The potential impact of handbook amendments on JCU’s national ranking

Students+are+wondering+how+the+the+Board%27s+recent+decision+will+affect+the+university.

Rachel Scully

Students are wondering how the the Board’s recent decision will affect the university.

Nicolette Noce and Laken Kincaid

Newly passed amendments to the Faculty Handbook that make it possible to remove tenured professors without cause in a time of “budgetary hardship” have some concerned that this change in University policy will affect John Carroll University’s reputation. However, Assistant Vice President of Marketing and Communications at John Carroll Mike Scanlan says the adjustments are necessary to avoid the sweeping cuts other universities are seeing.

Brent Brossmann, faculty member for 28 years, told The Carroll News this decision “means that the reputation of John Carroll is going to take a hit. The value of the degrees will take a hit.”

John Carroll University was ranked at No. 2 in regional universities in the Midwest and No. 3 in best undergraduate teaching by U.S. News and World Report. Brossmann says that the elimination of tenure “will probably hurt our U.S. News and World Report rankings, it will probably hurt Boler’s ranking with Bloomberg. They’re ranked No. 1. 

This year, pay cuts were administered throughout the University due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, Brossmann says the faculty have been “underpaid compared to our comparative schools for a long time.

“I’m not saying faculty don’t get paid enough money, but if you compare what our associate professors make versus what competitors in the area make … we get paid below the 50th percentile,” Brossmann elaborated. “We don’t even get average pay, even though we do an exceptional job.”

Scanlan responded to this statement, “The compensation program of the University balances the need for external competitiveness with the University’s financial resources, stewardship, fiscal responsibility and the relative value among similar positions.

“The University recognizes the important role tenured faculty play in academic excellence and supporting academic freedom in research, teaching and service,” Scanlan continued. “It is the responsibility of every John Carroll employee to help manage campus-wide spending and help grow enrollment, thus reducing the chance of ever reaching a budgetary hardship condition. With the faculty’s cooperation, we can manage costs without the drastic cuts seen at other universities in Ohio and across the country.”

However, the faculty at the University said they are not only financially committed to teaching their students, but they are also dedicated to seeing them prosper. Despite issues of being underpaid in comparison to other universities, they remained at John Carroll. 

“Prior to this [termination of tenure], it was our love of John Carroll; it was our love of the students; it was the love of the institution,” said Brossmann. “We feel utterly, completely, totally betrayed. What the Board essentially told us is, ‘You’re easily replaceable employees, you don’t bring anything special to the table. We’ll just get rid of you anytime we need to. And that’s the message the faculty can take away.’” 

When asked for comment about Brossman’s claim that faculty are “easily replaceable employees, Scanlan said, “Absolutely not. … The budgetary hardship amendment continues to recognize and prioritize tenure and academic freedom as essential.” 

Some students share similar unease surrounding tenure. “This tenure issue with the professors at JCU is very concerning — not just for them but for the students too,” said Joshua Stasek ’22. 

Students are also apprehensive that the elimination of tenure will devalue their degrees.

“The reason I decided to attend JCU was the prestige,” Stasek told The Carroll News. “John Carroll has a reputation as one of the best higher education institutions in the area. We have plenty of esteemed alumni in high places in fields of all sorts. In fact, it has been voted the best in previous years. I’ve even heard it called ‘The Harvard of the Midwest.’ The teachers are the reason for JCU’s high status. They are hard-working, dedicated educators who have gone above and beyond for me and others, time and time again.”

Many students are also concerned about how the elimination of tenure will affect the quality of their education. 

Stasek told The Carroll News. “They [faculty] have no union. They can’t go on strike. They just have to keep their heads down and not make any noise for fear of becoming a target of budget cuts. If the teachers decide to leave — some already have or are already exploring other options — John Carroll will start to lose its prestige. It will lose what makes it so great. If JCU loses its status, then less students will feel inclined to attend.”

Yet, Scanlan assures that “the value of a John Carroll University degree remains strong and will not be altered by the Faculty Handbook amendments.

“It’s important to remember that every conversation, decision and action at John Carroll University starts and ends with one shared goal: prioritizing the well-being and success of our students,” Scanlan continued. “We will continue to focus on this priority. Our award-winning faculty has always embraced this goal, and we expect they will continue to do so as they teach, mentor and influence students who develop into difference makers. Tenure and academic freedom continue to be recognized and prioritized as essential. The Faculty Handbook amendments will not affect a faculty member’s academic freedom in the classroom.”

Some members of the community believe the possible elimination of tenure is for the better. One Facebook comment on a News5Cleveland story about the tenure situation at JCU stated, “Honesty, I hate the idea of tenure protection. Makes for an extremely lazy population of professors who have no fear of being fired. Only professors who are tenure and have been milking the system care about tenure protection.”

“I noticed many, many comments on the News 5 article about the situation. Many people praised the decision, saying crass comments like ‘Welcome to the real world professors’ and ‘Nobody deserves protection in the workplace.’ One man I personally got into an argument with referred to some teachers as ‘big, baby professors,’” Stasek said.

Stasek also said, “I’m here to tell you: we here at John Carroll CARE. We all follow the Jesuit ideal of cura personalis, and the Board’s decision to remove our teachers’ job security is not representative of men and women for others. It does not represent the care we provide for each other.”

Despite efforts to reverse the Handbook amendments, the Board decided to proceed. “The faculty’s amendments were considered at three meetings of the Board, including February 10, March 1, and March 10. The amendments were fully discussed at the March 1 meeting when the Board adopted the Board-initiated amendments and again when voted on during the March 10 meeting,” Scanlan told The Carroll News. 

With multiple perspectives on the tenure situation, John Carroll University’s students, faculty, staff and administrators are still navigating the after effects of these changes in policy. 

Here is the complete statement provided by the university and the Q and A with Mike Scanlan, which includes student questions and complete responses.