Faculty hesitant on rushed retirement packages; uncertainty in Sound Future strategy

By Emma Loenicker

After the campus-wide town hall held on Nov. 16, many students, faculty, and staff were left with more confusion and frustration than they had felt beforehand. There was a general expectation that this meeting would provide clarity about the Sound Future proposal, and open the door for more transparency from the administration, but instead, the meeting fueled more tension.

Many are disheartened by the strategies being used to recover from a looming ten-million-dollar budget deficit. The buyouts being offered to beloved professors and the possibility of program cuts, which University President Isiaah Crawford repeatedly called a last resort during the town hall, have been the source of much tension.

Associate Professor of Biology Mark Martin was one of 26 faculty offered an early retirement package that would have meant voluntarily leaving campus permanently by this coming June after 18 years at the University. Martin said this notice initially caused him to feel conflicted and worried. “I chose not to take the retirement offer,” Martin said. “I recognize the financial and enrollment challenges looming, and I am willing to transition to something else to help relieve the budget stress…but not by June. I still think I have something to contribute to the great students here.” Martin explained that he plans to begin the process of phased retirement when it is next offered in an effort to help reduce the budget crisis. For the time being, however, many students feel fortunate that Martin and other faculty are choosing to stay. 

Monica DeHart, professor and member of the AAAPR Committee, senses that “things have been rejected in favor of a process that is unclear about who will partake in it, what steps or benchmarks will be used, and what potential outcomes it will produce.” While tension levels and distrust among the administration and the campus community are high, people are urging Crawford, the cabinet and the board to do their due diligence and resolve the tension by implementing a more collaborative decision-making process going forward.

During the meeting, DeHart raised a question that prompted Crawford to reveal how the University’s leadership plans to implement collaboration and transparency down the line. Crawford’s response lacked a clear direction. Members of the campus community have expressed a persistent dissatisfaction with the lack of information administration either has or is willing to share.

At this juncture, campus community members are eager to know who will be in the decision-making positions, who will be overseeing the coming changes, who to bring their questions and concerns to and how to get involved. It’s significant to acknowledge the profound impact that is being felt across campus, and how passionate and outspoken people have become about the future of this University. DeHart expressed an interest in “seeing the administration commit to some guidelines and processes that would demonstrate a commitment to a much more robust set of principles for collaboration.” She identified certain weaknesses within the current faculty code and pointed out that adopting robust academic guidelines from the American Association of University Professors would ensure faculty consultation in significant ways throughout the processes ahead. DeHart expressed that seeing these kinds of commitments “would better support a sense of shared governance and shared sacrifice, as opposed to labeling it the board’s purview.