Retrenchment at KU

If you haven’t already heard, retrenchment proceedings have begun at Kutztown University.  At an emergency local Meet and Discuss on Monday, KU management indicated that they intend to cut several programs that are underperforming (the list they provided is partial, and they won’t say which others are targeted), and that they intend to reduce the faculty complement (they won’t say by how much).

This news is troubling on several fronts.  First and most obviously, any move that reduces the size of the faculty is bad, especially as enrollments continue to increase.  There’s no way, under the circumstances, for class sizes not to grow and hence lead to all the negative impacts that come with it: reduced attention to individual students; reduced attention to other duties like advising, service, and scholarship; pedagogical and curricular shifts that don’t benefit anybody.

Second, of all the campuses in the PASSHE system, KU is the least likely candidate for retrenchment.  Their student body has grown, in proportion, much more quickly than any of the others.  Programs continue to achieve remarkable successes.

Third, beginning system-wide retrenchment proceedings with such a not-obvious target bodes very poorly for the rest of the system.  As I commented on the KUXchange blog, I can only believe that this move is more political than economic, and more economic than educational.  PASSHE has lobbed a hand-grenade into the middle of an already-difficult situation (dealing with economic problems state- and system-wide).  Based on their stances at both local-KU and statewide Meet and Discuss meetings, they seem disinclined to share the requisite data, to be clear about what their plans are, and to recognize the reality of what they’re doing.

Faculty aren’t just paychecks and FTE’s.  We’re people; most of us have committed huge chunks of our lives, time, energy, money, and more to being the best faculty we can be–to doing right by our students and our schools, to protecting an environment in which learning and teaching can happen at their best.  Retrenchment, even if really necessary, is an incredibly painful process.  To use it as a political tool; to deflect attention from management’s mistakes by blaming the economic problems of the system on those of us with the least power to have made the mistakes, much less correct them; to pit faculty against faculty in turf battles over which programs and jobs stay alive…  There’s no word bad enough to describe how inhumane that is.

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