The Gustavian Weekly

Accelerated workforce reduction faculty cuts announced | The Gustavian Weekly

By Rebecca Hare & Marissa Haeny | February 28, 2014 | News

Blake VanOosbree

Blake VanOosbree

This fall, the decision was made to accelerate a staged workforce reduction of one percent over several years, to three–four percent carried out this year. With the workforce reduction, Gustavus will go from 218 to 210 full-time faculty, increasing the student to faculty ratio of 11:1 to nearly 12:1.

Low 2013-14 enrollment resulted in low revenue for the school and smaller class sizes, which, according to Provost Mark Braun, was becoming too expensive to sustain.

“Gustavus isn’t a wealthy school. We’re tuition driven; we’re cognizant there are moms and dads working second jobs and students working summer jobs and taking out loans,” Braun said.

In an attempt to minimize the effect on employees, no tenure or tenure-track professors were cut. Instead eight full-time equivalent positions were eliminated, including two full-time positions along with reduced class loads for some professors, equivalent to six full-time faculty. To decide which positions would be eliminated or reduced, Braun sought to have as little effect as possible on student course options by focusing on low course enrollment, stating that students “voted with their feet.”

As a result, the Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department experienced the brunt of the faculty reduction. Despite steady enrollment in 100-level French and Chinese courses, low enrollment in 200- and 300- level courses shaped the reasoning behind the reduction in these areas.

Eliminating Chinese classes from the curriculum was a concern for Department Chair in Modern Languages, Literature, and Cultures Robert Irvin, because it was a staff-level, not departmental level, decision. The decision was also made without a discussion about the implications of the reduction on a broad scale. In particular, it precluded the possibility of a future Asian Studies program.

“You’re not given any negotiation space . . . You have to make the best of a bad situation,” Irvin said.

Visiting Instructor in Chinese Shannon Cannella will not be returning next year due to the singular focus on class enrollment. Cannella noted that sole consideration of class size neglected the ultimate ramifications that losing Chinese language classes would have on the study of Asia at Gustavus. With the increasing influence of China in global business and politics, she presented concern that even though students weren’t showing interest in advanced Chinese language study, it was the responsibility of the institution to support a curriculum that recognizes increasing globalization.

“As an academic institution, to not emphasize the study of China is unthinkable in this world,” Cannella said.

First-Year David Edholm’s Public Discourse project arose in response to the elimination of Chinese class offerings. Edholm saw value in the role of Gustavus’s Chinese classes in attracting prospective students.

“What will this mean for prospective students looking to continue their Chinese language study? Many of my classmates chose Gustavus because we offered Mandarin,” Edholm said.

Edholm and Sophomore Stephan Quie both see their Chinese classes supporting the educational goals of international business as well. Quie is interested in Chinese, because China has an increasing influence in the business world, and he has plans to study abroad in China next spring.

“[Chinese] should be the language to learn ,because there are so many business opportunities that can come out of it,” Quie said.

Described by Irvin as a “fantastic instructor” providing a different perspective from Martinique, Visiting Instructor in French Severine Bates also will not be returning next year. Hired to a non-tenure track position to replace retired Professor in French Anne-Marie Gronhovd, her colleagues considered her position essential to the success of the program.

“We are afraid of what will happen to our French major. It wouldn’t reflect well on the college at all,” Professor in French and Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies and Director of the African Studies Program Paschal Kyoore said.

Kyoore teaches multiple courses outside the French program, including classes in LALACS, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, African Studies, and the Three Crowns Curriculum, as does Professor in French and Philosophy Laurent Dechery. With an additional six courses to cover, both professors fear the effect it will have on their ability to support and sustain interdisciplinary programs, particularly the African Studies minor.

“It’s sad because it’s always the multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary programs that are hit by things like that because they have a weaker administrative identity than regular departments. It’s difficult to institutionalize them,” Dechery said.

Dechery believes that there needs to be more stability for interdisciplinary programs at Gustavus to support courses that cross departments, like Chinese and African Studies.

“If you want a liberal education you need to protect those small and weak departments, otherwise you’ll end up with a college with only six majors,” Dechery said.

Braun, working alongside the Deans of the college, has struggled with making necessary reduction decisions that may be unpopular among faculty and students.

“These kind of reorganizations that are going around the college and reductions here in academic affairs are never easy. It’s never pleasant, but we think we’re doing it in a way that will protect students’ ability to get high quality education at an affordable cost,” Braun said.

Students have been discussing the reduction of class offerings in the coming year that will occur as a result of the workforce reduction. Student Senate Co-Presidents Danielle Cabrera and Matthew Timmons have heard numerous concerns from students and suggest that they seek to be active participants in forming and preserving educational offerings.

“One of the best ways students can voice their opinions is through faculty evaluations at the end of each semester. Furthermore, students are encouraged to write letters or emails to the Office of the Provost expressing their opinions of certain faculty,” Cabrera and Timmons said.

3 Comments

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  1. Darcy Coulter says:

    I find the graphic with this article to be very insensitive, especially when you interviewed professors who are losing their jobs to write this piece. I would hope that the Weekly would be more sensitive to a truly life altering situation without trivializing it, comparing it to a reality television show.

  2. Rebecca Hare says:

    Thank you for your comment and perspective, Darcy. I believe the decision to create that particular graphic was very deliberate and was not intended to be insensitive towards faculty members themselves. Actually, the graphic arose from the sense of insensitivity and lack of communication faculty members communicated to me in their interviews that they felt by their dismissal.

    • Rebecca Hohag says:

      Thank you, Rebecca, for your necessary response to Darcy’s comment.

      Perhaps, given the sensitivity of the subject, next time such a clarification will be included in the graphic’s caption.

      Thank you for reflecting the ever shifting atmosphere and community of Gustavus to those away from the hill. On behalf of the French majors, I trust the Weekly will do so with due respect and a drop of humility.