WATCHING ADAMS COMMENTARY – 2/15/16
Whatever Happened to CAG?
Is anybody out there wondering what happened to the Campus Advocacy Group (CAG)? They’re still listed on ASU’s website as a shared governance advisory group, yet no agendas or minutes are posted and no initiatives or news have been forthcoming from the group since Spring 2015. Their last significant campus activity took place in May 2015, when they hosted three campus roundtables to obtain input on developing a shared governance communication flow chart. Since then, they’ve fallen silent. Why?
The short answer is that CAG members met and agreed to disband in Fall 2015 after realizing how many of their members had either “resigned” (read “forced by HR to resign under threat of immediate termination”), been issued persona non grata status (not hard to guess who), or – as exempt professionals with no job protections – simply did not have their contracts renewed for 2016-2017. Those who still enjoyed ASU employment found themselves increasingly antagonized by the powermongers who occupy Richardson Hall. And then, at the very same time that CAG members began dropping like flies, the AVPAA referred to the group at a cabinet meeting – in a not so opaque manner – as a “rogue group”. The ominous message rang loud and clear.
The remaining CAG survivors agreed that their rapidly diminishing numbers could not be coincidental and felt it impossible to continue their transparent, above board, and well-intentioned efforts to promote shared governance and a positive campus culture through the empowerment and valuation of employees. So they disbanded.
And the problem with CAG was…?
What was so terrible about this “rogue group”? What great danger did they pose to ASU? What were their nefarious aims? According to ASU’s shared governance pages:
The Campus Advocacy Group’s purpose is to keep upper administration apprised of the state of ASU’s campus culture from a broad range of perspectives. To contribute to a vibrant and growth-promoting campus culture, ASU students, faculty, and staff must feel valued as individuals and must live the values of the university. The committee provides actionable recommendations and leads initiatives for strengthening campus culture.
CAG seeks to intentionally develop a vibrant campus culture by fostering the valuation and retention of employees and by aligning ASU’s cultural practices with its educational mission and operating philosophy.
Does this sound radical and threatening to you? Does it sound like employees gone rogue? Or does it sound like a group advocating for the positive values outlined in a recent WA commentary (see The Care and Feeding of ASU Employees)?
CAG may be gone now, driven underground by the contemptible power play Richardson Hall turns to time and again to silence faculty and staff: The ever present threat of losing one’s position in economically tenuous times and in an economically challenged region. But CAG’s goals are just as important now as ever; perhaps even more so as we experience new levels of oppression that include the outright banning from campus of anyone audacious enough to express divergent or critical views (see ACLU Sues Adams State).
For those interested, below is a timeline of the brief history of CAG. It can be considered an obituary of sorts. One also hopes that it serves as a recounting of an as yet unfulfilled but critical mission that will hopefully, someday, be taken up more successfully by others.
Judge for yourself: Rogue group? Or faculty and staff who were desirous of positive change but were actively suppressed by a recalcitrant ASU administration?
The Life and Death of CAG: A Timeline
June 2014: A group of employees met informally to discuss multiple concerns relating to ASU’s campus culture. The group identified the need for broad, proactive participation in forging solutions, and CAG was proposed as vehicle for empowering employees to jointly construct a more positive campus culture.
June 12, 2014: The nascent group met with President Svaldi and Dr. Mumper to discuss their ideas. President Svaldi responded positively, acknowledging faculty and staff engagement was a longstanding issue at ASU and agreeing to meet once per month with the group. The group’s original name was the “Campus Culture Advisory Group” (CCAG).
June 25, 2014: President Svaldi formally approved the group’s written charge, which can be summarized as:
1. Intentionally develop a vibrant campus culture
2. Foster the valuation and retention of employees
October 14, 2014: The group introduced its charge by hosting a president’s roundtable on how to collectively forge a positive, employee-empowered campus culture. President Svaldi approved the presentation and delivered opening remarks. Roundtable attendees conducted a SWOT assessment of the foundational elements that must exist to create a successful campus culture.
November 20, 2014: The results of the SWOT analysis were shared with the entire campus via email. Numerous individuals across campus responded enthusiastically, offering to participate in the group.
November 2014: CIELO took issue with the group’s use of the word “culture”. The group explained that, given the richness of language, words carry multiple meanings and no single group or issue can claim exclusive ownership of a term. In the interests of keeping the group’s focus on productive work vs. nonproductive, divisive issues, the group agreed to change its name from Campus Culture Advisory Group (CCAG) to Campus Advocacy Group (CAG).
December 2014: Based on roundtable results, the group identified and prioritized multiple goals and initiatives for the year, including:
- Development of a dual career policy to better support employee retention. President Svaldi strongly supported this initiative. The draft dual career policy was approved by President Svaldi and presented at cabinet on April 14, 2015. Tracy Rogers promptly shot down the policy draft (for full coverage, see Hey! What’s the Big Idea? – A Dual Career Policy).
- Development of a shared governance visual flow chart and accompanying document that would make it clear and easy for faculty, students, staff, and community to know how to navigate shared governance at ASU. CAG developed an initial chart as a “conversation starter” and held three campus forums in May 2015 to gain input and participation in the project. They also presented the draft chart to Cabinet and other shared governance groups.
- Conduct a new shared governance survey. Analyze data from campus climate survey and past shared governance surveys. A shared governance survey was conducted. The results have been presented to multiple shared governance forums across campus, most recently to Faculty Senate on January 27, 2015.
- Development of a family friendly workplace policy. CAG conducted initial research on policies at other universities but did not get around to taking up this initiative.
- Research and advocacy for clarified faculty status of ASU instructors. CAG members researched faculty handbook changes with respect to instructor status and brought their findings to President Svaldi. President Svaldi acknowledged familiarity with when, why, and how the language became ambiguous and supported efforts to bring the issue to Faculty Senate. Faculty Senate formed a subcommittee to undertake handbook corrections and their work is currently in progress.
- In order to craft an informed plan to develop a positive campus culture at ASU, conduct an in-depth campus culture assessment using established tools. CAG identified this as a major initiative for 2016-2017, but disbanded before it could be undertaken.
It’s difficult to understand how any of these ideas could be considered “rogue”. None of them are even particularly original. Many other higher education institutions, including in Colorado, have dual career policies and documents that clarify how shared governance functions. Universities regularly conduct shared governance surveys. And schools with vibrant campus cultures don’t gain them by accident – they aren’t just lucky that way – they developed them intentionally.
January 2015: Two members of CAG met independently with President Svaldi to express concerns about the group. These members did not first discuss those concerns with their fellow CAG members, and it is still not clear what their issues were with the group’s various initiatives. Svaldi characterized it as a general concern that the group was becoming a venue for complainers vs. positive action.
Review the above list of initiatives and outcomes and judge for yourself – are they negative or positive endeavors? After this time, President Svaldi began to distance himself from CAG and asked to only meet with the group on an as-needed basis.
April 14, 2015: CAG presented a draft dual career policy document to Cabinet. Per above, the policy was promptly shot down by Tracy Rogers (again, see Hey! What’s the Big Idea? – A Dual Career Policy).
May 2015: CAG conducted three roundtable forums to gain input and participation in the drafting of a shared governance communication flow chart, and then broke for summer.
June – October 2015: Multiple members of CAG suddenly found themselves unemployed and even banned from campus (see opening paragraphs of this commentary).
October 2015: Remaining CAG members agreed to disband.
And so, dear readers, that is the sad story of the birth, brief life, and demise of the Campus Advocacy Group (CAG). We encourage you to determine for yourself whether the group’s activities were ill-intentioned or were undertaken in service of a better Adams State for all of us.
In just one year, the group:
- Drafted a dual career policy to support working couples in higher education
- Developed an initial communications flow chart to help employees navigate shared governance at ASU
- Conducted two campus-wide forums to engage faculty and staff
- Conducted a new shared governance survey
- Researched and raised awareness of handbook issues relating to instructor faculty status
- Prepared to undertake other initiatives including an in-depth campus culture assessment and a family-friendly workplace policy
Terrible, right? Perhaps CAG’s greatest crime was a desire to actually accomplish positive change vs. just talk about it ad nauseam.
Here’s the truly sad takeaway of CAG’s experience: We constantly hear how faculty and staff should become more engaged on behalf of students. We routinely hear lip service about shared governance, an essential ingredient for the healthy functioning of a body of higher education. But if a group of faculty and staff should actually step up to the challenge – should seek to foster an engaging campus culture, should strive to promote shared governance – they will be branded as heretics and renegades by power mongering administrators, they will encounter increasing hostility even from among their own peers, and they will ultimately be driven out of existence.
It’s a gloomy lesson, but I remain hopeful it’s a lesson we can someday put behind us. We have to. To use McClure’s words, it’s “crucial to our survival as an institution”.