william peace university president under fire from students faculty
Last Updated : GMT 12:34:34
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William Peace University president under fire from students, faculty

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today William Peace University president under fire from students, faculty

RALEIGH - Arab Today

Debra Townsley, the president of William Peace University, is facingintense criticism from students and faculty, who describe a deteriorating academicenvironment and a fear of retaliation on the downtown Raleigh campus.Five students who recently circulated a student petition were informed by theuniversity this week that they face disciplinary proceedings for disorderly conductand violations of Peace’s visitation and solicitation policies. The students say thecharges are retribution for their petition, which amassed more than 300 signaturescalling for Townsley’s immediate resignation.The disciplinary hearings were originally scheduled for Thursday afternoon, duringa period when a student protest is planned outside the university’s entrance.“It’s absurd,” said Maigan Kennedy, a 25-year-old student from Durham and one ofthe organizers charged. “I knew at some point there would be some retaliation fromthe administration. It’s appalling they would level bogus claims against students for something we have every right to do.”Meanwhile, Peace faculty sent an eight-page letter to trustees saying they don’t haveconfidence in Townsley. The unsigned letter, obtained by The News & Observer, citesa litany of concerns, including staff turnover, dropping graduation rates, unsecuredstudent records and university buildings with malfunctioning heat, asbestosproblems and infestations of poisonous spiders.The letter said the administration is destroying Peace’s credibility and takingadvantage of students.“Peace has become an institution driven by mediocrity, suspicion, and fear, auniversity desperate for tuition dollars but entirely unwilling to provide students with the support and encouragement they need to complete their degrees,” the lettersaid.In an interview Tuesday, Townsley said the university is growing and evolving in adifficult environment for higher education, particularly small private colleges. Shepointed out that upperclassmen enrolled when the school was a women’s college,Peace College, before it admitted men and changed its name to William PeaceUniversity.“Change is very difficult,” Townsley said. “I am all about academic integrity. We areworking very hard on academic integrity and ensuring a strong academic program.”Townsley said she could not talk about individual students’ disciplinary issues, butshe said the hearings are “not about the petition. It is about something else.”Kennedy’s notification of the disciplinary hearing cited violations of visitation andsolicitation policies and disorderly conduct in two dorms at 11:30 p.m.“We don’t allow solicitation, especially really late at night when students aresleeping in their residence halls,” Townsley said of university rules.Years of criticismThe latest unrest comes after several years of fierce criticism of Townsley and thetrustees by alumnae. Last year, some donors were upset when the university sankmillions of dollars from its endowment into the acquisition of Seaboard Station, aretail development near the campus. Critics also complained that the university hadremoved trustee names from its website; the list has since been posted on the site.Many faculty have been reluctant to speak publicly, they say, for fear of being fired.The number of full-time faculty at the school has been almost halved in the past fiveyears, while the number of part-time adjunct faculty has grown. Last year, professorswere asked to sign arbitration agreements that impose a time limit for disputes andprevent employees from taking the university to court.Unhappy students, who formed a group called “We Want Peace,” said they weremotivated to create the petition after they learned that a popular English professorwas not renewed for next year.Katie Beth Jenkins, 19, a first-year student, said that on her tour of Peace last year,the guide told her that professors had an open door and were always available tosupport students.“They’re firing teachers, so that’s no longer available,” Jenkins said.Now, she added, “they’re hiring more adjunct professors, but they’re only here during their scheduled class times or their scheduled office hours.”Townsley said the university is in the process of hiring five new full-time facultymembers.Roger Christman, an associate professor of communications, simulation and gamedesign, said he was aware of the faculty letter but didn’t know if it reflects aconsensus.“I support the school, I support the institution,” Christman said. “I believe in ourmission. I know that we are a transformational experience for our students. We havewonderful faculty and staff here. I see it every day.”Beth Cherry, chairwoman of the Peace trustees, said some faculty were not aware theletter was sent on their behalf.“It is very difficult to put a lot of validity into something that is not signed,” shesaid. “We don’t know who wrote it.”Cherry said she was unaware that students were upset and that she had not seen thepetition.“I have not had any conversations with a student who is unhappy,” she said. “Thishas all come about very suddenly.”The faculty letter suggested that the university is suffering because of Townsley’sdecisions. And it points out that faculty have not had a raise since 2007, with Peace salaries close to the bottom of universities in North Carolina.Townsley’s total compensation is $391,605, compared to $158,541 for Jo Allen, thepresident of the larger Meredith College, according to 2011 figures published last year by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The website Gawker named Townsley asone of the top five “most overpaid college presidents in America,” when comparingsalaries based on the size of the colleges’ budgets.Cherry said the president had not received a raise since she came to Peace.“The board completely backs and supports Dr. Townsley,” Cherry said. “She is wellqualified, and the board believes she is the right one to lead William PeaceUniversity forward.”Townsley has fulfilled her promise to significantly grow the university, which had more than 800 students in the day program last fall, compared to fewer than 650five years ago. The growth has led to a squeeze of student space; juniors and seniorsnow live in an apartment complex miles from campus.Asbestos and spidersThe faculty letter made serious claims about problems at the school, includingpossible compliance issues with nine accreditation standards.Among the faculty claims:• Graduation rates falling from 35 percent to 30 percent.• Three asbestos violations cited by OSHA.• Complaints of no heat in some dorm rooms and falling tiles, plus “large outbreaksof dangerous brown recluse spiders.”• Four registrars in three years, resulting in “student transcripts (that) wereunsecured, left piled on the floor,” and possible instances of students graduatingwithout completing the necessary requirements.• Faculty-student ratio that went from 1:15 to 1:34.• Curriculum decisions that are driven by the administration, not faculty. “Theadministration intimidated and bullied the faculty, with explicit threats oftermination, into accepting curricular changes,” the letter said.Townsley disputed some of the statistics cited, such as a claim that less than half ofstudent credit hours are now taught by full-time faculty. Of the heating issue, shesaid a boiler broke and the university supplied students with portable heaters whilethe boiler was replaced. Of the spiders, she said: “To tell you the truth, I am notaware of that. I mean we live in the South; we have everything treated with pestcontrol. Somebody may have seen a spider and we would have certainly taken care of it. They are here in North Carolina.” Source: Education News

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