More than 10% of faculty and staff met the ax:
Administrators have approved the departure of 78 faculty and staff members by late December out of 743 employees. Fifteen people will be laid off this month while the other 63 people will take voluntary retirement or separation packages.
One Inside Higher Ed commentators notes that some of those faculty as “nearing retirement anyway… The buy-out was generous and entirely optional for faculty.” I can’t find more information about which departments were most impacted, nor about which staff have been cut.
The university’s reorganization plan is pretty ambitious, even “radical”, as it reduces the total number of academic units, along with the number of faculty and support staff:
The seven planned academic clusters are arts and technology; education, democracy and social change; exploration and discovery; health and human enrichment; innovation and entrepreneurship; justice and security; and tourism, environment and sustainable development…
Plymouth State’s 24 academic departments currently fall under the three colleges of arts and sciences, business administration, and education, health and human services.
What’s the concept behind this?
Those new academic clusters are being cast as following an open laboratories model, opening up the university to partnerships with the local community and industry. Plymouth State said it will be focused on entrepreneurship while teaching graduates the ability to work together to solve problems.
On the one hand, an emphasis on intellectual discovery and openness; on the other, it’s about business. That’s a very strong outreach model, including those academic-business partnerships. As per the official announcement,
Unlike the traditional program framework at most colleges, this new model, focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, will create opportunities for Plymouth State University students, faculty and community partners to work together on real-world challenges and projects.
This ties into what sounds like a pre-existing emphasis on experiential learning, according to US News. But it also meets local business demand: “Around the state, business owners and policy makers have warned of a skills gap when attempting to fill many job openings.” The official announcement is full of references to businesses.
The reorg also leads to students receiving certificates in addition to their major degrees. According to the Union Leader, “[s]tudents not only will receive a baccalaureate degree but also can earn certificates in specific areas within one or more clusters”.
One criticism: the reorg weakens faculty governance. Evidence for that charge can be found in one faculty leader’s reaction to the layoffs: “We, like the rest of the Plymouth State community, are only now hearing about the number of layoffs”.
So is this a queen sacrifice? It has many indicators, namely the faculty reduction and emphasis on meeting new and business-driven needs. New Hampshire is definitely experiencing demographic pressures, and that state government already offers very low funding for public institutions. Departmental reorganization, though, isn’t quite in the usual pattern. Everyone is deleted and reshaped, not just selected departments and programs. Is this another sign of the corporatization of the academy, or an innovative rethinking of the undergraduate experience?
In the meantime, there’s been very little discussion of this development since June 21. And my heart goes out to the faculty and staff exiting PSU.