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Commentary & Opinion

St. Rose Professor Disputes Administration’s Strategy

As many of you have learned over the past couple of months, The College of St. Rose asserts a significant deficit. In response to this revelation (but without ever actually opening the books), the president, cabinet, and board of trustees eliminated some 40 staff positions in the spring and announced a process in September they have termed Strategic Academic Program Prioritization (SAPP) in order to meet the goal of eliminating the deficit by 2019. According to President Stefanco, this process calls for a market-driven approach to divert more resources to programs that are growing in demand and eliminating or shrinking programs in which students indicate little or declining interest. Announced to faculty only in early September, the President set a deadline for final recommendations (to the tune of 3 million dollars from the academic affairs portion of the College, its heart and soul) to be submitted by late October for consideration by the Board in its November meeting. While on its face such a plan might sound reasonable, a great many students, faculty, alumni, and community members have joined together in vocal resistance to this approach, because it violates our system of shared governance, imperils the academic mission and ethical responsibilities of the College, and, if implemented, will short change students. Worst of all, similar processes at other colleges have failed to produce the cost savings predicted.

Institutions of higher education are not businesses in important respects. Though they no doubt must maintain fiscal responsibility (and for years the administrative leadership assured us we were financially secure), they are institutions motivated not by profit but invested with the serious responsibility to foster critical inquiry. Thus, such an institution is not well-served by a strict adherence to a top-down corporate hierarchy but rather must conduct affairs in a deliberate fashion, parsing out decision making responsibilities based on expertise. Shared governance in higher education means that all stakeholders have a role to play in deliberation over important matters, however certain sectors of the college must be the ultimate decision makers based on their knowledge and training. For example, the board of trustees is charged with the fiscal health of the college, while faculty is tasked with responsibility for leading in academic and curricular matters. This arrangement (clearly laid out in our Board- approved Governance Document) is not unique to our college but is the very definition of shared governance. Sadly, shared governance and trust at the College of St. Rose no longer exists, as the Board and administration have repeatedly overruled or ignored faculty motions and resolutions of a curricular nature over the past year and a half. What this means is that the academic core of the institution, which the faculty have the expertise and grave responsibility to deliver, is now imperiled.

What market research might reveal is that prospective students want majors they perceive will get them a job. It is also important to point out that our college differentially incentivizes some programs (thus manufacturing demand) by offering a greater tuition discount for certain “pre-professional programs.” But what employers say they want is what liberal arts colleges do best—they are the incubators of real thinkers. Furthermore, there are a great many majors that students have had no access to, because they are not part of a standard high school curriculum (Political Science and Philosophy come to mind)—so these might not rise to the top of the “demand list.” I can’t tell you how many times my colleagues and I have taught students who, at the conclusion of a class in something they “had” to take, ended up changing their major to that very disciple. You truly can’t know what you want until you find out all that’s actually out there.

And what students find once they get here is that college (especially a liberal arts college that seeks to expose students to the ways in which the big questions of humanity cross disciplinary boundaries in interesting and revealing ways) ought to do so much more than promise a job. Most young people will change careers (not just positions within the same career) roughly 4-5 times over the course of their lives. Employers want creative thinkers who can think carefully and critically, discern between credible and non-credible information, and express themselves effectively and knowledgeably. And as a society, we cannot pursue democratic practices and just ends without individuals who are historically informed, critically aware, and committed to fairness and inclusion. This is what we, as the faculty, seek to accomplish.

The executive administration at the College of St. Rose has repeatedly stated that it has “consulted” faculty. It has not done so in any meaningful way. The fact is that the President and Board have repeatedly violated the governance document during this rushed process by refusing to allow the faculty its duly appointed decision making role in curricular matters.

The executive administration has stated that it has cut the administrative ranks. The truth is that all staff cuts in the spring (with the exception of the Dean of Spiritual Life, a position that was vacated and then eliminated) were at the lowest levels of what they call “administration.” Here is some data for context: In 2006, there were 197 faculty and 54 upper tier administrators. Today we have the same number of faculty and more than 90 upper level administrators.

The faculty, many of whom have served for decades, embody the St. Rose difference. The current rushed and non-consultative process being pursued by the administration at St. Rose, centrally motivated by market data, narrow and short-term industry interests, and profit-seeking rather than a rigorous, broad-based liberal arts and sciences education will prove to be disastrous for the institution and its students.

Angela Ledford is Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of History and Political Science at the College of Saint Rose. Ledford was responding to a WAMC Roundtable interview with CSR President Carolyn Stefanco that aired last week. You can can hear it in its entirety at www.WAMC.org/roundtable.

 
The views expressed by WAMC's commentators are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of WAMC or its management. 
 

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