Alumni organize protests to challenge faculty cuts and proposed restrictions

Oct 17, 2020


Photo Courtesy of Caroline Maltese

The Carroll News bids farewell to the JCU class of 2022!

A group of John Carroll alumni are protesting the termination of two tenured Art History professors and proposed amendments to the Faculty Handbook. According to the website the alumni created for their protest, “These assaults on tenure are not only a death knell for academic freedom and robust intellectual life at Carroll, they are also a threat to the prestige and value of our JCU degrees.”

John Carroll administrators plan to cut $20 million from the budget this year, according to an administration official, saying the cuts are necessary for the financial future of the University. With the pressures of COVID-19 and a long-standing financial deficit, the University is pursuing layoffs among other cuts to close the gap. To do this effectively, the administration is proposing amendments to the Faculty Handbook, which is essentially the faculty’s employment contract, that would enable more “flexibility” in reducing fringe benefits, downsizing or restructuring departments.

“As has been communicated in many messages to the JCU community over the past months, the University’s current financial status requires that we make many changes to the work, staffing levels and budgets of the University in order to establish a firm and stable financial foundation from which to grow for the future,” said University Provost Steve Herbert in an email to faculty.

Though many members of the JCU community recognize the need for cuts amid a financially unstable time, they question why the University has focused on weakening faculty protections.

Kevin Henderson, 2011 graduate and one of the organizers of the JCU Alumni Week of Action for Protecting Tenure and Transparency, asked, “Why are the first steps [the administration takes] incredibly alienating to faculty and alumni?”

Faculty have long criticized the administration’s lack of transparency. Many fear that these new amendments will further remove them from the University’s structural decisions, particularly those directly involving the faculty.

In a letter to faculty, Bill Donnelly, chair of the Board of Directors, said that the provision to reshape tenure “would permit the Board, upon recommendation by University leaders, to consider among all options available faculty personnel actions, such as reducing the number or size of departments or programs or other restructuring. The Board believes the current tools for leadership and faculty to address financial challenges are outdated, blunt and ultimately ineffective. JCU needs better tools to ensure its financial sustainability.”

The alumni’s website does not see weakening the protections of tenure as a necessary step. On the homepage, it says, “The president and board have cited COVID-19-related financial problems as a flimsy pretext to consolidate their own power, undermine faculty governance and unilaterally impose their own ideological vision for the university.”

In an interview with The Carroll News, Samantha Cocco, a double alumna from ’09 and ’16, said, “As much as it is devastating to see staff laid off, that is a step the university can take. Attacking tenure is not the way to go. Tenured faculty should be the last thing to go.”

The alumni for tenure website recommends that concerned alumni write letters to the president and the board, add comments to a feedback website and participate in a protest caravan occurring tomorrow at 1 p.m.

The alumni hope the protests will cause the university to reconsider the restrictive actions. “As alumni who loved our professors and who value the liberal arts education we received at Carroll, we cannot let John Carroll be destroyed by poor, short-sighted leadership,” the website reads.

Additionally, the alumni are concerned about the value of their own degrees. Mark Berardi ’11 stated that transparency, ethics and academic freedom are all factors that influence the Higher Learning Commission’s decision to accredit universities. “That’s something that degree holders should care about and the leadership should care about,” Berardi said. John Carroll’s accreditation is set to be renewed in 2024.  

“People forget how much power alumni have. … I don’t feel as proud as I once did to say that I am a double alum of JCU … It’s disheartening and it’s crushing,” said Cocco.

The protest is set to occur on campus and in front of University President Michael Johnson’s house. “This is a peaceful protest that is made in solidarity with faculty and in opposition to the president’s and the board’s action,” said Henderson.

The University has not provided comment at this time.

The Carroll News will provide live coverage at the event tomorrow via Twitter @TheCarrollNews. 

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