MU
Oak Leaves

November 15, 2019

  



College Deans React to Faculty Reductions


Erica Mohr

 

On Oct. 25, President David McFadden sent out a campus-wide email that shocked students. “Hold one another close during the days ahead,” the email said. “Each of us will be touched by the decisions being made.”

This email sparked a curiosity throughout the campus, with students wondering what the email could possibly be hinting at. Then, on Oct. 30, McFadden sent out another email; this one including a list of people and positions that were being eliminated.

The College of Natural and Health Sciences had to reduce one position from the physics department, leaving just one physics faculty member. There are many spiraling effects to the loss of even one faculty member; next year there may not be a physics major offered. “If students are here now and they declare that major by the end of the semester, then yes: we will make sure they will finish their major,” said Mark Huntington, dean of the College of Natural and Health Sciences and interim vice president for Academic Affairs. “I don’t want to speak for the physics faculty, but it’s difficult to have a major with one faculty member.”

Huntington stressed the impact of the reductions not only academically, but also emotionally. “Last Tuesday was a very hard day,” he said. “These are my colleagues and we all work very closely together; we are a very close-knit group.” Something he repeated again and again, stressing just how important this was to him, was how decisions were not made “lightly.”

“They were difficult to make,” Huntington said. “It’s not just about a major or an academic program—it’s about people.”  The College of Education and Social Science will not be filling a position that is being vacated due to retirement. “The immediate impact is we have to do some reconfiguration of the history major and the history education major,” said Leonard Williams, dean of the College of Education and Social Science. “We have to figure out how we can meet the state requirements and provide as good of an education for our students as we can.”

Williams’s office was a perfect portrayal of someone with a love for history—and politics. He had a picture of the First Amendment above his desk, and two cases of bookshelves, racked with titles such as “The Origins of the American Constitution” and “Strong Democracy.” He offered an analytical view of why reductions happened, looking at old warning signs of how programs in other schools in the Midwest have had declining enrollments. Looking at the demographics, he said: “There’s just not enough 18-25-year olds going to college in these areas.”

This is not unfamiliar territory. “The odd thing for me,” Williams said, “is we had similar troubles in the early to mid-1980s with enrollment—faculty and staff cuts had to happen.

Then, somehow we survived and prospered and now it’s kind of come back to that and that’s just the demographic changes for a school that depends on students coming here.” Williams explained how the programs that get hit hardest are the ones that have the fewest numbers of majors. “Even though they’re making contributions in other ways, that’s where the numbers lead you,” he said.

Emotionally, this was no easier on Williams than it was on Huntington. “It’s rough first, in having to do it and second, in knowing that the institution that I knew 30 some years ago is changing” Williams said. “It’s rough when we know friends and colleagues are suffering, yet decisions have to be made.”