SUNY Plattsburgh introduced an academic plan covering 2020 to 2023 that outlined several changes slated for the near future to Plattsburgh State’s departments, programs, enrollment strategies and more.
The plan was given to faculty Sept. 25 and was discussed at an all-faculty meeting two days later in Yokum 200. Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs David Hill led the discussion, where he advocated for unity and support to a group of about 165 faculty members, some at-odds with the new plan.
Under the new plan, many departments will merge together. The departments of English, History, Philosophy and Modern Languages and Cultures will form the Center for the Humanities.
Art, Theater and Music will form a center for the visual and performing arts.
Hospitality Management and Management Information Systems and Analytics will also be combined.
Nutrition and Fitness and Wellness Leadership are also being merged.
On the Center for the Humanities, English Department Chair Paul Johnston said he’s unsure of how it will play out.
“[The English department is] very skeptical, but we have very little understanding of exactly what it is and how it’s supposed to work,” he said, “and we feel that the administration doesn’t have any more understanding than we do.”
Job security was the common fear expressed by faculty at the meeting.
Hill said the reason behind the new centers is not to save money or to reduce costs by laying off faculty, but to raise the profile of the departments collectively and make them more marketable. Hill later said faculty should not expect any layoffs.
“Interestingly enough, I think we have the right number of faculty,” Hill said.
When asked how confident he was that the administration would keep their word on their promise not to cut faculty, Johnston said he was “not at all [confident.]”
The plan also states additional changes will be considered where opportunities for more cross-disciplinary instruction and cost efficiency arise. Consultation among faculty and planning for the new departments will take place over the current academic year. Changes are set to be implemented fall 2020.
Plattsburgh State will review the college’s programs and determine whether they will be restructured, reduced, closed or in need of a “marketing refresh.”
For programs with potential for large enrollment but in need of help to reach larger sizes, deans will reconstruct curricula and organization within the programs.
Programs with low demand and cost-efficiency but are deemed “essential” to the student experience by deans will be asked to form a plan for restructuring or reduction to reduce costs.
Programs that are economically enviable due to low enrollment numbers will be marked for closure. Meanwhile, strong programs that can reach a larger audience will work with marketing and admissions to help improve enrollment numbers.
Deans, alongside the provost, have already begun reviewing programs this semester with plans to start intervening in the spring and then implementing action next fall. A program’s student size and cost-efficiency will determine where it falls within the plan.
In order to create an identity that stands out among other competing schools, Plattsburgh State will create what it’s calling “signature programs,” existing programs that the college believes can distinguish themselves from similar schools.
The plan states signature programs don’t have to be the largest or the most profitable, but they do have to be marketable and help define an identity and brand for Plattsburgh State.
The Provost’s Cabinet alongside the President’s Cabinet will select programs as signature programs starting in the 2020-21 academic year with plans to sort out how the college will market these programs and nurture growth in spring 2021.
The plan also outlined efforts to increase student retention with a focus on first-year students by considering changes to general education.
More attention is planned to be given to undeclared students, and general education classes will be looked at to conform to students’ needs. Plattsburgh State will also look to learn from SUNY online’s programs.
A key issue raised by faculty was how it was not consulted in forming the academic plan. Art Professor Karen Blough said she was speaking for the art department when she said they were “baffled and deeply offended” that the administration was not consulted. Faculty was not aware of the plan’s development and were not anticipating a plan, Johnston said.
“If you took away all of the administrators from this campus tomorrow, there would still be a college. It would be a crazy place and disordered and disorganized, but it would still be a college,” Johnston said about why it was important to consult faculty. “If you took away all the faculty tomorrow, it would no longer be a college, and I think in thinking about academic plans and thinking about the future of SUNY Plattsburgh, that’s foremost in my mind.”
Associate History Professor Sylvie Beaudreau raised concerns about the plan moving forward without a president. Others are concerned the current provost will be leaving the position at the end of the year.
Assistant Professor John McMahon brought up that there is no substantive mention of diversity initiatives in the plan at all at the faculty meeting. While Hill did not have a response directly addressing McMahon’s concerns at the meeting, he later said:
“There are other plans on campus that specify [diversity],” Hill said. “I would say that I didn’t put it in there because, or we didn’t put it in there because it goes without saying. The test will be if we actually accomplish that. With [Michelle} Cromwell at the VP table, that’s certainly on our minds.”
Hill has said changes are not being considered currently to the plan but that the possibility of changes will be discussed when the deans meet with faculty.
“The plan really is a framework that lays out what we’re going to do next, and I don’t think that changes.”