Letters to the Editor

Supporting college faculty is essential

To the Editor: 

I read your article regarding Guaranteed College Scholarships with an enthusiastic interest. I fully support financial assistance to students; however, it is my belief that any qualified student can attend one of our community colleges if not a four-year university. Financial need rarely prevents a determined student from an education.

There are many, many ways to earn and fund an education. The much bigger problem is an enthusiastic and fully supported faculty and the distance between instructors and administrators. 

I graduated from Southwestern Community College’s Physical Therapist Assistant program in 2010. Attending SCC was one of the best and certainly most life-changing decisions I have ever made. As a retired N.C. State employee, I wasn’t ready to “enjoy the good life,” so I entered SCC and, much to my surprise, I found the great life. I benefited from absolutely top-notch instructors who took me through the owner’s manuals of the human body cell by cell. I have an undergraduate degree from UT and a master’s from WCU. I learned more in the years at SCC than all my prior education combined. This was primarily due to the enthusiasm and dedication of my instructors. I was beyond impressed. In my first year of work, my encore degree from SCC earned me almost twice the annual income of my highest-income year as a 25-year state employee. My PTA license literally opened every door to travel anywhere in the United States. At some point in my 10-year encore profession I realized that I had developed a debt of gratitude to those instructors and the institution that supported me. 

Three years ago I approached the SCC Foundation with a request to initiate a fund to honor those instructors through an excellence in education recognition program that would offer a modest stipend to outstanding instructors. I initially intended that the institution would make all graduates aware of this effort. I was told there was no mechanism to even locate graduates let alone offer them an opportunity to participate.

The minimum dollar amount to open a standalone fund at SCC is $15,000. My debt of gratitude only went to the $10,000 level, so I proposed a match wherein I would donate the first $5,000, The Foundation would seek contributions of the next $5,000 and I would then donate an additional $5,000 for the $15,000 threshold. We signed an agreement and I reached into my very modest 401k. It was a great personal joy to invest in the recognition of teaching excellence at the expense of my own security. It didn’t make much sense to me to measure an institution’s success by numbers of students if your staff isn’t highly skilled, motivated and appreciated. Surely having more excellent, enthusiastic and appreciated instructors would result in greater student recruitment and both student and staff long-term success. 

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Well, not so fast. We allowed a two-year period to raise the needed $5,000 that would result in my additional $5,000 match. During that time, I am told by the foundation that all staff, board members and every donor were made aware of this Excellence in Teaching fund. The fund has no association with my name other than I asked to be listed as the initiator for historical reference on our agreement. One donor made a $1,000 contribution as a portion of a much larger donation. That’s it. No faculty, no administrators, no one in a leadership role gave anything, nada, nothing. I was beyond disappointed, stunned that no leadership emerged with even a token contribution to encourage others in administrative management roles to participate. In fact, I was questioned by the foundation at the time of the $1,000 donation as to whether I really intended to make the second $5,000 match. 

The problem with education, I am learning, is with administrators, well paid, deep into six figures, stacked one on the other so our school will be highly ranked. So we get shinier buildings, larger billboards, greater influence on legislators and one-off funding grants. Faculty go largely ignored until there is a complaint. They are generally underpaid and certainly disposable. The best instructors work from the heart and it shows in the success of their students. They deserve to be recognized. A highly motivated faculty is an institution’s best recruiting strategy. Support them, and students will come. 

The fund did meet the threshold, but only at the last minute and only through a sleight of hand using already “undesignated funds” to garner my match. To my knowledge no one within the institution gave anything in support of excellence in teaching. 

Lee Crites


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