Professors weigh in on FPU cuts
RINDGE — In the wake of an announcement last week that Franklin Pierce will be cutting six majors and minors, with the majority in arts-related departments, the school’s teachers are expressing disappointment in both the decision and how it was announced to students and faculty.
American studies, theater and dance, graphic communications, fine arts, math and arts management are the programs that will no longer be offering majors or minors, although University President James Birge announced during a “Town Meeting” at the college on Wednesday that classes will continue to be offered in those programs. The number of students majoring in these areas is simply not sustainable, Birge said, and the university will be funneling resources from those areas into majors that draw more interest. While full-time faculty will retain their jobs, the fate of adjunct faculty and senior lecturers in those programs is unclear. Faculty Union President Doug Ley, professor of history at FPU, said he fears their jobs may be at stake as a result of the cuts. Students who have already declared majors in those areas will be able to finish their degrees, but moving forward students will no longer be able to declare in those areas.
“The input we used to make the decision were the data showing steady declines in enrollment and the number of students graduating with those degrees,” wrote Birge in an email Monday. “Additionally, we examined the cost of upgrading facilities to improve the quality of the teaching and learning environment. In the cases of these majors, enrollment and graduation numbers, along with facilities’ expenses provided ample information to make a decision.”
He continued, “...the facilities and structural upgrades necessary to improve enrollment would be so significant that we decided not to commit resources in those areas. Rather, we will commit resources to programs that are showing significant enrollment growth.” Those resources include increasing the number of faculty and adding academic space.
University professors are weighing in on the impact of losing majors in their fields, the uncertainty of the format their disciplines will take in the future, and their disappointment in the way the news was broken without input from the faculty affected.
Theater and dance
Robert Lawson of Peterborough, a full-time professor of theater at Franklin Pierce, said he has two problems with the new. First is that so many arts-related majors and minors were cut. He’s also concerns about how the news was conveyed to professors and the students, and about the lack of information on what the new format for the departments will be moving forward.
“Being an artist and someone who has worked at that institution for 20 years, to me, the value of art and art making is unimpeachable,” said Lawson in an interview Monday. And though there are not a lot of theater majors, theater and the arts are a unifier for students of many majors.
Last year, during the university’s production of “Vanishing Point,” Lawson conducted a survey of the 60 students involved, and said they came from majors across the campus. “Our lead was a business major. Another main lead was majoring in social work and counseling,” he said. While students may not be able to major in theater for a number of reasons, the theater program and productions have become a gathering point for the campus. And it’s an important point, since the campus isn’t located near a big arts nexus, said Lawson, so it attempts to fill that hole for students.
Kathy Manfre of Peterborough, a former adjunct professor at Franklin Pierce, who was involved with “Vanishing Point,” said that the large cast for “Vanishing Point” showed that there is still a sincere interest for the arts at the university. While the university still hopes to be able to stage productions, without a major there is going to be a loss in quality, said Manfre.
“I think if you get rid of the theater and dance major, the program will fold. You’re not going to get the interest, and you’re not going to get the quality of kids to do a good show. I think it’s such an iffy thing when you take away a major.” Manfre also said that before giving up on the major, there should have been efforts made to improve the program, facilities or marketing.
Lawson said that until last year, there had been an ongoing effort to formally analyze some majors, including theater, with professors asked to put together a plan to turn it into a distinctive program, which was marketable. Under Lawson, the theater program has put out multiple original productions, several of which have gone on to be showcased at The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. The plan was to continue and grow that model of making the program a lab for original works, which is unusual for an institution the size of Franklin Pierce, without needing to make significant changes to the infrastructure or facilities. Up until December, the faculty was under the impression they were on track to implement that model in the coming fall.
Then, faculty and students received an email from the university on Jan. 29, which told Lawson the theater major was among those getting the ax.
“It was quite a shock to the system,” he recalled. Though there had been a sense among faculty union representatives that changes were coming, and that majors could be affected, but the suddenness of it was unexpected, and so was the lack of input from professors, he said. And having started that way, it may now become difficult to include professors in the process of redefining what the departments will become.
“It could have been a healthy collaboration. Instead, it was a decision dropped from above with no attempt to incorporate the stakeholders,” Lawson said. “And the administration is now so entrenched in that way of moving forward, it may be hard to forge that collaboration with the stakeholders.”
This is the second time in recent history that Franklin Pierce has lost its math major, said FPU Professor of mathematics Carl Brezovec in an interview Wednesday. The second time around, he’s taking a more resigned view of the matter.
“Because I’ve done this before, the first time I was more upset. I’m resigned to the reality that it’s not my call. It’s just my responsibility to enlighten everyone what is lost by this,” Brezovec said.
The first time Franklin Pierce cut the math major, the minor remained, so there was still a good variety of classes, said Brezovec. But now, it will be both the major and the minor gone, and with the only other full-time professor in the department retiring last year, Brezovec is the only one left on the roster to teach.
Having been through this before, Brezovec said he knows now what to expect. There will still be math classes, he said, and he’s not worried about his job. It’s the culture that having a major creates that will be missed, and the fringe benefits that culture creates.
“What’s lost is a core group of students,” said Brezovec of what happens when a major is cut. Ideally, he said, “the younger students take classes with the older majors, and there’s a natural continuation of the math culture.” Many of the dedicated math students have an ethos of assisting and tutoring the younger classes, he pointed out, and many of those students are funneled right into the university’s widely recognized tutoring program.
And cutting the minor in math will also have an effect on how many math classes can be offered, Brezovec said. It will also make ever reinstating a math major much more difficult, he said.
Fine Arts Adjunct Professor Jordana Korsen of Harrisville has seen the writing on the wall for a long time with regards to her department, she said in an interview Wednesday. In fact, she had already been making efforts to move on after 20 years of teaching at the university when the news broke that her discipline would no longer be offering a major or minor. It didn’t make the news any easier to swallow, though.
“I was stunned and shocked,” said Korsen of her reaction to receiving an email with the news that the six majors were being cut. “It’s supposed to be a liberal arts university. The thing that made Pierce cool was that it had these diverse departments, where students have a chance for creativity and expression, and they’re ruining it. Actually make that, it’s ruined. The damage is done.”
Korsen said her discipline, blown glass, is taught by a part-timer and she wonders how someone would be able to absorb her work into an already full-time job.
And although the numbers of fine arts majors may have dropped, her classes have always been full and thriving, said Korsen. Part of the attraction of a liberal arts college is the opportunity for students interested in a variety of majors to have the opportunity to participate in classes such as arts, dance, theater and philosophy, she said. “Even the kids that aren’t in those majors, they participate and are active within those fields,” said Korsen.
And though during a question and answer session at Franklin Pierce last week President Birge told the crowd that the university promotes the cut majors as much as any of the majors at the college, Korsen said the facilities aren’t the kind that a student seeking an arts education would be attracted to. Franklin Pierce is just not comparable in the arts department to similar sized liberal arts colleges. She said, “If you’ve walked through the art department, you know it hasn’t been improved since it was built since the ’60s.”