Thursday, 15 May 2008

Making friends and influencing people

One of my hobbies since before accepting my new job at TAMIU has been to peruse the Laredo Morning Times, so I can at least pretend to hit the ground running when I arrive in town. The occasional article provokes a bit of a double-take; this one, on the search for a new vice president for instruction and student development at Laredo Community College (the two-year institution that TAMIU was sprouted from back in the dark ages of academe) induced a bit more of a startled reaction:

After three attempts at hiring a vice president for instruction and student development, LCC has narrowed its search to one finalist: Beatriz Treviño Espinoza. The Yuma, Ariz.-based Espinoza is the former vice president of learning services at Arizona Western College and is now serving as assistant to the president for program development.

Last September, faculty at AWC gave Espinoza a vote of no confidence, just two months after she was named vice president of learning services, according to news reports from Yuma and AWC. ...

According to new reports, faculty became upset with Espinoza when she attempted to enforce a requirement that faculty work at least 30 hours a week and stop selling for personal gain textbooks mailed to them by publishers.

On a personal level, I really don’t think faculty should sell free textbooks—in my case, they usually accumulate on my bookshelf, although I’ve been known to give some of them away when moving. I wonder, however, how Espinoza thought she would be able to “enforce” this rule in practice.

I’m rather more intrigued by the idea that Espinoza would attempt to enforce a 30-hour work week for faculty. The typical teaching expectation for full-time community college instructors is around five courses per semester, or 15 hours (where an “hour” is usually 50 minutes). Presumably faculty then have office hour expectations; I’d say something like six hours per week is a reasonable standard for “posted” times for first-come, first-served meetings, maybe a little more during advising season. Assume that committee service and department meetings and miscellaneous crap (student-related extracurricular/cocurricular activities and the like) add about three hours per week, on average over the course of the semester. That would get us to around 24 hours or so of “face time”—e.g. some visible presence on campus.

Now, faculty also have to do other things—grade assignments, prepare for classes, keep up with (in the case of community college faculty) or produce (in the case of four-year college faculty) research—but these things can’t really be done during “face time” in any intensive way; I do accomplish some minor stuff during office hours, but you can’t expect to accomplish anything substantial in advance because you could have a student or six decide they are going to meet with you then. These things take several hours per week (I’d give a rough estimate that, for the average faculty member who’s teaching courses they’ve previously taught and not doing anything all that intense research-wise, we’re probably in the ballpark of ten hours or so), spread rather unevenly throughout the semester. And the ideal place to be accomplishing these things is rarely one’s own office, which is the first place that additional work seems to find faculty members.

Again this gets us back to the question of enforcement. If Espinoza wanted her faculty to teach 15 hours a week and sit in their offices with their doors open waiting for random students to decide to show up for another 15 hours with no expectation that they’ll accomplish anything worthwhile during the bulk of that time just so she can see more warm bodies on campus, and then add all the other stuff that faculty are expected to do—well, let’s just say that the no confidence motion would carry my household handily.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.
[Permalink] 1. Kalynne Pudner wrote @ Fri, 16 May 2008, 12:29 am CDT:

Two amendments I’d offer to Ms. Espinoza’s agenda:

(1) Faculty can sell unsolicited textbooks for personal gain, but not the ones they request for exam copies. Shelf space, especially for junior faculty, is worth a couple of bucks.

(2) “Virtual office hours” (being accessible to students via Instant Messaging) counts toward the 30-hour requirement.

If these are not acceptable, add my remote vote to the “No Confidence” column.


Sale of textbooks is probably legal, but may push the ethical boundaries. “But they’re unsolicited!!!!!” I hear you screaming, “I didn’t ASK for them and THEN sell them for personal gain!!!”

Whatever. If that makes you feel better. Several faculty where Chris and I got our PhD’s used to collect them and when enough built up, they would sell them and use the proceeds to buy a top shelf bottle of scotch for themselves.

Our solution has been to give them to the departmental Administrative Specialist who sells them and deposits the money into the university account we use to fund various “best paper” or “community involvement” awards that our department gives to undergrads.


I do think there’s a difference between selling the ones you get unsolicited and ones you request as desk/exam copies. Since I’d never be organized enough to track which are which, though, I just stick to a policy of not selling any of them. I don’t even think I sold back many of the books I bought in school.

The “virtual office hours” idea is a good one, and one I’ve not really implemented yet but plan to add in the fall. We’ll see how that goes; I’d really like to just use Google Talk so I can save the PITA of setting up another IM account, since I have a “faculty” Gmail address I use, but I get the feeling I’ll have to use AIM or Yahoo or MSN instead.

[Permalink] 4. Luther van Dross wrote @ Fri, 16 May 2008, 9:27 am CDT:

I have heard rumors from colleagues who taught elsewhere in Texas that there is a state requirement that professors at public universities have to be in the office X hours per week on the books. That is the scary thing to me – that such a law exists at all…


TAMU System policy sets a minimum of 3 hours/week, I believe.

Another Texas school I interviewed at required 10 hours/week although new faculty could weasel out of some of it for a required orientation their first year. That was not one of the highlights of the position… not that there were many (although some people might have seen two-preps/semester a “highlight,” I didn’t really see that as a fun way to potentially spend the next 30 years of my life).

[Permalink] 6. MisterK wrote @ Fri, 16 May 2008, 3:37 pm CDT:

So it would be more ethical to dispose of these textbooks in a wastebasket and let them make their way to a landfill, where they’ll sit for how many years, bleeding ink and other chemicals into the environment? Do you have any idea how many books profs who’ve been at a university for longer than one year receive unsolicited? Maybe it just depends on the university, I can’t say, but I’m a state university and within a year of being here the number of unsolicited books I received was ludicrously large. I used the money to pay bills.


Once a book is yours, it’s your property and I think legally you can do whatever you want with it; the only legal area that seems dicey is if you’re requesting free books with the intent of reselling them, and even then I think a court (a) would never bother with the case and (b) would probably buy the argument that if a publisher is dumb enough to send you something for free, that can’t expect to retain any real rights over what you do with it afterward. If paying your bills with textbook money doesn’t keep you up at night, by all means feel free to do so.

That said I know there are other worthy places excess textbooks can go; I’ve seen occasional drives to send them to developing countries. I’ve given away some (usually older editions or duplicates) to students in my classes and maybe a work-study or two in my department. When I’ve moved on from departments, I’ve left books behind for the department collection or freebie stack or whatever. A campus library might take some of them. I wouldn’t throw them away, but I’m not sure I’d use them to supplement my personal income or pay off my student loan debt either.

[Permalink] 8. MisterK wrote @ Fri, 16 May 2008, 10:36 pm CDT:

If a book has “Sample Copy Only: No Resale,” which is just something the publishers put on there and not legally binding, a library is not going to want it. And what developing country is going to want a book on US media politics that will be outdated within two years’ time? Or an American public policy models book, etc.? Wouldn’t the textbook company that puts out the sample company argue that you’re taking away monies from authors that could be earned from sales in said developing countries? (The copyright argument is the only reason publishers argue that there’s an ethical problem here, so… I said it’s still all right to sell textbooks to developing countries if you can sleep at night with that.)

[Permalink] 9. MisterK wrote @ Fri, 16 May 2008, 10:45 pm CDT:

Or, I “say” it’s still OK. In any case, look up why the textbook companies say it’s unethical—it’s primarily the copyright issue that bothers them. I don’t have much sympathy with them, given the crazy amount of free books they give away. Their marketing budgets must be off the charts.

[Permalink] 10. Truth Told wrote @ Tue, 20 May 2008, 8:33 am CDT:

I was one of those unfortunates at AWC under the reign of Bea Espinoza. The vote of no confidence wasn’t about textbooks or 30 hour weeks. It was about the persecution of faculty and administrators who reported to her. Discussion and disagreement were not allowed. Suggestions and ideas were supported only if they fell into line with her plans. She headed a reorg. of the learning services portion of AWC. All her “yes men” got promotions—some doubling their salary. These people were not qualified for the positions. She handled negative comments and questioning with letters to personnel files and charges of insubordination. The college lost a lot of good faculty because they didn’t want to live under gestapo rule. All trust was eroded. I am doubtful the college will ever heal.

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