By: Wesley Walter
Montevallo’s faculty members discussed adjustments to faculty salaries at the Oct. 8 Faculty Senate meeting. University president Dr. John Stewart III’s current goal is to get faculty salaries to 95% of the most recent College and University Professional Organization averages for faculty salaries.
Stewart expressed optimism about the salary adjustments, saying, “This is a conversation we can and should have this fall because we’ve had a good year. State funding is up, enrollment is up a little bit, graduate enrollment is up, so unless there is a terrible strain of the virus and we have to send kids home and refund their money, this is the year we can really do this.”
As well as salary changes, senate members are also attempting to secure greater compensation for independent studies.
The Senate went on to discuss plans for the university golf course after its permanent closure. One plan, proposed by Dr. Shawn Mitchell, is to build a mountain biking trail on the land. Another, proposed by Dr. Kelly Wacker, is to build a birding trail. The third, proposed by Dr. Susan Caplow, is to let a specific acre or half-acre of land be reclaimed by nature and to have an observation station built for the area as a case study for the university’s environmental program.
These plans are not necessarily mutually exclusive, however, as Stewart expressed that incorporating elements of all three plans is possible and will likely be the course of action taken by the university.
Starting a mountain biking team would make Montevallo the only university in Alabama with a varsity level mountain biking team. Stewart expressed support for the opening of a mountain biking facility saying the opening of the facility, “will add we hope 25 to 50 students over the next 4 or 5 years from all over the country.”
Collaboration between ValloCycle and the mountain biking team was also proposed, with the idea of being able to rent mountain bikes from ValloCycle being brought forth.
Following the discussion of the golf course, Montevallo’s Title IX coordinator Tony Miller discussed changes to how the university defines and handles sexual assault and harassment on campus. These changes are brought about by new Title IX regulations passed by the US Department of Education on May 6, 2020.
Among notable changes are the fact that the university cannot discipline a student before finding responsibility for an accused act of sexual assault, formal complaints from students must be signed to move forward with an investigation, and each party involved must have an advisor during hearings which can be chosen by the student or assigned to them if they do not choose one.
Dr. Cynthia Mwenja discussed recent changes to the university’s Student Opinion of Instruction questions. Studies have shown SOIs are inherently unreliable and consistently biased against female and minority instructors. To compensate for this, an ad hoc Faculty Senate committee developed new course-centered – as opposed to instructor-centered – SOI questions last school year. Regarding these changes made by the committee, Dr. Mwenja said, “we came down to the idea that you really can’t fully remove bias, but you can decrease the bias if you focus on the course and not the instructor.”
As of this year, SOIs will be administered through CourseEval. In the coming years, this new program will allow faculty members to create their own course-specific questions. They will also be advised on how to make questions that are least likely to elicit biased responses.
The faculty discussed setting up a Zoom meeting to address issues with Internet Services and Technology such as understaffing, website navigation and false work order completion.
The senate briefly discussed COVID-19, reporting that university and state COVID-19 numbers are going down despite Shelby County remaining in a red zone, meaning the county has had at least 100 new cases per 100,000 people during the last week. Concern was expressed about rumors among students that the university is to go virtual after Thanksgiving break. Faculty confirmed that these rumors have no backing as the university currently has no plans to switch to remote or virtual learning.