Cuts back home

Mon 04 Oct 2010 07:25 PM

The trick about tenure, which protects faculty members from being let go when the budget gets lean, is that it doesn't apply at the level of academic programs. So a university can let several tenured faculty go at once by axing an entire academic unit such as a department. The technical term is retrenchment.

SUNY Albany, my home institution, is dropping the axe on French, Italian, Russian, Classics, and Theatre. No new students will be admitted to those majors, and operations will quickly wind down. The university community got an e-mail on Friday, announcing (among other cost cutting measures) a move to "suspend all new admissions to [the] five program areas." It did not say how faculty would be handled; lots of students take foreign language courses without majoring in one.

Today news of retrenchment at UAlbany has spread further. Coverage at Inside Higher Ed says:

Ten tenured faculty members in language programs were told Friday that they would have two years of employment in which to help current students finish their degrees, but that they would then be out of their jobs, according to several who were at the meeting. About 20 adjuncts and several others on the tenure track but not tenured are also at risk of losing their jobs, potentially even earlier, although details are not available.

IHE seems to just be talking about languages, so cuts in Theatre probably push the numbers higher.

John Protevi does a bit of philosophizing on the criteria by which programs were selected, arguing correctly that a program with few majors might still be of great value to the university. Students in other majors should be taking languages even if the aren't majoring in them.

I'm getting most of my news about it indirectly, and I don't have anything clever to add. Given the news of the day, however, I didn't want my previous glib post about UAlbany to be at the top of the front page of my blog.