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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Catholic University Provost Blasts Critics Of Plan To Lay Off Tenured Faculty, Increase Teaching Loads: 'Shared Governance Means Not Just Sharing, But Also Governing'

CatholicFollowing up on my previous posts:

Chronicle of Higher Education, Seeking to Lay Off Tenured Professors, Catholic U. Provost Blasts Critics for ‘Spreading Half-Truths and Fear’:

In a fiery treatise on Monday, the provost of Catholic University of America rejected what he described as a faculty committee’s attempt to "mutilate" and "neuter" a layoff plan that some professors describe as a threat to the institution of tenure. He also condemned the plan’s toughest critics, whom he accused of "spreading half-truths and fear" instead of collaborating on a cost-cutting proposal. The provost says that layoffs or buyouts are needed to close a $3.5-million budget deficit that came about in part from enrollment declines.

Andrew V. Abela, the provost, proposed in March that the university eliminate the positions of 35 full-time professors, including tenured faculty members. That would be about 9 percent of the faculty. Professors at Catholic have pushed back, questioning the rationale behind the "academic renewal" plan and rejecting the notion that the university’s financial circumstances provide sufficient justification for removing tenured faculty members.

(The university’s leaders have not declared financial exigency, and they assert that Catholic is, on balance, in good financial health.)

Abela’s letter serves as a formal response to the recent recommendations of an ad hoc committee of the Academic Senate, which last week rejected nearly all of the most controversial elements of the plan and argued that the university was "playing with fire" by seeking to lay off tenured professors. Abela expressed disappointment with much of the report, and said that various amendments to his original proposal have effectively gutted it of cost savings while offering no reasonable alternatives to faculty layoffs. ...

The plan has roiled Catholic University, which was founded by American Roman Catholic bishops and is located in Washington, D.C., for months. The proposal to cut the faculty has provoked a wider dialogue about whether the university has overplayed its religiosity to the detriment of student recruitment.

As a practical matter, however, the bigger fight concerns the fragility of tenure in an environment where university leaders are eager to shed faculty members to cut costs. ...

In his letter, Abela took aim at the university’s Faculty Handbook Committee, whose narrow interpretation of the grounds for dismissing tenured professors — for cause, after a declaration of financial exigency, or in the event of program eliminations — would seem to rule out the layoffs the provost has suggested.

"By no stretch of its mandate is the Faculty Handbook Committee authorized to sit as some sort of Supreme Court and pass judgment as to how the Faculty Handbook is to be interpreted or applied," Abela wrote.

The provost has held fast to the notion that, by increasing teaching loads and cutting the resulting "surplus faculty," Catholic University can simultaneously improve in quality and reduce costs. After months of dialogue, Abela said in his letter, no one has come forward with a reasonable alternative to do both that would not involve professors’ losing their jobs. He rejected with a hint of contempt, for example, the idea that Catholic merely has a marketing problem.

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If I know anything at all about leadership, its that you cannot get people to do what you want by yelling at them. Evidently this places me with 1 more piece of leadership knowledge than the president of CUA.

Posted by: Anon | May 13, 2018 9:13:00 AM

Weak. This is going to hurt their reputation for years, if not decades.

Posted by: BA | May 15, 2018 1:36:00 PM