Standard 4 -- Faculty
The heart of the University — its most valuable asset — remains its faculty. The dedication, expertise, and productivity of the award-winning faculty at MSU Billings are among the clearest strengths of which this institution can boast. This Standard 4 Report of the Institutional Self-Study will present a snapshot of the University faculty across the five degree-producing colleges (Allied Health Professions, Arts & Sciences, Business, Education, and Technology), highlighting both the particular strengths and the challenges that face the institution’s faculty in the 21st century.
As with the University, the MSU Billings faculty benefit significantly from broad support and encouragement from the Billings community. People, Pride & Promise: The Campaign for Excellence at Montana State University Billings began as a $21 million fund-raising effort in January 2002 and reached its conclusion on Dec. 31, 2006, having generated $30 million for scholarships, capital projects, and university excellence funds. Some of those University excellence funds will be used for faculty-driven projects and support of academic programs. Local business and industry leaders have also financially supported equipment purchases, internships and research projects that benefit faculty and their students.
MSU Billings has an extremely well-qualified faculty dedicated to student learning and responding to the University’s mission of Access and Excellence in a myriad of ways. Among the most impressive strengths of the faculty at MSU Billings is its dedication to teaching and outreach to students. Of the 155 fulltime instructional faculty at MSU Billings, 90% hold the highest degree in their field. The Universityis dedicated to maintaining quality and engaging classroom environments that provide the optimal faculty/student engagement. The studentper- faculty ration is 21-to-1 and 81% of the undergraduate classes have fewer than 30 students. (See Voluntary System of Accountability data, 2008)
Some of the University’s full-time and part-time faculty also serve as instructors for continued education and special learning activities (for credit and non-credit) offered through the College of Professional Studies and Lifelong Learning. Instructors who are hired to provide credit-bearing courses have credentials reviewed by the department chair and dean of the appropriate academic college. In addition, the department chair will seek input from other faculty members when appropriate.
Among the most impressive strengths of the faculty at MSU Billings is its dedication to the student body. There are several measures of this dedication. For one, the faculty is long-serving. In fact, nearly 40% of the faculty recognized annually from 1999-2007 for years of service have served on MSU Billings’ faculty for 20 or more years (92 of 240 honorees).
Another measure of faculty dedication to students is the extremely high percentage of faculty who rate “Interaction with Students” or “Teaching Satisfaction” as the most important factors in their professional work life. More than 96% of our faculty rate student interaction as having a positive or very positive impact on their professional life. Nearly 93% rate teaching as having similar influence on their job satisfaction. (See “Faculty Morale at MSU Billings, 2007,” Table 2, p. 3.)
One of the particular challenges for faculty at MSU Billings is its bifurcation between the faculty on the East Campus, who work under one collective bargaining agreement, and the faculty on the West Campus, who have their own bargaining agreement. Faculty rights, responsibilities, and compensation, as well as mechanisms for measuring student outcomes and teaching effectiveness, are established in the East Campus’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), while the faculty at the West Campus have similar protections and responsibilities as spelled out in their own contract, the Vocational Technical Educators of Montana (VTEM) contract, negotiated in collaboration with three other colleges of technology around the state. There is a great deal of cooperation between the two campuses, especially clear in online registration and an increasingly seamless collaboration in terms of fiscal affairs, student services, financial aid, and advising. But the linkages between the two campuses face some strain by the evolving nature of the West Campus into a community college. By its nature as providing two-year education, the West Campus priorities are focused more on workforce development, professional training, community partnerships, and a growing emphasis on two-plus-two pathways between graduates of associate degrees seeking four-year degree options on the East Campus. In an effort to bridge the differences between the two collective bargaining agreements, the Chancellor agreed to join the West Campus Union Management Committee in 2006 and the Academic Vice Chancellor joined the committee in 2007. The addition of the Chancellor and Academic Vice Chancellor to the West Campus VTEM Union Management Committee has resulted in the development of several key priorities and goals which should help address some of the differences between the two labor contracts.
The bifurcated nature of this self-study report is a result of the “two families under one roof” phenomenon between the East and West Campuses. The result is a report that first points to factors common to all faculty members, but indicates particularities of each campus separately, when necessary.
Evidence: 4.4 CBA/VTEM contracts
Summary and Analysis
MSU Billings has tremendous assets with which to address challenges in higher education today: it is a strong cadre of tenured, long-serving faculty and one that remains committed to teaching, performing cutting-edge research, and serving the University and the community. These assets will be very important in dealing with the most important issues currently facing the University: communication throughout the university, an evolving relationship between the separate campuses of the University, changing student demographics and uncertainties in state funding. The state of the faculty at MSU Billings, therefore, is highly reflective of the state of the University as a whole. As the University faces serious budgetary and demographic realities, the faculty are on the front lines, dealing with larger classes and reduced curricular opportunities. But since the last NWCCU evaluation, the faculty have risen above these challenges and retained their scholarly productivity as well as their commitment to student and community engagement.
- MSU Billings maintains a vibrant faculty who are highly qualified for their positions, engage in scholarly development and contributions in their areas of expertise and provide untold hours of service to the University and to the community.
- MSU Billings faculty have a long tradition of student-centered learning, serving not only as classroom leaders and scholars, but also as mentors to exceptional student scholars, tutors and community liaisons for special events.
- MSU Billings has evaluation processes and procedures in place, and faculty rise to meet high expectations of teaching and creative endeavors. Faculty excellence in teaching is continually demonstrated through positive student evaluations and celebrated annually with Faculty Excellence awards.
- MSU Billings faculty benefit from a broad base of community support and encouragement. Financial support generated through a $30 million People, Pride & Promise capital campaign completed in 2006 will be used to support faculty endeavors and scholarships in a variety of ways. Billingsarea business and industry also offer opportunities for faculty partnerships and student internships.
- MSU Billings consistently supports and emphasizes academic freedom in teaching and scholarship.
- MSU Billings faculty, through the Employee Survey, has expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of monetary support for professional travel and for support of their individual research agendas. This is a topic for continuing discussion among all constituencies of the University community.
- Current collaborative negotiations face significant challenges in the near future, as faculty and administration stakeholders address issues such as salary inversion and compression, and the continued use of Position Descriptions, particularly their place in post-tenure evaluations.
- MSU Billings faculty — and the University as a whole — need to continue to make gains in improved communications at all levels. Current efforts for improving communication, such as including the Academic Senate in budgetary decisions, will surely bear fruit.
- As with other units of the Montana University System, salary compression issues will be a challenge for MSU Billings.
- Different labor agreements between the University and faculties at different campuses create administrative challenges. While efforts are under way to mitigate these differences, such as the addition of the Chancellor and Academic Vice Chancellor to the membership of the VTEM Union Management Committee, these efforts must be redoubled in the future to insure a unified faculty identity across the University.
- MSU Billings needs to actively engage and include faculty in the intended transition of the College of Technology into to a full-fledged community college. This goal was highlighted in the summer 2007 expanded Provost Council Retreat, which resulted in the creation of an internal Community College Planning and Communication Committee. Faculty issues involved in this effort include hiring and departmental oversight, general education curricular review and contract clarification.
- The future direction of two-year education in Montana is largely in the hands of the Board of Regents, the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and Montana Legislature. The recent appointment of a Deputy Commissioner for Two Year Education at OCHE and continued policy discussions about two-year education will have implications for MSU Billings East and West Campuses, programs and faculty. Collaborative solutions to those implications will need to be developed by MSU Billings administration and faculty.