Proposal would give liberal arts faculty second-class status – Inside Higher Ed

Proposed reorganization at Texas A&M Qatar aimed at enhancing engineering education and research would reclassify liberal arts and science faculty in instruction- and service-focused roles, with no expectation or support for research.
Administrators at Texas A&M University have proposed a sweeping reorganization of the liberal arts and science programs at the Qatar campus that would dissolve existing faculty contracts in favor of nine-month teaching- and service-focused appointments and would prohibit faculty members in those fields from applying as lead principal investigators for research grants, essentially relegating them to second-class status.
The proposal would allow only faculty members in the engineering department to continue their research activities. Texas A&M Qatar—one of a number of specialized U.S. branch campuses located in the Middle Eastern country’s Education City—exclusively offers degrees in engineering fields.
Critics of the plan say it reflects a low value placed on the liberal arts and sciences in engineering education and a disregard for faculty contract protections and shared governance.
“We see it as both unethical and unprofessional to eliminate or revoke the rolling contracts of faculty members and to, in essence, have them reclassified midcontract,” said Dale Rice, the speaker of the Texas A&M Faculty Senate. “And this whole proposal was done without faculty input, as far as any of us know. None of us were involved in any way in providing input before the proposal was announced.”
Under the proposal, which was announced shortly before Thanksgiving, the liberal arts and science programs—which to date “have operated as coequal peers of TAMUQ’s four engineering programs,” as the proposal document puts it—would be discontinued in favor of a new “Foundation Academics and Core Teaching (FACT) Division” that would be created on Jan. 1.
Liberal arts and science faculty who hold multiyear “rolling-track” contracts, in what professors say has functioned as a tenure-equivalent system, would see those contracts end Sept. 1, to be replaced with renewable nine-month, fixed-term appointments focused entirely on instruction and service.
The proposal does outline pathways through which science faculty could apply for a research-active positions within one of the four engineering departments—“if their research is aligned or potentially could be aligned with engineering research with economic impact to the state of Qatar”—but all faculty in the liberal arts would be converted to the new instruction- and service-focused positions as of next fall. The library would also be moved under the FACT division, and future library hires would be made in staff rather than faculty positions.
Faculty members in the proposed FACT division would not be permitted to submit proposals to TAMUQ research programs or external funding agencies as lead principal investigators.
Under the proposal, the promotion process for faculty in liberal arts and science fields would no longer be overseen by the respective departments on the main campus in College Station, Tex.
“Given that the FACT division’s focus is on teaching, service and pedagogical innovation, the promotion-review process is discipline-agnostic,” the proposal states. “This means that the department- and college-level promotion process for FACT Division faculty can be self-contained entirely within TAMUQ without reliance on other colleges on the main campus in College Station.”
The proposal states that the changes were necessary to meet expectations set by the Qatar Foundation, which funds the campus, and with whom Texas A&M just signed a new contract to begin in January.
“The start of a new agreement with QF magnifies the incongruity of TAMUQ’s organization and its goals, and the agreement’s focus on engineering education and impact-driven research serves as a reminder that TAMUQ does not grant degrees in science or liberal arts disciplines,” the proposal states. “Additionally, research in science and liberal arts is not among QF’s priorities and expectations for TAMUQ. Therefore, it is not a priority for TAMUQ. With all that considered, TAMUQ must optimize its teaching, learning and research efforts to maximize the value and impact of QF’s investment in engineering.”
The proposal emphasizes “agility and responsiveness”—“this new configuration of resources will allow for rapid mobilization and deployment of personnel and resources, enabling new needs to be met within weeks instead of years,” it says—and the role the proposed FACT division would play in providing precollege foundational education and supporting student success and progression through the engineering major.
“A FACT Division oriented toward teaching-service enables new opportunities for curriculum integration and co-teaching,” the document states. “This might include English-language support for engineering or science faculty with students whose language skills need improvement. It also will enable unique collaborations for delivery of writing- and communication-intensive courses in engineering, which is a model that many TAMU engineering departments follow.”
The dean of the Qatar campus, César Malavé, declined an interview request. A Texas A&M spokeswoman did not make another administrator available for an interview.
Faculty who oppose the plan say the proposed changes would undermine the quality of education that the campus’s approximately 600 engineering students receive.
Joseph Ura, a professor of political science at the Qatar campus who also holds a professorship on the main A&M campus, wrote in a document providing feedback on the proposal that the proposal “directly under-cuts the university’s commitment to offer an equivalent education to students on its Doha and College Station campuses. Instead, the reorganization is likely to work against educational quality by severing connections to main campus academic departments and limiting opportunities for teaching to be informed by disciplinary research.”
“The university’s core curriculum amounts to more than a third of the credit hours needed for Graduation,” Ura wrote in the document. “TAMUQ students will not receive a recognizably Texas A&M education if its students are taking their foundational classes—including their basic courses in humanities, mathematics, natural sciences, and social science—from faculty with no academic connection to Texas A&M and in classes over which Texas A&M’s academic departments provide no quality control.”
Another faculty member at the Qatar campus, who asked to remain anonymous, said the proposal “creates tiers of institutional citizenship on this campus. It talks about engineering education, but it means engineering courses taught by engineering faculty only. The biggest losers in this proposal are our students.”
“What it claims as its objective and the manner in which it wants to achieve it, they just don’t match up,” the faculty member said of the proposal. “For instance, it talks about excellence in engineering education, but it assumes that research and teaching are unconnected.” The faculty member noted that the proposal articulates an objective of attracting cross-registrations from other universities with campuses in Education City but asked, “why would someone at Georgetown or Carnegie Mellon not take a course with their own research faculty and take a course at Texas A&M with a person who is banned from doing research?”
“The wording says liberal arts faculty may not conduct research,” said Sheela Athreya, an associate professor at the Qatar campus who has tenure in the anthropology department at the College Station campus. “R-1s [Research 1 universities] don’t say that.”
“They’re communicating and signaling a complete lack of respect of other disciplines, lack of trust, even, and lack of value,” Athreya said. “What this is saying to me is that all of the core nonengineering courses that students have to take, they’re saying we just need specialized courses just for us, and we actually don’t care about broader disciplinary foundational knowledge.”
Multiple faculty members also raised the issue of the impact the proposed changes would have on women faculty at the Qatar campus.
“Although a majority of Texas A&M’s Qatar student body are women, there are only two women serving in long-term, research-engaged faculty positions outside of the campus’s Science and Liberal Arts Programs,” Ura wrote in his formal feedback. “If this plan were to be carried out, it would leave women holding only two of the nearly seventy regular, research-engaged faculty positions on the entire campus.”
The Faculty Senate is also raising procedural questions about whether the proper channels have been followed to potentially amend faculty contracts.
“One of the basic issues from our standpoint is that either this is a dissolution of unit and thus should have had a long process of review and input before it takes place, or it is a reorganization and the contracts should continue as is with the reorganization of the unit,” said Rice, the Faculty Senate speaker.
“What appears to us was, at least initially, an effort to kind of have it both ways, and we find that unacceptable,” Rice said. “The rules are pretty clear at A&M that if a dean is going to propose dissolving a unit, then they need to solicit input, and that includes input from the Faculty Senate. I called a special meeting [of the Senate executive committee] on Monday and invited the administrators to attend it so that we could provide some input, but that was the first input as far as I know that actually came from anyone related to the Faculty Senate.”
The dean of faculties has solicited the input of Qatar campus faculty members on the proposal—feedback was due Monday—but advocates for shared governance say that is not a substitute for giving faculty a role in creating a proposal in the first place.
“From an AAUP governance perspective, decisions that involve faculty status like these—contracts and curricular matters like reorganization of programs—are the primary responsibility of the faculty,” said Gregory Scholtz, director of the department of academic freedom, tenure and governance at the American Association of University Professors. “It doesn’t mean faculty play the only role, but they should play a primary role, and this clearly is something that’s being imposed from above. I can certainly appreciate why faculty members in Qatar and College Station might be unhappy with this, because it seems to marginalize those people who would be most knowledgeable about this matter and have the most at stake.”
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