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Monday May 20th

Faculty voluntary separation leaves some departments scrambling, others largely untouched

<p><em>According to multiple sources, at least 31 faculty members have accepted the voluntary separation offer (Photo by Shane Gillespie / Photo Editor). </em></p>

According to multiple sources, at least 31 faculty members have accepted the voluntary separation offer (Photo by Shane Gillespie / Photo Editor).

By Tristan Weisenbach
Managing Editor

Faculty members and librarians over the age of 60 or who have been employed by the College for at least 20 years were presented with a voluntary separation offer in an email from Interim Provost Suzanne McCotter on March 21. The proposition provided these faculty with the option of a one year alternate assignment beginning this upcoming fall before they would be fully relieved of their job — a benefit that regular retirees do not receive.

Interim President Michael Bernstein, called the offer a “voluntary separation incentive plan” in an April 16 interview with The Signal. Those accepting the proposal needed to sign the agreement and alert their department by April 17. 

“We want to emphasize the establishment of the [voluntary separation plan] was based on operational need and is not intended to convey any disrespect for the many contributions and value of our tenured faculty members and librarians at TCNJ,” the email said.

According to multiple sources, at least 31 faculty members have accepted the offer. This amounts to about 10% of all full-time faculty at the College, according to Matthew Wund, professor of biology and president of the College’s American Federation of Teachers faculty union. 

Bernstein said during the interview that the retirement of faculty in the fall would have no impacts on the fall scheduling grid. “Any decisions being made would have lagged effects by at least a year,” he said. 

According to Bernstein, the administration has the right to request any faculty member who has agreed to the incentive to wait longer before leaving if there is a strong need for them to continue teaching to avoid detrimental impacts on departments. 

It is in fact true that some academic departments have avoided any impacts from upcoming retirements. According to Andrea Salgian, department chair of computer science, there are no professors in her department taking the voluntary separation offer, and therefore no changes to the fall schedule have been made. In the English Department, there is only one professor taking the offer, but this has made no impacts on the fall schedule, according to the department’s program assistant, Michelle Ordini.

However, other academic departments, such as public health, have seen impacts. Brenda Seals, chair of the department, is the only faculty member from her department who is taking the incentive. However, because Seals is an advisor for 70 to 90 students, her departure will require these students to be reallocated to her fellow faculty.

Additionally, Seals said public health classes will become more crowded now that there are less faculty in her department. She expects incoming transfer students to have a difficult time enrolling in classes because of it. 

“We've been getting more and more transfers every year and the school has supported that, but we don't necessarily have the class space to deal with it, so that's going to take a hit,” Seals said. “There's nothing worse than transferring to another college because you feel like they've made promises or it's going to be a better place and then being shut out.”

Wund told The Signal that the biology department has two professors who have taken the voluntary separation agreement, in addition to five or six other biology faculty who have left in the past few semesters. Their positions have not yet been filled, meaning the department has relied heavily on adjunct faculty and overloading full-time faculty.

“I've got colleagues who are teaching 50% more of their annual teaching for the year,” Wund said. “They're just vastly overloaded with students, which means that the more we're teaching, the less time we have to devote to mentoring individual students, and time is a finite resource.”

The Journalism & Professional Writing department canceled one course for the upcoming fall semester after one professor indicated they would be taking the voluntary separation, according to department chair and The Signal advisor Kathleen Webber.

The Department of World Languages and Culture has two faculty members who have now taken the voluntary separation agreement, in addition to three faculty who have left in recent semesters, according to Department Chair Marimar Huguet Jerez. The two faculty members taking the offer were set to teach multiple courses in the fall, most of which have now been reassigned to adjuncts.

“I'm going to give [one adjunct] these two heavy courses — that normally professors teach because they are 200 level 300 level — for the pay of an adjunct, so that's very unfair. I feel terrible,” Huguet Jerez said. “I mean, he's excited, but normally our adjuncts tend to teach the basic language sequence because it's easier and they are paid nothing.”

Huguet Jerez has immense respect for her departing colleagues who she said “more than deserve to be retired,” but she explained that the timing of the retirement incentive offer “made a mess of [their] schedule in the fall.” One of their classes had to be completely canceled, while others needed to be switched to different days and times.

“The schedules were already done and set and students were enrolled there already,” Huguet Jerez said. “It was in the middle of registration, so to change everything, it definitely was not a wise decision.”

The voluntary separation agreement was negotiated between the College’s administration and the faculty union, the American Federation of Teachers. Wund said the union wanted the agreement to be rolled out quickly, as the administration agreed to allow savings earned from the separation to count towards savings in the LIONS plan faculty working group, therefore avoiding more budget cuts in other areas.

“Faculty had to let the administration know by April 17 if they were interested just so we can put those savings on the books to incorporate them into the reports we send to President Bernstein,” Wund said. “So if it seemed very rushed, it's because it was.”

According to Bernstein, there is no immediate plan to replace any of the full-time faculty who are taking the voluntary separation agreement, unless a specific department has a “huge need.” He said in the interview certain positions may remain vacant permanently if there is no student need in that particular department, whereas others will be refilled in the coming years when the budget allows for it.

“Nine times out of 10, we would probably refill with early career stage faculty, newly obtained PhDs, newly obtained degree recipients who are starting their careers. So there's still some savings there,” Bernstein said. “They're not starting at the top of the pay scale, they're starting at the entry level.”

Wund said that despite the inevitable impacts that the retirement incentive — along with other budget-cutting changes involved in the LIONS plan — will have on the College, students should have confidence in the process.

“I think the students should really pay attention to what's happening and they should stay engaged. They should read The Signal, they should read their emails from President Bernstein and any other emails from administrators,” Wund said. “They should know that everyone involved is really trying to do their best to save money and have the lowest impacts on students, but it's unavoidable that you guys are going to feel it. TCNJ is not a wasteful, bloated institution. We are already operating efficiently and trying to do a lot with a little.”


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