Jobless in Two Days

May 14, 2014

Like so many institutions, Quinnipiac University has struggled at times to maintain its financial footing since the recession. And like their counterparts elsewhere, Quinnipiac professors have borne the brunt of that struggle, seeing a salary freeze and stalled hiring along the way. But faculty members say that no one saw last week’s rapid-fire round of full-time faculty cuts coming, and they’re still “reeling” from the news.

Beyond the unusually quick timeline for the cuts – deans and department chairs were given just two days to decide whom to lay off – the matter has raised concerns about shared governance. Faculty members say they have no idea whether such cuts are really necessary, given their lack of involvement in the decision and the fact that Quinnipiac simultaneously announced it will hire additional faculty members next year in other “growth” programs.

“There’s shock, disbelief, confusion – we’re really just still reeling from this,” said a faculty member who did not want to be named, citing concerns about job security. “I don’t know how to express to you, in terms of information, how little we got [about the cuts].”

Stephen Straub, a professor of athletic training, sports medicine and physical therapy, and Quinnipiac’s Faculty Senate chair, expressed similar sentiments. “I don’t think anybody saw this coming. It came kind of out of the blue,” he said. “What it really comes down to is I don’t have a lot of good, solid answers to give, which heightens the level of anxiety.”

According to faculty accounts, deans received an email from the administration on the evening of May 5, alerting them to a meeting the next day about staffing issues. At that meeting, deans in certain colleges were told they needed to cut a prescribed number of full-time faculty positions. Of 16 total cuts, 11 were to come from the College of Arts and Sciences, faculty members said. Deans were given two days – until Thursday – to consult with their department chairs about which faculty members to terminate. Affected instructors were notified that day.

Administrators blamed the cuts on reduced enrollment, faculty members said; based on fall tuition deposits as of May 2, enrollment is anticipated to be down 12 percent next year over this year. A university spokesman declined to comment on enrollment for next year, saying that number would be available in the fall.

At about the same time as it announced the faculty cuts, the university confirmed plans to hire 12 new full-time faculty members in what it said were growth areas.

In an emailed statement, the only one Quinnipiac officials said they would be making earlier this week, Lynn Bushnell, university spokeswoman said: "The university is adding faculty in areas of growth and reducing the number of faculty in areas that have had declining enrollments in recent years. As a result, 12 new faculty members will join the university this fall, and 16 professors currently on the faculty have been notified that they will not be reappointed next year."

None of the terminated 16 faculty members were tenured. There is some dispute over whether any were on the tenure track. But most, if not all, were full-time, non-tenure-track faculty. Some had been at Quinnipiac for as many as 10 years, professors said.

Faculty members said the cuts were somewhat evenly distributed throughout the College of Arts and Sciences, but that the departments of biology, English and math were some of the most affected.

The new faculty members will be hired in the School of Business and Engineering and the School of Medicine, sources said.

Straub said that the Faculty Senate and other faculty members were meeting to decide how they would respond to the university’s surprise announcement. He said the lack of due process terminated faculty members received was a key issue, as well as how professors will – if forced – deal with instructional holes in fall course schedules.

Faculty members also want to know if the situation is truly “exigent,” he said – one of the only reasons American Association of University Professors accepts for terminating tenured appointments. The association also maintains that non-tenure-track faculty members who have served seven consecutive years at an institution, as some of Quinnipiac’s terminated faculty members are said to have served, merit the same guarantees of due process as tenured faculty members.

So far, faculty members said, Quinnipiac has not declared financial exigency.

AAUP defines financial exigency as “a severe financial crisis that fundamen­tally compromises the academic integrity of the institution as a whole and that cannot be alleviated by less drastic means than terminating appointments.” The association shored up its definition of the term last year, after several institutions were accused of declaring exigency to address festering financial issues or direct money away from instruction to other priorities, rather than having dire financial woes. AAUP also outlined enhanced roles for faculty members to play in declaring financial exigency and selecting programs for downsizing when it cannot be avoided.

But even since the publication of the new definition and a related report, institutions have continued to shed long-term faculty members due to projected low enrollment and other less-than-immediate financial concerns. Recently, Felician College and Carroll University laid off faculty members -- some of whom were longtime professors and, at Carroll, were on the tenure track -- citing low projected enrollment for next year. Neither institution declared financial exigency. But neither institution announced simultaneous plans to hire new faculty.

In an email, Greg Scholtz, director of tenure, academic freedom and governance for AAUP, said a 12 percent decline in enrollment did not appear to meet either AAUP’s old or new, firmer, definition of financial exigency. He said that faculty layoffs happening outside of true financial exigency have been on the rise since 2008, and don’t seem to be abating.

But Scholtz noted that at least one institution recently backed down from plans to lay off some tenured and non-tenure-track faculty members outside of declaring financial exigency. Earlier this year, amid student protests and following a warning letter from AAUP, the University of Southern Maine said it would work to keep 12 faculty members it previously had announced would be jobless next year due to academic restructuring. (But seven faculty members will still lose their jobs). Other colleges, including St. Michael's College in Vermont, are devising other ways to weather a drop in high school graduates in the Northeast expected over the next several years.


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