11 departments brace for faculty retrenchment and non-renewals: Uncertainty grows unsettling

By Elizabeth Coss

Faculty at Youngstown State University were notified retrenchment and contract non-renewals were possible in the upcoming weeks and months for departments with low enrollment statuses. 

In an email sent from the Office of the Provost on Sept. 19, faculty were notified that enrollment will be down by 4%. 

Eleven departments were listed in the email to possibly face retrenchment and contract non-renewals for faculty as a means to reduce costs. 

The departments are as follows: 

  • Department of Accounting and Finance
  • Department of Art
  • Department of Communication
  • Department Criminal Justice and Consumer Science
  • Dana School of Music and Theatre
  • Department of English and World Languages
  • Department of Health Professions
  • Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Department of Mathematics and Statistics
  • Department of Physics, Astronomy, Geology and Environmental Sciences
  • Department of Teacher Education and Leadership Studies

According to the email, a variety of considerations go into re-evaluating departments such as, low enrollment, — especially if a duplicate program is offered at a nearby university — under-enrolled classes especially at the junior or senior level, low market growth potential, poor mission fit with the department and college and low student to faculty ratios, experienced with low enrolled courses.

Whole departments will not necessarily be affected by these austerity measures, according to the email. 

“Appearing on this list does not necessarily mean entire departments will be impacted; rather, it is likely that areas within a department will be the focus, considering the extent to which they are aligned with the attributes listed above,” the email stated. 

A voluntary separation or retirement program has been created for faculty considering leaving the university. 

Despite the announcement of imminent cuts, the university stated it plans on taking appropriate measures necessary to ensure the quality of education and sustainability. 

“Overall, as demographic challenges continue, the intent is to build the appropriate academic and organizational structures that recognize the needs of the workforce and community while at the same time continuing to achieve a sustainable and prosperous Youngstown State University,” the email stated.

Mark Vopat, union president and professor of religious and philosophical studies, said the union was aware that cuts were coming to faculty but didn’t know which programs or departments would be affected. 

“The only thing we knew is that they had intentions to make cuts,” Vopat said. “We weren’t given any specifics and we didn’t know the extent of the parts. We didn’t know how many programs would be under scrutiny and this seems like a lot, a lot more than I think we would’ve expected or guessed, but we had no way of really knowing.”

According to Vopat, the amount of departments listed to face faculty cuts surprised the union. 

“It’s also a surprise to me that in the two years in a row of cuts and retrenchments that they’re doing, no one is looking at the bigger budget,” Vopat said. “The thing that’s, you know, being focused on for cuts to faculty, cuts to the programs and cuts to the opportunities for students.”

Following the board of trustees meeting Thursday, Sept. 21, President Jim Tressel said the board of trustees has been working on ways to deal with declining enrollment. 

“We’ve been working for the last two years with a group of folks all over campus from all types of positions and so forth, to create a strategic plan, and we call it ‘Take Charge of Our Future,’” Tressel said. “We’ve offered a voluntary separation retirement plan for some of our [staff] who could maybe help us with meeting those challenges.”

The possibility of sunsetting programs or cutting majors was left as an uncertainty with no current expectations, Tressel said. 

“We would never sunset something that we couldn’t have someone complete … Uncertainty is hard for students, it’s hard for faculty, it’s hard for administrators, it’s hard for the community,” Tressel said. “While uncertainty is unsettling, our board is given is what necessitated the resolution.”

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