A two-vote margin in a vote taken by Fort Lewis College faculty about whether to sign nondisclosure agreements illustrates the difficult choice facing faculty members: A greater ability to weigh-in about layoffs and budget cuts at the expense of not being able to openly communicate on matters of importance to their colleagues and the wider community.
FLC faculty members will form committees to offer guidance about budget cuts and layoffs after the Faculty Senate voted 9-7 on Thursday to agree to a requirement set by the administration that participants on those committees sign nondisclosure agreements. The agreements prevent committee representatives from discussing their proceedings.
Signing nondisclosure agreements is contrary to recommendations from the American Association of University Professors, which recommends against confidentiality for faculty representative committees assisting with budgetary planning issues.
Michael Valdez, the faculty representative on the school’s Board of Trustees, told members at the Faculty Senate meeting he would follow their directive whether to sign the nondisclosure agreement.
“If you vote to sign it, I will sign it even if I have concerns about it. If you vote not to sign it, I will not sign it. I am purely your representative,” he said.
Valdez, an associate professor of management, said he previously discussed his concerns with the to the Board of Trustees that the nondisclosure agreement would inhibit the ability of faculty members on the committees to represent their colleagues during a special teleconference meeting of the Board of Trustees held Monday.
He described the response to his concerns from the board as “crickets.”
Andrew Gulliford, professor of history and environmental studies, voted against allowing faculty members assigned to committees to sign nondisclosure agreements.
He called nondisclosure agreements “the opposite of the values we represent” as part of the mission of open discourse at a liberal arts college.
Later Thursday, Gulliford said the nondisclosure agreements, beyond hindering open discussions among the faculty, would hinder open discussion with the broader community in Durango and La Plata County about FLC’s budget.
“This community is an important part of this institution, and we should have an open dialogue,” he said.
David Blake, professor of biology and president of the FLC Faculty Senate, said Friday he couldn’t comment on FLC’s budgetary situation because he had, on Friday, just signed a nondisclosure agreement.
He referred all inquiries on FLC’s budget to FLC Provost Barbara Morris until the budgetary planning process for 2018-19 is complete.
Valdez noted the college is relying on a recommendation from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to require faculty members on the committee to sign a nondisclosure agreement. And he noted the Attorney General’s recommendation contradicts the AAUP’s position recommending against confidentiality in faculty participation during budgetary planning procedures.
On Friday, Annie Skinner, director of communications and the public information officer with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, declined to comment on the recommendation from her office to FLC to require nondisclosure agreements.
Also, as of 7:25 p.m. Friday, Skinner had failed to produce for The Durango Herald a copy of the recommendation from the Attorney General’s Office to FLC recommending the requirement that faculty sign nondisclosure agreements before forming their committees to weigh in on budget cuts and layoffs.
In an email, Morris said faculty members have other formal and informal ways to participate in budgetary decisions, including a Faculty Senate request of trustees to conduct program reviews and consulting President Dene Thomas. In addition, she said two faculty members are on the President’s Budget Committee, and Valdez represents the faculty on the Board of Trustees.
Faculty members can also speak during public comment portions of the Board of Trustee meetings. She said the faculty committee that offers advice on budgetary cuts held its first meeting Friday.
An AAUP paper issued in June 2013 regarding budget discussions states, “Imposing a blanket requirement of confidentiality on committees that advise the administration on budgetary matters is inconsistent with this basic AAUP-recommended governance standard.”
Several years of declining enrollment have lead to a budgetary pinch at FLC, and an examination of possible layoffs for the 2018-19 academic year is part of the process of exploratory planning to deal with an anticipated budget shortfall before Thomas, who will retire at the end of the academic year, makes the final decision on how to handle any budgetary shortfall.
The faculty committees on the budget and potential layoffs are part of a broader budgetary study underway examining a need to cut the budget by $4.5 million, or about 8 percent of the college’s general fund. The $4.5 million figure was established by FLC administrators as the best assessment of the scope of a budgetary shortfall for the 2018-19 academic year.
Mitch Davis, spokesman for FLC, said the budget for 2018-19 has not been set, and the plans to deal with a budget shortfall are only sound planning and preparation should the need to make cuts materialize.
Enrollment for the fall semester came in at 3,356 – 239 students shy of the previous year. Fall enrollment the previous year was 3,595, which at that time was the lowest enrollment in more than a decade. During the recession in 2009, fall enrollment was 3,685.
On the table already at FLC is a voluntary separation package, which was issued in the spring of 2017.
Three separate plans are offered, one to faculty and two separate plans to staff members based on their classification in the state personnel system.
For faculty members, the college will pay 25 percent of base pay for those with six to nine years of service, 50 percent of annual pay for those with 10 to 14 years of service, and 100 percent of annual pay for those with 15 or more years of service.
“We want to make decisions early to maintain our strategic and financial flexibility,” Thomas said during her 2018 State of the College address on Tuesday. “This will allow us to prioritize. If we need only 4 percent, we can prioritize.”
The main focus, Thomas said, is to determine how best “to protect the academic mission of the college.”