The word “university” brings to mind students rushing to classes, faculty in front of lecture halls, graduate students working in laboratories and an atmosphere of learning and discovery that facilitates quality education.
However, in November 2015 during negotiations with the University of Connecticut’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the administration’s chief negotiator stated that “the university (is defined as) the Board of Trustees, the President, the Provost and the Deans.” He did not mention the undergraduates, the graduate students or the faculty.
Despite not considering faculty or students as part of the state’s flagship university and premier research institute, UConn has continued to rise in the college rankings put out by U.S. News and World Report.
“We are a want to be university,” music professor Robert Stevens said at the AAUP UConn for Quality Education panel event on Thursday afternoon. “An emphasis has been placed on what must be done to elbow ourselves up in the ranking…it is not so much about how well we are doing what we’re doing, but how well we’re doing what we need to do in order to maintain the rankings.”
From the point of view of faculty and students in attendance at the AAUP event, the shift in emphasis has been detrimental to providing a quality education.
“We are not focusing on the necessities of the students and faculty. We focus on what we want the university to look like,” Alyssa Hughes, an eighth-semester journalism major and campus correspondent for the Daily Campus, said. “We focus on the décor and not necessarily the core of the university.”
From the proposal to replace the campus Co-op bookstore with a big name such as Barnes & Noble to the decreasing stipends of graduate students to the insecure nature of adjunct professorships to continually increasing undergraduate tuition and facilitating a social atmosphere that is less than friendly to minority groups, the AAUP panel made clear several aspects that contribute to the potential reduction in quality of a UConn education.
“Despite two-thirds of the classes being taught by adjuncts they have no share in governance, this affects quality,” said Rebecca Rumbo, an English professor who has been teaching at UConn since 1997 but is still considered a temporary employee. “Adjuncts are excluded typically from administrative and departmental meetings, committee meetings you-name-it.”
With the faculty who interact the most with students excluded from planning, the quality of education is easily affected, Rumbo said.
As an example, a few years ago honors decided that only tenure track professors could teach their English courses when at the time many adjuncts were teaching these smaller classes. Today, many graduate students teach these classes under the name of tenure professors.
In addition to their inability to impact courses and curriculum, the renewal of adjuncts is based only off of student evaluations, Rumbo said.
“If they (adjunct professors) have that fear of not being reappointed then they are going to make different decisions,” the internal organizer for the UConn AAUP, Chris Henderson, said. “Education should be a rigorous experience, it is not a popularity contest.”
It is not only faculty fear that is contributing to a possible reduction in the rigor and therefore quality of education, but an atmosphere of fear.
“What’s blocking resistance to administrative changes? Fear. Fear is palpable,” Stevens said. “People are afraid for their jobs, afraid of losing a benefit, the climate is very uncomfortable.”
The only logical solution that continued to resurface at the panel was unity.
“If we can see that we have the same problem, the administration, then we can be an even stronger force together,” Hughes said.
The UConn AAUP will host a follow up event on Wednesday, February 24 at 12:30 p.m. on Fairfield Way called “We are UConn! Rally for a Strong Educator Voice.”