Faculty faces frustration and ‘looming dark cloud’

Nick Lowrey

SDSU faculty members have had a rough couple of years.

Faculty morale has the potential to directly affect the quality of a college education. There are a number of issues that have had an impact on faculty morale over the years. Though the SDSU faculty continues to provide the best education they can, recently three issues have topped the list of problems frustrating SDSU faculty members.

They are going on three years without a raise and more cuts continue to loom on the horizon as the economic recession continues and the legislative session creeps closer. Perhaps the biggest issue, though, is a lack of communication.

“If people are grumbling most keep it to themselves,” said Michael Keller a professor in the English Department and vice president of the Faculty Senate.

Some faculty members have said communicating faculty issues through the Board of Regents bureaucracy is difficult. Many faculty members are simply afraid of communicating complaints for fear of reprisal. In fact, most are unwilling to talk openly about this issue in public.

Dr. Gary Aguiar, a professor of political science and president of the South Dakota Council of Higher Education, said the amount of control a faculty member’s supervisor has over their careers contributes to this fear. Supervisors control performance evaluations that impact tenure and promotion. They even control whether or not a professor can obtain grants for research.

This means speaking up about a lack of control over the curriculum or class scheduling generally doesn’t happen.

“There is a lack of trust between the faculty and their department heads,” Aguiar said.

The impression that speaking out or raising concerns leads to consequences breeds frustration among faculty. Many feel they have no outlet and simply try to work around or ignore their problems all together.

“The best way to keep bad things from happening to you is not to speak out,” Aguiar said.

Salary is another problem facing SDSU faculty. It has been three years since the last pay increase was approved. Faculty members are also the only state employees barred by state law from receiving a cost-of-living pay raise. South Dakota schools have also been finding competition for and retaining the best faculty to be increasingly difficult. South Dakota has always faced stiff competition to retain the best faculty, and low pay only makes the problem worse.

According to Keller, faculty members are more frustrated by the lack of support for higher education in the state’s government, rather than by administration or BOR policies.

“The governor and legislature have priorities that differ from faculty,” Keller said, “They tend to reflect business rather than education.”

Keller explained that both SDSU administration and the BOR would lobby for a faculty pay raise in the next legislative session. He also said faculty has been very accommodating of the economic constraints placed upon them.

Keller said there is a growing concern if the zero-pay raise policy continues, faculty may end up leaving.

“At some point the governor and legislature will have to be more responsive to citizen’s needs,” Keller said.

The presence of future cuts is also affecting faculty morale. Last year’s 10-percent cuts carved a huge chunk out of the university, particularly within the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. Other departments were also affected, though, to a lesser degree. There is fear further cuts would wreak havoc in more departments.

Robert Watrel, an associate professor in the Geography Department and president of the Faculty Senate, said last year’s cuts trimmed as much as possible without losing a larger number of faculty positions. Any more cuts – even small ones – could result in further devastation.

“There is sort of a looming dark cloud,” Watrel said. “I don’t want to go to another going away party for some one who was effectively fired.”

SDSU has made a number of improvements aimed at enhancing communication and faculty morale. One of the most prominent is the shared governance program. The program is in its second year and allows both faculty and students to have a voice in university policy.

“Faculty enjoy having a voice and more say in administration policy and we have greater autonomy,” Keller said.