Gila Community College must take academics more seriously or it risks deteriorating into a community college mill, three faculty members warned recently in a report to the administration. Already, they say, the college veers toward “GCC Podunk U” because of its outdated technology.
The four-page report, “Suggestions to Improve Academic Standards at GCC,” criticizes the college for emphasizing student count over academic quality, its lack of open discussion about the college’s future, and its antiquated technology capabilities.
The Roundup received the report, dated April 2009, attached to an e-mail received through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Payson Dean Pamela Butterfield, who appeared to offer the sole e-mail feedback, wrote that the report’s tone “disturbed” her although she added that some of the points were “valid and worthy of discussion.”
She especially took offense to the coinage “Podunk U.”
“I and the other deans work long and hard at providing a quality education for the students at GCC, and I make changes when I see the quality of instruction is not up to par,” she wrote.
The three members of the college’s faculty senate, Roni DeLaO Kerns, Joseph Shannon and James Quinlan, say faculty morale stays low because of “inconsistent administrative decision making and lack of support across campuses.”
They wrote the report to capture “break room discussions” and to promote discussion, according to e-mail correspondence from the teachers.
Ultimately, the report seemingly demonstrates that many faculty members feel the north/south divide and underlying tension of powerlessness as much as board members.
“The chasm in between northern and southern Gila County seems to require more than a bridge over Roosevelt Lake,” Kerns wrote in a return e-mail to Butterfield.
Quinlan, in his response to Butterfield, wrote, “You have made some great changes,” but “we would like to be involved in decisions that affect us.”
According to the report, instructors routinely face oversized classrooms, which leads to grade inflation. It names one teacher on the Globe campus whose class has gained such a reputation for an easy “A” that “academically lazy students from Payson drive to Globe to pass required nursing courses.”
The college has increased reliance on part-time faculty instead of hiring full-time staff, despite continued enrollment growth. That, along with “minimal student support services, have led to diminished academic standards,” the report states.
“We need to start making improvements in our academic quality a prime goal over the next year.”
The report also alleges that the college would fail to achieve academic certification for higher learning, as it would have to do if it were to become an independent college.
The trio also wrote that the college places priority on increasing the number of credit hours that students take at the expense of academic achievement.
Colleges receive state aid based on the number of credits students take, called full-time student enrollment equivalent (FTSE).
The three faculty members say a shortage of communication has spurred rampant rumors, especially related to job security.
“Open discussion and planning about the future of GCC has disappeared,” the report states.
They urged an inclusive discussion among stakeholders, including students, about the coming year’s budget options, which they said would lead to community support.
The report continues to state that the college should have a fully-functioning Web site and list-serve “like all other community colleges.”
“Our current level of information technology is embarrassing,” the report says, adding that the college needs to have a wireless Internet area so students can work between classes on their laptops “like 99.9 percent of all the community colleges in the free world other than GCC Podunk U!!”
Butterfield, in her response, asked the three, “Do you find nothing positive about your work experience here?”
Kerns, in a return e-mail, wrote, Senior “Dean (Stephen) Cullen has been quick to call me to task, pointing out that if I am this unhappy, I should seek different employment. His response has definitely created a hostile environment.”
Cullen wrote back that he would “confer with the senior leadership of Gila Community College and advise you of the outcome.”
He also alerted Quinlan, who signed his e-mails as English Division Chair, that the position is housed in Thatcher, at Eastern. “Please remove it,” Cullen wrote about the title.
Read part seven of our special seven-part report on GCC: What students think about Gila Community College