Faculty members at Arkansas State University are raising questions about the university’s decision to offer a doctorate in education in educational leadership on-line.

The executive committee of the ASU chapter of the American Association of University Professors asked for advice from the national AAUP, which wrote Chancellor Tim Hudson about the issue Dec. 16, in a letter I received today.

In it, the AAUP said faculty members perceive “disregard for the legitimate role of the faculty in academic decision making and insensitivity to faculty concerns.”

According to AAUP, faculty members were informed of planned changes and planning meetings were scheduled last year. Then, they were told in April that online arrangements had already been made under a contract with Academic Partnerships. In May, the faculty was informed of specific changes in the doctoral program. The Graduate Council of faculty voted 14-0 to reject the changes on the ground that they couldn’t be made without significant curriculum changes. The Shared Governance Oversight Committee, appointed by the administration, disagreed. The AAUP said this decision was made without first hearing from faculty in the Center for Excellence in Education, where the program is based. Nonetheless, the ASU Board of Trustees approved the program in September.

Criticisms from the faculty:

…the transition of the doctoral degree to an online format would likely require a reduction from 14 to 7-week courses, a reduction in admissions requirements, the discontinuance of course sequencing, the elimination of course prerequisites and the elimination of research tools. In addition, the faculty members are concerned that the anticipated large increase in the number of doctoral students will result in a significant disruption to the faculty’s ability to properly supervise dissertations.

The AAUP says it is concerned that the matter might infringe on shared faculty governance, which include setting degree requirements. The letter said, based on information only from faculty, that ASU appears to have ignored the faculty handbook. It asked for more information. It also urges ASU not to implement the program “until the faculty has had full opportunity to address the situation and participate in the decision-making process.”

It is only the latest sign of tension — see University of Arkansas — as brick-and-mortar colleges join the rush to compete with on-line colleges.

I received this response from ASU to my initial query, a statement from Dr. Lynita Cooksey, provost and vice chancellor academic affairs.

“We received a letter from the American Association of University Professors in December on the last day of the semester. As we were on winter break, we replied that our administration would provide comments to the AAUP in January. We plan to have that response ready by the end of January.”

Her brief letter to AAUP says there are “errors of fact” in the AAUP letter.

Jeff Hankins, a systemwide spokesman for ASU, added:

It’s important to note that a very small number — we’re told 30-40 — of our 502 faculty members are members of AAUP.

He added later that ASU currently has 1,659 students enrolled on-line, though the particular doctoral program hasn’t begun. The classes are managed and taught by ASU. Academic Partners gets 50 percent of the take for marketing the classes.