Faculty feathers, ruffled

Now is the spring semester of our discontent. Because the educators plowing fertile minds at Northwest Vista College, at Our Lady of the Lake University, and at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science are not merry.

In the case of the institution within the five-college Alamo Community Colleges district, a grant for a pilot algebra program with an online element has set the grim-visaged faculty against their chancellor.

“We’re widening the gap, not bridging it!” someone blurted out in the Northwest Vista student lounge last Friday, billed as a chance for ACCD Chancellor Bruce Leslie to dialogue with NVC faculty about redesigning curriculum using tech-enhanced teaching methods developed by the National Center for Academic Transformation.

NCAT, a New York-based nonprofit, says it designs efficent, profitable models for various higher-ed disciplines, and has gushing testimony from the likes of University of Alabama’s math department et. al. (Less instruction in favor of software programs and computer labs is a space-saver! Less full-time instructors in favor of adjuncts, graduate students, and undergrads capable of running said labs is a money-saver, they say.)

A hundred or so faculty turned out to express their displeasure with the NCAT proposal and the lack of details surrounding its implementation (no administrator present had read the grant or could provide details on requirements).

“This is kinda coming from above and we can’t get any clear information,” one attendee said. “And the fact that we have no input … we don’t like it.”

The meeting soon took on the feeling of a hostile seminar, with Leslie as the facilitator under attack.

“We the faculty agree after much research we don’t want to get near this thing,” said Anna Harwin, the head of NVC’s math department.

“Having a computer and hi-speed internet at home `is` an essential part of NCAT,” one instructor said, and with San Antonio’s digital divide, students without computer access would suffer. “Sixty percent of our population will be left out of the picture.”

“It’s a minimum-wage city!” another shouted.

“You’re right. The technology gap is important,” said Leslie. “I’ll give you an almost bigger issue: the dropouts. So when they come to us, they’re under-prepared … and higher levels of accountability are expected from us.

“We can’t fight the fact that people are developing algorithms that do our jobs.”

It should be noted that our community colleges currently use computerized teaching.

In 1996, SAC offered the first e-learning college course in San Antonio taught only over the internet (though they have opted out of participating in the NCAT pilot algebra program: they must finish another math-related program initiative, the chancellor said. An NCAT history program at SAC is in the works.).

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently knighted ACCD number one in the state in the number of semester hours being taught over the internet. And according to an ACCD press release, 9,735 students are enrolled in e-classes this spring. “A total of 918 internet courses are offered at all five ACC`D` colleges, with 359 faculty members teaching online courses. A total of 800 faculty members use some elements of online courses along with traditional classroom teaching.”

So why all the faculty fuss about NCAT?

“What I believe is the primary concern,” says Jackie Claunch, president of Northwest Vista College, `is they` “have done a lot of work on this `student-centered` curriculum and their fear is someone’s going to come in and say you have to do everything this way; that someone’s going to mandate you have a huge room of computers.” Call it a resistance to the kind of creeping standardization overtaking elementary and secondary schools, she said.

“We didn’t mean any disrespect,” Maria Landa, head of NVC’s history department, told the chancellor after the meeting. “But when it comes to our students we’re going to come out swinging.”

To which Leslie replied: “Well, rather than come out swinging let’s come out talking.”


• • • • • • • •


In OLLU’s case, the faculty have treated their president like a trespasser: Last month the profs gave a vote of no-confidence to President Tessa Martinez Pollack.

Faculty say Pollack’s five-year tenure has led to “years of sliding enrollment, budget woes, and low morale at the private Catholic university on San Antonio’s West Side,” reports the Express-News’ Melissa Ludwig.

The Board of Trustees still have Pollack’s back (so Pollack still has a job). But students have staged protests against her leadership on a recent 4 percent tuition-fee increase. A freshman at the Lake wrote in to the E-N’s Talk Balk section to complain that enrollment had slipped to less than 2,600 this spring because current students have spread the unhappy word to high schoolers. Someone else submitted this limerick:


“There once was a prez named Tessa,

Who came and made quite a messa.

The University’s old,

She’s rather quite cold,

We’d be better off without her, more or



• • • • • • • •


At UTSA’s multi-disciplinary earth-science department, geologists, environmental scientists, and their dean are rumored to be such fearful adversaries that the entire department is now being dissolved just to quiet the barking dogs.

UTSA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Rosalie Ambrosino approved the sudden department change and it was announced at last week’s faculty senate meeting (there were no police, no threats of violence as a gossipy email broadcast to faculty suggested). Students will still be able to get bachelor’s through doctoral degrees for caring about earth matters (Planet Pals rejoice!).

“The program is still there,” said UTSA faculty chairman Mansour El-Kikhia, who’s part of the political-science department. “Everything for `earth science` students will stay the same. We will continue the program of education … but it’s not an easy issue when you dissolve a department.”

No one will lose their jobs: Faculty will just be distributed to new departments, El-Kikhia said.

“But the department as it existed can no longer coexist.”


• • • • • • • •


O’ academia’s plots are as twisted as a Shakespearean drama. 


• Our Lady of the Lake University
411 SW 24th St., 78207
Student Body Size: 2,594
Faculty Size: approx. 120

Random Factoid: Based on 2006 data, the Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine said OLLU awards more master’s degrees to Hispanics than any private university in Texas. Tuition, room, and board costs around $24,000 a year.

• University of Texas at San Antonio
6900 N. Loop 1604 W., 78249
501 W. Durango Blvd., 78207 (Downtown Campus)
Overall Student Body Size: 26,315
Overall Faculty Size: 556 tenured 

Department of Earth and Environmental Science:
Faculty Size: 15 

Random Factoid: The majority of UTSA’s students are business majors (5,733). The entire student body (including 1,787 undeclareds) have signed up for some 288,567 hours of coursework this semester.

• Alamo Community Colleges (aka Alamo Community College District)

Overall Student Body Size: 53,133 for credit:
approx. 22,000 for continuing education/workforce training

St. Philip’s College
1801 Martin Luther King Dr., 78203
Student Body Size: 11,092
Faculty Size: 640 

Random Factoid: The oldest of the five Alamo Community Colleges, St. Philip’s was originally a women’s sewing school for emancipated slaves. The college also offers complete online associate degrees.

San Antonio College
1300 San Pedro, 78212
Student Body Size: 23,533
Faculty Size: aprox. 1,028

Random Factoid: SAC had the nation’s sixth-largest degree-granting online program last year, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Palo Alto College
1400 W. Villaret Blvd., 78224
Student Body Size: 7,822
Faculty Size: 600

Random Factoid: Palo Alto embraced e-learning courses in 1998 and, along with San Antonio College, has offered a complete associate degree online since 2002.

Northwest Vista College
3535 N. Ellison Dr., 78251
Student Body Size: 10,686
Faculty Size: aprox. 600 

Random Factoid: In 1994 World Savings and Loan Association donated the 112 acres that would become Northwest Vista. Bluebonnet sightings are common on this wild campus.

Northeast Lakeview College
8300 Pat Booker Road, Live Oak 78233
Student Body Size: 3,029
Faculty Size: 26 (10 of which are Ph.D.s) 

Random Factoid: Northeast Lakeview will move to Kitty Hawk Road and Loop 1604 in fall 2008, in the badlands of northeast Bexar County, when the campus is completed (using construction funds from a 2005 $450-million bond).


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