Art History Terminations Threaten our Education

A quote from the president of Yale University and theologian, A. Bartlett Giamatti.

The Creative Commons

A quote from the president of Yale University and theologian, A. Bartlett Giamatti.

Sophia Maltese, Editor-in-Chief

John Carroll University has fired two tenured faculty members in the Art History department. This is a threat to the foundations of tenure and the liberal arts identity of our university, and it cannot stand. 

The University has violated employment contracts, expressed goals to redefine termination procedures (which will make firing tenured professors more convenient) and neglected the voice of faculty, staff and students during the academic restructuring process.

In addition to cutting faculty and an unreported number of staff, the administration has also given most employees salary cuts ranging from 5-10%.

According to faculty, Johnson aimed to cut $15 million from the budget this year. I understand the need for cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic, but how substantial is the financial reward of cutting two professors? Additionally, why do these cuts have to be made without proper communication with the faculty? Why do we not know how many staff members have been laid-off? Throughout some of these drastic changes, faculty have not been consulted or told the full truth, and when they have been consulted, they have not received adequate time to respond.

I am more than disappointed. I am afraid for the integrity of our University’s mission, which states, “In pursuit of our educational mission, the University welcomes the perspectives and participation in our mission of faculty, staff, students and alumni, of all faiths and of no faith.”

How does ignoring faculty members and terminating others welcome the perspective of faculty, staff and students? This blatant contradiction with the University’s mission accompanies an even more obvious contradiction from President Michael Johnson. 

The term “academic prioritization” first hit our campus last year. Academic prioritization is a process through which universities take resources from “weaker” programs and allocate them to “stronger” programs. At John Carroll, this is likely to mean taking resources from humanities programs and passing them over to Boler and STEM.

Understandably, faculty in the humanities were fearful, so much so that some reached out to me under the promise of anonymity to express their anxieties over job loss and the degradation of John Carroll as a liberal arts institution.  

The Carroll News published several stories on academic prioritization in the spring of 2019, causing Johnson to assure faculty that no tenured positions would be lost and that extensive consultation with faculty would precede any changes.

Yet, here we are.

Not only did Johnson fail to keep his promises, he has failed in transparency, action and  communication.

A committee of faculty and administrators was created to recommend action regarding the Art History Department. The committee members recommended that the major be dissolved, the minor be maintained and the affected professors relocated to other departments.

This recommendation was ignored. Instead, the entire department was dissolved and the faculty were effectively fired.

As a Jesuit-Catholic institution, John Carroll should respect its workers. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, “If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers, owners and others must be respected.”

John Carroll must preserve the integrity of our Jesuit-Catholic identity and treat workers with respect. According to USCCB, this is a RIGHT.

The administration’s actions violate the right to dignified work. In addition to firing two faculty members, they are seeking to weaken the power of tenure so that it becomes unsubstantial — a mere label in higher education.

Tenure ensures academic freedom. It reassures professors that universities will not remove them from their position based on dissimilar beliefs regarding politics, religion or social standards.  

Without preserving academic freedom, we will not receive a complete education. We will receive a watered-down, curated and partial grasp of the expansive and rich world that surrounds us.

Johnson says he cares about students. He walks on the quad and takes pictures with people doing homework to post on his Instagram just hours later. We need more than this. We need a president who prioritizes the complete liberal arts education of his/her students. 

We need a president who is transparent, who delivers on his/her promises and who remains steadfast to the Jesuit-Catholic identity they have sworn to provide. This identity includes the essential education in the arts. It includes respecting the worker and preserving a complete education, even during difficult times. This identity does not include terminating contracted employees and potentially weakening tenure without properly involving faculty. 

We came here for an education, which is only possible with the knowledge, voice and unabridged participation of the faculty and staff.