Monday, March 27, 2017

Practical Matters: Grievance, Arbitration, and Mediation

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program
I'd like to think that your first academic year here at SCCC has gone smoothly and that you've found your working conditions here optimal. Also, I'd hope that if you've run into anything problematic, you've addressed your concerns with your mentor first and they've provided you with some sound and useful advice for tackling the problem.

If you ever run into a problem that seems larger than your mentor, academic chair, or department supervisor can handle -- specifically, one that includes a violation of our contract -- OR, if your academic chair or department supervisor is part of the problem (fingers crossed, that won't be the case) -- that's an appropriate time to ask the FA's Grievance Officer, Dante Morelli, about filing a grievance.
Any member of the bargaining unit -- even those who aren't voting union members -- may be represented by the union when he or she files a grievance. Just remember that timeliness is a real and pressing issue; if you're going to file a grievance, you need to do so within 30 days of when you noticed the violation (or should have noticed the violation).
Once the grievance has been filed, the FA will work to settle the matter satisfactorily through arbitration. But if you're someone who'd like to avoid the grievance and arbitration process, the FA has a brand new Conflict Mediation Program (CMP) to help you do just that.  

The CMP assists its members in addressing conflict proactively and confidentially before problems become bigger problems. Several FA members, all of whom undergo intensive training, are available to provide neutral, judgment-free, confidential mediation between members, or between members and administration or staff, in a confidential, safe space. Did I mention that it's confidential? Everyone involved must sign a confidentiality agreement. Additionally, it's important to remember that all parties must approach mediation willingly and in good faith. It doesn't work -- in fact, it's not a true mediation -- if one of the parties feels like he or she has been coerced or forced to participate.

For more information about the CMP, contact Dante Morelli at 451-4963.

Note that most grievances don't approach arbitration because they can be resolved beforehand -- sometimes through the CMP and sometimes less formally -- but if they do go to arbitration (and the FA decides which grievances go to arbitration and which do not), your union will be there for you.

Friday, March 24, 2017

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 or second 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 or fill your briefcase or backpack.
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.
As you may have noticed, Wednesday 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).
My spring break was spent "finding" my writing desk again. Yours?
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 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 by May. 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 commonly, 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 May, if you have students who have disappeared mysteriously from your classroom but remained 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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Plan for the Future: Purposeful Service and Your Career at Suffolk

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program 

Happy Spring Break, New Members. I hope everyone withstood the snow and rain yesterday and that your recess has been peaceful, productive and restful.

This week I received a significant letter from the college, one that we spend much of our academic career working toward at SCCC: a letter from the president of the college informing me that he'd approved my "promotion in academic rank from Associate to Professor," effective at the beginning of our next academic year.
Yay! Finally!

This was a joyful moment, and also a kind of underwhelming one. Underwhelming simply because not much is going to change in my academic/work life after this point -- there will be no magical shift or transformation that signals the end of an era or a dramatic end to my involvement at the college. For the most part (with one or two exceptions), my career post-promotion is going to look very similar to my career over the past few years. This is because for the second half of my career here, I've been trying to practice deliberation, and be much for mindful, before accepting service opportunities.

Service to the college comprises a large part of our responsibilities as faculty, and -- sometimes practically, sometimes theoretically -- also helps the college function. You're probably already familiar with some aspect of service through conversations with your mentor or departmental meetings; however, your first year as a faculty member is not supposed to be one that's heavy in committee work or meetings. Your eligibility for your first promotion, though, is going to arrive much faster than you expect -- so it's good to begin, particularly when you have some down time during spring recess, to plan your career and what that might look like.

I spoke about this kind of thing last semester at our FA Discussion Series event titled "What You Need to Know In Your First Year (and Beyond)," but if you missed it, and if you were to search The Undercurrent's archive of previous New Member Discussion Series events, you'd find many posts on this topic -- most notably, "The Longview: Anticipating and Planning Your Career at SCCC" and "On Purpose." Reading through those posts might help -- hopefully will help -- you create a long-term plan that will guide you through the next few years. 

I write "the next few years" because we need to allow flexibility in our planning. We need to know that aspects of the college are going to change, committees will come and go, opportunities to be on those committees will come and go, and you'll have to revise your perspective, both short-term and long-term, accordingly. But being aware of what is possible at this point in your career, and being mindful of your interests and values, your level of expertise, your available time, and your goals for the future can help you avoid dedicating time and effort to committees that aren't the right fit (for you or them). 

Granted, sometimes you don't know that a committee isn't a good fit until you've served on it for a semester. If this happens to you, don't be afraid to gracefully and expediently excuse yourself from the group. There are always new service opportunities that will arise. There will always be faculty members who can take your place while you find a better way to serve your department, your campus, and the college.

So to that end, as I am happily, officially, and finally at the end of the oft-dreaded promotion cycle, I am pleased to share with you these highlights from "What You Need to Know In Your First Year (and Beyond)":

Create a Plan from a Vision or Desire 

1. Answer this question: Where you see yourself in ten years? (OR, What do you want to do with your next decade?)

  • At Suffolk County Community College
  • As a professional in your field or discipline
  • Personally 

2.  Consider (i.e. write down) your various areas of responsibility at the college:

  • Teaching and Other Duties (Other duties = the daily lives of non-classroom faculty)

  • Service to the College and Community
    • Department/Area
    • Campus
    •  College
    • Community
  • Personal and Professional Growth 
    • Research and Scholarship

 3. Break down your 10-year plan by aligning it with:

  • Daily Duties (Teaching/Non-Teaching) 
  • Departmental Service
  • Campus Service
  • College Service
  • Community Service
  • Professional Development

 4.  Now that you've taken your "Future Self" and divided him or her six different ways, consider: Which area holds the most challenging or ambitious "future self"?

5. Next, consider: Where do I stand now in each of the following areas?

  • Daily Duties (Teaching/Non-Teaching)
  • Departmental Service 
  • Campus Service 
  • College Service 
  • Community Service 
  • Professional Development

6. Make rules for yourself, follow them, and try again if you mess up.

  • Example: I must take a week to consider before beginning any new projects or commitments
    • Take stock of your other commitments
    • Consider whether or not, realistically, you could handle the additional responsibility
    • If you can, great
    •  If not, do not fret 
7. Make a conscious effort to think about your main goals as an educator (this comes from faculty member Jill Malik, Social Science)
  • What are your main goals in the classroom?
  • What are your obligations to students?
  • What are their obligations as students in your classroom? 

8. Practice and Hone the Fine Art of Saying No

  • It’s okay, and advisable, to reject responsibilities that don’t reflect your plan, vision, or interests
  • They will find someone else
  • You will be offered other opportunities

9. Make realistic expectations for yourself and your students and your colleagues (also from Jill Malik, except I added the part about colleagues)

  • Slow start with committee work is the best start
  • Talk to colleagues about your plans – bounce ideas off them to realize and/or prevent unrealistic expectations
  • Adjust assignments according to your new number of students and/or courses

10. Meet the students halfway (this comes from Misty Curreli, Sociology)

  • Commit to the idea of being transparent about the policies and procedures and why they are the way they are
  • Explain to the students how to use the textbook, what purposes the assignments serve (what it evaluates and how it adds to their skill sets
  • Watch for and reflect on your assumptions of student behavior and then ground yourself not in ego but in what’s pedagogically best for the students

11. Surround yourself with mentors (this comes from Jared Dowd, Counselor)

  • FA New Member Program Mentor
  • Academic Chairs and Deans
  • Colleagues

12. Reach across departments and divisions for mentoring, expertise, and collaboration (this comes from Jason Ramirez, Communication and Art)

13. Remember the importance of networking (this comes from Teri Morales, Counselor and Adjunct Faculty) 

  • Within the college
  • Outside the college

14. Take advantage of what Suffolk has to offer (also from Jared Dowd, Counselor)

  • Professional Development Workshops
  • Monday Morning Mentor emails 
  • Assisting Student Activities, and/or becoming a club advisor

 15. Start small, end BIG” (also from Jason Ramirez, Communication and Art)

  • Effective teaching flourishes with a concentration on clear goals and objectives
  • Allow for new technologies of instruction whenever possible
  • Allow your students to bring their classroom to the rest of the campus
  • Ask yourself, “What can I share, based on my expertise, with the classroom, campus, and college-wide community?”
  • Reach out to the larger community whenever possible

16. Maintain your passion(s) (also from Teri Morales, Counselor and Adjunct Faculty)

  • Surround yourself with positive people and feed off their enthusiasm

17. Have compassion for yourself (also from Misty Curreli, Sociology)

  • It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, unsure, and/or exhausted. 
  • You should acknowledge ON A DAILY BASIS what you’ve accomplished despite any feelings to the contrary

18. Don’t neglect your own scholarly development (also from Jason Ramirez, Communication and Art)

  • Keep an eye out for conference calls for papers and scholarly opportunitiesUtilize any and all grant opportunities you come across throughout the year
  • Don’t forget to investigate possible publication opportunities, both in your field of expertise and your pedagogical development
  • Reach out to the union if you need to (It is always important to know what is contractually expected of you)

 19. Protect your time (also from Misty Curreli, Sociology) 

  • You deserve some personal, non-working time to give your mind a break 
  • This takes discipline and it also requires that you be alright with keeping some uncompleted things on the to-do list until the next workday

20. Maybe You Have Two Careers, Not One. Plan Accordingly.

  • Example: A teaching artist teaches students, and she exhibits, publishes, and promotes her work
  • Reserve/block out time (weekly, monthly, by semester) in your schedule for duties in all areas of both careers:
    • Grading   
    • Committee Work
    • Email
    • Office Hours
    • Research & Writing
    • Presentations & Conference Attendance