Spring ’21. Issue 1.
“When the chaos of the pandemic eventually subsides and the dust settles, American higher education as a whole may look very different.”
–Lee Gardner, The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 15, 2021
In this issue:
Featured articles from our Iona AAUP members
- Welcome letter from the chapter president, Tony Kelso
- Update on our Feb 18 open forum on the future of mixed-mode teaching beyond the pandemic
Our current initiatives
- Iona AAUP platform on the future of virtual and mixed-mode pedagogy
- Push for a more rigorous Commencement Speaker vetting process
Upcoming Iona AAUP events
Featured articles from our Iona AAUP members
Welcome letter from the chapter president, Tony Kelso
Hello, colleagues, and welcome to the inaugural edition of our AAUP chapter newsletter. This correspondence is a testament to the growth of our chapter and its commitment to keeping you abreast of the work it is doing on behalf of the entire Iona faculty and in support of our profession at large.
Back in 2017, when I first had the idea of organizing an AAUP chapter on our campus, faculty morale was particularly low. Then, after being threatened and verbally abused by a former member of the administration, I knew the situation was intolerable and felt a responsibility to rally colleagues to defend ourselves and promote our interests. On October 27, 2017, nine Iona faculty members gathered together to form an executive committee and our chapter was born. (No, the bylaws were not drafted on parchment paper and signed by quill!)
I am happy to say that, even in the midst of a pandemic, the atmosphere on campus for the faculty has taken a significant turn for the better under our new administration. And yet it remains crucial that the faculty, representing the very heart of the College and the main bearers of institutional memory, maintain a strong, independent voice.
Early in my presidency, when I asked a fellow member at another institution to recommend what to say to peers about why they should join the AAUP, she replied, “The defining characteristics we love about our profession came about because of the AAUP.” Indeed, shortly after its founding in New York City in 1915 and the selection of the legendary professor of education and psychology John Dewey as the organization’s first president, the AAUP released its Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure. Since then, for over 100 years, the AAUP has been the primary force in implementing and defending these cherished tenets of our vocation. As it declares in its mission statement, the AAUP strives to “advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty . . . and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.”
Though many of the AAUP chapters at colleges and universities across the nation serve as unions involved in negotiating collective-bargaining agreements, our Iona branch operates as an advocacy chapter. (Due to legal rulings, it is nearly impossible to establish a union for full-time faculty at a private institution such as Iona.) Although we lack the clout of a union, our chapter is still capable of realizing major achievements. One of our chapter’s most important actions, for example, entailed writing a position statement in opposition to the proposed merit-pay system presented in the Fall 2019 semester. Soon after receiving a copy of the missive, Dr. Carey attended a Faculty Senate meeting and said that he agreed with much of its contents and announced he was shelving the initiative.
In this newsletter, you’ll read about some of the critical issues our chapter is currently engaged in. Executive committee member Teresa Delgado and membership committee member Jennifer Gerometta summarize the feedback provided by the faculty in attendance at our chapter’s last meeting, which centered on a discussion of the experience of teaching in “mixed mode.” Reflecting on the prospect of continuing to instruct students via OWL in largely empty classrooms in the wake of the pandemic, the faculty on hand overwhelmingly expressed alarm. As a result, the executive committee drafted a letter to President Carey (subsequently endorsed by the chapter and included in this newsletter), asserting that it is up to the faculty to decide on the use of mixed mode or any other technology-driven means of course delivery.
Shortly after the letter was sent, the campus community received an announcement declaring that all classes in the fall will be held in person. On the surface, that seems like great news. Yet important questions remain: Given that social distancing will still be in place, how will all students in courses with ample enrollment be able to attend classes together physically? Similarly, assuming the pandemic will not be completely behind us, what will we say to students who are immunocompromised or simply do not wish to take the risk of sitting near their peers? Does this mean, then, that the OWL will continue to hover over us and threaten us with the specter of mixed-mode instruction? Surely, our chapter will have to maintain vigilance as we approach another semester of uncertainty.
Turning to an unfortunate event that violated Iona’s mission statement and conflicted with the very nature of what we stand for as an institution of higher education, executive committee member Dean Defino describes the resistance our chapter launched in reaction to the selection of the conspiracy-theory slinging Fox News personality and propagandist Maria Bartiromo as the 2020 keynote commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary doctorate degree from Iona College.
While our chapter has enjoyed a striking rise in membership over the last two years, it can only benefit from even more Iona faculty members coming on board. Let’s face it—our voice is only as powerful as the size of our collective body. So I hope that if you aren’t already a member, you will seriously consider joining us. For more information, just click on the “Join!” tab and it will take you to the national website, where you can enroll as a member. Meanwhile, if you have any questions or concerns you’d like to bring to the executive committee’s attention, simply click on “Contact” and fill out the form—it will go straight to me at a personal email account and be held in confidence.
Special thanks go to Dot Brophy and Rachana Umashanker, who recently formed our communication committee and produced a well-designed newsletter that all of us on the executive committee are excited to share. As president of the Iona chapter of the AAUP, I hope it inspires you to get involved with us—no matter your rank or membership status, if you’re a faculty member, then we enthusiastically invite you to become an active part of our community. Together, we can not only cultivate a happier faculty that will, in turn, create happier classroom environments for our students, but we can also have fun along the way!
Update on our Feb 18 open forum on the future of mixed-mode teaching beyond the pandemic
Our AAUP chapter recently held a forum addressing faculty experiences with mixed-mode pedagogy. Faculty who attended shared their thoughts in online facilitated groups. An overview of the opinions shared during the forum are found below:
Positive Experiences with Mixed-Mode:
- Students seem to be attending class with the option of being online, which may be welcomed by the administration if other financial benefits to the college are tied to attendance levels.
- Online breakout rooms can provide great opportunities for instruction and discussion.
- Online synchronous classes can provide an increased connection among students and faculty (especially when compared to mixed-mode)
*Most positive teaching experiences that were shared during the forum ultimately did not abide by teaching in mixed-mode as defined by the college. Teaching fully online with tutoring or small group sessions (either in-person on online), or in a combined synchronous/asynchronous format received positive reviews.
Negative Experiences with Mixed-Mode:
- Very few (one or two) students in the classroom with the rest of the class online did not allow for a cohesive teaching/learning experience.
- while the OWL was lauded as a way for all students to be together, it has led to a greater sense of isolation and alienation because the sound is poor and the instructor is required to reposition oneself constantly, not to mention the challenges of teaching across two platforms. We have lost community continuity.
- Poor sound quality increases vocal strain for faculty.
- Students have migrated to being online after what we (faculty) assume as a let-down with the in-person experience. Students report feeling “lonely” when they attend class in person.
- The Socratic method is extremely difficult, and academic dishonesty (quiz/test modules, plagiarism) seems to be on the rise.
- One faculty participant described mixed-mode as a “pedagogically bankrupt mode”.
- Faculty described that it feels demoralizing to teach to an empty classroom, only viewing students on black boxes.
Commonly Asked Questions:
- Why do students have a choice of attending in person, but faculty do not?
- Should cameras be on or off? Mandatory or voluntary? How should we arrive at the answers?
- Should students be required to make a choice (in-person or virtual) and stick with it?
- Why were so many classrooms outfitted with OWL technology? Not all classrooms are in use. Not all classrooms need the OWL. Was there a more efficient and economical way to provide OWL to the college community?
Notable conclusions from the forum:
- Different instructional delivery modes demand different pedagogy.
- We must lead with pedagogy, not convenience.
- We must decide for ourselves the content and pedagogy of our classes and be compensated if we are teaching to two different audiences.
- We are fortunate to have tech at our disposal. Faculty should have the choice to use it as we see fit.
By Teresa Delgado (Religious Studies) and Jen Gerometta (Communication Sciences and Disorders)
Our current initiatives
Iona AAUP platform on the future of virtual and mixed-mode pedagogy
9 March 2021
Dr. Seamus Carey
715 North Avenue
New Rochelle, NY 10801
Re: The future of mixed-mode teaching
Dear President Carey:
The Iona College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is writing to express concern over the future of mixed-mode teaching in the wake of the pandemic. The AAUP membership urges the administration to recognize that, in the context of academic freedom, it is within the faculty’s purview to decide on the use of mixed mode or any other technology-driven approach to instruction. Indeed, based on their expertise as educators, the faculty are in the best position to determine which means of delivery will produce pedagogical efficacy for the students in their classrooms—a goal that is at the very heart of the mission of the College.
In accordance with the national AAUP, our chapter mission statement emphasizes “faculty participation in governance at Iona College.” In line with this, we look forward to an ongoing dialogue with all members of the campus community over the potential use of mixed mode, including administration, staff, and students. Indeed, we are well placed to inform policies toward mixed mode going forward. As faculty working through the pandemic, we now have extensive experience in mixed-mode teaching, and have accumulated knowledge over its advantages and drawbacks.
We want to make clear that academic freedom must be central to that conversation. As the Iona AAUP mission states, our membership seeks to “defend academic freedom at Iona College and throughout the academe.” Classroom technology impacts faculty’s ability to engage in the modes of inquiry prescribed by their disciplines, to access essential content, and to exercise the pedagogical standards that define higher education. The use of mixed-mode teaching falls within that purview. Academic freedom is essential to learning excellence, faculty morale and—hardly separate—the quality of the student experience. If used well, technology, whether used in mixed mode, DL, or hybrid teaching models, can further those aims. But if adopted by imposition, it has the high potential to not only erode pedagogical efficacy, but also to create an alienating culture, where faculty teach to empty or sparsely attended classrooms, and where students are unable to connect to classmates.
The AAUP membership recognizes the difficult choices facing the administration amidst a great deal of uncertainty at the start of the pandemic. While the membership believes that the decision to utilize mixed-mode teaching should have been made with greater faculty input, we applaud efforts by the campus community to make the policy work in the face of the serious health risks posed by this pandemic.
As we can now begin to look ahead to the pandemic subsiding with the arrival of vaccines, the AAUP is aware that mixed-mode teaching may stay on as an important arrow in our quiver of options for student retention. We hope that at this more reflective stage the policy will be set democratically, involving the faculty who will be teaching (and have taught) these sections. To be clear, any permanent policy should be inclusive rather than top down. Faculty are essential to this discussion, as they have the longest experience working within the mixed-mode model, and they have the best sense of what their disciplines require for effective learning.
Our AAUP chapter has been engaged in extensive conversation over what has worked and where the OWL technology is both limited and limiting. Many in our membership noted the problems with the current mixed-mode model, particularly its potential deadening effect on classroom attendance, student engagement, and classroom and campus vitality. Mixed-mode teaching was wholly inappropriate to some disciplines and teaching styles while working relatively better with others. Iona’s experienced faculty understand these nuances, and how to best convey our curriculum to students. This is why the decision to teach mixed mode should be reserved for individual faculty members.
Preparing mixed-mode courses adds to workload, requiring faculty to teach to what are essentially two audiences. Our membership was happy to provide the additional labor to help the institution weather difficult times, but we are concerned that this may become an uncompensated new normal. Any permanent mixed-mode policy should be conscientious of faculty resource needs, providing positive incentives to faculty who volunteer to teach mixed-mode sections.
In this light, the AAUP wishes to express concern over the danger for junior, non-tenure track, and adjunct faculty to face pressures to teach mixed mode. We are particularly adamant that these essential members of the campus community also have the discretion to teach mixed mode in accordance with their pedagogical needs and expertise.
In closing, the AAUP membership shares the administration’s goal to maximize student experience and offer a range of options for students. We see this statement as a contribution to an ongoing dialogue about the hazards and opportunities of mixed-mode teaching. Together we can achieve these goals in ways that are consistent with the college’s stated commitment to academic freedom. Indeed, they can’t be accomplished without it.
Please feel free to reach out to our chapter at any time. In the meantime, thank you for your valuable time and kind attention.
The Iona College Chapter of the AAUP (Endorsed by the membership on March 8, 2021)
715 North Avenue
New Rochelle, NY 10801
cc: Dr. Richard Highfield, Interim Dean, LaPenta School of Business, Iona College
Dr. Joseph Stabile, Dean, School of Arts and Science, Iona College
Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D., Provost, Iona College
Push for a more rigorous Commencement Speaker vetting process
In June of 2020, the Executive Committee of the Iona AAUP chapter reached out to President Carey, and the Faculty Senate concerning the choice of Fox News television personality, Maria Bartiromo, as 2020 Commencement Speaker. At the time, Ms. Bartiromo had already begun to make a reputation for herself as a propagandist and conspiracy theorist, spreading debunked stories about President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton. The Committee felt strongly that those we honor with degrees and a public platform should conform with our institutional mission and values, and our pedagogical commitment to the pursuit of truth. In our letter to Dr. Carey, we asked for a recommitment to these values in our future choices of speakers and honorees.
In the days that followed, Dr. Carey sent several e-mails to the campus community. Most focused on recent cases of racial violence and the institutional biases they revealed. And while none directly addressed the Ms. Bartiromo, each spoke in one way or another about the College recommitting itself to the values or justice, truth, and self-reflection. The Senate responded by making a concerted effort to solicit volunteers for the Commencement Speaker committee, who would be committed to shoring up the vetting process. From that commitment, and with a renewed sense of energy and purpose, the Commencement Speaker committee (whose ranks now include two AAUP executive committee members) advanced their carefully selected list of candidates on January 7.
In the meantime, Ms. Bartiromo continued to use her presence on Fox News to spread lies and conspiracy theories: most prominently about the “fraudulent” election of President Joe Biden. Lies that have since made her the defendant in a number of high-profile lawsuits. In light of Ms. Bartiromo’s increasingly reckless behavior, members of the Executive Committee of the Iona AAUP Chapter met with Dr. Carey on February 28 to discuss possible steps the College might take, including the revocation of her honorary degree. Dr. Carey felt very strongly that the Board would not approve such an action, and that doing so would surrender the College’s agenda for months to media outlets eager for outrage stories. At the same time, he committed himself to supporting the work of the committee, and to a process that would only yield honorees worthy of our mission and values. He also urged the Executive Committee to use this moment as an opportunity to engage with him and the larger College community in conversations about our future.
As we now approach the end of the academic year, the AAUP executive committee continues to closely track the Commencement Speaker selection process with a view to ensuring that future speakers reflect Iona College’s values and mission.
By Dean Defino (English)
Upcoming Iona AAUP events
Save the date for an Iona AAUP social event: Thursday, April 15 at 4:30PM.
Event and venue will be announced closer to the date.
Dot Brophy (English)
Rachana Umashankar (Religious Studies)