Lessons in Faculty Activism from Fort Lewis College


While certain aspects of ASU’s challenges are undeniably singular, we need to recognize that we are far from alone. Less than 3 hours to the west of Alamosa, Fort Lewis College has been experiencing many of the same trials as ourselves.

They too are a small Colorado state institution facing declining enrollment. They too look to demographics, the economy, and changing student preferences to explain their steady decline. They too hope against hope that fresh leadership will somehow be able to reverse the trend. Like Adams, Fort Lewis is considering a panoply of strategies to combat dropping enrollment, including but not limited to implementing a name change from “college” to “university” and placing a greater emphasis on STEM disciplines.

Like Adams, they also face daunting fiscal shortfalls and have been engaging in intensive contingency planning to cut their annual budget by up to $4.5 million. They as well are offering voluntary employment-separation “incentives”. And until last week they also had been actively considering – despite not taking the appropriate measure of declaring fiscal exigency – far more drastic personnel and program cuts, including the elimination of tenured and tenure-track faculty. Their faculty have similarly come to realize – too late – that their handbook provides only weak protections against such overreaching administrative cost-cutting actions.


In many ways, Fort Lewis College is a sister institution to Adams State. Until 2002, we were formally connected with each other via a shared multi-institutional board of trustees. We both share the same important mission to serve a diverse population in a rural location. There is one key difference between Fort Lewis College and Adams State University, though: the Fort Lewis faculty, via their Faculty Senate and their campus American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter, have been actively engaging their administration. They organized, they studied the fiscal situation, and they went back to administration with an independent, detailed analysis of where savings might be found that would obviate the need to eliminate faculty positions. They also enlisted the larger voice of the Colorado Conference of the AAUP to add strength to their own.

And they’ve succeeded. A week ago, during the 11th hour of intensive budget negotiations, Fort Lewis College president Dene Kay Thomas interceded and declared that no tenured or tenure-track people would be eliminated as part of budget reductions. And she explicitly cited her agreement with the AAUP as a reason for doing so. The Fort Lewis faculty are justifiably pleased with her decision, but they are not resting easy. They are now actively working on the next logical step – to strengthen handbook protections for academic faculty and the tenure model in order to stave off any future challenges.


The editorial staff of Watching Adams encourages all to read the January 3, 2018 letter written by the AAUP Colorado Conference in support of Fort Lewis faculty. This letter clearly influenced President Thomas’s positive and wise decision to respect tenure protections. The letter, though, only underscored and bolstered the already active efforts of Fort Lewis faculty to address the issues themselves at a local level, directly with their administration. The adage is old but true: “Help comes to those who help themselves.” Acquiescence is not a viable strategy. Adams State faculty should look to Fort Lewis College as a model for how to approach our own current situation.

Perhaps it is too little and too late to be delivering this message. As has been pointed out multiple times on Watching Adams and in Faculty Senate meetings, the Adams State faculty handbook is too weak to adequately protect faculty from the current machinations of administration, and it’s too late to try to fix the handbook for our present predicament. It’s too late to be appealing to the Colorado AAUP for a timely letter of support, and an AAUP letter would be insufficient anyway in the absence of any other faculty initiatives. If the ASU faculty won’t now stand up for their own rights and for each other, even at this late hour, there’s just not much the AAUP can – or perhaps should – do at this point on our behalf.

In the end, perhaps this message is best seen as a future missive for other institutions – a cautionary tale for others to not to repeat the mistakes of Adams State, and a warning that passivity is not a strategy. Perhaps the entire Watching Adams site will someday be seen as a case study for other campuses as to what happens in the absence of consistent external reviews, functional shared governance, institutional accountability, administrative transparency, and a commitment to healthy campus culture.

Or perhaps this is a final call to action that will finally be heard and heeded. If Fort Lewis can successfully defend faculty lines, why can’t we?