University sends letters of nonrenewal to 17 full-time faculty members

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor-in-Chief

Additional reporting was contributed by student journalist, Emma Christley.


Seventeen full-time non-tenured faculty members have recently received letters of non-renewal from the university with differing timelines as to when each faculty member would be laid off.

Ultimately, each affected faculty member’s position would be terminated by 2022. 

“I had to tell my students, ‘Hey I had a lot of cool things planned for this week, but I just got laid off,’” Ben Schonberger, a full-time lecturer in the photography B.F.A. program who said that he received one of these letters on Friday, Feb. 12, said.

Schonberger is one of only two full-time faculty members in the photography B.F.A. program and is the delegate of the full-time faculty union, Pittsburgh Local 38061 or The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which also represents the newsroom at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“The union believes these layoffs have been done illegally,” Schonberger said.

According to Schonberger, Lacretia Wimbley, the president of The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, and Barbara Barrow, a full-time professor in the literary arts and social justice department and the full-time faculty union secretary, this move is in direct violation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the union and the university. (The CBA is available to read here.)

“The collective bargaining agreement is meant to be interpreted as a whole,” Schonberger said. “It is meant to be interpreted in a way that doesn’t just benefit the faculty or just benefit the university.”

“We believe the university is cherry-picking which articles apply,” Wimbley said. “They are using Article 18 as if it were Article 31.”

Article 18 Section 2 of the CBA states that “All appointments for non-tenured faculty members shall be automatically renewed unless the university provided notice of non-renewal to the affected faculty member by February 1.” The affected faculty members said that they received their notices on Feb. 12. Article 18 also references another part of the CBA, Article 31, stating that the university would not be required to “establish just cause if the non-renewal of an appointment is due to a position elimination in accordance with Article 31, Seniority and Position Eliminations.” 

Article 31 Section 2 of the CBA states that “The University shall have the right to determine if and when a position elimination is necessary. In the event the University determines that a position elimination is necessary in a department, program or major, the University shall eliminate all part-time faculty positions, faculty Emeritae/Emeriti positions and overload assignments in the affected department, program or major before eliminating full-time faculty positions.”

“The university has taken a huge step, and it’s very off-putting,” Wimbley said.

“Point Park University has notified 17 non-tenured faculty members that their contracts will not be renewed for the 2021-2022 academic year,” university spokesperson Lou Corsaro said. “This was part of a process laid out in the collective bargaining agreement with the faculty’s union, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh/Communication Workers of America Local 38061. That process allows Point Park to not renew appointments of non-tenured faculty based on the University’s needs. We are nearly one full year into the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created significant disruptions in higher education. This has led many universities to readjust operations as the work continues to ensure a high-quality education.”

Dora Ion, an assistant professor of political science in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences who also received a letter of non-renewal, said that she was “shocked” to learn of the decision made by the administration. In a statement, she said that the university’s decision does not honor the tenure-track appointments of full-time professors. Ion, an assistant professor, would have been considered for tenure or promotion after six years as a non-tenured full-time faculty member.

“Many of us, I am sure, gave up other job opportunities to choose Point Park University, precisely because it seemed a trusting and promising place for our careers,” Ion said in her statement.

The current CBA was negotiated in 2017 and covers through 2021. The union representatives believe that the timing of the non-renewals is not coincidental and that the non-renewals were deliberately done to “undermine the spirit of the union” as they prepare to enter a new negotiation period.

“This undermines the spirit of the contract and is in direct violation of the language in that contract,” Wimbley said.

Another affected faculty member is Kendra Ross, an assistant professor in the sports, arts, and entertainment management (SAEM) program. Ross, a Black woman, and Schonberger, who openly belongs to the LGBTQ+ community, allege that the majority of the affected faculty members, like themselves, belong to minority groups. 

“We often talk about DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] in terms of diversity and inclusion, but we forget the middle part, equity. In times of crisis, do we fall back on equity or do we lean in? I think we should be leaning in,” Ross said.

Ion also identified this as a discrepancy.

“At a time when the administration’s public discourse is placing so much emphasis on community-building, anti-racism, diversity and tolerance, getting rid of teachers and courses (in the liberal arts) that instill precisely these values, alongside the absolutely necessary critical thinking skills that make the student an informed citizen, seems an upfront denial of the university’s own mission statement,” Ion said in her statement.

This comes after the recent announcement of the newly-created Office of Equity and Inclusion, following work done last school year and last semester by two diversity and inclusion committees, one specific to the Conservatory for Performing Arts (COPA) and one university-wide. 

On Monday, Feb. 22, university President Paul Hennigan spoke at the legislative body meeting of the Student Government Association (SGA) to provide further insight on the university’s decision. According to Hennigan, the decision to not renew faculty members, as well as which faculty members would be affected, came from department chairs, who are also full-time faculty members, and school deans. He also alleged that department chairs and deans were responsible for ensuring “academic quality.” He said that he does not expect any more non-renewals to be sent out to full-time faculty members this year.

Hennigan also explained that 34 full-time faculty members were given an offer to retire this year, and that 12 members accepted the incentive. He said that “hypothetically,” if more faculty members had signed on to the retirement incentive, “the number of non-renewals would most likely have been less.”

Acting Provost Jonas Prida said that this was “not to cast aspersions” on the faculty members who did not sign on to that incentive. In an answer to a Q&A question during the meeting, Prida listed “institutional/university needs, school priorities, department priorities” as being factors that went into the lay-off decisions.

“Just personally, I will tell you that we’ve had to make a lot of very difficult decisions; these are not easy decisions,” Hennigan said. “These are very painful decisions, and we do the very best we can to exercise as much empathy and compassion as possible. We’re making difficult decisions that affect people’s lives. I lost a job early in my professional career. I was married, I had two young children. I know what it’s like to lose a job. And it’s an extremely painful ordeal, so I understand the difficulty of this decision, the pain of this decision, from both sides—, from the perspective of a person who loses the job and also from the perspective of those who had to make the decision.”

Hennigan also stated that the administration believes that the dispute regarding the CBA is not based on whether or not the university can issue non-renewals but on the timeline that the notices occurred. He stated that the administration believes that the CBA is “very clear,” in the notification deadline being Feb. 1, but that he believes that the union believes the date is Sept. 1.

In an interview with The Globe, various union members, including Wimbley, acknowledged that the deadline is Feb. 1, and they alleged that this deadline was not met. 

A letter addressed to students, signed by “the concerned faculty,” states:

“We believe that education is neither a product quantifiable in money nor marketable short-term. It is a fragile and intangible product, in fact, a long-term project that requires continued professional and emotional dedication on the part of both educators and administration. Decisions about the future of the university need to be considered carefully and not in the haste of the moment, through a simple scribble of the pen.”

The letter also states that, according to the administration, the decision to lay-off 17 full-time faculty members is “to reduce the costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” but it goes on to claim that the administration has not communicated its “bigger plan,” to carry out the academic mission post-COVID-19. 

“Plus, the administration has raised your tuition while continuing to invest in very costly administrative positions,” the letter also states.


The non-renewal of 17 full-time faculty members is the latest development in a series of decisions made by the university that are said to have originated from problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the fall semester, President Hennigan told The Globe that he, along with several other senior administrators, had taken a 10% pay cut due to the pandemic. On Monday, Feb. 15, university President Paul Hennigan attended a meeting of the SGA, where he explained that a 4% increase in tuition for the 2021-2022 school year would be necessary to offset money lost due to decreased enrollment this school year. He disclosed that the university is currently operating on a budget deficit of “$5-7 million,” which is down from the $9 million previous deficit at the start of the school year. Hennigan said that while enrollment is on track to be at its typical level for the 2021-2022 school year, the university will still be operating on a deficit, even with the tuition increase. He said that this is due to money losses this year from low enrollment numbers, as well as costs incurred to make the campus safe for students to return this school year. 

“I really don’t know much about the specifics of the tuition raise, but I think it’s irresponsible and unethical to raise tuition in the middle of a pandemic,” Kendra Summers-Stephens, a sophomore journalism major, said. “Lots of people and their parents have lost their jobs and are barely staying above water. If any situation calls for a year of not raising tuition, it’s this one.” 

“This decision comes after being told, repeatedly this past year, that ‘We are all in this together’; however, despite sacrifices we also made while navigating this pandemic, we have been identified (and not for performance reasons) as the obstruction to the university’s ability to thrive,” Ion said in her statement.

Several students said that they are concerned for the future of the university.

“My concern about the budget is them laying off professors during a global pandemic,” Senior SAEM major, Shelby Fink, said. “And then if they’re laying off professors, and their excuse is ‘don’t you want your profs to get paid?’ Then where is our tuition actually going? And then if you’re laying off professors, but you’re adding majors? Like, make it make sense. I feel like the school tries to do too much and ends up falling flat instead of perfecting what they already have.”

“I’m worried about the lack of classes for every student on campus with budget cuts from what I’ve seen and heard coming from our professors,” sophomore psychology major Nanina Grund said. “I talked to a few professors, and they are teaching multiple classes in addition to what they normally teach. That’s because they are understaffed in the departments they are in due to teachers being let go. That was in the spring, and even more teachers have been let go. I’m worried for the future semesters.”

The decision by the university to lay off 17 full-time faculty members is one that the union is pushing to go into third-party arbitration, where the collective bargaining agreement will be interpreted by an uninvolved third party to determine whether or not the lay-offs were, in fact, done illegally. Should this be the case, the affected faculty members will be reinstated effective immediately. Wimbley said that the union is “confident” that an arbitrator would make a decision in favor of the faculty.

“Students should be asking themselves, ‘do I want to attend a university with so few full-time faculty members, where there aren’t as many opportunities for mentorship?’” Schonberger said. “They should be asking whether or not this is an institution that they want to be associated with.”