April 2015 Advocate – Why I decided to retire in disappointment and disgust after 47 years


Why I decided to retire in disappointment and disgust after 47 years with the District

by Frank C C Young, Chair, Cañada College, Philosophy Department

I did not decide to retire at the end of the spring 2015 semester—after 47 years at Cañada College—because I am intellectually or educationally exhausted nor because I am physically or mentally incapable of carrying my load. It is certainly not because I am eager to collect my pension. Rather, it is for the following reasons, which I would like to share with my AFT brothers and sisters.

The main reason for this decision was that my Division Dean, David Johnson, was “empowered” by our Vice-President of Instruction, Gregory Anderson, with the consent of our President Larry Buckley, to present an “aggressive approach” to me in dealing with issues of enrollment that have come up over this semester and the last.

At a meeting with Dean Johnson (which was also attended by my union representatives, Elizabeth Terzakis and Lezlee Ware) I was reminded that in the fall semester of 2014, two of my classes, Philosophy 190 (Contemporary Philosophy – 19th & 20th Century) and Philosophy 300 (World Religions) were cancelled due to low enrollment. Through Dean Johnson, President Buckley and Vice-President Anderson informed me that, according to their interpretation of the union contract, I had one year to make up the missing units—despite the fact that the contract suggests, and past practice supports, allowing three years to balance one’s load. This latter interpretation concurs with the interpretation of other Deans at our campus and at our sister campuses.

Nevertheless, presented with my administration’s interpretation, I planned to teach two classes in summer 2015 with no pay, to make up the units. In the meantime, the Dean informed me that another class, Philosophy 320 (Asian Philosophy), was under-enrolled this semester (spring 2015) and would also be cancelled.

At this point, the “aggressive approach” that Vice-President Anderson’s “empowered” Dean presented to me—first orally at the meeting with my union representatives, and then later in an e-mail—was the offer that if I decided to retire at the end of this semester, Anderson “would forgo having [me] make up the two classes from last semester, letting [me] teach an under-enrolled class this term, allowing [me] to teach summer classes for pay, AND having [me] come back as an adjunct once [I am] eligible.”

My predicament is that, if I don’t retire, then, according to VPI Anderson and President Buckley, I will have to make up three classes in one year—two during summer session and one in addition to my fall classes. And whether this “solution” will work depends on all my classes in summer and fall filling and not being cancelled because of low enrollment. The administration insists that all my classes have at least 20 students despite the fact that my other class enrollments are over 35 or 40. They refuse to take those numbers into account and let them cover my low-enrolled classes or to allow other colleagues within my own department to shift their overload numbers to compensate for low-enrolled classes. Their lack of flexibility on this issue is contrary to practices on at least one of our sister campuses. This seems unfair.

In addition to being unfair, the practices of Cañada’s administrators clearly show that they are more concerned with enrollment numbers than interested in the educational and academic needs of the students or their needs for more diverse classes. Keeping sections open not only facilitates the students’ intellectual growth by providing them with a wider selection of classes but also helps them fulfill the requirements necessary to transfer to four-year institutions.

As a result of these priorities, I am forced to accept the Vice-President’s “aggressive approach” to my situation and retire under the conditions of his incentive offer, which appears to be a buy out. My retirement, under their interpretation of the contract and with their administrative calculations, will also save them money: it will be cheaper to pay a new teacher than to keep an old timer around. To remain teaching in what has become a business environment (rather than a collegial or academic one) would cause me unnecessary and unwarranted stress and compromise my life with my wife and family. Again, it seems the numbers, not the quality of education for the students, let alone the wellbeing of a dedicated employee, is what matters for them.

I raised this concern with Chancellor Ron Galatolo and Vice-Chancellor Eugene Whitlock. The Chancellor said he supports the faculty in that we are hired to teach and it’s not our major concern to recruit students to make sure our classes are not cancelled. I was glad to hear the Chancellor’s agreement on this point because recruiting students is not, in fact, listed as one of our responsibilities in the contract. I also want to point out that, in the fall of 2014, Vice-President Anderson very happily and enthusiastically introduced us, at our Division meeting, to the newly hired administrator who, as one of her primary responsibilities, is supposed to recruit students for Cañada. This is further evidence that increasing enrollment is not the responsibility of the faculty, so the faculty ought not be penalized and expected to account for low enrollment in ways that jeopardize the interests of their students and their departments, not to mention their jobs.

The Vice-Chancellor’s response was somewhat different. He suggested to me that offering my philosophy classes online would guarantee enrollment! I was surprised, if not appalled, that he would suggest denying students the opportunity for face-to-face instruction to “make the numbers.” I can see Philosophy 103, Critical Thinking, or Philosophy 200, Introduction to Logic, being put online, but not the other philosophy classes. For one thing, in philosophy classes, most people understand it is imperative to engage in a dialogue (Platonic dialectic, one of the oldest means of intellectual exchange) with students, not only to clarify and explain the different theories and concepts and give them a better understanding of the various philosophical traditions, but also, during that process, allowing all the students in class to benefit from the conversation in real time. In order to be effective in many working environments, students must learn to think on their feet and handle the physical presence of other interlocutors. This can only be done in a face-to-face classroom environment. Besides this basic requirement, online classes make it difficult to guard against plagiarism; the authenticity of essays submitted for examinations is best verified by class participation.

On this particular issue of online classes in philosophy, I would like to quote what J.S. Mill pointed out a long time ago: “To refuse of hearing an opinion because one is sure that it is false is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is the assumption of infallibility.” I cannot compromise my educational and academic goals and philosophical ideology simply to meet the expected numbers. This is an educational institution, not a business or financial corporation!

I have served the District for forty-seven years, which enables me to retire with pride and honor despite the machinations of my supervisors. I am secure in my accomplishments and have done my part to deliver high quality education to our campus community for most of my adult life. But to those of you who still have a few years to go before being ready to retire, I will say this: Be aware, my colleagues, of the not particularly “hidden” agenda of some of our new administrators.