2/13/17 – In the past 10 days, House and/or Senate Higher Ed. Committees have heard bills on expanding tenure track faculty, student loans, and textbook costs and the various ways of reducing those costs. There have also been some bills aimed at qualifying the state need grant requirements in various ways.
In House Higher Ed hearings on Tuesday, 1/24, I testified in favor of the expanding tenured faculty bill (HB1238) along with our student rep., Nora Selander, Western’s government relations person, Becca Kenna-Schenck, and UFW president Bill Lyne. Council of Faculty Reps (CFR) testified in favor, although the UW and WSU representatives testified “with concerns.” EWU did not take a position on this bill. As part of my testimony about the value of tenured faculty, I discussed faculty research and gave a few examples. The ranking minority member, Rep. Jeff Holy (R 6), assumed that research took place at the “research schools” and that faculty at the regionals simply teach. Becca and I are currently creating a fact sheet about faculty research at Western that will be strategically deployed in an effort to correct this belief. This issue combines with legislator interest in faculty “workload.” Senate Higher Ed held a work session last week with faculty workload as one of the topics. Two viceprovosts, from CWU for the regionals and from UW for the research schools, gave presentations on the subject. The CWU vice provost reported that the normal workload at Central is 80% teaching; 13% research; and 7% service. UW reported that faculty teach 2 courses per quarter with reductions for research.
The other subject that both Senate and House Higher Ed Committees took up last week was textbook costs and open educational resources or OERs. On the high costs of textbooks, Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R 6) exclaimed, “It’s a racket, it’s a racket.” He also expressed his belief that universities should take steps to force the adoption of more OER resources, or the legislature will need to take steps of its own. As Sen. Baumgartner was not the only member to express this view, it would seem prudent for institutions to support a faculty-driven initiative rather than wait to have the legislature create one for us. OER also came up in the House, this time in the form of a bill (HB 1561) that would create an OER pilot grant program. HB 1561 is detailed on page 2 of this CFR report.
Several bills dealing with student loan debt and default have surfaced this session. On 1/25, in House Higher Ed, we heard HB 1169, The Student Loan Assistance and Relief Act. The act has several provisions, including measures to increase awareness of student debt as it accrues, providing options for repayment, helping those whose loans are in default, and setting limits on default judgments and garnishments of wages. Legal professionals testified on the nefarious actions of loan collection agencies. Since this bill won’t cost anything (it has no funding tied to it), it might stand a good chance of continuing its way through the process. As always, it’s good to remember that only 20% of bills ever become law in any given session.
-Adapted from Dr. Sara Singleton’s report to the WWU Faculty Senate