Valdosta State University’s had a rough run in the last few years: declining enrollment, something of a revolving door of administrators and a divisive political protest controversy. But is the way to solve Valdosta State’s problems really getting rid of some its best and brightest young faculty members? That’s what some on campus are wondering after the university announced last week that it was laying off 33 staff and faculty members, including some on the tenure track.The article suggests that Valdosta State sought to upgrade its academic profile, but that couldn't stem the decline in enrollment.
“These kinds of layoffs do not do anything good for undergraduate enrollment and they have a detrimental effect on graduate enrollment,” said Thomas Aiello, an associate professor of history at Valdosta State who’ll lose two high-performing tenure-track faculty members in his department by the end of the coming academic year as a result of the cuts. “Faculty like the ones who were let go are the ones students are reading with as undergrads and they want to come back and study under them.”
There was talk of declining enrollment since 2011, but no sense of crisis and no declaration of financial exigency. The cuts also seemed haphazard, since some laid-off faculty members in the sciences said they actually made money for the university in external grants.That's the right question. It's not clear, though, whether that's a recent commitment, or whether that's something the current administrators attempted after everything else (sub-prime party school, retention and completion?) failed. It strikes me that the university is being treated as a stepping stone for serial administrators.
“This is not a smart financial decision,” said Joshua Reece, an assistant professor of biology who was notified that his contract won’t be renewed after this year, despite the funding he's secured (about $200,000 over two years total, some $73,000 of which came from external grants from the University System of Georgia, the Florida Institute for Conservation Science and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). “And now I have to quit on my graduate students. These are students I pay to do research in my lab that I have to drop now -- I’ve made long-term commitments to make them better scientists and I have to give that up.”
Humanities faculty members have similar complaints about the quality of faculty they’re losing. Aiello said the history professors who were let go, including Stephanie Hinnershitz, are some of the best teachers and most productive scholars he knows.
Hinnershitz said the university updated its tenure guidelines several years ago to bolster its research profile and capitalize on its status as the area’s comprehensive university. And tenure-track faculty members have been working extra hard to meet new expectations, she said. So the news is “harder to swallow. We’ve really pushed ourselves.”
It all asks the question, “How much is this university dedicated to being a comprehensive university?” she said.
Faculty members blame some of the messaging and mission inconsistency on what they called a “revolving door” of administrators in recent years. The university’s last president, William J. McKinney, stepped down in July after three years on the job. His resignation followed that of his chief of staff, Kimberly Luse, in March, after an on-campus “run-in” with the police, according to WCTV. Also in March, the executive committee of the Faculty Senate published a report detailing longstanding concerns about “systemic problems with communication and leadership.” That report followed a written proposal by a group of unnamed faculty members that the Faculty Senate vote no confidence in McKinney and former Provost Hudson Rogers. Rogers has since returned to the business faculty, replaced by an interim provost and vice president of academic affairs.That's the way things roll these days. The transgressive are a protected class, never mind how many normal Americans are offended, and as one administrator leaves and another comes in, there's a new round of strategic planning or crafting a vision (never mind how new the previous one was) and somebody has to focus-group a new tagline (or perhaps some deanlet does it on the sly), and that turmoil does nothing for faculty morale, or for attracting good students.
McKinney also become mired in external controversy in his last months on the job, after he’d already announced his resignation, following the trampling of an American flag during an on-campus protest. McKinney affirmed the university’s commitment to free speech, but some said he should have done more to condemn the protesters’ actions, and pro-flag events on campus followed.
The article, and the accompanying comments, suggest two things. First, there is probably excess capacity in access-assessment-remediation-retention in Georgia (why should that state be any different from any other state?) Second, Excellence Without Money doesn't work.
It has not been fun watching higher education either self-destruct or antagonize normal Americans, whether from inside or observing from my workbench.