University of St. Thomas administrators informed “around 30” faculty members this week that their contracts may not be renewed for the 2020-2021 academic school year as part of UST’s restructuring plan.
In a letter sent to students Nov. 14, UST President Richard Ludwick wrote 11 of the 30 were eligible for retirement or phased retirement and “approached the University and sought retirement in order to make room for their colleagues.”
“The really sort of unsung heroes of the restructure so far are senior faculty members,” he said at an open forum for students on Nov. 14.
Some UST students created a list on the stthom app of professors who have been rumored to have been let go. This is a developing story and the Independent has not yet been able to confirm with the faculty members on the list whether they were given notice.
Ludwick also said a number of professors were given notice, but the list on the app is not accurate.
“The list itself is not one set in stone necessarily, although we have identified people and given them notice and not everyone has received an official notice so far,” Ludwick said.
However, Ludwick said an official list of academic layoffs will not be released to the public. He said he believes layoffs involve private information between the faculty member and the University.
He also said circumstances could change before Dec. 5 to allow notified faculty to remain at the University.
“There could be other things that happen,” he said. “Somebody in a department could retire or someone has been given notice at this point and there might not be a need for that.”
Final approval of the list will be given by the University’s Board of Directors on Dec. 5, but Ludwick said UST faculty were given notice now to allow them time to find other job opportunities.
“We want them to have the opportunity to be on the market, to be more viable candidates elsewhere, if they wanted to do that,” he said.
UST Faculty Senate Chair Hans Stockton, who is also the chair of the international studies, modern languages, and political science department, and study abroad director, said the University is making it a priority to help laid-off faculty.
“Whatever consequences there might be the University goes out of its way to tend to the needs of the people affected,” he said.
Stockton said the process has not been easy, but that he has seen administrators do as much as they can to minimize layoffs.
“I have seen a lot of effort put into finding those non-people reductions,” he said.
Stockton said he was not specifically involved in choosing who would be let go.
“The leadership was not informed to the details of knowing which department and which people,” Stockton said. “I still don’t have a list and completed inventory, and I only know some things because some people have volunteered the information.”
However, Stockton said he did everything he could as faculty senate chair to keep faculty on campus.
“We did our best as faculty leadership to beg and plead that all possible reductions that weren’t related to humans be accomplished before layoffs,”
Stockton said the UST Board of Directors is planning to maintain tenure at the University.
“I’ve heard it said at the Board of Directors meeting that the Board has no intention of doing away with tenure,” he said.
Vice-President of Marketing and Communications Jeff Olsen said the University took great care creating the list.
“The academic side of the University spent a lot of time and hours–the deans, faculty leadership and VPAA—-figuring out what would be the most objective and fair way to do this to minimize the number of people that would be on that list,” he said.
“We’ve been wrestling with how to do this and we have sought advice from everybody, Ludwick added.
A petition protesting the rumoured layoffs has been created by a new student group called UST Concerned Celts. The group is focused on “rejecting” the layoffs and making administration aware of the positive impact that professors who have been rumoured to be laid off have made on students.
The petition gained more than 630 signatures in its first two days. It lists several faculty members, including three from the biology department, and states that these professors represent the University’s core values.
“While actions must be taken to resolve the financial issues compounded over several years, compromising the position of these mentors who lead by goodness of service, who guide by discipline of instruction, who educate by Catholic morals and reason of knowledge, and who unify us by creating a sense of community, negates the sole purpose of why we came here,” the petition reads.
“By issuing this leave of absence, the university undermines the values for which it was founded.”
Olsen said he understands why students are interested in the layoffs, because they will be impacted the most.
“I would expect the students to be passionate about their professors…which is not a surprise,” Olsen said. “I don’t want to see them go either.”
Ludwick also said the University doesn’t want to lay off employees, but that the move was necessary.
“I don’t think any of us wants to see any of these professors be tapped on the shoulder and given notice that their contracts might not be renewed,” Ludwick said. “But the reality is, we’ve had a situation where the revenues haven’t met the operating expenses of the University for a while, and we need to make sure that balances out.”
When asked about the petition, Ludwick said he had not yet seen it, but that he was happy to see students voicing their opinions.
“The petition is a fine way for students to manifest their voices and their interests, and I would take a step further to say, ‘Well, what other ideas can you come up with besides ‘we don’t want these particular faculty members to leave’? Because everybody has their own favorite faculty member,” he said.
UST Concerned Celts includes sophomore philosophy major Nicolas D’ Amelio, junior computational biology major Amna Irfan, junior biology major and chemistry minor Viet Tran, junior cellular molecular biology major Youssef Ahmed and junior biology major Jamila Boukari.
Tran said the group’s main purpose is to create a “transparent” relationship between administration and the student body, and that any specific details about the restructure process would be helpful to know.
“We want to know the book numbers; we want to know how much money are we saving [by] cutting these departments,” Tran said. “We understand each professor carries a certain salary, a certain amount of work hours that they have here with their contract and their benefits.
“We want to know how much money they are quantitatively saving from each person they fire.”
“The goal is not just to try to save their jobs, because we understand that layoffs might happen,” D’Amelio said. “It’s more that we feel that the University would be significantly negatively impacted by these specific professors being laid off.”
Irfan said that although the University did inform the student body about pending faculty layoffs, the administration did not specify which professors were being let go, or why.
“They just said ‘layoffs,’ but what are you using to determine who is going to get laid off and who isn’t?” she asked. “That is why students are reacting, because these professors who they haven chosen to lay off have made such an impact.”