YSU Psychology Department: High Faculty Turnover Impacts Education

Graphic by Stacy Rubinic/ The Jambar.

By Frank George


Graphic by Stacy Rubinic/ The Jambar.
Graphic by Stacy Rubinic/ The Jambar.

According to documents obtained through Youngstown State University’s Office of Human Resources, the number of full-time faculty members employed in the psychology department has steadily declined over the past nine years — a trend that some students and former faculty believe could have a negative impact on students’ education.


Today, the psychology department employs 10 full-time faculty members, down from 15 in 2006. Meanwhile, the number of part-time instructors has tripled, from four in 2006 to 12 today.


Faculty Turnover: 

Not by Design

Since last spring, three full-time psychology professors — Michael Clayton, Julie Boron and Melanie Shoup-Knox — have left the university. Clayton and Boron unexpectedly announced their departures late this summer.


The psychology department placed a request with the office of the provost to fill these three faculty positions, and at the end of fall semester, the provost’s office approved the hiring of two new tenure-track professors and one new term professor.


Interim Provost Martin Abraham indicated that the reduction of faculty members in the psychology department is neither by design nor a campus-wide trend.


“If you look at an individual department, you may see that [a reduction of faculty] has occurred, but if you look at other places across the university, you’d see that the opposite has occurred. We’ve added full time and we’ve reduced part time in other areas,” Abraham said. “I wouldn’t say that [a reduction of full-time faculty] has been part of any plan, even within the psychology department.”


In fact, Abraham said the university has “made the effort to fill [psychology] positions with full-time faculty over the past several years.”


“The primary reason as to why we get part-time faculty is because we have a teaching need that is not met by our full-time faculty,” he said. “We bring the part time to fill in where there is a hole in the teaching requirements. I am not interested in seeing YSU take on a larger part-time footprint.”


When asked why the psychology department has lost so many full-time faculty members, both Karen Giorgetti, chair of the psychology department, and Jane Kestner, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, pointed to an aging set of faculty.


“We had an older faculty. I started here eleven years ago and I was the youngest faculty member. Everyone else had been here about twenty years or more,” Giorgetti said. “So, they’re all going to go out around the same amount of time … so there are a lot of retirements and you can’t rehire immediately.”


Kestner agreed.


“There was a big hiring push in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s,” Kestner said. “Because there were so many people hired at the same time, probably five or six, they all reached retirement — or were qualified to retire — at the same time. Part of the turnover in that department has been normal turnover due to the aging of the faculty.”


Some former YSU faculty members, however, reject this explanation.


Former Faculty Speak Out

Both Boron and Clayton, who left YSU this past summer, agreed to an interview with The Jambar. Shoup-Knox, who also left the university last year, declined to make comment. Though these former professors acknowledged that retirement has played a role in faculty departures, they also said the work environment in YSU’s psychology department forced many young faculty members to leave, which poses a potential problem regarding the longevity of future hires.


“The change in the number of full-time faculty has been a combined result of retirements and turnover,” Boron said. “For retirements, there have been at least five in the past seven years, with possibly two more to come at the end of this year. For turnover, only three of the 11 faculty members hired since 2004 remain, with most having left after just one or two years at YSU. Although I do not know each individual’s specific reason for leaving, any one or more of the following were likely contributors: teaching load, number of course preparations, lack of collegiality and appreciation.”


Clayton added that disrespectful interactions were common, calling the workplace an “abusive environment.”


“I had to witness other faculty being harassed relentlessly in faculty meetings,” Clayton said.


Josh Stephens, a former student assistant in the psychology department, corroborated Boron’s and Clayton’s complaints, concluding that an uncomfortable work environment likely contributed to a loss of faculty members.


“A lot of change needs to be done within the department if they don’t want to lose any more faculty members. I think somebody needs to be in charge who is committed and cares about the students, because if you don’t have that, the whole department is going to crumble,” Stephens said.


Giorgetti responded to these allegations, ensuring that the department does not condone abuse. However, she acknowledged that some faculty members have engaged in disagreements over “philosophical differences,” but said these disagreements have not denigrated into bullying.


“Bullying is in the eye of the beholder; you have to feel bullied,” she said. “Did I see bullying? No.”


Clayton and Boron also expressed dissatisfaction with the schedule of classes, one that, they say, required a burdensome teaching load that discouraged faculty research and overused part-time instructors.


“Our teaching load discourages applicants that consider research experience,” Clayton said. “There is no culture of academic scholarship. After the faculty gets tenure, they are discouraged from doing further research.”


Boron echoed Clayton’s claim and also made negative comment on the department’s use of part-time instructors.


“The full-time faculty do not have any say on the hiring of part timers, that is completely at the discretion of the chair,” Boron said. “At some other universities, part-time faculty are only asked/permitted to teach introductory level courses; if they teach an upper division course, it is because they have extensive expertise in that area. That does not seem to be the case at YSU.”


Giorgetti said that the creation of a course schedule, though, is a democratic process.


“Every single time we have to produce a schedule, faculty are asked, ‘What do you want to teach? When do you want to teach it?’” Giorgetti said.


Ultimately, Clayton concluded that the operations of the psychology department are “immoral and unethical.”


“I did not want to leave my job at YSU. I had tenure, promotion to associate, a very generous salary, by state university standards, and a significant other in Youngstown. I was willing to give up all that for the sake of my professional and personal well-being,” he said.


The Jambar requested all personnel complaints filed on faculty members in the psychology department; within the past five years, there were no complaints on file with human resources or the psychology department.


Educational Consequences

Regardless of the cause, there has been an increase in the number of part-time instructors. And this has had an impact in the classroom.


Giorgetti indicated that the psychology department has made an internal departmental decision to compose standardized tests for courses taught by part-time faculty, prohibiting these instructors from amending the tests that they must administer.


Some students expressed dissatisfaction with this decision. Angelica McKenney, a psychology minor, had the following to say about a part-time faculty member who taught her Psychology of Intimate Relationships course.


“He didn’t get to write the curriculum for his class. He didn’t get to decide what was on the test. He didn’t get to decide what we would study in the class. They gave him the book and they gave him the test, but he never saw [the tests] before we took them,” McKenney said. “So, he didn’t even know what would be on them, so he just had to teach us blindly and hope that he hit on all the major material.”


Sarah Mindek, a psychology major, shared McKenney’s sentiment.


“For social psych, I had a part-time faculty member, and like a lot of the other students are saying, she taught a class, she required attendance, but literally everything she taught us in class was not even on the test because the test was made by the department,” Mindek said.


Giorgetti declined to comment on the department’s decision to compose standardized tests for courses taught by part-timers. She did, however, ensure that student success remains her primary concern.


“We are working for the good of the students and the department as a whole,” she said. “Every single faculty member has helped in some way to deal with this lack of faculty resources — everyone has helped.”