Discourse / Editorials / October 16, 2013

Thoughts from the Embers: Why don’t you run that one by us first?

EmbersPerhaps it’s time for a lesson in institutional culture.

It should come as no surprise that at a college with a strong sense of shared governance between students, faculty and administrators, all expect to be consulted on the major decisions that affect everyone on campus.

This makes last week’s controversy over changing the academic calendar all the more startling.

During last week’s general faculty meeting, many voiced significant opposition to a revised academic calendar that would push the end of spring term nearly two weeks into June — all for the sake of having equal term lengths. The Executive Committee presented the changes to the faculty after prematurely approving them without the general consent of the faculty assembly or Student Senate.

For faculty, who are compensated on salaries rather than hourly wages, a longer academic year means more hours, but not necessarily increased compensation for those efforts. This would be unacceptable in the midst of a salary freeze, especially without faculty approval.
Students were also not consulted on alterations to the academic calendar. Though the difference of a few days here or there may seem minor, and we can see the appeal for equal term lengths, pushing finals further into spring term only puts the student body — already attending class unusually late into the summer in comparison to other schools — at a greater disadvantage when it comes to securing summer jobs and internships.

The changes were poorly conceived with respect to college finances. During last week’s meeting, some faculty noted the increase in costs that would accompany a longer school year. With our rising student costs, any additional expenses with respect to food, housing and staff pay cannot be justified.

If the proposed changes had been subject to sufficient campus discussion, these issues would have come to light before being rushed through Executive Committee.

Granted, the committee has every right to make these changes, according to the college bylaws. In a recent report, it acknowledged that “setting the calendar is explicitly stated as a duty of Executive Committee, [so] we decided to go ahead.”

But while the committee may have felt some sense of initiative, their actions completely undermined Knox’s institutional culture. Regardless of the committee’s explicit duties, proceeding without faculty and student input blatantly ignored the recent precedent of transparency and cooperation between students, faculty and administrators. Led by former dean Larry Breitborde, past decisions to change the academic calendar were always subject to multiple rounds of discussion in both the faculty assembly and Student Senate to ensure maximum input.

In such a tightly-knit community, it is particularly alarming when a faculty member notes a feeling of disrespect in open assembly. This debacle created undue tension between constituencies on campus, especially for such a benign topic.

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  academic calendar executive committee Knox College Larry Breitborde salary freeze Student Senate transparency

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Shaun McCutcheon is the owner of the Coalmont Electrical Development Corporation in Alabama. He is a hardworking, successful...