“Forging Ahead:” AAUP external report going forward

Grace Jackson, News Editor

Whitman’s faculty have a variety of perspectives on the external financial review completed last month that concluded that Whitman’s finances are in a strong position.

The external financial review of Whitman, authored by independent expert Howard Bunsis, used only publicly available information. The review was undertaken in part because many in the faculty felt that last year’s Financial Sustainability Review (FSR) lacked transparency. 

Professor of Art History and Visual Culture Matthew Reynolds organized the efforts to hire Bunsis, an accounting professor at Eastern Michigan University, for the Whitman chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Bunsis has conducted a number of external reviews of other colleges and universities and has held several leadership roles in the AAUP.

Reynolds acknowledged that because the report contained only data that the college makes publicly available, there will likely be some flaws.

“The college has full access to the data and the external analysis was done based on what is publicly reported. That’s not all of the financial information that the college has. We are starting to hear some critiques of the analysis and of course we understand that there are going to be some critiques and flaws and it is because Dr. Bunsis is working with incomplete information,” Reynolds said. 

One conclusion of the report was that the number of non-tenure track faculty was increasing, leading to lower average faculty pay at Whitman when compared to peer institutions. 

“The number of full-time faculty at Whitman fell between 2017 and 2022 (although the precise  number depends on the source being cited). This reduction is explained by a decrease in the number of tenure-track and tenured faculty whereas the number of contingent faculty has increased,” the AAUP’s key takeaways document states.

Amy Dodds, senior lecturer of music and director of string studies, serves as the representative for non-tenure track (NTT) faculty. She said she applauds the AAUP’s push for transparency but felt the report did not fully capture the effects of the FSR on NTT faculty. 

NTT faculty hold a variety of positions and are often paid less than tenure track and tenured faculty. NTT positions include visiting professors, lecturers, administrators that teach occasional courses and SSRA instructors. Dodds stressed that there is a wide variety of NTT faculty and that their perspectives can be very different.

“My view on the non tenure track faculty statements, where people are getting the impression that we’re getting more and more non tenure track faculty members, when actually we suffered severe cuts through the FSR,” Dodds said. “It takes some exploration because, for instance, we have a few extra visiting assistant professors because of tenure track departures, so we’ve had to bring in emergency hires but it doesn’t mean that those positions wouldn’t be able to go back to tenure line hires and it depends on where the conversations are with each department. One thing I was worried about was the wrong lens being used on non tenure track faculty right now.”

Dodds added that the FSR changed the contract system for non-tenure track faculty so that they can only be on one year contracts, instead of multi-year ones. These cuts have been partially reversed, with two year rolling contracts offered to senior lecturers.

“The only sin of non-tenure track faculty is to accept work when it’s offered for less pay. We’re severely cut since the FSR. Some cuts happened before that and so they are less visible because they weren’t officially part of the FSR. All of the non-tenure trackers I know are so fully dedicated to their work,” Dodds said. 

Reynolds said that he is still making sense of the FSR and external report himself, and that the FSR’s repercussions go far beyond what is in the report. 

“I’m an art historian. There’s a lot in this analysis that I don’t understand. There was a lot in the FSR that I didn’t understand. There’s a lot that I’ve learned in this process and there is still a lot that I don’t know which is why we are going to have this meeting with Dr. Bunsis on March 11. We’re going to ask him questions. Raise some of these areas of concern and confusion; and then that’s also the point where we’ll decide what to do going forward.”

Both Reynolds and Dodds stressed the wide variety of perspectives among the faculty, but were hopeful that some solution can be found that would restore morale among students, faculty and staff.

“What parts should be devoted to restoring some of the things that our campus holds dear: teaching support from the technology services for example, do we have everybody we need over there? I don’t always know how to work my classroom tech[nology]. Do we have all the services that students came here for? Do we have enough to retain our faculty?” Dodds said. 

“And then enough to start the new programs rather than assuming that all the cuts were good and forging ahead. That’s painful in this sized community. But on the other hand, what further steps could we take that would then clear the deck in terms of attitude to go ahead with the new programs that many faculty are super excited about developing.”