Students, faculty show support for non-renewed faculty members

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor-in-Chief

Since the recent announcement by the university administration that 17 full-time faculty members’ contracts would not be renewed beginning in August 2021, several groups within the university have come forward with their support for the affected faculty members.

As of Monday, March 1, a petition on started by Point Park Students titled “Address the Point Park’s Non-Renewals,” has over 2,000 signatures. It has been signed by students, alumni, faculty members and other supporters.

The full-time faculty assembly passed a motion urging the administration to rescind its faculty non-renewals during its Monday meeting. 

The motion alleged that “An overwhelming majority of the 17 faculty who received letters of non-renewal are women. A disproportionate number of the few faculty of color at Point Park also received letters. And a significant number of the impacted faculty are part of the LGBTQ+ community.”

In response to previous coverage by The Globe, the administration stated that “Of the 17 faculty members impacted, two are people of color. We do not ask employees about or make decisions on sexual orientation, so we cannot comment on the number of impacted faculty members who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.”

The faculty’s motion also alleged that the loss of 17 full-time faculty members may affect students’ abilities to effectively follow their course sequences. According to the university Provost, Jonas Prida, this will be addressed in a number of ways. 

“Our Center for Student Success just ran an audit on this question, to see where students were on their guided path to graduation,” Prida said in an interview with The Globe. “And 89% of them are already on track to make that happen, and that looks forward as well. So, granted, that’s not 100% of students, right, let’s be realistic about this. But it also means 90% of the students have their classes ready to go. And if something isn’t filled or isn’t ready, as part of a student’s major requirements, it will be filled in either having a course be subbed in, [or] be done as an independent study. And again, these aren’t quite the same, but they’ll still have the same learning outcomes. Students will still learn the skills and dispositions they need for their major, or, this might happen in some cases, there will be a reversal of when it happens in the course sequence.”

“Every staff member, faculty member, and student in this community will be affected—in the volume of new course preparations, larger class sizes, combined and cross listed courses, and independent studies that will strain an already overworked faculty struggling to meet the demands of the very crisis the administration is using to justify not renewing these contracts and marginalize further a student population wrestling with academic, professional, and personal lives,” the faculty motion said.

According to Prida, in addition to hiring more part-time faculty, classes will also be “maximized.” He used a theoretical example to explain this concept to The Globe. 

“So if there’s like, a ‘Zebra Studies 305’ Section A that has eight students and a ‘Zebra Studies 305’ Section B that has six students, you can just combine that you just combine them into the same course, and that’s a way that you save having to teach one of the classes, but hopefully you can have that course be taught by one of your full-time people,” Prida said.

During the meeting of the faculty assembly, President Hennigan explained the university’s reasoning behind the faculty non-renewals and took a few questions.

Matt Pascal, the president of the faculty assembly and professor of mathematics, also addressed the assembly and shared some enrollment statistics that he said were acquired from the Vice President of Enrollment, Trudy Williams.

Pascal stated that “applications for Fall 2021 enrollment are up 16%, the number of students admitted is up 35%, and net deposits on Fall 2021 tuition are up 51% from February 2020.”

Even with higher enrollment rates for Fall 2021, the administration has alleged that the financial effects from the Fall 2020 low enrollment would be felt for the next four years as the smaller freshman class moves through the university towards graduation.

Another group, the Student Government Association (SGA), voted in favor of releasing a statement regarding the layoffs.

During the Monday SGA legislative body meeting, debate took place regarding the initial use of the word “illegal,” in the statement to describe the layoffs. 

“I think it’s important to notice that at this point in time, the reason why that word [illegal] is being used, is because the faculty and the union, who, respectfully, have a biased opinion in this matter, believe it is illegal. But the university and the faculty union are in arbitration…to decide whether that point is actually true or not,” Dean of Student Life Michael Gieseke, the advisor to SGA, said during the meeting.

“My intention was never to find a word that was supposed to be charged or to have impact or strength…my intention was to use the correct word,” President Dennis McDermott said. “And after reading the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] and hearing the opinions of the faculty assembly and hearing the opinions of the administration, it is my opinion that these were illegal terminations.”

Ultimately, it was decided that the term “illegal,” would be removed from the statement. Later in the evening, President Dennis McDermott sent a revised version of the statement to members of the body, where the faculty layoffs are referred to as “non-renewals,” quotation marks included.

“After careful deliberation and research, the Student Government Association has elected to voice its opposition to the “non-renewals” of the 17 non-tenured faculty at our University. The Student Government Association makes the recommendation that the University rescinds its “non-renewal” decision on the following grounds,” the statement said. The identified grounds are diversity, equity and inclusion, academic excellence and transparency. President McDermott is also working with Dean of Students, Keith Paylo, to put together a town hall for students to ask the administration questions about the layoffs.

“Let me be clear, I will not schedule a town hall unless there is faculty representation there,” President McDermott said in a tweet. “If the University won’t allow it, we’ll have one without them.”

The administration, in response to previous coverage in The Globe, also alleged that “The Union and the University agreed to extend the language in Article 18 to Feb. 15, 2020 [2021], for this year only on a non precedent-setting basis. Given that there was mutual agreement to extend the deadline for this year, the notices provided to impacted faculty members was within the deadline.” 

This was confirmed by full-time faculty union secretary and associate professor of English, Barbara Barrow. 

“The Union and University did agree on a one-time, non-precedent setting basis to extend the deadline for notice of nonrenewals until February 15, 2021,” Barrow said. “The Union maintains its position that the Administration’s attempt to use Article 18 to eliminate positions is contrary to the language of our CBA, and the Union has opposed this attempt ever since it was first brought to our attention in Fall 2020.”

Several faculty members have also responded to previous coverage in The Globe.

One of the affected faculty members, Dr. Marion Dixon, penned a letter addressed to university alumni. This letter was shared amongst various alumni and was also shared with The Globe.

“This type of disregard of faculty rights and general disregard for faculty and student voices in governance is part of a long-standing failure on the part of the administration, stretching back to the 2017 Faculty Assembly’s Vote of No Confidence against President Hennigan and well before,” the letter says. “Cutting brings costs and these latest cuts will do little to solve the university’s budgetary woes. Alumni voices are needed more than ever to make this administration accountable.”

Faculty also responded specifically to a statement made by President Hennigan during the SGA meeting on Monday, Feb. 22. In that meeting, Hennigan stated that department chairs and school deans were consulted regarding the decision of which faculty members would receive letters of non-renewal. 

“The project to terminate non-tenured faculty is one that was ordered by the Administration,” Dr. Channa Newman, chair of the department of Humanities and Social Sciences, wrote in a letter to the Editor-in-Chief of The Globe. “This radical, and as some have suggested, discriminatory path to saving money was considered by me and those to whom I spoke as the least productive and most harmful to students and institution. I was told that I had no choice but to ‘forward a name.’” 

The department of Humanities and Social Sciences, in the School of Arts and Sciences, is one that will be losing two full-time faculty members, Dr. Dora Ion and Dr. Dixon. 

“In HSS, there are two full-time faculty without tenure,” Newman wrote. “Some departments have only one. All chairs–as far as I know–were told that at least one faculty member had to be sacrificed. I was presented with ‘Sophie’s Choice’ and felt decidedly uncomfortable on many levels. The loss of two faculty members may result in the collapse of HSS and of the important GCS and Political Science programs.”

The administration responded to a statement made by Ion in previous Globe coverage, where it was alleged that the faculty non-renewals “do not honor the tenure-track appointments of full-time faculty.”

“Until awarded tenure in the agreement between the University and the Union, tenure-track faculty members are nontenured,” the administration said. 

As outlined in the CBA, after six years as a full-time faculty member, faculty members will be considered for promotion or tenure. This period is known as a “tenure track.” 

Per the “Arbitration and Grievances Clause,” of the CBA, both the university and the union agreed that due to the differing interpretations of several articles within the CBA, third-party arbitration will occur to determine whether or not the layoffs were conducted within the CBA or not.

Until the arbitrator rules in favor of the union or the university, this dispute is ongoing.