By Wesley Walter, News editor
In her President’s Report Faculty Senate President, Claire Edwards discussed her correspondence with UM President Dr. John Stewart regarding potential restrictions on course curriculum focused on diversity equity and inclusion.
Edwards said that their discussions were in response to recent restrictions on DEI curriculum at schools such as New College of Florida. New College, a liberal arts school in Sarasota, Florida, recently had its Board of Trustees vote to abolish DEI programs and eliminate its Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence. This change comes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis replaced six of the school’s 13 trustees in January with the goal of pushing the school in a more conservative direction.
Edwards said that Stewart, “Feels pretty good about where we are as an institution but he just wants you to know he is still aware of the problems” and that Stewart, “wants to reiterate that he is against censorship and that if anyone feels like they are being told they can’t teach something that they want to teach, just let him know because he wants you to feel like we’re not stifling your academic freedom.”
Dr. Bart Pitchford expressed further concern over the potential impact of bills such as Florida House Bill 999 which seeks to ban state colleges and universities from using funds to promote DEI in campus programs and activities. The bill also seeks to require post-tenure review of faculty every 5 years and at any time cause is given.
Pitchford expressed concern about this clause saying, “The reasons for removing a tenured professor are loose enough that it could be read to include teaching things that go with CRT or gender identity or anything like that.”
Pitchford asked Edwards and the senate to be aware of the bill’s progress and similar bills saying, “This is stuff that other states are looking at right now too which is why think it concerns me.”
In a guest appearance, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Courtney Bentley announced that UM has completed Phase I of the Alabama Board of Nursing’s requirements to establish a nursing program.
According to the board, Phase I requires a Letter of Intent listing the university’s governing bodies, accreditations and goal of establishing a nursing program, as well as a feasibility study for the proposed program. This study includes qualifiers such as having adequate educational facilities and funding to run a nursing program, adequate support from local healthcare agencies, a timeline for planning and implementing the program, a plan for recruiting qualified faculty and the local demand for graduates.
According to Bentley, UM has already completed the Phase II requirement of bringing the program’s curriculum to the board.
After the approval of both phases, UM will also have to apply for accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education before becoming certified by the board.
Bentley said that the program should be running by the fall 2024 semester.
The senate discussed their concerns about a survey sent to juniors and seniors regarding proposed changes to spring semester senior finals. Graduating seniors’ finals must currently be submitted for grading by the Wednesday of finals week, a deadline earlier than final deadlines for non-graduating students. This is to give professors time to finalize grades before graduation since, unlike many other universities, Montevallo students receive their diploma at graduation and not afterward through the mail.
The senate expressed concerns that the survey sent to students did not sufficiently explain that the change would give students more time for finals, was not sent to SGA for approval before being dispersed and, according to Dr. Andrea Eckelman, only saw a 7% response rate.
Edwards said she discussed reformatting the survey with Bentley saying, “she is very open to surveying again and to work collaboratively with all of us on actually creating the questions.”
Bentley thanked the senate for their work analyzing College University Professional Association data to generate a list of universities similar to UM. This list will serve as the reference for adjustments to faculty salaries. Bentley said that she would get her edited version of the list to Faculty and Staff Senate soon saying the organizations, “Generated a very long and robust list and I really appreciated that.”
Edwards briefly discussed plans to develop a more cohesive work coverage policy to regulate how faculty and staff absences are covered. Edwards said work is being done on this policy in conjunction with the senate’s efforts to develop a policy for paid parental leave.
According to Edwards the policy is, “related to the paid parental leave policy so we could figure out how to actually cover whose leaving in a more equitable and fair way,” and that Personnel and Handbook Committee Chair, Dr. Ray Ozley was meeting with the Board of Trustees on March 17 to discuss the two.
Edwards made a series of other announcements including that the Graduate Council will hold their graduate honors reception on April 4, faculty service awards nominations closed on March 17 and that a faculty staff appreciation day would be held on April 19.