Guilford College is in hot water again: the teach-in, explained

At a teach-in hosted by Guilford College’s chapter of the American Association of University, professors, alumni, students and community members gained perspective on internal issues within Guilford College, and discussed possible solutions to these problems.

 On Oct. 21, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) hosted a teach-in that addressed the recent crises faced by the College. Topics discussed during the two-hour meeting included financial exigency, shared governance and the College’s recent budget challenges. The teach-in aimed to disseminate information, generate space for discussion and provide strategies to move toward a socially just outcome.

 Jill Peterfeso, an associate professor of religious studies, began the meeting by explaining financial exigency and what it means for Guilford College.

“Financial exigency is necessary to start the prioritization of programs within a college,” Peterfeso stated. “Program prioritization without first declaring financial exigency is death for a small liberal arts college education.”

Financial exigency provides a safeguard for tenured professors. Without it, faculty have limited input as to what happens within their academic programs. Financial exigency creates a system of checks and balances to protect faculty and to ensure shared governance within the College.

“There’s a sort of Quakerly notion that if a community is in crisis then the community should get all the information it can, to think of ways to solve the crisis,” said Professor of Philosophy Lisa McLeod.  

According to the Guilford College handbook, if the Board of Trustees declares financial exigency, faculty and staff must come together to develop a solution to combat the crisis. The College has yet to allow faculty access to information concerning financial exigency.

If Guilford declares financial exigency, Peterfeso recommends that faculty members and student representatives participate in the discussion. Currently, the conversation is increasingly monopolized by college administrators and the Board of Trustees. 

Zhihong Chen, an associate professor of history, emphasized the importance of shared governance within Guilford College’s institution.

“To me, shared governance is the right to know what is happening at the College,” Chen said. “As stakeholders, especially students who are paying to get an education here, and as faculty who devote our whole lives and career to the College, we should really have a say in the decision process.”

Shared governance within higher education is the process through which faculty, staff, administration and sometimes students collaborate on the development of policies and decisions that affect an institution.

In 2016, Guilford College undertook and invested in projects that it could not previously afford. These projects included dorm renovations and new initiatives to recruit students, i.e. the Guilford Edge. In 2016, bonds could be refinanced and money could be borrowed to fund these initiatives. 

From 2018 to 2019, the borrowing started to increase. As of the spring of 2020, Guilford College has accumulated a debt of nearly $80 million. Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the financial implications for Guilford College have only been exacerbated.

Junior Cade Wooten provided a student perspective to the AAUP meeting, encouraging administration to consider student opinions and persuading students to “be involved in shaping the process moving forward.” 

In addition to letters, petitions and protests, Wooten encouraged his peers to put pressure on the College. 

“Hypothetically, if a college was acting in a way that did not line up with its values, students would need to put pressure on the College through various forms of direct action,” Wooten stated. 

Wooten also introduced a coalition of anonymous students called Students for Ethical Leadership. These students are “greatly concerned about the current state of our school and are unwilling to sit back and watch as our college is mismanaged.” 

Students for Ethical Leadership have three demands: the readjustment of tuition and tuition schedule, progressive salary cuts and an aggressive fundraising campaign. 

The AAUP and its members speak for themselves and their chapter. They do not speak for Guilford College. If a student is interested in joining Students for Ethical Leadership, they should contact [email protected].