Thursday, December 14, 2017

Audit of Milestone Awards Records Triggers Search for Supporting Documentation at College HR Offices; Faculty Council Striving to Ensure Equity and Consistency

Periodic step increases in pay are a common technique to acknowledge years of service by Faculty in school districts across the nation. The DCCCD had a step system long ago but it was phased out in the mid-1980s. A newer version of steps, called milestones, was first proposed and conceptually approved by the Board of Trustees in 2015. The first milestone awards were funded starting in September 2016. A second round of milestone increases were awarded starting in September 2017.

Milestone awards are subject to funding within the annual budget approved by the Board of Trustees and benefit all faculty hired since 2013 as well as some others hired before then. There are terms and conditions, of course, and this system does not award milestones achieved prior to 2016, but it's still a great step in the right direction as we seek to reward Faculty for staying with the DCCCD.

During Spring 2017, the Faculty Association became aware that some individuals eligible for increases did not receive them. District Talent Central has not promulgated specific and clear eligibility language to either Faculty or college HR offices, there is a lack of communicated rationale for these, and those offices have inconsistent records and interpretative practices that led to confusion and inequity. We brought this to the attention of the Administration and asked that it be checked. An independent audit was then commissioned by the Chancellor.

The results of this audit were completed very recently, it contains both good news and unfortunately, potentially bad news. Some Faculty, around 20, were clearly underpaid and did not receive their increase. Unfortunately, it was also discovered that as many as 80 may have been overpaid by receiving a milestone they were not eligible for. Several cases go back to Fall 2016, others only as far back as this past Fall. In any case, this involves up to 12% of the DCCCD Faculty. Both District and College HR areas just didn't get some important things done correctly. 

It's critical to note that the audit result was based on known incomplete data as acknowledged in the report. These findings are not considered correct and complete as of now, not at all. Rather, they are a preliminary indication that some errors may have been made.  This report is available here in detail, see "Special Request" beginning on the second to the last page.

The Faculty Council has now learned that the data and recordkeeping problem specifically relates to a lack of information about whether a Faculty member was initially hired through a competitive search process. We have always argued that years of full-time service should count toward milestone eligibility, regardless of whether a search took place or not. We've further asserted that all years of service should be included in the calculation, even in cases where a Faculty member took a non-Faculty DCCCD position for some time then returned to the classroom. Talent Central does not agree with our position but has not provided a cogent explanation as to why.

As a response to the audit findings, Chancellor May has directed that each case now be manually evaluated, one-by-one, with complete data and clear rules. Only then will we know for sure who is owed, and who owes.

Our Faculty Association has long held that both underpays and overpays are two sides of the same coin. When we are underpaid, District makes it up. Overpayments require the Faculty to pay money back. It's never pleasant to have to refund some portion of our salary but we cannot keep dollars that don't belong to us.

We are currently engaged in discussions with Chancellor May and Vice Chancellor Lonon regarding details. District is not considering this as any sort of emergency, not at all. Rather, they are committed to taking the time to properly calculate and verify each finding, communicate it, explain the details and move forward with payouts and payback requests in a considerate manner.

Your Faculty Council has also identified several associated relevant issues which need to be thoughtfully addressed in consultation with the Administration. These include:

 - Multiple options for payouts and paybacks over time, to lessen the blow and minimize tax implications.

 - Assistance with any IRS re-filing that may have to be done as a result of salary corrections.

- Determination of how to approach the TRS/ORP side of the error in a reasonable fashion.

- Indemnification against future claims as a result of corrections. It must be done properly this time, and if, even after double-checking, something is found in the future to be still wrong that indicates further repayment, district will make no attempt to recover the dollars. We have to be able to move on without this hanging over our heads.

- Clear calculations which anyone can understand, carefully explained - and checked.

- Independent audit and verification of the findings.

We are pleased to note that these discussions are underway and are already bearing fruit. The Chancellor and Vice Chancellor are conducting productive talks with the Faculty Council on a daily basis and they have informed all the Administrative players to go slowly, carefully and deliberately as we wade through this. We appreciate their approach.

Unfortunately, we're also aware that individual college HR offices are already acting independently and implementing different practices and timelines to notify Faculty who may be affected. This practice runs counter to the goal to treat all Faculty equitably. We have requested that a single, uniform approach and timeline be followed. A date should be established upon which findings will be shared, simultaneously, across the DCCCD. Individual attempts at “case management” initiated by Faculty who may fear – in the absence of notification – that they may be affected will not be productive. Calls and E-Mails to HR offices will only further delay their efforts to gather documentation to support the milestone increases that were awarded. Frustration, upset and concern are all normal, entirely justified responses. Be assured that your Council shares these feelings but we must counsel patience, as we believe it's the best way to reach a resolution for all.

Finally, we must note the larger issue at hand. From the botched rollout of Chancellor's Faculty Fellows, the confusion still attendant to the 10-year requirement for range advancement for those hired after 9/1/2015, a Performance Pay Incentive program that required a follow on committee to fix and finish details that should have been established in the first place, to this - and now, problems with the rollout of the new 19-hour professional development requirement, Talent Central has consistently demonstrated serious performance issues. Couple that with an unwillingness to take the time to get it right, or even to proactively ask for input from the stakeholders or to fairly consider volunteered input and look at the outcome. Problem after problem, time after time. We've asked for changes - and for accountability. We'll keep you posted as this all evolves.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Statement from CIO Tim Marshall on Blackboard Problems

The following message from Chief Innovation Officer Tim Marshall was sent to the Chancellor's Cabinet, Academic Vice Presidents, the Faculty Council, and leadership at the LeCroy Center on Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 10:36 am.:

This year we have suffered through a number of Blackboard (eCampus) system outages and a number of times where specific Blackboard functions were disabled by the vendor. Learning Management Systems are a core requirement for both online and face-to-face instruction, and the DCCCD places a high priority on these critical functions. I’d like to update you on some of the background regarding these issues:
  • The district is operating on the current Blackboard Learn application, provided to us as a Software as a Service which is hosted by the company. We have maintained current patch and upgrade status and have licensed it fully for our student population and storage requirements
  • We have experienced issues with the application, primarily due to the size of the district and the number of transactions during peak processing times. DCCCD is one of their largest customers, and issues we have had with our scale have not affected most of their customer base
  • District leadership have escalated the issues to Blackboard’s most senior management
  • As each incident has occurred, Blackboard has assigned dedicated teams to restore functionality. In some cases this has taken longer than we have expected
  • Our technical staff continues to work with Blackboard to condition their environment for our needs, but this remains a challenge
  • The district has adequate bandwidth for the service. The issues are embedded within the application software and database engine that Blackboard utilizes

Please bear with us as we continue to investigate the issues we have with Blackboard. The district has significant resources dedicated to the environment, and we are as frustrated as you are when they do not perform according to our requirements and expectations.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

UPDATED 7 AM WEDNESDAY - Official DCCFA Response to eCampus Outages

Since last week, faculty at all seven of the DCCCD colleges have reported numerous service and system interruptions and outages in the Blackboard/eCampus system.

In response to faculty concerns, DCCFA President Bill Hammerschlag and DCCFA Vice-President Matt Hinckley, on behalf of the DCCFA faculty council, met with DCCCD Chancellor Joe May and Executive Vice Chancellor Justin Lonon at noon Monday.

Chancellor May and EVC Lonon said they were equally frustrated by the repeated service and system interruptions and outages. Both said they have been in communication with Blackboard senior leadership, expressing that, as one of Blackboard’s top-five largest clients, DCCCD has a right to expect priority service, particularly given that the District subscribes to “premium” level support from Blackboard.
In a separate communication sent to college presidents and authorized for distribution to all stakeholders, DCCCD Chief Innovation Officer Tim Marshall said, “Please let everyone know that we are on the same version of Blackboard as other institutions. Bandwidth is not the issue. The main issue is with their ability to handle the number of transactions that our size of the district presents."
In addition, it may be that the District’s use of Blackboard – both for online courses and for face-to-face courses – has grown with a rapidity and to a scale that Blackboard did not know to anticipate.

Both Dr. May and EVC Lonon also reassured us that, in the short term, District IT and LeCroy Center personnel are working with Blackboard to help speed the fix of whatever issues arise.
As for a longer-term strategy, CIO Marshall also said that “Presidents, AVPs, and Faculty Senate (Council)” will inform discussions on the future of the LMS for the DCCCD, to ensure we have a system that meets our complex needs and performs satisfactorily throughout the year.
Similarly, both Dr. May and EVC Lonon said they want and expect faculty to play a significant role in identifying the capabilities our next LMS should have, so that students will have seamless technology support, regardless of the modality of the courses in which they enroll.

The Faculty Council welcomes the opportunity to participate in these ongoing conversations, as a means to ensure that faculty interests are represented at all stages of the process.


The Faculty Council requested, and the District has granted, a one-day extension for the filing of Fall 2017 semester grades. Here is the statement released by Anna Mays, Associate Vice Chancellor for Educational Policy:

Due to recent issues with Blackboard outages which delayed student submission of assignments and access to exams on eCampus, the deadline for posting grades is being extended (from 12/11 to 12/12 by 11:59 p.m.) to allow additional time for faculty grading and posting of grades.  

If possible, faculty are encouraged to submit grades by the previously established deadline of 12/11, because delays in posting grades prevent students from accessing grades on eConnect, registering for the appropriate courses for the next semester, and submitting updated transcripts to transfer universities. The deadline is 12/12, 11:59 p.m.; any further delay  in posting grades may be detrimental to students, especially those on financial aid, because Satisfactory Academic Progress and continued financial aid will be calculated later that week based on final grades. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

DCCFA Climate Survey Results Confirm Correlation between Salary Compression and Difficulty Improving Faculty Diversity

The DCCFA Biennial Climate Survey is administered to gauge faculty attitudes and perceptions on a wide variety of issues, including compensation. Starting in 2015, the Communications Committee of the DCCFA began conducting the survey in two parts. The first part, administered in the fall semester, would gauge faculty attitudes on specific issues identified as important by large numbers of faculty. This data helps the Faculty Council identify strategic priorities to advance throughout the academic year. The second part, administered in the spring semester, gauges faculty perceptions of the overall climate of the DCCCD.

Part One of the DCCFA Biennial Climate Survey was completed this fall. Special thanks go to long-time DCCFA member, Doug Keenan, who recently retired from Mountain View College, but graciously agreed to conduct the survey again from his home computer, as well as compile and aggregate the data, and produce reports to share with members.

DCCFA members are invited to peruse the overall Climate Survey results from faculty across the District, as well as those from each of the individual colleges: Brookhaven, Cedar Valley, El Centro, Eastfield, Mountain View, North Lake, and Richland.

After correlating and sorting the Climate Survey data by respondents’ demographic selections, the Faculty Council found that survey results largely confirm what we have learned anecdotally and historically about the extent to which salary compression is inextricably linked to the lack of ability of the DCCCD to retain faculty from diverse backgrounds.

Our recent efforts to improve entering faculty pay, establish milestone increases, and perform targeted recruitment of potential faculty will continue to pay dividends with even more diverse faculty hires in the coming years. However,  we are struggling to retain diverse faculty from historically underrepresented backgrounds because many of them can earn higher pay in industry or at other institutions. In other words, making a diverse hire now does not improve our diversity numbers if we lose an experienced faculty member from a diverse background to another employer.

Historical data supports this hypothesis. Despite significant efforts at all colleges to hire faculty from diverse backgrounds, an analysis of DCCCD Board meeting agendas and minutes since 2007 reveals that a disproportionate share of faculty resignations (not retirements, and not non-renewals of visiting scholars at several of the DCCCD colleges), are faculty from diverse, historically underrepresented backgrounds, in large measure because their DCCCD salaries have not kept pace with what they can earn with other employers. Indeed, a significant percentage of our diverse faculty fall within the large “middle” of career faculty hired between 1981 and 2012, who never will earn a 3-year milestone increase, who never benefited from step raises, and who increasingly are seeing their salaries surpassed by younger colleagues with equivalent credentials.

Data from the Fall 2017 Biennial Faculty Climate Survey, in which 420 full-time faculty participated, confirms the hypothesis that salary compression hinders efforts to retain faculty from historically underrepresented backgrounds, and thus keeps the District from diversifying its faculty ranks.
Faculty first were asked to respond to demographic sorting questions, such as sex/gender, race/ethnicity, teaching area, and longevity. Then, they were asked to respond to a series of statements on a Likert scale. Some of the most relevant correlations are excerpted here:

On Question 21: “Lack of compensation adjustments to reflect my experience relative to the entering salary of faculty in my range makes me more likely to seek employment outside the DCCCD,”
53% of DCCCD faculty overall agreed or strongly agreed
56% of African-American faculty agreed or strongly agreed
50% of Hispanic/Latino faculty agreed or strongly agreed
64% of CTE faculty agreed or strongly agreed
51% of STEM faculty agreed or strongly agreed

On Question 27: “I rely on extra service teaching to make ends meet in my personal/household budget,”
73% of DCCCD faculty overall agreed or strongly agreed
77% of DCCCD faculty who teach extra service agreed or strongly agreed
73% of female faculty agreed or strongly agreed
71% of African-American faculty agreed or strongly agreed
76% of Hispanic/Latino faculty agreed or strongly agreed
76% of CTE faculty agreed or strongly agreed
68% of STEM faculty agreed or strongly agreed

The Faculty Council plans to share these findings with Chancellor May in the coming weeks, with a mind toward generating concrete recommendations to ameliorate salary compression in an effort to retain what diversity we have now, even as efforts are undertaken to continue to hire additional diverse faculty in forthcoming searches.