SUNY Fredonia faculty criticize administration, possible cuts
OBSERVER Staff Report
This past week, an open letter was emailed to President Virginia Horvath, Ph.D., Provost Terry Brown, PhD. and copied to the vice presidents and deans, as well as the chair of chairs, University Senate and the United University Professions labor specialist. The letter, signed by 26 current and retired faculty members, expresses their “concerns and widespread discontent” with the administration’s recent implementation of PEPRE (Procedures for Emergency Program Reduction/Elimination).
Not only are the 26 signers, as well as the unnamed faculty they represent, frustrated with the administration’s handling of enrollment and budget challenges, but they place the blame for the empty reserve fund squarely on the administration.
Just before Thanksgiving break, Horvath’s office sent a campus-wide email announcing that as part of PEPRE, 20 undergraduate and graduate degree programs are being considered for elimination or reduction, along with other offices and services on campus.
Undergraduate degree programs being considered for elimination/reduction are BA Applied Mathematics, BA Art History, BA Earth Science, BA French, BA French: Adolescent Education, BA Philosophy, BFA Ceramics, BFA Film and Video, BFA Sculpture, BS Industrial Management, BS Mathematical Sciences: Middle Childhood and BS Mathematics: Physics. Graduate degree programs being considered for elimination/reduction are CAS Bilingual, CAS Professional Writing, CAS TESOL, MA English, MA Language and Learning, MM Music Theory: Composition, MS Biology and MsEd Mathematics.
In a Nov. 20 article in the OBSERVER, Horvath explained, “Every year, we’ve tried to reduce our operating expenses, knowing we’d be out of reserves this year.” The proposed cuts are part of the PEPRE plan that was developed years before the rapid drain of the reserve funds that has resulted from declining enrollment over the past 10 years.
Areas identified for reduction or elimination have been offered the opportunity to submit a response by Feb. 1. Final decisions on any program reductions/eliminations will be announced by March 15 and are unlikely to go into effect until the 2020-2021 school year.
The faculty members’ letter states that according to the PEPRE document, program reduction and elimination “will occur only after all options other than workforce reduction have been exhausted, and that decisions will be based on data.” However, the letter questions the data on cost savings and argues, “all of the threatened undergraduate programs have one simple thing in common: they had fewer than 10 first majors on the date of the administration’s snapshot. This suggests that no care was taken to consider the cost of any program, the revenue generated, the savings (or loss) of discontinuation, the relations with other programs, or the centrality to the university’s mission.”
Second, the letter states that PEPRE is meant to make reductions or eliminations that will result in “significant demonstrable savings to the institution.” However, the signers argue that some of these cuts will actually cost the college more money. Third, the letter states that PEPRE requires sharing data with affected units, but that this was not done in a clear, complete manner. “The truth is, our institutional leaders have not only squandered any residual budget reserves, but have lost the confidence of much of the campus community in their ability to provide a way out of our financial hole,” the letter states.
To the signers of the letter, the implementation of PEPRE is not the only problem. Rather, it is part of a pattern of management decisions that detracts from faculty members’ purpose, and current and future students will ultimately pay the price. “The pattern also includes expensive and questionable decisions,” the letter continues, listing the rebranding of the college, the website redesign and more.
Furthermore, the letter complains that faculty members are rarely, if ever, consulted regarding admissions and recruitment decisions or how financial resources are allocated to various offices and programs. The letter claims, “The micromanaging and top-down dictating of our administration reveals an unjustified distrust of faculty and hampers our efforts to run programs that are valuable to our students and to the reputation of the university as a whole.”
According to the letter, “pushing people to retire or resign” is a poor way to reduce allocations in future budgets and that personnel reduction should be done selectively before any programs are put on the chopping block. “Administrators and directors should reconsider the need for expensive software and outside consultants to do their jobs,” the letter argues.
Finally, the letter calls for a long-term focus and increased transparency when it comes to leadership decisions. “We hope our current leaders are willing and able to make the necessary changes, but so far they have not inspired confidence,” the signers conclude.