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effort we made to contact adjunct faculty. It seemed
they went out of their way tomake formal contact
with those teachers difficult,” said Jack Goodman,
association chair in the late 1990s. “A lot of people are
glad they’re there because they’re so flexible…but the
people who teach for them still have tomake a living.”
WarrenMosby, current chair of the association,
says the situation has improved only slightly, noting
that two years ago, he had a hard time getting e-mail
addresses of Rio adjuncts.
Thor, who insists Rio’s part-time instructors are
treated as well as any in the district, if not better,
understands the suspicion. “If this model is effective,
and you project it to all of higher education, it would
be very threatening to the ranks of faculty,” she
observed. “We have never suggested that. We are a
niche institution.”
Fairly or unfairly, the use of part-timers lends
Rio Salado a certain taint in the minds of some
area academics—and draws additional scrutiny to
everything the college does.
Even as Rio’s national ambitions are increasing (the school
recently entered a partnership with the U.S. Open University,
for example), its attempts to invade new turf repeatedly draw
fire locally.
Dual enrollment is a case in point. Rio was the first of the
Maricopa community colleges allowed to offer programs in
which high school students earn college credit for courses
taken at the high school.
Those programs, now also offered by Rio’s sister colleges,
have been criticized as low-quality cash cows for the district,
since both colleges and high schools receive state funding for
the same student.
“The notion that every student is ready to do college
work before they graduate high school—it sounds ludicrous
when you say it out loud,” said Gay Garesche, an economics
instructor at Glendale. “There was a tremendous drive to see
this everywhere because it’s so lucrative, but it’s way beyond
what’s academically warranted.”
“You have a bunch of faculty who think this is a sham…
that the system is open for abuse,” said TomTrotter, Arizona
State University’s vice provost for academic affairs.
But since ASU has articulation agreements with all of the
community colleges, the university leaves quality control up to
college officials. Thor defended the quality of the classes, and
said the additional money helps pay for faculty development,
lab upgrades and field trips at the high schools.
Rio Salado sent 445 transfer students to Arizona State this
year, but Trotter declined to say how well the transfers were
doing this year or how well they have done in the past.
While the universities may have grudgingly accepted dual
enrollment, they could not tolerate another initiative of Rio
Salado’s: a campaign to extend community colleges’ tentacles
into the universities’ territory by letting them offer four-year
degrees in selected areas.
Though the idea was approved by the legislature in 1997,
then-Governor Fife Symington vetoed it under pressure from
the universities—a rare case of the University of Phoenix
siding with the state’s three public universities.
“The offering of degrees comes at a cost,” said Trotter. “It
requires faculty and the resources. The question is whether…
those resources should be duplicated on the community
college level. We felt that the universities are meeting the needs
of the citizens.”
Thor doesn’t agree, citing several areas, law enforcement
among them, where degree completion at Arizona universities
is not easy. “I believe the need for the community college
baccalaureate still exists,” she said.
Still, Rio Salado has successfully expanded its role in
upper-division education, through partnerships with four-
year institutions that accept up to 80 units from the college,
more than traditional universities.
“Rio Salado has been and still is the leader in the arena,
with regard to aggressively finding new ways to serve
students,” said Sally Johnstone.
The college’s commitment
to using business models and
breaking boundaries in order to
work with private institutions
raises the issue of the relevance
of public institutions. On
this question, LindaThor
has much to say. Educational
entrepreneurship, she believes,
is necessary to protect public
institutions against inroads
made by the likes of corporate
universities and credit aggregators.
“We potentially could lose what has been a large part of
the community college function,” she said. “We are trustees of
the public’s dollars and the public’s faith. We will have failed if
we don’t adapt the institutions to the public’s needs.”
u
Independent consultant Pamela Burdman is a former higher
education reporter for the
San Francisco Chronicle
and former
program officer in education at theWilliam and Flora Hewlett
Foundation.
“It’s music to our ears when someone says ‘You can’t do that,’” says
Linda Thor, Rio Salado College’s entrepreneurial president.
Rio’s habit of reducing
instructional costs through
accelerated programs and
heavy reliance on part-time
instructors has not won
favor with area educators.