Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Practical Matters: Mid-Semester Mania and Withdrawal from Courses

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Program

Congratulations to our new members for reaching the mid-semester mark in your first semester as full time faculty at SCCC. This is no small feat; by now, particularly if you're teaching faculty and deeply entrenched in mid-term exams or paper grading, you're beginning to feel the weight of your tasks, big and small. You may even be able to see that weight quite literally, as all of the grading begins to stack up on your desk.

This is also the point in the semester where I find I'm most frequently reminded of all the burdens our students are carrying, too. I issue mid-term academic alerts and watch a line of anxious faces form at the front of the classroom, attempting to speak with me before class about missing assignments and less-than-acceptable grades. I'm met in my office hours with students who wish to let me know that because of their 1) caregiver schedule 2) employer demands 3) change in career plans, they're considering withdrawing from my course.

The weeds: Where we are at mid-semester
As you may have noticed, Monday was the deadline for students to withdraw from courses on their own -- they could have done so at the registrar or through their MYSCCC accounts. Usually, I put this deadline into my course outlines and remind students via announcements in class and/or class emails and posts in Blackboard, as a courtesy and a facet of my role as a faculty advisor (new students simply aren't aware of most college policies at this point). 

Many students, however, don't realize their grade is in jeopardy before this deadline: in fact, as I've been finding this week, many students realize it the day AFTER the deadline has passed. I don't know why they ignore repeated to warnings to check their grades before the deadline: they just do. And when they realize their grade is less-than-satisfactory, they show up at your office door, panicked and contrite or angry and defensive or ambiguous and ambivalent (or a messy combination of all three).

Of course the first thing we should do, as responsible faculty and caring advisors, is see where our students might improve their study or work habits to increase their grade point average over the remaining weeks. Some students will respond admirably to this approach and do whatever they need to do to pass the course in December. Others, however, will be less sure of themselves and wish to abandon the endeavor completely. Those students will ask you for a withdrawal. Or, more common, they'll simply disappear -- that is, they won't return to class, although you may see them slinking by you on campus, trying to remain unnoticed.

As new teaching faculty (if you're new teaching faculty) it's important that you know the reach of the withdrawal or "W" grade. First, know that we do not -- yet -- have an official withdrawal policy (which is ridiculous, and entrenched in campus politics, but nevertheless, a sad fact). So the following is advice from a faculty member who believes that we should know the implications of each and every grade we assign.

Students may not withdraw from a class after the mid-semester deadline of their own volition. At this point, they must go to the registrar's office, find withdrawal slips, fill them out, and have you sign them. Second, before you sign a withdrawal (or assign it as a final grade at the end of the semester), you and your students should understand how the W grade will affect them if they are receiving financial aid.

If a student is taking the minimum number of credits to be considered full-time (12), and then they take or are assigned a "W" grade -- even at the end of the semester -- their credit load for the semester is reduced. The student's financial aid, calculated based on the number of courses the student takes each semester, is also adjusted accordingly.

This means that students who take the minimum number of courses may be reduced to part-time status once they receive a grade of "W," and their part-time status will reduce the amount of financial aide for which they are eligible in future semesters. Most students in their first semester here are unaware of this consequence; in fact, most students -- even those in third or fourth semesters -- are unaware of the potential problems created for them by the "W" grade.

Ideally, any "W" assigned after the mid-semester point should be done because of extenuating circumstances. As teaching faculty and advisors to our students, we need to be discrete in our assignment of the "W" grade and assign it only when a student as requested the "W" and understands -- fully and unequivocally -- the potential effects if he or she is receiving financial aid. While we may wish to be kind and assign a "W" to those students who disappear from our classes a day or two after the withdrawal deadline, it's unwise to use the "W" if you haven't had a frank conversation with the student about what it means. 

In December, if you have students who have mysteriously disappeared from your classroom but remain on your roster, and if you are adverse to assigning them the failing grades that they mostly likely deserve (you old softie!), I recommend emailing them and asking if they wish to receive a "W," and if they're aware of the implications and (very real, sometimes very devastating) effects of a "W" grade. Some of these students will be paying out of pocket for their classes and will be surprisingly cavalier about their grade(s). Others, particularly those receiving aid, will be grateful for the consideration and advisement and may prefer to take the "F" so that they may retain their full-time status and continue receiving their aid.

Even if you elect not to email "ghost" students at the end of the semester, at least you can assign failing grades knowing that, in the long run, it is usually the wiser, kinder course of action -- and that the "W"grade, when assigned without discretion, can be more of a burden than a gift to the student who couldn't get his or her act together this semester.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get my act together -- at this time of the year, our students aren't the only ones in the weeds.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Practical Matters: The FA's Community Outreach Committee

by Tim McHeffey, Chair, FA Community Outreach Committee

A super way to accelerate your immersion into your new, wonderful position at Suffolk is to meet your extended FA Family! The Community Outreach arm of the Faculty Association is called TEAM-FA (Totally Enthusiastic Members of the Faculty Association). Our FA on-campus events include plant sales for AHRC, food drives, and Fair Trade sales. Many of you already likely do awesome activities in your respective geographic communities; why not help out with ours? To find out how you can help on your campus, email me at tim [at]

Or, you may want to jump on board our nationally acclaimed “Professors on Wheels” program, where we share our expertise in small presentations with nursing home residents and public libraries. Here are some of the topics & presentations our community partners may choose from for the 2015/2016 year:

  • American Cinema: Then and Now
  • Getting Over the Fear of Public Speaking
  • Families and the Juvenile Justice System
  • You and Your Culture: What Makes You Who You Are
  • How to Grow a Small Business on Long Island
  • Soldiers’ Life in the First World War: The Sounds Smells and Taste of War
  • Reporting From...(Making Short Videos to Post on YouTube)
  • From Beowulf to Rambo: Heroes and Western Heroism
  • The Fibonacci Numbers
  • Women in Politics
  • Renaissance Art and Musical Instruments
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Connecting with others through E-mail 
  • Getting Organized: How to De-Clutter your Life
  • Not Just Kids’ Stuff: Understanding Comics and Graphic Literature 

For more information about how to get involved, email Ray DiSanza at rayd [at] and/or check out the Professors on Wheels page on the FA's web site.

Community Outreach is part of our fabric as FA brothers and sisters… It’s what we do! So Sunday, October 18th, consider joining our walking team at Jones Beach for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer; or, if you would like to donate to our team, please go to our TEAM FA web site @ or you can visit us on Facebook to sign up as well, For more information, talk to joanc [at] 

The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Editor's Note: Did you know that the A-form (our application for promotion) specifically asks about your involvement in our community? (To wit: "Professionally related community activities in cultural, educational, and benevolent organizations")

While promotion shouldn't be your primary reason for contributing to your community, it probably helps to know that the college cares about and values your service to our community outside the college. So if you were hesitant to do community service, and wondering about whether or not you could or should sacrifice any of your hard-earned down-time, consider that you will benefit from donating that time -- although I'm pretty sure our community partners will benefit more. And yes, union-organized community service events count.

Also: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Find a ribbon and #gopurple on Facebook,  Twitter, and even during class -- letting students, colleagues, and friends know where they can find support if they need it.

Also also: Alongside Catherine Lipnick and Alyssa Kauffman, tommorrow (10/13) I'll be giving a workshop as one of the Professional Development Day Breakout Sessions on Service Learning and Civic Engagement. If you'd like to learn more about how to incorporate community service into your courses, we'd love to see you.
-- SKG

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Practical Matters: Overload and The Word

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Program

You may have noticed a few of the emails coming from Dean Gherardi's office over the past couple of weeks concerning the NORA form -- and you may have wondered, what the heck is a NORA form?

October rose (w/ site of new Eastern Health and Wellness Center)
Good question! And an important one. The NORA is a Notice of Reasonable Assurance. This form is most important for our contingent faculty, who need to let the college know if and when they'll be available to teach classes in the upcoming term. All full-time faculty need to fill out this form too, however, if we'd like to request an overload assignment in the upcoming semesters, including Wintersession (classes held in January), Spring, and Summer I (the first five weeks of classes following the spring semester for traditional, face-to-face classes, and the first eight weeks for fully online classes), Summer II (the second five weeks), and Summer III (you get the picture).

Now that you know what the form is, you may need a reminder about deadlines -- because deadlines are very important. If you want to request a class for Wintersession 2016, you need to submit your NORA form by tomorrow, October 7. As Dean Gherardi pointed out in his emails, assignments will be made by October 15, and you will have until November 6 to accept or decline your assignments.

The deadline to submit an overload request for the spring semester is ALSO October 7.  Assignments for the spring, however, will be made by October 22, and you will have until November 9 to accept or decline your assignments through Banner.
It's important that full-time faculty make their decisions about spring overload as soon as possible because it helps our academic chairs find adjunct faculty who can teach the remaining classes in the spring schedule.
But let's say you're already teaching an overload class this semester. You may be wondering, when am I going to get paid for all of this prep and teaching? Well, if you haven't been accessing your online pay stubs (available through MYSCCC, under the Employees tab), and if you haven't been keeping track of your automatic deposits to your bank account, you may not have noticed that we were just paid for overload courses last week, on October 1. The schedule for the rest of the adjunct/overload payments is as follows:
  • October 15
  • October 29
  • November 12
  • November 25
  • December 10
  • December 23
Additionally, this is what you'll be paid per credit this year for any overload assignments you take on:
  • $1,178 - instructor
  • $1,277 - assistant professor
  • $1,370 - associate professor
  • $1,501 - professor 
You can see more about negotiated overload/adjunct pay for the next few years in our Memorandum of Agreement for 2015-2019, available on the FA web site under Documents >> Contracts.
ADDITIONALLY, do you know where else you can find this information? And in particular, the information about overload pay dates? In The Word, the FA's official newsletter. If you're new to the college and/or working in a union shop, one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with the college, its history, and its long, sustainable, beneficial, and most importantly -- positive -- relationship with the union is to read through back issues of The Word (archived on the FA web site) and all of the subsequent MOAs following the 2001 contract (also archived on the web site next to the one I cited above). Both provide a broad perspective, and evidence, of how the union, college, and county work together to provide excellent working conditions and benefits for its classroom and non-classroom faculty, specialists, counselors, librarians, and professional assistants. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

On Being Ready, Willing, and Able

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program

Congratulations! You've worked here for a full month!

It was fantastic seeing so many of you at the first event of the New Member Discussion Series. I hope that those of you who attended learned much from our lovely three panelists, Jared Dowd, Dawn Wing, and Jill Malik. All three gave us a lot of insight into creating balance and establishing positive, working relationships in the first year.

In the next few weeks I'll be posting the notes and talking points from Jared, Dawn, and Jill's presentations, archiving them here on the blog so that those of you who could not attend will still be able to benefit from their individual perspectives and advice. Of course, the only way to benefit from someone else's story is to be willing, first and foremost, to truly hear what he or she is saying. And this leads me to the topic of today's post.

Friday's NMDS: See? We had fun!
Mentoring is not something that happens to another person, an act we bestow or inflict on another living being. Mentoring is a relationship, which means it's symbiotic, and mentors benefit from interactions with mentees as much as the new faculty member gains insight from the veteran member. And for both parties to gain, and feel the benefits of the mentoring relationship, an extremely important element needs to be present: openness.

Such openness to mentoring may seem easy and like a no-brainer to some of you, but for others, particularly if you've been kind of wary of this New Member Program thing, the following excerpt from Hal Portner's "Being Mentored: A Guide for Protégés” (published by Corwin Press, and adapted by NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trust for a seminar they hold regularly on mentoring) might help you get the most out of this next year:

Be ready – “Wholeheartedly accept the opportunity to be mentored”

Be willing – You need to “believe that you have an ongoing need to learn . . . When you are doing something you believe in – when what you are doing sits well with your set of values and is relevant to your life – you will do it better; you will do it with passion.” Additionally, you need to “have confidence that being mentored . . . can make a difference between success and failure.” And lastly, you must  believe that “being mentored can help you remain in the profession and have a satisfying and gratifying career.”

Be able – “Whether you have a mentor who offers little help or support, or a mentor who throws so much information and help your way that you are constantly overwhelmed, or a mentor who is . . . experienced [and] who understands how to work effectively with a protégé, you will still get more out of being mentored if you are ‘able’. Being able means having the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to be proactive in the mentoring process. Being proactive means not only being ready and willing to access the resources available to you, but also being empowered to do so.”

Finally, NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trust offers new faculty members these “Principles for Success”:
  • Take the initiative when it comes to having your needs met as a protégé.
  • Avoid making assumptions about your mentor’s plans and expectations.
  • Solicit feedback from your mentor as a way to improve.
  • Receive feedback objectively.
  • Attempt to construct ways to learn from seemingly untenable situations.
  • Take responsibility for your personal well-being.
  • Contribute to the learning of other educators. 
So, to these ends, I would take the next step and mark on your calendars the date of the New Member Bagel Brunch that will be occurring on your campus this month. The dates, times, and places are as follows:

October 14 -- Grant New Member Bagel Brunch (Captree 113, 11:00 a.m. - 12:20 p.m.)

October 21 -- Eastern Bagel Brunch  (Corchaug 18, 11:00 a.m. - 12:20 p.m.)
October 28 -- Ammerman Bagel Brunch  (Alumni Room, Brookhaven Gym, 11:00 a.m. - 12:20 p.m.)

At each brunch, FA officers and New Member Program campus coordinators will be present to answer any questions you may have, tell you a little more about the college, and give you your very own shiny white NYSUT "promotion folder" -- the savvy faculty member's secret weapon when it comes to building (and keeping track of) a successful career.

So: Mark the date of your campus bagel brunch, continue to open my emails and read these blog posts (!), and extend a hand and an open ear when your mentor comes to say hi or checks in via email. We are, after all, ready, willing, and able, too!