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UTMB Nursing Faculty Troubled

June 17, 2008

By Harvey Rice, Houston Chronicle

Jun. 17–GALVESTON — As Texas struggles to cope with a chronic nursing shortage, discontent among nursing school faculty at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston runs so deep that it hinders the ability to train nurses, a statewide faculty association says.

Experienced faculty members are seeking new jobs because of an oppressive administration that has jettisoned the traditional academic system ensuring academic freedom, according to interviews with faculty members. The administration, they say, has embraced a corporate model emphasizing income and loyalty.

The shrinking faculty means an ever-increasing workload for already overburdened instructors and more qualified nursing school applicants being turned away, said Texas Faculty Association representative George Reamy, whose organization represents faculty on 100 campuses.

The oppressive management style is fostering discontent not only in the nursing school, but throughout the university, including its medical programs, Reamy said.

UTMB denied a request by the Houston Chronicle to interview President Dr. David Callendar, hired less than a year ago; Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. Garland Anderson; and school of nursing Dean Pamela Watson.

Spokesman: No comment UTMB spokesman John Koloen said, “It is university practice not to comment on personnel matters.” Koloen said officials also would not comment on nonpersonnel matters associated with the association’s complaints.

The smoldering discontent came to a head last month when 39 of the 56 faculty members — 70 percent of the nursing school faculty — signed a petition protesting the firing of a popular administrator.

The administration responded with an iron fist, Reamy said. He said Anderson accused the faculty of trying to get the nursing school dean fired and told them to stop complaining or resign.

Faculty members refused to allow their names to be used for this story because they feared retaliation from administrators.

“This place is very domineering and intimidating,” a faculty member said.

A former faculty member who remains in close touch with the current faculty confirmed the discontent with the administration.

Faculty ‘undervalued’? Professor Emeritus Elizabeth Anderson, no relation to the provost, retired from UTMB after 19 years of teaching at the school of nursing.

“They are undervalued,” she said. “They are not feeling they are worth anything.”

In a letter to the administration accompanying the petition, faculty said, “during a time of severe nursing faculty shortages, we cannot afford to lose qualified, experienced people.”

The faculty association had long complained about the steady loss of faculty and increasing teaching loads that left little time for research. The simmering discontent came to a boil when Watson refused to renew the contract of Associate Dean Kathy Lucke.

Lucke was popular among the faculty in part because she was seen as sympathetic to their plight, faculty members said.

In response to Lucke’s involuntary termination, 39 faculty members signed a petition that said, “We are distressed that she has been relieved of her position and have concerns for the future of the school and its ability to maintain the excellence in nursing education it currently holds.”

An accompanying letter outlined faculty concerns and listed the names of 34 staff lost during Watson’s six years in office and four others who intend to leave.

Applicants turned away Faculty members said UTMB management has discarded the traditional model of a university run according to principles of academic freedom and dedication to research.

Instead, they said, it has adopted a business model that emphasizes income.

Their complaints are given weight by a study published in October by the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies, part of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The study said that between 52 and 54 percent of qualified nursing applicants were turned away from the state’s 88 nursing programs, primarily because of teaching faculty shortages.

“If you are going to look at what is the bottleneck, faculty is by far the No. 1 issue,” said Clair Jordan, executive director of the Texas Nursing Association.

Flood of retirements UTMB said its nursing school turned away 481 qualified nursing applicants out of 966 who applied in 2007. Only 120 were admitted.

The school turned away 99 qualified applicants for the program leading to the master’s degree required to teach nursing out of 200 who applied. Only 88 were admitted.

The Texas study and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing say the teacher shortage is expected to get worse as the aging faculty workforce retires.

Jordan said half of all the 170,000 registered nurses in Texas will retire in 10 years.

“The shortage is so massive that it is going to take a lot of money and a lot of effort,” she said.

The Texas study said faculty vacancies take an average of one academic year to fill.

UTMB said that the number of faculty has dropped from 69 in 2002 to 56, not counting faculty who have already found other jobs but have not yet left.

The number of tenured professors, excluding the dean, has dropped from 17 in 2002 to eight.

harvey.rice@chron.com

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