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The Point: Summer Melt...or Fall Meltdown?


 [P]rudence suggests that our campus will be better off if we maintain our current practice of remote learning and focus all of our attention in the coming months on ensuring that we provide the highest quality and most engaging remote experience possible when classes begin for the fall semester.

- Preliminary Fall UMass Boston Planning Report

Dear Colleagues,

At the end of the Spring semester, after doing the heavy lifting of transitioning to a remote modality, over 300 of our colleagues were issued non-reappointment notices. Not only does this represent an attack on our most vulnerable faculty (Associate Lecturers and those without continuing appointments), but it also subverts the Fall Planning Report’s promise to “provide the highest quality and most engaging remote experience possible when classes begin for the fall semester.” If UMass Boston is serious about academic continuity, the Administration must reverse these massive faculty non-reappointments.

To better understand the scope and impact of the cuts, as well as to monitor a very dynamic situation, the NTT caucus of the Faculty Staff Union formed a course enrollment research team to examine data from WISER.  Here is what we found:

  • As of the end of July, hundreds of courses at UMass Boston had yet to be assigned to an actual faculty member. The names of non-reappointed lecturers, many with years - or even decades - of experience teaching on our campus, had been swapped out for “TBD,” “Staff,” and “PI”.
  • Hundreds of these unassigned classes had enough students to run. Many were enrolled to capacity and some even had students on waiting lists.
  • This means that, as of the end of July, an estimated 8,000 students were enrolled in unassigned classes across approximately 64 departments.
  • While many courses have been assigned instructors in the past week, as of today, a number of courses still remain unassigned, including approximately 40 sections of Freshman English 101 and 102. 
  • In addition to delaying course assignments, in comparison to previous semesters, enrollment caps have been increased for some classes. For example, the course capacity for Quantitative Reasoning classes, which offer remedial math skills for the students who need it most, has been raised from 23 to 35 students. In addition to pedagogical implications, this has resulted in the cancellation of 4 sections of QR.

The Administration’s stated reason for delaying the rehiring of NTT faculty is fear of “summer melt” - jargon for the loss of some students who accept admission to a university and even pay a deposit, but do not actually end up matriculating. Indeed, COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption: the June unemployment rate in Massachusetts climbed to 17.4 percent, the highest in the nation. This, combined with the cancellation of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, may put higher education out of reach for some students. However, preliminary reports show that Fall enrollment at UMass Boston is stronger than expected.

So what about the students who are matriculating? And what about our returning students, the majority of whom are students of color, are coming from communities with low per-student K-12 funding, and are now being disproportionately impacted by coronavirus? How can we provide them with the “highest quality and most engaging remote experience possible” when faculty are not given enough time to convert their courses to a remote format, which requires technological and pedagogical retooling to maintain quality, accessibility and academic integrity? How can we best educate and mentor our students as individuals when course caps are being raised behind the scenes as a cost-cutting measure?

Multiple taskforces, training workshops, webinars, surveys, and listening sessions have been running all summer. Yet such well-intentioned resources are of no value to non-reappointed or recently reappointed faculty. While the Administration expects the latest and greatest in digital pedagogy, last-minute rehires will find it a challenge to make sure their students even get their books in time.

If faculty working conditions are student learning conditions, then none of this bodes well for the Fall semester. UMass Boston’s high-minded talk about ensuring “academic continuity” is only possible when faculty are given job security.

Here are three things you can do to pressure administration to rehire our NTT colleagues and do more than pay lip service to the promises made in the Fall Planning Report:

  1. Sign the FSU Pledge to Hold the Line on Class Size, which is a collective resolve among remaining faculty to refuse to accept any increase in class sizes if asked to enroll students above caps (now at over 250 signatories).
  2. Communicate the situation to students. If you are asked by students to enroll in classes above the cap, please feel free to use the attached sample support language in your reply.
  3. Let the FSU know what is happening in your department with respect to non-reappointments, rehiring, class cancellations, and class sizes.

This is our union!

In Solidarity, 

Course Enrollment Research Team, NTT Caucus

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