Major faculty and staff cuts at Plymouth State University

Plymouth State University logoIn one more story about an American campus wielding the ax, Plymouth State University announced staff and faculty cuts as part of a departmental reorganization.

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.

Liked it? Take a second to support Bryan Alexander on Patreon!
This entry was posted in research topics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Major faculty and staff cuts at Plymouth State University

  1. tellio says:

    Methinks this is Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine in play. Disaster capitalism at work.

  2. Can you define what you mean by “queen sacrifice” as it applies to Higher Ed?

  3. Leah MacVie says:

    Shock Doctrine seems like a stretch. It sounds a lot like Crow’s The New American University Model, maybe Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory.

    Queen sacrifice- sacrificing the faculty lines to save the rest of the school, me thinks…If you want to blow up discipline-oriented departments, to make way for interdisciplinary departments, not all faculty will have transferable expertise — much like the real world: When organizational departments are abolished, employees with skill sets that don’t transfer are cut.

    This is the first small institution I have heard of to make this move. The article focuses quite a bit on the business-transfer aspect of this, but I believe it is about MUCH MUCH more than that. This was the case at ASU and with Crow. I reached out to the former provost today to see if I can study the evolution of the institution as part of my current dissertation research (evolution of small higher education institutions).

    Bryan your series focuses on higher education and I think there could be a future where there are no disciplines so faculty have the freedom to evolve their research, interdisciplinarily. I feel that many of the faculty I work with are stuck in their current discipline in terms of research. Shouldn’t we give faculty the freedom to explore and include different disciplines in their work/research? Should we offer the same opportunity to students?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *