WATCHING ADAMS COMMENTARY – 8/22/16
At first glance, Adams State University certainly conveys a supportive and friendly campus culture that cares about its people. Initially, many prospective students and employees are seduced by the small town atmosphere and friendly people – superficially, anyway. But over time, and with some inquiry, it becomes more apparent that the ASU Administration doesn’t care about you.
Many faculty we’ve interviewed in podcasts and for background research confess to being impressed and enthused by their campus visit and initial impression of ASU. They describe feeling eager to get involved, make connections, and make a difference in students’ lives. Talk to them a few years later and you may discover a markedly different impression.
“Veteran” ASU faculty, particularly those who have already left, end up regarding Adams State somewhat like a soldier describes a tour in Afghanistan or Iraq – a brutal battlefront in their teaching career during which they paid their dues and sacrificed blood and treasure for their profession. Many faculty acknowledge that in their teaching careers, they never worked more hours, and for less compensation or recognition, than while at ASU.
But that’s just the start of it. Faculty frequently find themselves at administrative dead-ends, with no funding to attend academic conferences, purchase supplies or equipment, or even find the time to research and publish. They deeply want the campus to improve and engage in shared governance, but with incessant teaching loads, never have the time to volunteer for yet another committee. And university service on these committees only applies to the diminishing number of tenured faculty; adjuncts and instructors are forbidden from serving. We believe the administration likes it this way.
And that’s if you tow the line and “drink the ASU Kool Aid.” If a faculty member challenges their department chair, questions administration, or attempts to assert their rights, the ASU administration has shown itself completely willing to disregard the faculty handbook and shuttle them off campus as quickly as possible – sometimes demanding their resignation by noon on Monday or failing to honor their probationary faculty procedures and tenure committee rules. ASU administration has demonstrated a willingness to ignore due process, bully faculty members until they leave from attrition, or simply use deficiencies in their deeply-flawed handbook to cover for other deficiencies in their deeply-flawed handbook.
While a fraction of ASU faculty actually have the perceived protections of tenure, nothing of the sort exists for staff at ASU. More likely to be locally or regionally situated, staff at ASU have almost no protections as at-will employees and they are quickly made to learn this. “If you don’t like it, you can leave” may as well be posted above the door of every staff office and thus most staff toil away diligently, hoping not to stick out. “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down” as the Japanese would say.
Staff frequently find themselves with a bad case of mission creep – being assigned more and more tasks without additional compensation, resources, or assistance. Policies like “Guaranteed Tuition” are foisted upon them by administrators without advice or consent, preparation or impact analysis. Sometimes, staff find themselves so overwhelmed with work that it adversely affects their health, requiring them to take time off for medical leave. But if they take too many sick days, they too will be pressured to resign. ASU administration will squeeze every ounce of blood from your stone and expect you to be thankful you still have a job this week.
Worse yet, ASU administration has so little regard for the expertise of staff that they believe employees can be discharged and have their duty reassigned to less-qualified personnel, as if every cog in the machine were equally adept at making it run. We’ve researched a number of cases in which someone was fired from ASU without anyone capable of doing their job, sometimes with the replacement worker even contacting the former employee for their assistance! Yet if challenged about the employee’s termination, ASU will make the legal argument that everyone is an at-will employee and can be terminated without cause, at any time, and without so much as a meeting to dignify their many years of service. Pack up your office and leave, ASU admin will instruct, and they will send the police to your office to escort you off campus if necessary.
Even ASU’s paying customers are often treated more like a problem child than a valued patron. While ASU insists that it is at the service of students, ASU administrators frequently regard students as children to be managed rather than adults who have a say in how their institution is run. Individual students can easily be brushed off, threatened to have their meals withheld if they get behind on their bills, and even student government inquiries into a cutback on services like library hours is met with hostility by ASU administration, directing scrutiny back at ASU staff for having the temerity to alert students to hiring freezes.
With an increasing number of administrative positions and escalating six-figure salaries, ASU often demonstrates a commitment to taking care of its own leaders before considering the underfunded programs and scholarship opportunities of its student body. Students rightfully wonder where their tuition dollars are going when ASU administrators reward themselves with compensation far above their professors, lavish retirement parties for themselves, golden parachute contracts to return to faculty positions with administrative pay grades, and watch these same financial elites preside over scandal after scandal that has cost the university substantial credibility. A degree at ASU loses value every time the university returns to the headlines of academic and popular press in negative ways.
And of course, that’s for the one in five students who actually graduate from ASU in four years. For too many students, ASU is a debt trap without a degree in sight. We have interviewed many students who struggled to complete their classes, wade through the impenetrable university bureaucracy without an advocate who has their best interests in mind, and end up saddled with crushing student loan debt. These students often feel like failures when it is the ASU administration who has failed to support them in their academic endeavors.
Once they are off the ASU radar, the ASU administration will ignore them – except to hound them for further payment. They aren’t students, they aren’t alumni. There is no outreach to try and resolve the student’s challenges so they can successfully completely their degree. They are now just part of the majority of former ASU students – dropout statistics that ASU administration would rather not write home about. They won’t be featured on any website unless they go on to compete in the Olympics after dropping out of ASU.
For anyone not with the above status, ASU administration believes it is at their own good grace that anyone can set foot onto the ASU campus. In the Ledonne v. McClure lawsuit, the Colorado Attorney General argued in Federal District Court that no member of the public has a right to be on the property of a public university, likening the entire campus to that of an elementary school classroom. In its legal briefings, the American Civil Liberties Union rejected this argument out of hand, pointing out that the implications of the Ledonne case meant that anyone could be banned from campus, at any time and for any reason.
This is the more serious legal issue that many failed to identify in the Ledonne case. At first, the ASU administration paraded “evidence” in the form of ASU President Beverlee McClure’s thick file, in which McClure insisted that Ledonne had engaged in threatening speech. However, ACLU attorneys reviewed all discovery documents and found not a single piece of evidence to support this claim and concluded that Ledonne’s expressions were entirely covered by the First Amendment. Under interrogation, President McClure and ASU Police Chief Grohowski admitted that Ledonne had broken no law.
So in response, attorneys representing ASU administration argued that no one has a right to be on the ASU campus and that banning Ledonne without due process has no Constitutional violations. ASU administration was essentially saying that any member of the public can be removed from the university and threatened with arrest without breaking any law whatsoever – that the ASU campus is effectively their kingdom and it can be ruled by dictatorial fiat alone. Far beyond Ledonne, ASU administration was arguing that anyone can be banned for wearing the wrong t-shirt on campus, for looking at an administrator funny, or for no reason at all.
In our investigation, it has become clear that no matter who you are, the ASU administration has loudly, clearly, and repeatedly stated through word and action that they do not care about you. Despite the well-intentioned work of many on campus to create a friendly and caring environment, the experiences of so many faculty, staff, students, and community members suggest that they are regarded by the administration as disposable objects, interchangeable cogs in a machine, and citizens without a right to free expression or due process under law. And until this substantial deficit of empathy is addressed, Adams State University will continue to hemorrhage the very people who support the foundations of the institution.