Crisis Management Criticized
National Louis University “blatantly ignored existing policies” when it shrank its full-time faculty body nearly by half in 2012 to address growing revenue shortfalls, the American Association of University Professors charges in a new report.
National Louis, a private, nonprofit institution based in the greater Chicago metropolitan region, served about 10,000 students before the restructuring process in 2012. In addition to terminating 63 faculty members, among them 16 tenured professors, the institution eliminated four departments in its College of Arts and Sciences: English, fine arts, mathematics and natural sciences. Today, about 8,300 students attend the university -- 9 in 10 on a part-time basis.
Before the 2011-12 academic year, the university canceled a review of its academic programs when it appeared the budget cuts it enacted would prevent a financial crisis. Mere months into the fall semester, however, monthly revenue shortfalls had grown to $5 million, prompting the administration to reboot the review.
In a statement, National Louis President Nivine Megahed said the “very difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions” were necessary.
“[T]hese decisions have enabled the university to stabilize a multiyear decline and provided the opportunity to place our focus on our students and the quality of their educational experience,” Megahed said.
But since the university did not declare a state of financial exigency, the investigating committee appointed by AAUP determined that the institution disregarded its own policies to terminate tenured faculty members. The conclusion was corroborated by the former AAUP secretary-treasurer Howard Bunsis, whose analysis of the university’s financial situation determined that the institution had “sufficient reserves and a low level of debt, in addition to solid cash flows” in academic years leading up to 2011-12.
“In 2012, a reorganization of the departmental structure in the College of Arts and Sciences might arguably have been justified, but ... [t]here was no acceptable financial or educational justification for these terminations,” the report reads.
In a May 4, 2012, interview with Inside Higher Ed, Megahed called the numbers from Bunsis' analysis inflated and outdated. “I would say that if you look at the entire picture, there are serious fiscal pressures on the university and we will have to take action immediately,” Megahed said then.
Megahed’s administration based its review of the university’s academic programs on the writings of Robert C. Dickeson, a former college president who has lectured about prioritizing academic programs to avoid bloat.
Faculty members at National Louis, aware that Dickeson’s administration had terminated 39 tenured faculty members in 1982, when he was president of the University of Northern Colorado, “objected to any part of the prioritization process that would violate tenure, academic freedom, or NLU’s current rules and past practice,” the report reads.
After a confidential deliberation process, a task force created to evaluate the university’s academic areas in March 2012 presented a list of academic programs ranked by priority. Two months later, the administration announced which departments would close. In a letter to the university, Megahed said “the primary rationale ... was low to negligible enrollment over the past several years, indicating lack of student demand for the program.”
Of the 16 tenured professors whose contracts were terminated, only one was offered a position in a different department. Two appealed and were unanimously recommended for reinstatement, but the administration chose not to follow the appeals committee’s decision.
To fill the teaching positions vacated by the terminated faculty members, the university turned to adjuncts. The report notes “how quickly and extensively competent and experienced members of the faculty, many of them with decades of service to the institution, were replaced by a cadre of part-time adjunct faculty members,” and suggests the administration thought it could benefit by moving away from full-time professors.
“It can be assumed that the administration attached less importance to the negative impact of the change in the quality of education and would justify the low payment by referring to weaker academic credentials and no expectation of scholarship,” the report reads. “The climate for academic freedom under the current NLU administration may have been precarious for its full-time faculty, but for a faculty serving on part-time appointments, the climate in all likelihood will be lethal.”