District halts faculty’s compensation

Board of trustee member David B. Lang delivering his position on the District Faculty Association's Canvas conversion stipend at the Nov. 13 board meeting. (SOCCCD board meeting)

Board of trustee member David B. Lang delivering his position on the District Faculty Association’s Canvas conversion stipend at the Nov. 13 board meeting. (SOCCCD board meeting)

Controversy in the boardroom, faculty awaits final verdict on the Canvas conversion stipend

UPDATE: The SOCCCD Board of Trustees approved the Canvas conversion stipend, agreeing to compensate faculty members for their time spend converting classes to Canvas at the Dec. 11 board meeting.

The South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees amended to postpone voting on the Faculty Association’s campus-wide Course Management System compensation stipend Monday, Nov. 13. This is the second time the board has held off from voting on the agenda item.

Saddleback College is currently in transition from using Blackboard Learn to Canvas by Instructure for its web-based learning management system. The stipend is intended to compensate the labor of faculty members district-wide spent converting their classes’ online platforms from Blackboard to Canvas.

The District Faculty Association and the district’s administration negotiated the stipend for five to six months according to Faculty Association President Mark Blethen. The District Administration put together a compensation for $3.6 million for the time spent converting classes to the Canvas platform by faculty members.

The stipend included one-time payments of $5,000 for the conversion of fully online classes, $2,500 for hybrid classes and $1,000 for face-to-face classes that use Canvas for supplemental materials. Both bodies agreed upon the the compensation package, making the board’s decision to postpone the agenda item an unforeseen obstacle for many in the district.

“Neither side anticipated that the board would discount or disregard the recommendation of their own professional staff when it came to a very detailed and complicated proposal,” Blethen said. “In reality, the board needed to decide whether it was right to pay faculty or not.”

Controversial statements were made by several trustees at the Nov. 13 board meeting that shocked many faculty members, embodied in board of trustees member David B. Lang’s criticism of the stipend.

“This item, in my opinion, is beneath the dignity of our faculty. (It) represents grievous overreach on their part and violates every tenent of our basic aid policy,”  Lang said during the board meeting. “I cannot support it.”

Blethen opposed the board’s movement to postpone the vote in an email sent to faculty throughout the district informing those who weren’t in attendance or had left early that the stipend decision had been put on hold until further negotiations. The email went on to recommend faculty stop their work of converting classes to Canvas, to entirely halt the use of the learning management system and to inform their deans that they intended to teach all their classes face to face for the spring 2018 semester.

“I think he dismisses the fact that faculty across the district do a considerable amount of additional and extra work as professionals because it’s best for our students without ever seeking or asking for additional compensation,” Blethen said about Lang in an interview. “There is some deeper issues here philosophically with certain members of the board based on their comments and statements at the last meeting.”

“In my opinion, it was a questionable action to delay the vote because we don’t normally negotiate stipends or other things like that,” Academic Senate President Dan Walsh said. “There were a whole bunch of stipends approved on the agenda that weren’t negotiated. One of the board members said that this was an illegal negotiation, which I found humorous because they are basically saying that their own district negotiated illegally.”

The board of trustees member cited by Walsh is T.J. Prendergast III, who made the first move to postpone the stipend decision citing that the board had received information from a “general council” that the package had been negotiated illegally.

The board will revisit the agenda item at its next meeting Dec. 11. But how did this proposal, created by the district itself, become such a complicated situation?

In 2013, Saddleback College was one of 24 colleges selected to pilot Canvas as a part of California’s Online Education Initiative, a statewide program to provide students with online resources and classes to help with their educational goals, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office website. Participation in the OEI Exchange program would grant SOCCCD schools partially free access to Canvas for their first four years, saving the district millions of dollars.

Before the board of trustees approved the district’s conversion to Canvas, the Faculty Association wished to arrange a formal compensation agreement. The board approved the item without its assent.

Irvine Valley College was the first of the two colleges in the district to transition to Canvas in fall 2016. The Distance Education and Online Education Committee noted that IVC faculty still needed time to transition its LMS. The committee also stated that updating one college’s CCMS before another would mean that “there will be an added burden to the District to support both

LMS for students,” as “the district is committed” to supporting “the LMS decision once it is made,” according to meeting minutes from April 11, 2016.

According to Saddleback’s co-coordinator for Online Education April Cubbage, the complete transition from Blackboard to Canvas would take approximately 18 months. In 2015, a Faculty Association-appointed workgroup estimated that transitioning the platform of one online class would take approximately 45 hours. Statements made by faculty members teaching pilot classes put the number of work hours much higher than the committee’s estimation. Conversions take anywhere from 80-100 hours. The main problems faculty members face are the various differences between Blackboard and Canvas.

“Learning a new learning management system is like learning a new language,” Cubbage said. “Certain programs work differently than they did on Blackboard, forcing faculty to learn the LMS on top of creating course material.”

Technical support and one-on-one sessions are offered to faculty members to further their knowledge of the LMS, but the time spent learning Canvas is unpaid due to the terms of the faculty’s contracts.

“The amount of money saved by the district from switching learning systems needs to be invested in training and time spent by the faculty,” Cubbage said.

Former Saddleback College president Tod Burnett had stated that there would be compensation for the amount of work needed to convert classes over before he resigned last semester. Now the current executive vice chancellor of Advancement and Special Projects at Brandman University, Burnett declined to comment on the issue.

Former Faculty Association President Claire Cesareo has experienced the troubles Canvas presents firsthand: Cesareo spent over 100 hours converting one of her six classes to Canvas this summer.

Cesareo said that despite the board’s statements, members of faculty do quite a lot that is not covered under their base pay like serving on committees, spending extra time on keeping their courses. Converting her classes to Canvas for free is not one of those things.

“This work goes above and beyond what we are compensated for in our base salary,” Cesareo said during the public comments portion of the Nov. 13 board meeting. “Teaching an online course in community college is very different than teaching in any of the four-year institutions which provide instructional designers to take content and put it into online versions, and which also generally provide teaching assistants to facilitate the ongoing online discussions. In the community colleges, we are required to do all of this ourselves.”

New faculty members would be given time to familiarize themselves with the new LMS. Established instructors have to teach their classes while learning the new LMS and converting their classes over to it.

“I think my course is stellar and I believe the students benefit from all the effort put into it,” Cesareo said at the Nov. 13 board meeting. “I do it for my students and because I am a professional. But I want my work to be recognized and valued.”

400 full-time faculty members as well as 1,000 part-time members will be affected by the stipend. The Academic Senate is allotting 10 minutes to discuss to the faculty’s reimbursement for class conversions to Canvas. The board is set to vote on the stipend Dec. 11.

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