Disappearing Departments

Kean University department chairs have spent a year on the endangered species list, and now they appear headed for all-but-certain extinction.

May 7, 2010

Kean University department chairs have spent a year on the endangered species list, and now they appear headed for all-but-certain extinction.

A rough plan to eliminate chairs took shape last May amid heavy protest, and administrators now have a draft proposal they say could be carried out as early as July. The plan, which would replace departments with schools headed by presidentially-appointed “executive directors,” has been met with renewed furor from faculty, who view it as a power grab that leaves the future of many disciplines uncertain. The university has already moved to eliminate such departments as philosophy and social work, but this plan would kill even large departments like English and biology, dividing faculty members into new organizational structures they played no role in creating.

“The university has become a battlefield, [where administrators] do as they see fit, when they see fit without any academic justification,” said Bryan Lees, a chemistry professor.

The reorganization has been couched in part as a cost-saving measure, but faculty critics say there’s been precious little evidence to support that claim. A nine-page document outlining the plan, which would add 14 new executive directors to an existing four, does not give any estimated savings numbers or explain what the new directors will be paid.

Administrators have publicly mentioned potential savings in the neighborhood of $430,000, but faculty say there’s no rationale to support the figure. And if there is a rationale, it’s certainly not covered in the draft document – the only written account thus far distributed. Moreover, faculty say eliminating 38 chairs only to pay 18 executive directors – at salaries of $80,000 to $90,000, officials have said publicly – might even increase costs.

“This new structure is adding an entirely new layer of administrators that never used to exist,” said James Castiglione, who teaches physics at Kean and is president of the Kean Federation of Teachers.

The union, which is part of the American Federation of Teachers, will challenge the plan on several grounds, Castiglione said. Most notably, union officials fear one of the plan’s chief goals is to convert department chairs into executive managers, who will then be removed from the bargaining unit, even though they’ll still carry some teaching duties.


The document you have is a Frankenstein’s monster with missing parts and no way to animate it." -- Maria Montaperto, assistant professor of English.


“It will allow the upper administration to exert increased control over faculty work lives,” Castiglione said. “That’s what this whole thing is about. This whole thing is about control. The union will fight. You can’t have someone who is teaching classes and just call them a manager.”

Mark Lender, Kean’s interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, was not made available for an interview Thursday. A spokesman for the university, however, said via e-mail the plan “is not final.”

“We continue to review our budget situation and state funding levels,” Stephen Hudik, a university spokesman, wrote. “However, it is clear that we cannot maintain our current levels of service without steps that include consolidation of departments, privatization and layoffs."

While the reorganization plan was not prompted by budgetary concerns, the downturn requires Kean to “streamline our operations,” Hudik added.

The university expects a $17.7 million deficit next year, given $8.5 million in expected expense increases and a nearly $2 million loss of furlough savings, Hudik said. Faculty have challenged that figure, however, noting that Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget shows only a $6.6 million decrease in state appropriations.

“To suggest that Kean University, for whatever motive, is somehow immune from New Jersey’s severe budget crisis is irresponsible and not in line with economic reality,” Hudik wrote.

Accreditation Concerns

As currently understood by faculty, who are admittedly in the dark, reorganization would eliminate or marginalize valued programs. Concerns are particularly acute for English faculty, who would see a composition program they say they’ve tried to nurture moved into a “School of General Studies” alongside remedial math.

The plan stipulates that two composition faculty would be placed in general studies, while other English professors would work in a “School of Literature and Communication.” In so doing, the plan apparently divorces two composition faculty who helped launch a new master’s in writing program from their colleagues in the program. Who will teach the courses they designed? That’s unanswered. Indeed, the document leaves wholly unmentioned the fate of the writing program. Such an omission not only concerns faculty who helped to build the program, but also illustrates the fact that administrators crafted a plan without consulting professors at all, said Maria Montaperto, an assistant professor of English.

“The document you have is a Frankenstein’s monster with missing parts and no way to animate it,” she said.

Other departments that now exist are similarly concerned with the implications of being split apart. The plan stipulates, for instance, that bachelor of arts programs in science will be placed in one school, while bachelor of science programs in the same disciplines will be housed in another school. Since faculty frequently teach courses in both degree programs, there’s a practical concern about how to cover the teaching if faculty are divided between B.A. and B.S. programs.

Dividing faculty between degree programs also presents potential concerns for accreditation. The independent national accreditation for the B.S. program in chemistry, for instance, hinges in part on full-time faculty numbers. Those numbers would presumably be reduced if some chemistry professors were devoted purely to the B.A. program, as the plan appears to prescribe.

“How do you maintain accreditation if one part of your program is in one school and another part of your program is in another school? We’re absolutely aghast and we’re very concerned about accreditation and losing it,” said Lees, who helped the school secure accreditation with the American Chemical Society nearly 30 years ago.

Kean is also in the middle of an accreditation renewal with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and some are concerned that reorganizing after the university has conducted a self-study will interfere with the process.

The only department that would continue to exist and retain a chair under the plan would be history. When the university purchased Liberty Hall, a historic property, Kean committed to cataloging and archiving documents there, and the department’s “integral role” in that process is part of the agreement, university officials said.

Inside Higher Ed requested documentation of the agreement with Liberty Hall, but it was not provided. Some faculty have taken note that the lone surviving department under the plan happens to be the home department of Lender, the interim provost who has been promoting the plan.

Budget Data Disputed

About half a dozen programs would be phased out under Kean’s reorganization plan, and several others would merge. Among those eliminated are graphic communications and educational psychology, both of which are deemed to have problematic enrollment trends.

Of the university’s 38 graduate programs, 18 “bear scrutiny” because of insufficient or inconsistent enrollment and graduation numbers, the document states."The most vulnerable" programs are those unable to maintain enrollments of 25 students per year over five years and graduating fewer than 10 students per year over three of the past five years, according to the document.

Faculty and administrators, however, can’t even agree on data as fundamental as enrollment numbers. Indeed, a number of faculty say their trust in administrators is so fragile that they don’t have faith in any of the data put before them to justify changes. That lack of trust is coupled with some professors' outright contempt for Dawood Farahi, the university's controversial president. Faculty accuse Farahi of getting worked up over matters as trivial as someone walking on campus grass -- and he has accused critics of standing in the way of progress.

When administrators closed the philosophy and religion department last year, they cited running budget deficits in the department. But faculty conducted an independent analysis of the figures and determined that the budget data administrators produced hadn’t accounted for state appropriations. Once the state dollars were included in the budget, the department was found to be operating at a surplus in excess of $460,000, the analysis determined.

Bert Wailoo, a professor of accounting at Kean, said the administration consistently cherry picks numbers to justify its agenda. Wailoo, who analyzed the philosophy and religion department’s budget through public records, said the administration exploits the fact that many faculty don’t have the necessary expertise to challenge budgetary assumptions. “Most of the faculty are not numbers people, but this is my business,” he said.

Kean officials were provided with Wailoo’s analysis for this story, but did not respond to its contention that an eliminated department was operating in the black.

Mervyn D’Souza, a professor of philosophy, also disputes the accuracy of the budgetary data used to shut down his department. D’souza contends that departments that have challenged the administration are punished, noting that professors in philosophy and social work – a department also being phased out – have been consistent critics.

“Data has been misused,” he said, “and I have never witnessed such vindictiveness.”


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