Letter to the editor: From the Chancellor
Falwell comments on academic changes
Editor’s Note: Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. wrote a letter to the editor to further explain Liberty University’s decision to make changes to the current academic process in reference to several comments received from students and faculty. Below is Falwell’s note to the students and faculty. Students and faculty are encouraged to submit questions and comments to email@example.com.
I asked our Provost, Dr. Ron Godwin, and his staff about one year ago to carefully review all of our existing academic programs before we proceeded with the launch of new programs and the construction of new academic facilities. I believed this audit was the prudent course to follow before a major expansion. I didn’t really expect much to come of it, but what Dr. Godwin’s staff discovered was alarming. Although they found that a large number of very worthy changes had been made to shore up Liberty’s academic credibility, unfortunately they also found many inefficiencies had crept into our academic programs.
For example, Dr. Godwin found a significant number of courses with fewer than five students; yet these same courses were meeting every single semester. He found a significant number of programs (strings of courses) with less than 20 students. Many “pilot” courses had been initiated but no process existed to evaluate their success or lack of same and very few “pilot” courses had ever been cancelled.
Large amounts of release time had been granted to many professors for a wide variety of reasons. This means that these professors were being released from teaching some or even most of the hours required by their contracts for reasons like serving on a committee or performing some administrative function or doing personal research. While many of these reasons were justified, the sheer amount of the release time that had been awarded had become enormous One problem regarding release time is that many of the releases were being continued long after the original purpose for the release was gone. Dr. Godwin found the equivalent of 60 full time professors in the residential program on release.
One of the most amazing things to me was that certain professors who had the most release time — up to 30 hours — were still teaching the most overload courses. Now, this might be the norm at older, established universities but it is a pattern that we want to avoid here at Liberty. We will only continue to grow and achieve as long as we keep bureaucratic overhead under control and continue to operate efficiently.
After these discoveries were made, Dr. Godwin spent months working with his academic leadership and deans to correct the problems. At most universities, the only fix would have been mass terminations, but because Liberty has a booming online program (240 percent growth in the last few years), we were able to offer every resident professor not being fully utilized by Liberty a job at the same pay and benefits they are now earning, teaching a mix of online and residential courses. Not one professor has been terminated as part of this plan. Instead, they have been reassigned where they are urgently needed and where their experience and spiritual maturity will greatly benefit the faculty teams they are reinforcing. And, as our residential program grows over the next few years, many of them may very likely move back into full time residential teaching.
The dean of each school chose which professors to move to Flex contracts, meaning that most will teach a mix of residential and online courses. I am not sure what all the criteria were that the deans used to choose which professors should go to Flex. But I do know they purposely attempted to choose seasoned faculty with solid skills and mature spiritual qualities so that we would be shoring up and strengthening the online teams these reassigned faculty are, in part, joining. The idea that the professors chosen were considered to be somehow inferior is simply a myth. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have to rely on our deans to make these decisions because they best know the teaching strengths of each faculty member.
The bottom line is that Liberty was able to reassign a certain number of professors without impacting negatively the size of classes or the faculty/student ratio in the resident program. If any programs with fewer than 20 students enrolled are eliminated, all existing students in those programs will be able to complete their degree requirements. In the long run, this is a very positive thing for Liberty and its students. Now, we can move forward to develop new programs and improve the programs we have with our resident house in order and our online division newly infused with veteran talent.
Dr. Godwin did a phenomenal job in my opinion of reassigning faculty without negatively impacting any faculty members financially. One of the components of these positive changes is a new College of General Studies. This will allow us to deploy faculty members to the CGS who feel called to remediate students we accept that have special needs for help in one course area or another. Not all faculty members have this calling and the ones that do not will continue to teach in upper level specialized courses. I feel that the CGS will also help more students graduate on time.
For students, the changes will mean an enhanced academic experience across the board, plain and simple. We have to remember the students are the reason we are here. As administrators, we have a fiduciary obligation to students to operate the university as efficiently and as effectively as possible. These changes were necessary to accomplish that goal.