Illinois Wesleyan University faculty have voted overwhelmingly to ask the administration to hold off on faculty layoffs in programs cut by the board of trustees.
The vote Thursday night was 111-13 on a resolution asking for more time to consider programs in Anthropology, Religion, French, and Italian that were eliminated by trustees earlier this month.
"For AY (academic year) 20-21 terminal contracts should not be issued to faculty members whose majors and minors have been slated for closure by the board of trustees to allow an opportunity for the faculty as a whole to re-envision and restructure offerings," states the resolution.
Nine professors expected to get termination letters issued Aug. 1 giving them a final year. Earlier this week, though, the administration sent an email to faculty citing the pandemic and saying it would delay those notices by a month.
"We plan to use the month of August to continue to engage in earnest discussion and analysis to determine whether changed circumstances at the beginning of the academic year might allow us to identify suitable positions that do not currently exist for some or all of these faculty members," states an email from ISU President Georgia Nugent. "We wish to stress, as we have in prior communications, that, even if a faculty member receives notice of termination, the university intends to continue the search for suitable positions throughout the faculty member's terminal year, and, should such a position be identified and accepted, the notice of termination will be rescinded or replaced with new appointment terms."
That move came several days after the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a guidance letter on the proper process for such reductions, sent at the request of the IWU Council on University Programs and Policy, a main faculty body overseeing academic offerings.
AAUP guidelines require "the institution will make every effort to place the faculty member concerned in another position."
The association also said the burden of finding a suitable position for an affected professor is on the administration and that timing is important.
“The effort to find another suitable position must precede the announcement of an institution’s intent to terminate a program; it cannot follow the announcement as faculty members and administrators scramble to put together a Plan B,” wrote AAUP Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance Department Director Gregory Scholtz.
The IWU administration sent an email to professors Friday afternoon responding to the faculty vote and acknowleding faculty support for their colleagues. The message from Nugent cited the university handbook and did not back away from the cuts or the end of August timeline.
"It does not require the university create new positions. Our interpretation of the RIR language is that relevant faculty should be considered for existing open positions, including the possibility of retraining to meet the requirements of those positions. This is the process currently underway," wrote Nugent.
One faculty member who did not wish to be named has questioned whether scholars in foreign languages, religion, or anthropology can be viable candidates for positions in other disciplines.
Another professor who asked to remain unnamed said it is unclear what are-envisioning process could accomplish. That professor cited the instance several years ago in which a professor of German left for another job. The position was not filled and faculty were forced to vote to eliminate the major and minor because there was no one to teach it.
"You kind of force the faculty's hand because we don't have the ability to replace them. You have to remove it from the catalogs lest we sell incoming students a bill of goods. You can't very well tell students you can major in this thing when you don't have faculty who can deliver it," said the professor.
Previously, the administration said that courses in some disciplines may be taught even after a program is cut. Alumni and professors have both said in many such situations, institutions preferentially use adjunct/part-time faculty to teach non-major courses. Alumni said they worry that will erode the strong connections between students and professors that IWU has traditionally enjoyed.
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