In mid-August, WCU officially began enforcing their policy about which professors can be advisors for organizations on campus. The policy, explained in an email from Charlie Warner to department chairs, stated, “Adjuncts/part-time faculty cannot serve [as advisors] for any of our clubs and organizations on campus, including academic-based organizations.”
Though this policy is apparently not new, according to Matthew Bricketto, Vice President of Student Affairs, it is now officially being enforced by the university. Last year, according to Bricketto, the university met with the PASSHE legal team to discuss whether or not part-time faculty should be advising organizations. Bricketto said, “The response we received was that under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, it is not permissible to assign these tasks to part-time faculty since adjuncts do not perform the entire range of functions as regular faculty. The legal recommendation was that we should not be assigning them these additional duties.”
The email sent to department chairs was slightly confusing for some, as it equated all adjuncts with part-time faculty, and there are in fact full-time adjunct professors. This led some to believe that full-time adjuncts would also be required to resign from their organization advisor role. Further clarification from Warner stated that this wasn’t the case, and that the policy is just that an organization advisor must be a full-time West Chester University employee.
When I first learned about this policy, many were under the impression that the adviser for Daedalus literary magazine was going to be asked to resign, as she is an adjunct professor. (She’s full-time, so I later learned that wasn’t the case.) Still, even if she was a part-time professor, I would find it outrageous for her to be asked to step down.
For most organizations and clubs on campus, this policy being enforced will result in no changes. However, for the two affected organizations, this could quite possibly be a devastating policy.For clubs with an effective advisor, the advisor does more than just advise – he or she is a true member of the organization. Advisors attend meetings, voice opinions, participate in community service, and develop a rapport with students.
Advisors can become mentors in a field, give advice on classes, write letters of recommendations, and become crucial members of any organization. Advisors also help executive boards transition when an entire board graduates or moves on from the organization. To tell an organization that their advisor is no longer capable of performing that job because they are not full-time strikes me as a baffling decision. Though I understand there are legalities at play, it seems to me that those issues should be renegotiated, instead of simply excluding part-time faculty from advising positions.
Katherine Kocotas, the 2014-2015 president of Daedalus literary magazine and a 2015 graduate of WCU, said of the policy change, “WCU seems to be taking every measure possible to ensure that the students have zero power in the community. Significantly decreasing the pool of professors from which organizations can select an advisor only restricts them further. Daedalus, in particular, went through a tough process of recruiting, interviewing, and selecting a new advisor just last year.”
I was one of the executive board members who helped select that advisor. While Dr. Jen Bacon had the final say on who was hired, Daedalus’ executive board read multiple resumes and cover letters and held individual interviews with candidates. We were immensely pleased with the advisor we got – Meg Muller, a full-time adjunct professor in the English department.
Professor Muller attended all of our meetings – which often were over an hour long – and even read the submissions along with us. Though we later learned that she was not going to be asked to step down, the initial belief, again, was that Muller was going to be asked to resign from her Daedalus advising position due to being an adjunct professor. This brought outrage from many students.
“I don’t understand why West Chester University is choosing to discriminate against professors that they hired and trust to teach their students,” Kocotas said.
Julie Kostelnik, the 2014-2015 Vice President of Daedalus and a 2015 WCU graduate said, “Being a full-time professor was never one of the qualities we were interested in our advisor having. We wanted someone who cared about Daedalus and who held the same passion for writing as we did. We needed a professor who was dedicated to the magazine and its members, someone who could teach us and guide us.”
From a student’s perspective, I am heart-broken for the advisors who have been told they can no longer be in their positions and for the part-time faculty members who have learned they are not allowed to become advisors in the future.
Though not a faculty member, I also question the logic in further separating part-time faculty from the campus community. When part-time faculty members become organization advisors, they stay on campus longer. They stay for meetings, they talk with students, and they – most importantly – become an integral part of the campus community. This is good for students, good for faculty, and good for the university.
Dr. Jen Bacon, the chairperson of the English department, is also baffled by the decision. She said, “I was disheartened to hear that part-time instructors were no longer going to be allowed to advise student organizations, particularly given the amazing success of our own adjunct faculty in doing this work over many years in the English Department.”
While “the legal team’s recommendation” was explained as the reason behind the decision, this was considered a vague explanation for many. Dr. Bacon continued on and said, “I have yet to hear a rationale for the change, but I feel strongly that the faculty union should push back on this decision, as it doesn’t seem to serve our students.”
In defense of the adjunct faculty, she added, “Many of our adjunct faculty members have been at West Chester for decades, and they are full participants in the life of the university. This rule would seem to treat them like second-class citizens, something that undermines the incredible work they do with our students day in and day out… If there’s a good reason for this policy change, I’d love to hear it, because I know it’s going to do harm to some student organizations.”
While I’m aware of the legal team’s recommendation, I too remain confused by this decision to remove advisors who have done nothing wrong from positions they have already held and put work into. As this policy was not previously properly enforced, this means there are two organizations on campus that are being forced to look for a new advisor, as their previous adviser was told they were not allowed to hold the position.
It seems even odder that the reason for the policy change was not fully and properly explained to faculty. I am sure that the full-time professors who replace them in these positions will perform admirably and do an excellent job. I just know that their ability to do well in their job has nothing to do with them not being part-time employees.
Theresa Kelly is a fourth-year student majoring in English literature secondary education. She can be reached at TK780615@wcupa.edu.