What’s the Right Number of Faculty?

March 30, 2023

In 1996, when I started at SXU, we had eleven tenured or tenure-track faculty in English. Given the number of English majors at the time—not much more than our current number of 61—the university’s investment in our English programs was significant. It was evidence of a commitment to the liberal arts, to general education, to writing, and to secondary education. Regarding this last item: At the time I was the university’s only full-time, tenure track faculty member who worked as a discipline-based coordinator of a secondary education program. Over the years, secondary education coordinators were appointed in math and history; in other secondary education programs—science, music, art, and Spanish—faculty liaisons were identified, consulted, and made members of the Teacher Education Council, the policy making body of teacher education at SXU. The university had come to recognize—and promote and make investments in—the value of a close coordination of pedagogical and disciplinary knowledge and skills in educating a teacher. 

It wasn’t always a smooth process, as in those early days, my role was something of a peace-maker. Tensions arose between education colleagues and CAS professors, who sometimes seemed aloof and dismissive of pedagogical concerns; to many CAS colleagues the demands made by education faculty for program compliance often seemed arcane and intrusive. Such tensions between shared programs or forced unions among academics with different training and interests are common—though at SXU, the coordination grew into a collegial working relationship, as both sides came to see their mutual existence and efficacy as relying on one another.

I now find myself, once again, the only full-time, tenured/tenure track discipline-based faculty member who identifies his main duty as one of coordinating a CAS department’s secondary education program. I look back on the rise and fall of the university’s commitment to its education programs, as well as its investment in the liberal arts. The deprivations of the current scene leave me convinced there is a more balanced approach available. 

Trends in education, a favorite point of reference for our departing president, are important to study. But they must not be weaponized as “absolutes” to inspire fear and to justify extreme solutions (especially ones that don’t exactly fit our circumstances). We may need to make tough choices, but we need wisdom and information and goodwill to do so.

The problem facing faculty at SXU and elsewhere is that we are not always equipped with the necessary information to make sound choices about resources and investments, and certainly not at a comprehensive, or institutional, level. Even if we had access to detailed financial data (something that was more guaranteed when we had a union and the administration was obliged to share data in many areas), we would lack the expertise, and perhaps the perspective needed for wise decision making or advocacy. As Arunas, SXU’s patron saint of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), explained to me and others: “Administrators have a tough job; I wouldn’t want to do it. They work hard dealing with problems that have no clear or easy solutions. Faculty have their own jobs to do, and they cannot both do that job and also run the university.” 

The former union, when it worked well, provided a means of dialogue between faculty and administration in a way that systemized many balancing correctives. Collective bargaining typically brings this advantage, at least when it’s working well. In better days, we could collaborate in negotiating crucial matters like right-sizing the faculty and properly supporting individuals and programs. During negotiations from 2017-on, our union kept asking Dr. Joyner’s negotiators—principally her provosts, and there were many—Kathleen Alaimo, Suzanne Lee, James McLaren, Mike Marsden, Gwendolyn George, Angela Durante, and Saib Othman (though the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC, our union) only negotiated with the first three)—what number of faculty was right for SXU. What was the administration’s vision in terms of faculty composition? We never received a response.

It was perhaps a difficult question, possibly unanswerable in the context of the institution at that time, with a lot of variables: What kind of programs do we want? What do our students want? What are the trends? What standards exist or are inferable from other institutions? Despite the difficulties, the discussion of the question could have been productive.

The lack of any kind of dialogue on this matter left the administration a kind of carte blanche in simply pursuing, without the explicit announcement of such, the reduction in faculty in general as a kind of absolute end in itself. We have about 30% fewer faculty today than when Dr. Joyner began her presidency—but the more dangerous and insidious change has to do with the compositional change we’ve seen. We have lost many tenured colleagues—almost a 50% reduction in tenured member since Dr. Joyner’s arrival in 2017, with a similar reduction (i.e., nearly 50%) in tenure lines over that period.

Here is the legacy of Dr. Joyner’s presidency at Saint Xavier:


Please note that the year prior to this data set was 2015-2016, arguably our most traumatic period, when we lost almost 40 full time faculty in a single year. This was the height of the Gilbert crisis. Dr. Joyner entered after that exodus, and after the crisis had been paid for. Yet she continued to cut—reducing tenured and tenure track faculty by nearly 50% over her tenure.

The past several years, beginning in 2015 as SXU entered into what our departing president and the Board of Trustees call its “fragile” period, decisions have been made that have required “all hands on deck”—beginning with the opening of the CBA in 2015—and its subsequent openings two other times throughout the span of the 2015-2019 four-year contract. The Memos of Understanding (MOUs), three in total required reporting and collaboration at unprecedented levels. Faculty found themselves “running”—or approximating the running of the university, as we reviewed every expense, every outlay of cash, every plan, often contentiously with the administration. Through it all, the union lost favor with the faculty—possibly for being entangled in the weeds, possibly for breaking down in communication—but really, because the problems were so big—and it’s hard work “running the institution”—and we were only thinking along those lines, not actually doing it.

That was when we had access to data. Now we fly in the dark, something that wouldn’t be all that bad if we had trust in our administration. We don’t—and for good reasons, but not permanent reasons, one hopes. We need to get the trust back. The promise of a new administration should inspire some hope that “something better” might come along. How much worse can it get?

While faculty are not equipped to make decisions on every expenditure of institutional life, we are equipped to weigh in on the massive disinvestment in tenure and tenure lines that has been pursued by the Joyner administration. SXU’s disinvestment in its academic mission was so extreme that it caught the attention (via published IPEDS and other data that the university is required to report) of Matthew Hendricks of the University of Tulsa, who created a “dashboard” analyzing SXU’s finances in the context of student outcomes and administrative austerity. For a more mission-referenced discussion the impacts of the type of disinvestment that Hendricks analyzed, please read the talk by Dr. Mary Beth Tegan presented to faculty in a special meeting called to gauge faculty support for proposed program eliminations.

Why are we rushing to eliminate programs at this delicate transitional moment? Soon after Dr. Joyner’s announcement that she would be leaving SXU to become the next president of St. Norbert College, the movement to restructure SXU and eliminate several liberal arts programs kicked into overdrive. With the provost’s recent submission of his restructuring plan to Senate and the current fast-tracking of program closure proposals, it is clear to us that we are entering a deeper, darker, hotter circle of hell. The weaknesses of the plan have been referenced in several entries in this blog. But ultimately, those entries are, more or less, my opinions, despite the level of volume in the complaints.

We need better decisions, and, more importantly, better trust. We may not, ultimately, divine the exact right number of faculty for programs. But we can do better than we have been doing on this question. We can certainly refuse to accept the administration’s refusal to articulate their number; we can ask them to defend, if not justify, their plans and actions, which have left us decimated times 5 (if “decimated,” etymologically, is the destruction of one of ten, our nearly 50% reductions require a factor of 5).

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