Saturday, October 31, 2020

Academic plan met with discontent

SUNY Plattsburgh’s Faculty Senate Executive Committee formally met with the Provost’s Cabinet for the first time Wednesday to begin working together on the academic plan given to faculty Sept. 25.

The plan was released by the Provost’s Cabinet with no faculty consultation. The plan outlined mergers of departments, program interventions that included closings and plans on increasing student retention, among other ideas.

Faculty members were vocal in their disapproval in an all-faculty meeting held two days after the plan was released, especially by faculty in the departments of English, history, philosophy and modern languages and cultures, which will form the Center for the Humanities next fall, and the departments of art, theater and music, which will also merge under the plan.

“The art department has made it very clear to both our dean, Dr. Andrew Buckser, and the provost, Dr. David Hill, that we do not support the reorganization of three independent departments, Art, Music and Theater, into a Center for Art, Music and Theater,” Art Department Chairperson Diane Fine wrote in an email response to Cardinal Points. “We do not see any benefit to such a move and, in fact, there was a previous incarnation of such a center early in my tenure here that was tried and failed. I was only part of that center for one year when the faculty, who had been pushing for its demise, finally prevailed.”

Students were not made aware of the plan by the college’s administration when it was released. Instead, students heard about it from their professors.

The Student Association’s Vice President for Academic Affairs Hanna Assefa first heard about the academic plan in class after her professor alerted the students about how it could affect them.

Assefa said a panic swept the room.

“I remember some students were thinking about how to transfer their scholarships already to another school,” she said. “It was very unsettling.”

Assefa believes the departments set to create the new centers won’t fit together like some may think.

“Although from afar, [the departments] may seem similar, they are very different,” the English writing arts major said. “I felt like, ‘Wow. This is horrible.’ I was sort of glad that I’m graduating before this happens.”

Assefa would like to see a student committee formed so students can have a direct voice in the decision-making process.

“It’s affecting all of us. Why aren’t we all a part of the decision?” Assefa said. “Especially when students are at the heart of this.”

Assefa’s opinion of the plan has changed since Provost David Hill met with the SA to go over the changes and after she sat in on faculty senate meetings and heard the thoughts of faculty members.

“The more questions we asked, we learned this is not a set plan,” Assefa said.

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee wrote a response to the plan that was directed at faculty Oct. 16.

In the response, the Executive Committee outlined the need for faculty to be in the loop as the plan progresses.

“Shared governance is about coming together and working together to put together a plan,” Faculty Senate Chair Gary Kroll said. “This plan doesn’t have that shared governance, so let’s start talking about that.”

Kroll is optimistic the academic plan will move forward with faculty consultation and support.

“You have to count on people buying into the mission of higher education,” he said. “I think that’s the key. For all of us to say, ‘It’s higher education. We’re trying to take 18-year olds and educate them and give them degrees so that they become successful citizens.’ When you flip it like that, then all of a sudden people start agreeing a lot more.”

With the appointment of Humboldt State University Provost Alexander Enyedi as SUNY Plattsburgh’s next president, Kroll is pleased to see the leadership start to solidify.

“The problem with Plattsburgh is we’ve had a kind of vacuum of leadership,” he said. “That vacuum is going to end very, very shortly, and that’s exciting.”

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