Queen sacrifice in Pennsylvania

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit higher education hard in many nations.  In the United States many colleges and universities suffer from virus-caused financial pressures, from decreased enrollment to reductions in state funding.  This has led to all kinds of cuts: to programs, majors, departments, staff, and faculty.

IUP logoToday’s example comes from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which just announced a queen sacrifice.  (If the term is unfamiliar, it describes when a campus reduces tenure-track faculty members. It’s based on the chess stratagem.  I’ve been tracking examples here.) In November the Philadelphia Inquirer broke the story of 80 faculty being cut. This week the New York Times reports that “I.U.P. would lose 128 faculty positions, or 15 percent of its full-time instructors — 81 through layoffs and the rest through attrition.”

I cannot find a good list of which departments are being hit this way. From a university white paper I can share the fields that aren’t being cut, which IUP dubs “Areas of focus”: “science, math, computer science, pre-engineering and engineering; allied health disciplines; behavioral health; business”.

IUP projections for job fields

No surprises there for my readers.

Alongside this move is a cross-curricular revision of academic programs, with a range of them being cut, moved, or merged. The total effect is a reduction in the number of programs offered.

The immediate reason is, of course, the pandemic:

When Covid-19 arrived, the state system initially projected that it would take at least a $52 million hit, chiefly from lost tuition and refunds to students, though $39 million from the federal CARES Act would soften the blow. (Later projections would show an even greater financial hit.)

Yet COVID-19 just adds to preexisting problems at IUP and elsewhere.  The Times describes a background that’s familiar to my readers: declining domestic enrollment (“15,600 in 2012 to 10,600 at the start of the 2019-20 school year”), declining international enrollment, demographic transition (the American northeast), and a state government cutting per-student support.   As the official IUP statement reads,

Most of IUP’s revenues come from tuition, and in the last ten years, IUP’s enrollment has fallen by about one-third: from over 15,000 students to just over 10,000. We have not had a similar reduction in the size of our workforce.

Tuition rose, as did student debt. The crisis was brewing; COVID just sped it up.

Matt Richtel does a fine job of showing the human cost of IUP’s cuts, offering several personal stories. He also points out the crucial social impact, as the region depends on higher ed to advance itself.

Other PASSHE campuses are also being hit. One report cites “expected system layoffs totaled 186.”

Interestingly, IUP is considering renting residence hall space to non-IUP students.

As COVID and its effects continue to roar through the world, we should expect more queen sacrifices like this one.  Not all campuses are subject to these exact same pressures, of course, and not all have the same mix of resources and options. But the queen sacrifice is a card leaders can play, and the game is getting rougher across the country.

My thoughts and hopes go out to the impacted faculty members, their families, and their students.

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1 Response to Queen sacrifice in Pennsylvania

  1. Deborah says:

    Sad to learn of this since IUP was where I earned my PhD

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