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Latest Updates

3/9/16 - Town Hall Summary

Posted: 3/9/2016 12:00:00 PM

Dear St. Louis Area Adjunct Faculty Members:

Recently, we held four Town Hall meetings to discuss the findings from the adjunct faculty focus groups, hear your ideas, and outline next steps for our entire University community. We are very appreciative to those of you who attended one or more of these meetings. We enjoyed the comfortable and informative give-and-take dialogue that occurred at all of the sessions and look forward to holding similar forums in the semesters ahead.

For those of you who were unable to attend, we promised to prepare a summary of the focus group findings and are pleased to do so here. We’ll begin by providing an overview of recent Webster University events, present an overview of the messages you shared with us via the focus groups, and conclude with an assessment of where we are and how we can move forward.

What’s New At Webster University?

Arcade Building – After 41-years downtown, including the last 12 in the basement of the Old Post Office building, our Gateway Campus opened in the Arcade Building at Ninth and Olive. The newly-renovated building offers attractive, above-grade space in one St. Louis’ most historic office locations. It offers progressive teaching facilities, dedicated space for adjunct faculty, as well as beautiful public meeting and exhibit venues. Also important, our move to street level, combined with our enhanced signage, gives us much more visibility downtown. This helps keep Webster University front and center among downtown professionals and residents.

Master Plan Implementation – After approximately two years of development, we are moving ahead with the execution of our strategic plan, which we have named, “Global Impact for the Next Century.”

This strategic plan is designed to align our mission, vision and values with our objectives of serving our students and providing them with the best educational experience possible – one that combines excellent academics with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion and global citizenship. Our facilities must support this outcome. As a result two key components of the plan are the following:

  • Facilities Investment and Improvement – Over the last half-century investment in our campus infrastructure lagged. Today’s biggest need: science classrooms and labs.

    Despite the growing emphasis on STEAMM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math and medical) education, Webster University operates with labs that do not meet today’s standards and our classrooms are undersized and ill equipped. These inadequate facilities and space limitations force us to turn away 30-40 prospective science students each semester.

    This must change. And it will. In the spring, we will break ground on a new state-of-art Science Building, with an anticipated 2017 completion date.

  • Parking Garage – When completed, the new Science Building will be adjacent to the East Academic Building (EAB). That means the hub of student and academic activity will move away from the historic part of our campus to the interior of our campus bordered by Edgar and Big Bend. To serve these shifting use patterns, more parking is needed in our campus interior.

    To address these changing needs, we will break ground this spring to double the size of our current parking garage. Once completed, all of our students and faculty will enjoy ample parking in close proximity to their academic destinations.

Student Enrollment Outlook

In addition to facility improvements, our Master Plan calls upon us to improve our performance in three key areas: enrollment, student retention, and graduation rates. We are taking a metrics-driven approach to these challenges and are closely monitoring our students’ academic progress and achievements.

Demographic trends that negatively affect enrollment also continue to be an issue in higher education, and unfortunately Webster University is not an exception. Declining birthrates in Missouri and in the Midwest mean fewer high school graduates are attending college. Consequently, we are working diligently to supplement our college-age enrollment with working adults, although the economic upheaval over the last few years has created challenges in this area.

Today’s students – whether they are just out of high school or are professionals looking to improve their career prospects – demand academic programs that result in jobs after completion with an income that will enable them to pay off their student loans.

To be responsive to these market trends and to enhance Webster University’s appeal, we’ve added a number of certificate programs, which demonstrate academic and professional competency. Below are examples of our offerings in the following emerging fields:

STEAMM curricula Healthcare Criminology & Criminal Justice
Forensic Accounting Computer Science Other Tech Offerings

These investments in academic programing, combined with our student retention initiatives, complement the facility improvements currently underway as part of our Strategic Plan. Together, these actions enable us to move through the current challenges and emerge better – and stronger.

Your Messages To Us

With that competitive and program overview, we are now pleased to report on the focus group outcomes.

In the fall, we brought aboard a third-party resource to administer these focus groups. Why? Because doing so ensured we would receive candid and unfiltered feedback on what we are doing well and the areas where we need improvement. We asked and you responded. We thank you.

After the sessions concluded, Towers Watson delivered a report to us that included a thematic overview of the issues you raised. Their report also included a selection of unattributed quotes that illustrated the thematic points being addressed. While the reading was at times humbling, we found the insights and information presented invaluable. Among the major findings that surfaced are:

#1: Our Adjunct Faculty Are Diverse And Committed

The diversity of our adjunct faculty is impressive. Some of you are former students and alums. Many of you have taught at Webster for years, while some of you have just started. There are full-time educators among you who hold several adjunct positions at neighboring educational institutions, while others of you hold full time jobs in your chosen field, or are retired.

Regardless of your motivation, all of you reported that you loved teaching Webster University students. They invigorate and challenge you. You enjoy their creative imaginations and curiosity. While pleased with this outcome, it didn’t surprise us, as we often hear comments from our students about your enthusiasm, dedication, and devotion. We want very much to cultivate these qualities and nurture the student/faculty relationship.

#2: Communications

Communications: It is quite clear we need to work on providing you with timely information about Webster University, your college, and the processes and services that will help support your teaching. We hear you.

The good news is we understand your concerns and are already working on addressing some of them. Please consider:

  • WebsterAdjunctInfo.org – Late last year, we introduced a “go-to” website, which covers basic orientation and resources for our adjunct faculty. The site includes links to important resources for our adjunct faculty, including Human Resources and parking information; a list of adjunct pay dates; an overview of adjunct faculty benefits; and directions on how to take advantage of them.

    You can also have your questions answered via the website by using the "Ask A Question" feature. You may submit your inquiry under your name or anonymously. Regardless, we will answer your question, with responses posted in the website’s FAQ section. We are also making headway on posting regular weekly recaps of campus activities, news developments, and faculty accolades.

  • Appointment Letters -We heard you loud and clear on the importance of receiving these letters prior to the start of the semester. As a result, we worked diligently to improve our system. In December, we sent appointment letters for the Spring semester now underway. While new processes are never without their own challenges, we hope you saw improvement, and we will continue to make adjustments as needed.

  • Communications Task - Last month, we asked each of our deans to convene an adjunct faculty communications task force for their college/school to assess what communications activities are already underway in each college/school, explore opportunities for improvement, and compile recommendations for best practices.

    Not surprisingly, many of you volunteered to lend a hand. A list of each school’s representatives serving on these task forces will be listed on the websteradjunctfaculty.org website in the near future. If you are not serving on a task force, we hope you will share any ideas you may have with one of your school’s representatives, or send a note to the dean.

  • Appointment Letters -We heard you loud and clear on the importance of receiving these letters prior to the start of the semester. As a result, we worked diligently to improve our system. In December, we sent appointment letters for the Spring semester now underway. While new processes are never without their own challenges, we hope you saw improvement, and we will continue to make adjustments as needed.

  • Dedicated Meeting Space For You – We have also made significant progress in setting aside dedicated space in many of our buildings so you have a safe area to place your things, meet with students, and obtain support. Currently, at the Home Campus, we have rooms set aside in Sverdrup and the East Academic Buildings, and are exploring areas in other buildings. Dedicated space has already been set aside in the Arcade Building, and such areas have also been incorporated into the plans for the new Science Building.

  • Forward Your Webster Email To Your Preferred Email Address Not surprisingly, the focus groups indicated a preference to receive updates from us via email. In fact, official University communications will be sent to your Webster.edu email address. However, we recognize that some of you do not check your “Webster.edu” email frequently. To that end, please use the tool found here, which will enable you to forward your Webster email to the address of your choice.

  • Respect and Inclusion – Frequently you don’t feel valued and included in your college/school/department’s activities, whether it’s full-time colleagues knowing your name, or being invited to meetings. We must work on these issues – and we are.

    While the Communications Task Forces will likely cover some of these issues, we are also actively working with our deans and the department chairs to seek out their ideas and action plans to improve this integral part of your connection to Webster. Again, we encourage you to share your ideas with task force members or your dean.

  • Class Cancelations – Volatile enrollment patterns make this issue especially challenging. In this area, we are juggling competing interests: your desire and right to know whether a class will meet, versus our students’ desire to enroll as late as possible so that they can delay making a tuition payment.

    With these issues in mind, we can commit to you that we will let you know if a class is canceled at least one week before the semester or term begins. We know this is not an ideal solution, but we are trying to strike a balance with everyone’s needs, while also working with our colleges and departments to refine our planning and course scheduling processes.

#3: Compensation

This is quite simply the elephant in the room. It is a topic in higher education circles across the country, and it’s also a subject where you have rightly asked for direct and sincere information. You also asked that we level with you and tell you if we are not going to adjust adjunct faculty compensation.

Based on what many of you have told us, and what we understand anecdotally, Webster University’s adjunct faculty pay scale is not at the top when compared to local competitors, but it’s not at the bottom either.

We are being straightforward when we tell you, however, that we are not in a position to give pay increases to our adjunct faculty in the current financial climate. To illustrate the point: a 3 percent raise for each of our adjunct faculty, which amounts to about $100 per 3 credit-hour course, would add about $1 million to our instructional costs. Based on current financial constraints, we are unable to accommodate this increased expense.

In order for us to responsibly consider compensation increases, we much first stabilize our enrollments by continuing to attract and retain tuition-paying students.

At the Town Hall meetings, we were asked why we could not divert some of the funds allocated to construction or campus improvement projects to faculty salaries. This is not possible.

Faculty and staff salaries are funded primarily through student tuition on the income side of our balance sheet. Capital improvements, on the other hand, are paid through our capital fund. We cannot transfer money from our capital fund to the income side of the balance sheet. This is why we are working so diligently to drive enrollment with the following:

  • Improved Science Facilities, which will enable us to increase our enrollments in science-related programs.

  • Augmenting traditional programs, like our M.B.A., to make them more relevant to the current business environment.

  • Adding new degree and certificate programs that demonstrate professional competency, and help students begin or advance their careers.

  • Accreditation of our Counseling Program, In January of 2016, the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) issued the highest form of professional accreditation to the Webster University MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, which is offered on the home campus in Webster Groves.

#4: The Union And Direct Discussions With You

Our other difficult topic: the union and the vote last spring.

Many of you stated in the focus groups and it other times, that no one paid attention to adjunct faculty prior to the union vote. Whether true or not, it is clear that many of you felt this way. Was the union organizing effort a wake up call? Sure – you got our attention. But more important, you will continue to have it. We are now engaging in important discussions and working together to develop meaningful and lasting solutions.

Keep in mind, most of the issues raised in the focus groups as concerns – communications, inclusion, and respect – would not be issues addressed during the bargaining process or included as part of a union contract. We can’t bargain over these things. As for compensation, adding a union to the equation doesn’t create resources where none exist. We can’t give raises just because the union asks for it.

Having the union in the room will not change any one of the financial or competitive realities or outcomes we have reported to you. Moreover, our ability to communicate directly and candidly with you through communications like this one, at Town Halls, or at other events on campus, will be impaired with a union presence. Adding another party to the table would literally come at your expense – in the form of monthly dues and our limited ability to communicate with you.

All of that said, we are glad the vote happened. We are pleased that the majority of you voted to work with us directly, rather than having the union speak on your behalf. Already, we are grateful for the opportunity to continue to listen and work with you, along with the Chairs, Deans, and the rest of the Administration. We do not want this dialogue to end or change.

Our Commitments To You:

In addition to the initiatives outlined above, in the near term we will also:

  • Continue to add information and respond to your questions using websteradjunctfaculty.org. We will also establish a link to the Faculty Development Center so you can see upcoming programming events and submit your ideas.

  • Convene meetings with Chairs to brainstorm ideas for you to receive institutional, program, and other information of interest in an efficient and expedited manner.

  • Prepare wallet cards for each of you that have phone numbers of key campus resources.

We can and will enhance the adjunct faculty experience at Webster. And we will do it together. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t always be perfect the first time, but we will continue to improve. We will do so in an open and informed manner, while answering your questions and seeking your ideas every step of the way.

Thank you for your time and attention,

 

Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble, Ph.D.               
President
Julian Schuster, Ph.D.
Provost