Monday, November 2, 2015

We destroyed the village in order to save it

So, Higher Ed, inc. has been chugging along towards its preordained appointment with the precipice lately, what with proposals to put faculty salaries out for bid in Florida, and the ongoing nightmare that is the Wisconsin state system's loss of ability to protect tenure. And, of course, there's the fact that both of these thing decrease the power of an already powerless group (contingent faculty) while increasing their numbers.

But then there's this bit of fuckery: the new president of Rider University, who took office August 1, just eliminated 12 to 14 (depending on how you count) departments or programs, and is turning three other majors into minors. Sources close to yr correspondent additionally say (no confirmation available) that:
  • these cuts came in the wake of the new president running up against the faculty union's objections to his plan to freeze salaries, on the not-unreasonable grounds that they still had two years left on their most recent contract that he had to honor;
  • that some of the strongest voices in the union were also members of cut or demoted departments;
  • that the faculty smelled Something Rotten, but were never part of the discussions (other than the above-noted insistence that their current contract must be honored), and were thus completely blindsided by the speed and scope when the news came down Thursday morning.
The losses seem small in numbers: 14 full-time faculty, plus five empty positions; if typical percentages prevail, perhaps 20-25 part-time/returning faculty will also have no place to return to. Two staff members will also lose their jobs. I have heard other, even worse specific stories, but they're things that I'm in zero position to confirm, so I won't get into it.

Dell'Omo (Rider's spankin'-new president) has pitched this as a move to save a university on the verge of financial collapse. Certainly, Rider was operating on the financial edge. But the sense was that things were starting to turn around. Of course, "the sense" of faculty is often governed by the presence/absence and/or quality of refreshments at the faculty meeting and other things that are just as likely to be the result of good department-level management as overall health of the institution. So there may indeed have been need for drastic action.[1]

But I've still got two questions:

1. Does a person who has been on campus for less than three months already know enough -- that is, can s/he have played out all other scenarios and exhausted all the other options -- in order to justify cutting over a dozen departments?

2. More to the point: Can a four-year school that has eliminated departments and programs in art and art history, advertising, American studies, business education, French, geosciences, German, marine science, philosophy, piano [at a school that was, after its merger with Westminster Choir College, sort of known for its conservatory-like program in music performance], web design, and Economics (BA; the BS is still there) really claim to have "saved" anything?

[1] Though I suppose that Rider faculty should be grateful that it's not as bad as one headline had it: "Rider University cutting 13 majors, eliminating 14 professors"... giving new and gruesome meaning to "getting the axe," I suppose.


Good Enough Woman said...

I wonder what will happen when no one wants to take jobs in these places. Are teacher-bashing, anti-tenure people surprised that shaming, strapping, and underpaying teachers has resulted in a teacher shortage in K-12? I know the academic job market is lean, but I still think candidates will run from these institutions/states.

My only hope is that, as the quality in these places declines, the rest of the country will take heed.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

To GEW's point -- there's a Ren job available this fall in Wisconsin that I would never in a million years apply for because I know their system is jacked up by Walker. I figure only the very naive and/or incredibly desperate would apply for a job in Wisconsin's system until they get a democratic governor who turns things around. I have several friends in that system, both from grad school and blogging, and their complaints are tremendously depressing.

I hadn't heard of this Rider issue. I'll read more about it. It sounds terrible, and familiar. Our board recently cut programs and fired a tenured faculty member without faculty consent. :(

Bardiac said...

My guess is that people will take jobs in order to eat, hoping to be able to move on, or hoping that things will improve. People who already have jobs won't be nearly so desperate.

Contingent Cassandra said...

Excellent questions, for which I have no answer. Also, even in the present instrumentalist, anti-humanities environment, it seems to me that several of the programs on the list, even if they're small now, would be ones to try to expand, not eliminate. I also strongly suspect (hope?) that the tendency to discount the value of the humanities and arts is cyclical (most likely following somewhat behind economic downturns), and that schools that make such cuts now are doing so in advance of a likely upturn in enrollments. We've already got STEAM (with the A standing for arts) gathering steam (!) in many places, and scattered articles telling us that humanities majors are in demand in silicon valley (because they can think and write and adapt and such); can renewed appreciation and enrollments be far behind? I suppose I can hope/dream.

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