Professor fired due to dissolution of e-commerce program.
A hearing was scheduled Dec. 3 concerning the job status of tenured professor, Dara Hays. Due to low enrollment and graduation rates, the e-commerce program, instated in 2001, was recently dissolved. The dissolution of the program came from a long process of extensions from the Board of Regents in an attempt to promote the courses. The program never met the quota needed to keep the program going, and it was the decision of the board to dissolve the program after the fall 2009 extension deadline failed to yield higher enrollment rates.
The issue for keeping programs available to students is often a matter of sustainability. In order for programs to be considered sustainable, they must meet a minimum enrollment and program graduates. The e-commerce program was set to attain seven graduates and 20 majors. The program in question never met the required minimum numbers to keep it going. Despite the low numbers, the Board of Regents granted extensions that allowed the program to continue through fall 2009 if the numbers were met. By the fall of 2009, the program had one graduate and 13 majors, still not meeting minimum requirements.
With the dissolution of the program, Hays tenured position no longer existed. According to testimony provided Dr. Frances Hendrix, vice president of academic affairs, tenure is tied to the position rather than the professor. “Since positions are tied to a program, I have a faculty position without a program. I have a faculty member without a program,” said Hendrix.
The testimony provided by the college explained that remaining in good standing with requirements handed down by the department of education is essential to the college’s accreditation. The college must ensure that programs meet certain requirements to remain in good standing. Hendrix elaborated, “Any higher education institution across the United States is measured by the number of enrollments and graduates. The department of education is tightening more…we have to show the need. When we can’t meet those numbers then we can’t continue to hold a program. The student need is what creates a program.”
In addition to adhering to guidelines and regulations to keep the college’s accreditation, Hendrix cited impending budget cuts as a reason to “spend wisely.” According to Hendrix, academic affairs dealt with major budget cuts, losing over a quarter of a million dollars the previous year. Hendrix said the budget for next year would face additional cuts.
“Next year, the stimulus money goes away. What we are hearing from the state regents is that will mean about a million and a half (dollars) to the college. We also are expecting a three percent decrease that will bring that to about two million dollars. We have to spend our money wisely. We have to make wise decisions,” Hendrix said.
In an opening statement by Hays’ lawyer, Rand Eddy, it was explained that Hays accepted the loss of the e-commerce program. In the statement, Eddy said, “We don’t have a [problem] with the fact that the program is gone. The issue that we have is that Professor Hays being tenured…implies an element of seniority within the division. It is our position that she should be allowed to be absorbed into some of these other programs that she’s been teaching.” Eddy stated Hays previously taught courses in not only the e-commerce program, but also multimedia and business.
In response to Eddy’s statement, Hendrix testified that because of Hays’ master’s degree, she could not teach courses in any of the other open positions available on campus. The Higher Learning Commission requires that a professor must have a minimum of 18 post-graduate credit hours in the specialized field in order to teach a course, or in the case of technical courses, experience to supplement education. During a 2008 comprehensive visit by the Higher Learning Commission, the administration needed to be “a little bit more careful about a master’s degree plus 18 hours.” Hendrix went through Hays’ college transcripts to explain why her degree did not match up with the Higher Learning Commission’s guidelines. Through Hendrix’s interpretation of the transcript, Hays’ master’s program, which focuses on instructional psychology and technology, does not have the 18 post-graduate hours the campus would like for professors to have in order to teach courses at the two-year level.
While Hays’ credentials were a source of debate, her job performance was not. “Professor Hays has been an exemplary professor. She’s given her heart and soul to the college,” Eddy said. Hendrix attested to the fact that the trial was not due to poor job performance on behalf of Hays. Hendrix said, “Through [campus] evaluations, I have not been made aware of any problems with the teaching. Generally, if there aren’t any problems with the teaching then I don’t hear about it.”
After Hays presented her testimony, the hearing was set to reconvene on Dec. 9; a decision, Hays said, “seemed questionable.” “The college presented their testimony…[and] did not let the hearing be completed on Dec. 3, 2010 and gave no regard for this. After my testimony, the College asked for the hearing to be extended for their rebuttal. Six days later, the hearing was reconvened. I think this was unfortunate and put the committee on the campus with the administrators during this time,” Hays said.
During the hearing Hays had the support of her family. Hays husband, Jamie Hays, said of the hearing, “I just can’t believe they are doing this to her. She’s never had a bad report. How can you justify this?” J. Hays said his wife was a “dedicated, respectable, committed,” professor that “loved” her students. Deborah Eckroat, multimedia major, said Hays was an “amazing professor,” and that she nominated her for an excellence award for the spring 2010 semester.
The closing arguments made by Hays’ lawyer suggest a lack of clear reasoning behind Hays termination. “If they can make a case for bona fide lack of need for this professor, they can make one for any professor in this college if they want to. This case is about a conclusion and a determination that was made that is still searching for a reason and a justification and it has not been disclosed in this room,” Eddy said.
For Hays, the main concern is for the students caught in the middle. In a statement, Hays said, “My concern has always been for the students,” adding that her favorite part of the institution was, “always the students.”
Student Kelly Regouby, multimedia communications major, came to the hearing in support of his former teacher. After the hearing Regouby said, “Professor Hays is an amazing teacher. I have had the pleasure of being in several of her classes and the stuff I’ve learned from her vast array of knowledge has been most beneficial.”
In addition to providing his classroom experience, Regougby expressed concerns over his ability to finish his degree. Regouby said, “They’ve taken all of the classes I need to complete my degree off the [fall] schedule. The one class that is offered on the spring 2011 schedule is a daytime class and I’m a nighttime student. I’m either going to have to go to a different college or change my degree.”
The committee reached a majority decision to uphold the decision of the regents to dismiss Hays from her teaching position at RSC. Following the decision, Hays said the committee’s decision “was wrong,” questioning the way in which the college decided to get rid of her teaching position.
Later, Hays stated, “I was hired by Rose State College [and] I was a loyal, good professor, dedicated to my students. The college in one moment took my career, dreams, future, and retirement without any regard for the dedication and service I gave to them. I think it is unfortunate that this could happen, and did happen.”