We are all-too familiar with the current trend of downsizing faculty, staff and educational spending in higher education today. It has affected schools with relatively generous endowments, such as F&M or Gettysburg, as well as regional institutions such as York College of Pennsylvania, Elizabethtown, Lebanon Valley, and Keystone.
Many feel this is inevitable, or there’s nothing that can be done. As it turns out, a few people, backed by the AAUP, can accomplish quite a lot of good.
At York, in 2018, administrators and the board told faculty they needed $1,600,000 in cuts. The faculty process (including a model budget committee) was largely circumvented. The faculty said, in essence, “go ahead, but we aren’t participating in making the cuts.” The cuts were made, but faculty hung together, and over the year made their feelings known. This spring, another round of cuts was announced, the faculty again refused to participate in what they believed was a faux financial crisis, and the administration and board blinked, and withdrew the cuts.
Critical to the faculty success was a small AAUP chapter that helped provide leadership and perspective. The leadership there had been trained by AAUP colleagues and staff, the expenses paid in part by a scholarship from the state organization. The state also helped at times, with advice, as well as letters to the President and Board of Trustees. The PA AAUP received no reply, but heard that the letters seemed to make the administrators more open to reason.
At the end of the 2018-19 academic year, Keystone college presented faculty with a dire picture of financial emergency at the end of the school year but refused to take questions. Faculty were provided post-it notes to write their ideas for where to make cuts. A couple of months later, several faculty members, including tenured faculty, were fired.
Often when faculty are fired, they are overwhelmed, upset and depressed; but a couple of these faculty decided to stand up for themselves (in consultation with their local chapter).
The state AAUP helped the faculty members find a lawyer to consult who is knowledgeable about higher education, and to subsidize the two faculty who wanted to hire a lawyer to contest their termination. Again, we wrote a letter to the President and Board, stating how the firings violated AAUP policies; the national and regional Alliance also sent letters (all were ignored). On Monday, I heard from this colleague just before her hearing:
I wish to extend a heartfelt note of appreciation for the $750 that the Pennsylvania State Chapter of the AAUP recently sent me toward my continuing legal fees in pursuit of formal grievance with Keystone…Your support and solidarity has meant a great deal to me. I am grateful for your continued advocacy. [Other AAUP members] have been invaluable advocates in providing AAUP guideline information and wisdom to me throughout this process.
Just before the hearing, the North East AAUP Alliance, as well as the state, circulated a press release to local media outlets. No news was published, but apparently reporters got in touch with administrators, who were apparently keen to avoid putting themselves in the news.
Just before the hearing was to be held, I got a follow up from another colleague:
Just wanted to share
with you some good news. Today, Keystone College offered an acceptable
settlement to colleagues laid off from the Visual Arts program. I can’t
disclose any details, but the agreement was reached early today, and the
hearing [essentially a grievance hearing] was not needed.
Without a doubt, the administration’s postponements of the hearing were in the hopes of wearing down my colleagues’ energy and financial resources. When that didn’t happen and the administration could drag it out no further, they must have known they had a losing case. I also believe the cries of “financial exigency”, the fear-mongering, and the crisis of scarcity that the college promoted was overblown. I certainly don’t think Keystone’s financial position is rosy, but the resources for a settlement clearly existed when we were told they did not.
Thank you to all of you for your assistance and support over the last four months. Hopefully the coming year will be better for all of us, but if not, I hope we are strengthened and emboldened by these events.
If you are a member: thank you for your support. If you aren’t, here is where you can join. Dues start at $5.33 a month.
We can all learn from nature; the weak survive by protecting each other.
Dr. John Hinshaw, President
Pennsylvania State Chapter AAUP