A petition signed by more than 100 students at the University of Alaska Southeast has given rise to discussions of professor retention.
Student Mary Jensen, 44, began circulating a petition last week to show student support of English instructor Liz Dodd. Dodd is a term professor, hired on a contractual basis for the semester.
"I knew the teacher wasn't coming back this coming semester," Jensen said. "I just thought I would start a petition to let her know how much she is appreciated."
Dodd is not being fired, but Jensen said she has seen many good teachers come and go from UAS in her five or six years as a student in Juneau. She said she would like the university to work on retaining teachers that students find particularly helpful and competent.
"It's great that they appreciate the quality of the teachers we get as adjuncts. I think that speaks a lot of the type of adjunct teachers that we get at the university," UAS spokesman Kevin Myers said. "I think that's great and it speaks toward Liz's professionalism and speaks to the knowledge of the courses that she teaches."
Efforts to reach Dodd were unsuccessful.
The petition does not seem to possess any power to evoke change in the hiring process because the request does not conform with university practices, Myers said.
"It's just a misinterpretation or lack of knowledge of the system," he said.
UAS Director of Personnel Services Tom Dienst said the university has nearly 140 adjunct professors teaching at the Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka campuses.
"Most of these folks are professionals in the community and we are pleased to have them," Dienst said.
He said there are a little more than 100 full-time professors with 12 credit hours or more.
"We're thinking we have probably about three-quarters of our courses taught by regular faculty members," Dienst said.
He said retention is an issue, but there are many reasons why teachers might decide to leave the university. He said he has heard of professors leaving because of relationship issues, because of the weather, and for other jobs.
"Occasionally we lose a rising star," Dienst said. "If you have a faculty member with goals of moving on to a large university they might use us a steppingstone."
He said there is some turnover, but he generally sees the same adjunct professors on the payroll from year to year.
"I would say that it is pretty low for the amount of course offerings that we have and the size of the university," Dienst said.
Full-time positions are filled through a yearlong national search, with more than 300 applicants for some jobs. Applications are reviewed in the fall, interviews are given in January, and positions generally open in August, he said.
"If we have a local person it means that they have to compete with the others out there, and it can be very, very competitive," Dienst said.
Jensen said there is student and faculty apathy when it comes to speaking out about issues because of the fear of retaliation.
The administration disagrees with that assertion, Myers said.
"The university is a place for free speech," he said. "If you can't speak out here I'm not sure where you can."
The petition has sparked numerous conversations among the students, Jensen said.
"This one petition was like a catalyst for a whole bunch of people coming to me to give their concerns to me on campus," she said.
Students have since approached her about multiple campus issues, including more access to photocopying machines, greater diversity of staff, longer hours for the campus coffee shop, and fully meeting the needs of students with disabilities, she said.
Mainly Jensen just wants to see quality teachers stay with the university.
"Not wanting to see another good teacher leave is why I started this petition," she said.