Article

What is Going On at Delta College?

THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Posted In:Politics, State, Local, Finance, Taxes, Opinion | From Issue 846 | By: | 22nd June, 2017 | 0


There is no better example of the disconnect between so-called governing bodies and the public taxpayer who’s interests they are charged with protecting through prudent oversight than the recent actions by the Delta College Board of Trustees that granted college president Jean Goodnow a 2.5% salary increase, bringing her annual base compensation to a staggering $196,434, in addition to raising her automobile allowance from $9,000 to $10,000, while increasing her employer-sponsored 403 contribution up to $24,000 per year.

In the same week, the Board also unanimously approved a $101.4 million budget with expenses projected at $110.8 million, a 3.2% increase over the previous year, which will necessitate them to take $9.3 million from their ‘rainy day’ fund while simultaneously raising the cost of tuition at Delta College to more than $100 per credit hour for the first time in the college’s 56-year history.

Since Goodnow assumed her position at Delta back in 2005 the Board of Trustees have consistently granted her generous pay increases during a period when enrollment figures have consistently decreased over the past 7 years, with a 7,300 decrease in credit hours in the past year alone.

According to documents received by The Review through a Freedom of Information Act request back in April of 2014, here is a breakdown of what Delta College President Jean Goodnow receives in terms of annual compensation inclusive of her current increase:

Base Salary •  $196,434.00*

Community Support Allowance •  $10,000.00

Supplemental Life Insurance •  $2,520.00

Car Allowance •  $10,000.00

Farmhouse Valuation 2013 – fair rental value, utilities and cleaning • $25,243.58

Farmhouse Taxes 2013 – employee share paid by the College •  $11,637.34

Farmhouse Taxes 2013 – employer share (MEDI) • $534.77

Employer Paid Annuity •  $24,000

Long-term Disability Insurance •  $5,305.96

*Taxable and included on W-2

Additional benefits that she receives, which are offered to all employees consists of:

MPSERS – state mandated retirement contribution • $49,474.57

FICA – employer share • $7.049.40

MEDI – employer share •  $2,896.81

Health Insurance •  $4,114.48

Dental Insurance •  $291.96          

Life Insurance •  $89.40

Total Annual Compensation: $337,954.93

The only person to challenge these recurring package increases was former Delta College Board of Trustee member Kim Higgs back in 2009, who wrote in a guest editorial to The Review: 

“In the past 25-years college tuition and fees increased 439 percent while median family income rose 147%.  Moreover, Michigan has suffered a negative 11.4 percent decrease in average household income over the past nine years, yet the Delta College President has received an 11 percent increase, with a compensation package that almost doubles that of the average salary of all State Governors in the United States and a base salary higher than that of U.S. Senators, Congressmen, Supreme Court Justices, and all the members of the President’s  Cabinet.” Moreover, according to a 2012 study by the American Association of Community Colleges, the mean base salary of the head of most community colleges was nearly $174,000 that year.

The Presidential Report Card • Faculty Grievances and Deteriorating Morale

Goodnow’s salary increase happened to coincide with the issue of a faculty grievance that the Board of Trustees debated about hearing during a closed-door session. While the college’s Senate Grievance Board decided the issue in Goodnow’s favor, much of the entire grievance process is shrouded in secrecy, due to the college’s privacy policy.

One former faculty member that spoke to The Review and requested anonymity said that at no time in the college’s history has faculty morale been at a lower point. “Many instructors don’t even bother with grievances anymore, because the Grievance Board routinely rules in the College’s favor.”

Two years ago, however, the English faculty at Delta set four hours as the amount of time instructors would spend each week with students in the college’s introductory writing course, assuming that would manifest as a permanent change. But Goodnow had something else in mind, which created a battleground over the issue of who has the final say over curriculum changes when the professors claimed Goodnow overstepped her role in violation of the college’s Senate policies.

An article published by Inside Higher Ed and written by Jacqueline Thomsen, she chronicles how in 2010, Delta’s Curriculum Council signed off on a series of changes to the college’s English curriculum, including adding an hour to the required composition course, English 111. Faculty used the new hour, which was designated as a contact or workshop hour -- not a credit hour -- to expand the topics covered in the course to include source and research-based writing and to spend more time individually working with students on writing.

Had the faculty increased the credits for the course, there would have been financial implications for the change, because instructors are paid per credit. But costs are minor since the additional hour didn't change the base pay for professors. But in 2014, the administration decided to remove the additional hour from the English course, saying there hadn’t been demonstrated improved success for the students over the past three years. Faculty protested and a grievance was filed against Goodnow and the dean of teaching and learning.

The grievance committee found that because there were no criteria to determine the success of the extra hour, it couldn’t be removed at the time. In December of 2014, the Curriculum Council approved the hour staying on as part of the course.

Drew Colenbrander, an associate professor of English, said the additional hour made a huge difference for students in the course, who were afforded things they had been requesting in course evaluations for years, including an increased focus on topics like grammar and more time spent actually writing in the classroom. He said that if the hour were to be removed, both students and faculty would be shortchanged in terms of how much information would be covered in the course. And after a change in requirements, students need only one English course to apply to four-year colleges, so this class might be the only chance students at Delta get to learn critical reading and writing skills.

After hearing of the council’s decision to keep the hour, Goodnow sent a memo in January 2015 to the English division, offering a compromise: only students whose skill level required would receive the extra hour. Otherwise, it would be removed. The faculty filed another grievance, but the Board of Trustees released a ruling in favor of Goodnow, a move that faculty claimed sets a dangerous precedent for how involved the president can be in matters she traditionally doesn’t address.

Colenbrander said this is the first time he had ever seen a president get involved with details like how many hours a week faculty members should spend with students in a given course. “I think we’ve seen a tendency of this president toward taking more personal control over more areas of the college, definitely more than with the previous two presidents,” he said.

The chair of the Board of Trustees reviewed the second decision of the grievance committee and agreed with its decision that the authority to make the final decision on the curriculum rests with the president and the Board of Trustees. The college’s policies on faculty state that curricular decisions are typically left to the professors, but “on these matters the power of review and final decision is lodged with the Board of Trustees or delegated to it by the president.”

Faculty appealed this decision by filing a complaint with the Higher Learning Commission, the college's accreditor, saying that Delta is in violation of policies seen as the commission's core components for accredited institutions.

And in an entirely different arena, the same week Goodnow received her pay increase, two female students who alleged a Delta College professor sexually harassed them dropped their lawsuit against the institution in exchange for a six-figure sum. The settlement agreement, obtained by The Bay City Times – Mlive via a Freedom of Information Act request, stated the two women would receive $195,000 between them in exchange for releasing the college and the defendant teacher from all claims made against them.

In theory, the state & community college system is one of the most egalitarian and progressive-minded institutions in America. Its goal is to make sure that kids who cannot afford to enroll in expensive private universities and colleges are nevertheless able to get a great education and improve their chances of climbing the economic ladder and making real the implicit American promise of social mobility. 

And while the focus in recent years has been upon the student loan crisis, with Congress attempting to lower interest rates for students crippled by debt the minute they receive their diplomas, colleges are also shelling out record amounts to their presidents, whose median compensation at public research universities went up 4.7 percent last year to $441,392.  

According to the biennial report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent.  Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

For Goodnow’s salary to be escalating at a time when institutions such as Delta are raising tuitions undercuts the credibility of the institutions and damages the relationship between them and the public they are meant to serve. Part of the problem is that when college boards establish compensation packages for their presidents, the only wage comparisons they make are with other college presidents.  No attempts are made to compare college presidents’ salaries with other governmental officials.

Consequently, while the Michigan Supreme Court voluntarily gave up their state supplied vehicles back in 2009, in that same year Delta raised its car allowance for the President to $9,000 per year, which they again increased this year.   Additionally, while most Great Lakes Bay area employees have had their benefits significantly reduced, Delta College increased the President’s health insurance & disability benefits along with their contribution to her annuity plan.

Perhaps  governing boards too often believe their institutions are like a business, in which the CEO, supported by a few carefully selected directors, can call the shots. But that is not generally the case in the academic world, where the stakeholders are the citizens and taxpayers that help fund the university or college.  In our opinion, escalating presidential compensation is divisive and ultimately works against the notion of shared governance, which is central to most of our institutions.

Forty years ago, America’s colleges employed more professors than administrators, with the efforts of 446,830 professors supported by 268,952 administrators and staffers. Over the past four decades, the number of full-time professors or “full-time equivalents”—that is, slots filled by two or more part-time faculty members whose combined hours equal those of a full-timer—increased slightly more than 50 percent. But the number of administrators and administrative staffers employed by those schools increased by an astonishing 85 percent and 240 percent respectively.

Colleges and universities have been operating in a vacuum without any regard to what is happening in the general economy. College boards have been treating college presidents more like corporate CEO than public servants.  And based upon the current economic realities of our day and the continued higher cost of education, attempting to preserve the status quo is not a viable option.

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