Even with their jobs gone, professors still want to be there for their students.
At IUP, 14 percent of faculty members were retrenched. This was announced by University President Michael Driscoll Oct. 14, and letters were sent out starting Oct. 30.
The announcement led to backlash from not only the faculty, but students and alumni as well. Rallies were held pushing for a change, and the school’s social media was full of angry reactions from the community.
This reaction did not go unnoticed by the retrenched faculty. For Dr. Michele Papakie, it was “overwhelming.”
“It warmed my heart at a time when my heart was broken,” she said.
Papakie is chairperson of IUP’s Journalism and Public Relations Department as well as an alumna of the school. She had taught with IUP for 14 years before she received word that not only was she being retrenched, but her colleagues were, too.
For her, the announcement came as a huge shock. The journalism department was supposed to have merged with the communications media department starting in the next academic year.
“The chancellor’s charge is to get to a 20:1 ratio,” she said. “The merger with communications media addressed that and solved that problem because we had too few students and too many professors. They had the opposite problem.”
The ratio Papakie mentioned was set by Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Chancellor Daniel Greenstein. The ratio was set to the numbers of the 2010-11 school year.
The journalism and public relations department will still be merging, but it will face much bigger class sizes. With approximately 515 students and eight professors, the ratio will be 64:1. This is three times higher than the expectations ask for.
To have communications media professors teach journalism students will be an obstacle according to Papakie. The class sizes will make it even harder.
“How are you student-centered if you don’t have that personalized attention?” Papakie asked.
She said her biggest concerns were with the students. She is sad that she will not be able to teach them as planned.
Since receiving the news, Papakie said she has found it difficult to grade papers or even get through the day, but she would continue to try for her students.
“My focus has to remain on current students,” she said. “I can’t let them down, and I won’t let them down.”
Dr. Christine Baker is another professor who has found herself being retrenched. She, like Papakie, is most concerned about her students.
“I'm angry,” she said. “For myself, for the university and for the students.”
Baker has been a history professor at IUP since 2013, earning a tenured-track position right out of graduate school. For Baker, the idea of retrenchment was not new.
“Retrenchment has been a fear in the back of everyone's head for the last couple of years, as budgets have gotten tighter and tighter,” she said.
Faculty had known since May that there would be changes, but she had not thought her job would be in jeopardy. It was not until she learned of the number of cuts in October that it became a reality.
Starting in the next academic year, IUP will be focusing in its science and math programs. This has led to high cuts in the College of Fine Arts and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
The two colleges will be merging according to Driscoll.
IUP’s cuts to these areas were a blow to Baker. She said it was a poor decision on the administration’s end.
Much like Papakie, Baker says her biggest concerns come down to the ratio that IUP was going for with students and faculty. It is a standard she found to be “frustrating.”
“The decision to base so many of the cuts on a faculty to student ratio from one of the years with our highest enrollment also seems arbitrary,” Baker said.
She said she understood the need for cuts due to budgeting, but she believed that some of this was to be blamed on the per-credit tuition model that IUP uses.
“It forced our students to judge every penny when deciding on classes,” Baker says. “This meant that students were less likely to take classes that interested them that they didn't need to fulfill graduation requirements.”
This, according to her, was what caused humanities and arts to be hit the hardest.
Baker received the notice while in Vancouver where she is still residing. She said she now plans to stay in Canada and continue with academia.
Though her specialization does not hold many opportunities in Vancouver, she says she hopes to get into student affairs.
“A lot of universities will also hire people on a contract basis to teach one class here or there that they don't have the full-time personnel to cover otherwise,” she said.
Even if IUP would offer to hire her back, she said at this point, her answer would be “no.”
“I have truly loved this job, this department and our students,” Baker said. “But, over the last couple of years, I have just felt like we have been asked to do more and more with less and less.”
Though Baker said she was hesitant to be more optimistic over changes, Papakie said she has some hope moving forward.
“I asked the president for information,” she said. “I have an obligation to my students. I need answers.”
According to Papakie, she had a chance to meet with IUP’s provost, Timothy Moerland. The meeting took place Dec. 1 along with the chairs from developmental studies and information systems departments. They are two programs being removed from the school in the next academic year.
Papakie had said prior to the meeting that getting more information about an actual plan would be an important step. Without it, she says “it puts her in a bind” as a leader. This was the first step in making her feel at ease.
“After four weeks of zero information, I’m encouraged,” she said.
As of the meeting, however, there was no new information to be given by IUP.
So far, only tenured professors have received retrenchment notices. It is unknown what the fate of other professors will be, but criticism of the school’s decisions remains.