February 9, 2021

Dear Faculty Colleague:

When I first arrived at William Paterson, one of my goals was to strengthen the role of the Faculty Senate in its shared governance capacity. I sought out issues that we could work on together in the best interest of the institution, faculty, and our students. Some of those early successes included: retention, promotion and tenure guidelines; retention strategies for 1000 level courses; and academic reorganization. I have been grateful for Faculty Senate partnership. 
Recently, in the midst of a pandemic that has produced a budget crisis unlike any the University has ever seen, we implemented decisions that should have been brought before Faculty Senate for review, input, and recommendation. In our haste to solve fiscal woes of such magnitude, and in order to save jobs, we bypassed best practices that embody shared governance. For that, I apologize. I assure you that we will do better in the future.
As you know, we recently announced the joining of the College of the Arts and Communication and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences into a yet-to-be-named single college. While I believe we were correct to begin that conversation with the impacted faculty in those respective colleges, we should have brought it before the Senate for consultation, before implementation. Our main concern was allowing faculty in these colleges to have time to discuss the changes before the Spring semester ends. While the decision will not be reversed, I hope the Faculty Senate will take up the topic and offer some recommendations on issues they believe the Administration and the newly-joined College should consider as we move forward. 
The Deans and the Provost are currently working with department chairs on reducing the number of course sections and increasing enrollments per section, which will bring the faculty-student ratio into better alignment with our peers for the Fall 2021 semester. Some might view this as a change, but it really brings us back into alignment, where the University was in 2010. The student-faculty ratio at that time was 16.30, compared to the current 13.34, which is the lowest in the State. This underscores the fact that, while our student population has been shrinking, our faculty has not, including adjuncts. The Provost has presented this data to the Faculty Senate. We simply must do better here.
Estimated cost savings will be about $3 million a year, which will reduce the need for additional full-time faculty layoffs. I have heard the argument that smaller classes equal better retention, but our data do not align with that theory. In 2010, when our student-faculty ratio was higher, so, too, was our retention rate - 75.9%, compared with the current rate of 73%. Increases, however, cannot occur across the board, due to room size and discipline-specific constraints. Where there are gains to be made in productivity, we must capitalize on them. Once the plan is completed by departments and then put forward by the Deans to the Provost, we will share it with Faculty Senate for comment and recommendations. Due to processing deadlines necessary for the schedule to go live for students to register, the recommended plans will be built into the Fall 2021 semester schedule. We will adjust, if needed, based on input from Faculty Senate. It is easier to add sections than it is to cancel them once students have registered and adjuncts plan on their teaching load. 
Beginning with the Fall 2021 semester, students with 0-60 credits will be advised by professional advisors, with the exception of those departments that have traditionally advised native freshmen. It was my impression that, during the summer, when we changed the job description for professional advisors to reflect advising up to 60 credits, we informed the AFT of our intent to make this change. Apparently, it was not clear, and I apologize if it seemed a surprise and gave the appearance of a lack of shared governance. The Faculty Senate Executive Committee also expressed its surprise that this was not brought to Senate. Advising is expressly articulated as a job function of faculty in the CBA and, therefore, the proper route was through the AFT. I recognize that there is an academic component to this, and the Senate has a committee on Advising. However, the impact was on compensation, and therefore the correct route was through the AFT.  
We are not changing the functions of advising, which would be in the Senate.  I know that AFT President Tardi and I do not agree on this matter, but I remain firm that issues of the contract do not belong in the Senate, and issues outside of the contract do not belong in the Union. Over 75% of our students have three advisors during their time here and 40% have four or more. This is just not good for students and our NSSE data on advising tell us so. Moreover, faculty are not here between semester breaks and the summer, nor are they required to be, when many students attempt to solve their problems. A student who is having difficulties (academic or financial) and comes to campus during these stressful times is only likely to become more frustrated when they cannot meet with advisors. Professional advisors will provide that critical access in the early part of a student’s academic journey.
All of this is to say that we will be more thoughtful and intentional about engaging in these discussions going forward. The Faculty Senate Executive Committee also expressed its concern about the pace of change. Yes, this is a budget crisis, and we must move quickly to balance the budget as best we can in this next fiscal year. We will not gain the financial relief of the layoffs until January 2022 and therefore must be prudent in our decisions. The budget must be approved by the Board of Trustees at its June meeting. So, while I remain committed to shared governance, we do not have months to debate critical issues. However, that does not excuse bypassing governing bodies, and for that, again, I am sorry. 
I look forward to continuing our difficult yet essential work to reset William Paterson for growth in the coming months. 
Richard J. Helldobler, PhD