“I am very concerned that this will affect my education. We are watching fantastic professors being laid off – professors who care about their students and who do everything they can to help their students succeed,” Junior sports, arts, and entertainment management (SAEM) major, Shea O’Neill, said in reaction to the non-renewal of 17 full-time faculty members. The decision was announced in a Feb. 23 email from President Paul Hennigan’s office and relayed to students in coverage in The Globe on Feb. 24.
Since the announcement, students have been abuzz with their concerns and disappointment in the university’s decisions. So much so that a change.org petition by students to address the non-renewals now has over 2,000 signatures. Many students have said online that they are seeing their favorite professors be let go in what the full-time faculty union, The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, is alleging are “illegal” layoffs.
The non-renewals not only affect older students who have had these professors for all their years at the university but are even impacting the freshmen. It has led Abbie Wachs, a freshman forensic science major, to view the administration in a new light.
“I had Kristy Long for general chemistry one and two and general chemistry laboratory one and two,” Wachs said. “I’m so disappointed in the administration of Point Park. It blows my mind that they allowed this and even thought about doing this, especially without the opinions from the student body – the ones this decision impacts the most. I always thought Point Park was so great before I came here, but there are so many topics that just get swept under the rug, this being one of them.”
The university alleges that student evaluations factored into their decisions.
Students have observed that a lot of the professors who are affected by the non-renewals are beloved by the student body. While many students have had one of these professors throughout their learning, some, like O’Neill, have had more than one and that makes the decision all the harder to swallow.
“I have two professors who are affected, Kendra Ross and Joseph DeFazio,” O’Neill said. “ I can honestly say you will not find a more qualified, capable, down-to-earth, caring professor than Dr. Kendra Ross. She has an incredible background in several areas of the entertainment business and has really awesome contacts. Her classes are incredibly hands-on and have taught me so much. I was incredibly nervous going into Professor DeFazio’s corporate finance class because I tend to struggle with math, but I quickly realized I had nothing to be concerned about. Professor DeFazio is outstanding; concepts I had not grasped in my previous accounting classes are clicking for the very first time. He is very easygoing, kind and incredibly helpful.”
Many students are also saying that the faculty that received non-renewals were popular among the student body not only for their teaching skills but also because of the people they are outside of the classroom.
“Kristy reaches out to students in a more personal way,” Wachs said. “This semester, I am taking 20 credits, all while trying to balance a social life and maintain my health. She took the time to sit down with me and let me rant about everything while giving me advice and supporting me through it all. The week of midterms, my laptop gave out on me and would not let me access anything. When I explained my situation to her, she offered to take my laptop to Best Buy for me to have it looked at, then kept me updated through it all.”
Other students are noticing that many of the affected faculty are women, people of color, or belong to the LGBTQ+ community. For junior screenwriting major Amber Schnupp, it’s become a disappointment to see one of the only female and LGBTQ+ professors in the cinema department be let go.
“Elise D’Haene is one of about four female professors in the cinema department, and she is the only female screenwriting professor,” Schnupp said. “Never has Elise questioned her students on decisions to make the story about the LGBTQ+ community. Meanwhile, there are other professors who have done just that, and they still have their jobs.”
For students, it’s not just about the comfort of having a fellow female, person of color, or LGBTQ+ member as a professor but also about representation and diversity in the different industries the school offers. Female students are able to get an idea of how women are treated in their industry, and students belonging to other minority groups are able to see individuals with whom they identify succeeding in their industry.
“I cannot stress this enough, as a young female screenwriter, it has been incredibly helpful to also have another woman professor who deeply understands the possible obstacles I may face in the industry,” Schnupp said. “I am incredibly frustrated by the layoff because it now means I will not have any female professors for my senior year. That is a huge issue for me, and I am incredibly disappointed in this school. As a female who wants to write stories empowering females and talking about the experiences we face, not having a female professor to go for advice is heartbreaking.”
Wachs is worried about how the faculty renewals will affect her education in a major program that is already struggling.
“I am terrified this will affect my education,” Wachs said. “Not only am I a STEM student in a performing arts school, but my major is also so hard to find at a smaller school. I’m better at learning in smaller classes because I can connect to professors rather than just attending lectures and memorizing the content. In replacing them with adjuncts, it is possible that we will have people who are knowledgeable in the subject but are unable to properly communicate it to the students.”
The university cited “significant disruptions…in higher education” for the layoffs and said the faculty non-renewals would “ensure…providing a high-quality education to students” in the Feb. 23 email to the campus community.
Their decision has students worried about their education and the professors’ well-being. It even has led students to question if it’s worth continuing their education at Point Park if no action is taken about the concerns the students have expressed.
“I hope they realize that it is actions such as these that make students want to drop out or transfer,” Schnupp said. “People have started openly telling potential students to rethink coming here. I personally have to think about whether or not I want to return. This school is horrible at handling issues such as this and coronavirus, and it is getting really old really fast. It is 2021, and the administration needs to see that this generation is tired of letting things happen to us. We will not stop standing up for what is right. This will not just be swept under the rug like most issues are at Point Park.”