Survey gives voice to affiliates' concerns

By Carly Simpson | 3/26/14 7:17pm

In discussions about nontenured faculty, the term “second-class citizen” is often brought up. Grand Valley State University is working to fight this stereotype.

“In the past, tenured faculty members have viewed affiliates as second-class citizens,” said Scott Richardson, associate vice president of human resources. “We’ve tried hard not to do that. Everyone is important to the mission of the university, which is to give students an education.”

In October 2013, Human Resources administered a survey to gauge affiliate faculty members’ feelings about how they are treated at the university and what they would like to see happen in the future.

The survey showed that 80 percent of affiliates at GVSU agreed or somewhat agreed that they were treated with respect by tenured and tenure-track faculty in their unit.

After reviewing the rest of the survey results, affiliate policies have been under review by the faculty personnel policy committee and the executive committee of the senate. The Dean’s Council is expected to discuss them, as well, but any changes would have to be made by the provost.

At GVSU there are 158 full-time affiliate faculty members and eight part-time members. The term “affiliate” is a hybrid that was created at GVSU about 15 years ago, Richardson said.

The term was created to give nontenured faculty the same benefits as regular faculty and to treat them like continuing members of the community.

“We do need affiliates to help teach classes at the university,” said Joy Washburn, a member of the ECS. “I think one thing to do is to listen to affiliates about what it is that they want because they’re the ones in the position and can give us feedback.”

At GVSU, there are few differences in benefits between affiliates and regular faculty, he added. They have the same medical and dental plans, and the costs are equal.

When they are first hired, they are given a year-long contract. Based on performance, affiliates are offered a three-year contract that is up for renewal every two years.

“This gives them a chance to say, ‘We don’t want to work here anymore,’ or the university can let them know if things aren’t working out,” Richardson said. “It gives them a year leeway to find other employment if necessary.”

One criticism from affiliates is that many do not have voting rights at department meetings where decisions are made that will affect them. About 52 percent said voting rights were desirable, and 57 percent said they do not have them. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has 99 affiliate faculty members — almost 63 percent of the total affiliates at GVSU — but only allows two responding units to vote.

Another complaint was that there is not a grievance procedure for affiliate faculty. Almost 73 percent of affiliates said they would like there to be a specific way for them to express concerns, but only 19 percent said this was available for them.

Richardson said he hopes the survey and discussions being held on campus will help lead to solutions for affiliates’ concerns.

“Affiliates are a mixture of different people with different points of view. You have the retiree from a major company versus the person who just graduated college and doesn’t have a lot of real world experience yet,” Richardson said. “They’re going to have different views on the world. It’s a less homogenous group, which is another reason to pay attention to them.”

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