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Rodriguez Responds to Faculty Concerns in First Address

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University at Albany President Havidan Rodriguez delivered his first faculty address last Wednesday, detailing membership of the Strategic Planning Committee and answering questions about textbook prices and contingent faculty, among other concerns.

“Originally, the steering committee had about sixteen members,” said Rodriguez about the strategic planning committee. “As of today, we have 98 members.”

UAlbany has had strategic planning committees in the past, including one with 55 members formalized by George Philip in 2011.

According to UAlbany’s website, the planning committee will review documents, provide input to planning events, and ensure strategic goals line up with university campaigns and initiatives.

Rodriguez emphasized the varied composition of the committee, which includes 29 faculty members, 29 professional staff, 18 senior staff, and 11 undergraduate and graduate students.

Citing statistics that 16 percent of the committee are students and 60 percent are members of UUP, Rodriguez said the makeup of the committee should make everyone feel represented.

In the town hall following the address, Bret Benjamin, former president of UUP at UAlbany, asked Rodriguez for his perspective on the increasing trend of hiring ‘contingent faculty’ to teach a small number of courses on a temporary contract.

“The University at Albany has begun to take steps that have put it in the lead among SUNY institutions,” said Benjamin. “But there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, especially on job security, on pathways to permanency, on finding a way of shifting composition of instructional faculty away from heavy dependence on contingent faculty and towards more permanent, full-time tenure-line positions.”

A 2015 university report which Benjamin referenced found that contingent faculty taught 56% of all lecture and seminar courses in the preceding semester, and that the minimum per-course salary of $2,800 had not been increased in over ten years. The report recommended raising the course rate to $5,000 and working to ensure employee benefits for non-tenure-track faculty.

James Stellar, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, responded to the question, claiming that administration had raised the average compensation per course somewhere between $800 and $1000 since the release of the report.

“It took us decades to get into this problem,” he said. “It’s gonna take us a long time to get out of it.”

Maritza Martinez, director of the Educational Opportunities Program, asked President Rodriguez what he would do about the rising costs of attendance, especially concerning textbook prices.

“For many of them, that’s going to be a real factor in their family dining tables — whether they send them back here to be educated or whether they transfer to a more affordable college back home,” she said.

Rodriguez asked faculty to be “mindful” of the situation of high book costs, and that he didn’t yet know whether new fees would be added for students to pay out-of-pocket. He pointed to creation of student scholarships as one of the reasons for current efforts to raise funds from alumni and donors.

 

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Joe Hoffman is the managing editor for the Albany Student Press.

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