and say, ”tell me about this course”—we certainly don’t want to disrupt the student’s course of action so that we are impacting their timed graduation or completion because that’s paramount to us,” Berquam said.

Gateway Community College, go-no go, decisions

On Nov. 6, Dr. Amy Diaz, Interim VP of Academic Affairs at Gateway Community College, interviewed with nevalleynews.org.

During the telephone interview we asked Diaz if the go-no go verbiage was used at Gateway as well.

“We do use that verbiage. So, at Gateway, “go-no go” is the process that we use to determine if any particular class has high enough enrollment in order for the course to make it and will be offered when it comes to the first day of classes for that particular course.”

We asked about the process Gateway uses to identify those classes that may need to be looked at—or possibly cancelled.

“There is a report we run daily— but we probably look at it once it gets to about halfway through the enrollment process for any given semester and about the halfway point we- as in the Deans—we start looking at courses that are enrolled less than five students. So less than five student enrollments is really what we refer to as a ‘soft’ no go,” Diaz said.

She explained how the chain of command stay in contact and interact for this process.

“Yeah, so typically, the deans and chairs work together to identify the courses that are sort of on the watch list if you will, like wondering if they are going to make it or not throughout this process. The chairs and deans will work together to either let the class “go” because there is enough evidence that suggests that it’s probably gonna make it or to take it out offline and hide it because then we can “un-hide” it as soon as we might realize we need to offer another section of that course.”

“There are other factors taken into account such as number of class sections offered, frequency of class offerings within a given year—whether or not that course is needed for graduation at the end of the term, to name a few,” Diaz said.

“The deans present their rationale for keeping a course despite low(er) enrollment to the VPAA.”

Glendale Community College, Phoenix College go-no go, decisions.

Northeast Valley News attempted to secure an interview with Scott Schulz, the V.P of Academic Affairs at Glendale Community College on four separate occasions. Schulz told us that he might be available on Nov. 14 for an interview to discuss the GCC procedure. An email reminder was sent on the same day but we did not hear back from Schulz. As of publication, we have not received a response from Schulz.

We also contacted Phoenix College’s Interim V.P. of Academic Affairs, Dr. Doug Berry, for an interview with regard to their go-no go policy.

While we did not secure an interview with Mr. Berry he sent a statement to nevalleynews.org on Nov. 11.

“I just recently started at Phoenix College and we are still developing our scheduling and go-no-go approach. I can’t really speak to what they did at PC prior to this academic year so I might not be a great source. I know some of the other VPs are long-standing and may provide better historical insight for you and your story,” Berry said.

Comment: American Academy of University Professors (AAUP)

Last March, and unrelated to Maricopa college’s go-no go, class cancellations—a rather scathing  16-page investigative report of the Maricopa County Community College District (consisting of 10 colleges) by the American Academy of University Professors (AAUP) found “political posturing on the part of the (then) governing board, by eliminating faculty participation in “institutional decision making” through the long-standing “meet and confer” and repealing the entire faculty manual, to name a few.

Nevalleynews.org asked Hans-Joerg Tiede, the Senior Program Officer and Researcher from the office of the executive director of the AAUP and the person responsible for managing the March  investigation of Maricopa Community Colleges, for a comment on the go-no go procedures currently in place, and at the discretion of each individual college to determine.

While Tiede couldn’t comment on particular allegations brought to nevalleynews.org with regard to SCC or any other campus administration, he did say that there should be policy in place for faculty with regard to grievances.

“While we don’t have specific guidance on policies related to canceling courses seen as underenrolled—such policies should be formulated with the participation of the faculty. In terms of a differential application of such a policy, I would say that our main concern would be if the decision to cancel some courses, but not others, were tied to the content of a course (say, politically controversial courses were canceled more commonly than others), or if the cancellation were retaliatory (say, faculty members who criticize the administrations saw their courses cancelled more commonly),” Tiede said.

Tiede said the AAUP doesn’t have a position on the cancellation issue but added that faculty input should definitely be part of the process.

“In these, and any other cases, faculty should have the right to use a grievance process to complain about the cancellation,” Tiede said.

MCCCD budget

According to an nevalleynews.org confidential source working within the Maricopa district administration— one of the reasons for class cancellations—in their judgment, can be found in the budget of the Maricopa County Community College district

“District finances are bleak, so course cancellations and, potentially—program eliminations, will likely get worse.”

The public, the source says, which include property tax contributors, have little or no idea why a community college course or entire program is up for cancellation.

The district source also told nevalleynews.org,

“With the number of cancelled classes and threatened programs—other cuts and expenditures should be brought into line instead of burdening students, faculty and adjunct faculty—so…let’s take a look at executive salaries—well…administrative salaries and positions too, they should be brought into line with district expenditures and budget.”

MCCCD Chancellor, Maria Harper-Marinick, will be leaving her post in the spring of 2020 according to a district wide statement issued by her in September, in order to pursue “professional interests outside of Maricopa” and when her current contract is up.

According to the Arizona Republic’s public database of government employee’s salaries in the state, Marinick has received a yearly salary of $413,000.

Marinick was the recipient of a vote of no confidence by nine out of 10 Maricopa colleges last spring.

The search is on for a new Maricopa Community College District Chancellor.

Nevalleynews.org wanted to know if there would be any revised specifications for a new chancellor for Maricopa and, what, if any, new mandates would be considered before another chancellor is hired.

Dr. Linda Thor, the Maricopa Governing Board President, told nevalleynews.org that a search committee will be looking into the specifics regarding a new chancellor for Maricopa.

“The answers to your questions will be developed this fall when the search consultant conducts input sessions with various constituents, the search committee and the Maricopa Governing Board. This input informs the Chancellor profile document,” Thor said.

Thor also sent nevalleynews.org a document that included the individual names of the 20 members on the search committee as well as who selected them.

Many faculty and staff continue to avoid publicly criticizing administration, district and policies

It was clear to the nevalleynews.org reporters throughout the three months of gathering information for this story, that there is great concern on the part of many faculty members across Maricopa campuses over publicly criticizing campus administration or the district.

We reached out to long-time nevalleynews.org resource, Frank LoMonte, (Esq.) of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, University of Florida, College of Journalism and Communications and former Director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington D.C.

LoMonte told nevalleynews.org that it would be worth finding out if faculty at Maricopa are being illegally gagged from speaking as, “many colleges have illegally broad policies that forbid unapproved interviews.”

“At a state college, the First Amendment strongly protects the right of employees to speak out on issues of public concern, including concerns about their own institution. Any retaliatory act by a college administrator that is meant to punish or inhibit criticism would be a ripe challenge as a First Amendment violation,” LoMonte said.

“State agencies everywhere should have strong, affirmative protections that tell managers, ‘If you’re caught retaliating against an employee for criticizing the agency, you’re fired.’—I hear from people throughout the field of education, from K-12 through college, that they work in a climate of distrust where management is so thin-skinned that everyone’s afraid to speak and blow the whistle—that’s terribly unhealthy for the employees and the public’s interest in honest, efficient government.”

“It’s important for employees of state colleges and all state agencies to know that the First Amendment gives the absolute right to talk to the press and the public about their work. Court after court has struck down regulations that gag public employees from speaking about their work to the news media without a supervisor’s approval,” LoMonte said.

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