The Washington Post

UMUC under Susan Aldridge: A grim account

A group of faculty at the Asian division of the University of Maryland, University College, delivered a sort of no-confidence vote in President Susan Aldridge in November 2010.

It took the form of a survey. Half the faculty polled rated morale at 3 or lower on a 10-point scale.

(The University of Maryland, University College. (From the campus library collection at the University of Montevallo, Ala., via Flickr.))

The documents may shed some light on institutional climate at UMUC under Aldridge, who went on leave last week. Her overseers at the University System of Maryland offer no explanation for the action. Members of faculty have told me they believe she was removed for administrative concerns. I have e-mailed and telephoned Aldridge, to no avail.

Faculty quoted in the survey portray an institution whose leaders are more interested in making money and building an empire— UMUC serves somewhere between 39,577 students, the figure cited by the federal government, and 90,000 students, the number reported on its own web site, a large number in either case — than in educating students.

“Dr. Susan Aldridge is only concerned about money, power and prestige,” one respondent wrote. “Her business model for the university is despicable, academically and professionally.”

Another wrote, “The current administration seems more interested in marketing and revenue and competing with the for-profit schools than it [is] in academic integrity.”

Fifty-three faculty answered the poll, representing about half of the Asian-division instructors who were asked to opine. They, in turn, make up a tiny fraction of the nearly 2,000 full- and part-time faculty employed by UMUC. The school operates academic divisions in both Asia and Europe and bills itself as a global university.

UMUC is essentially a 21st-Century night school, designed for returning students seeking to bolster their academic credentials, chiefly via online instruction.

The respondents allege a high rate of turnover among top administrators at the university, which, they said, had lost “at least 11 administrators in the past nine months” before the November 2010 survey, according to a summary of the survey sent to university system Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan by Mervin Whealy, a member of the university’s Faculty Advisory Council.

That turnover “has eroded their trust in the Aldridge administration, even though, due to extraordinary administrative secrecy and the routine use of non-disclosure agreements, many faculty members have no idea how many administrators and colleagues UMUC has lost,” Whealy wrote.

The faculty faulted the Aldridge administration for alleged cuts that struck them as unfair, such as cancelling math, language and writing labs, requiring students in science labs to pay for “a nonexistent laboratory kit,” declining to pay instructors to teach tutorial labs, and refusing to compensate faculty for travel expenses and even for the cost of white-board markers.

“The administration is continually offloading institutional expenses onto faculty and students alike,” one respondent wrote.

The administration unilaterally reduced online classes to eight weeks, shorter than the average college semester, and did so “without discussion with the faculty,” Whealy wrote.

Aldridge “consistently and strenuously opposed” attempts by Asia instructors to form a faculty governance group, an indication, in their minds, that she was reluctant to involve faculty in decision-making.

“When faculty have complained about things or worked together to try to address concerns with the administration, ‘threats’ are passed along and rumors fly about ‘hit lists’,” one respondent wrote.

Another wrote, “I feel that we are on a sinking ship.”


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