WC sees departures in Academic Affairs due to financial concerns

By Cecilia Cress
News Co-Editor

On June 24, the Office of the Provost sent an email to the Washington College community containing a list of all the recently departed faculty in Academic Affairs.

This list was divided into three sections: “Departures in the Voluntary Attrition Incentive Plan,” “Retirement,” and “Other Departures.”

Faculty who have left WC under the Voluntary Attrition Incentive Plan, which was announced last January, include: Kimberly Andrews, Associate Professor of English; Laura Eckelman, Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance; Kitty Maynard, Professor of French; Pamela Pears, Professor of French; and Michael Dooley, Assistant Professor of Psychology, who will depart after the fall 2021 semester.

According to Interim Dean and Provost Dr. Michael Harvey, The Voluntary Attrition Incentive Plan was a proposition to faculty last year in which those who chose to depart willingly from their positions at the College were given monetary compensation. A plan Dr. Harvey says that, while “painful,” is a common occurrence across many colleges and universities.

According to Dr. Harvey, the decision to implement this departure plan was made due to concerns over WC’s finances brought on by several years of declining student enrollment, market demographic changes, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are a school that has to pay our bills, has to manage our budget, has to look out for the long term interests of our students. And it’s not fair to just raise tuition, so we have to manage expenses. That’s why things like the Voluntary Attrition Incentive Plan take place,” he said.

The purpose of this plan was to avoid the involuntary termination of any faculty as well as manage the College’s budget, and according to Dr. Harvey, it was a success on both fronts.

“The overall cost of delivering everything Academic Affairs does, all of the teaching at the college, is two million dollars less this year than two years ago,” Dr. Harvey said. “We’ve been able to do that while still delivering small classes, internships, student groups, great faculty, all of the stuff that is critical to what we do.”

Many academic departments saw the loss of several professors as well as those holding higher titles such as chairs and co-chairs of departments and programs. Despite the amount of tenured faculty lost, all past and current academic programs will continue to be offered at WC.

“We’re hiring a bunch of people, we’re not just cutting. We’re managing the overall operation in a way that makes sure we keep doing what we’re great at doing: making sure students are very well taught, very well advised, very well supported in all their activities, and making sure that the College provides as rich an experience as it ever has,” Dr. Harvey said.

According to Dr. Harvey, the process of departing faculty was planned with WC students in mind, to ensure the transition between faculty members was as seamless as possible.

However, some faculty have said they do not believe the transition will be easy.

Associate Professor of German Studies and Chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures Dr. Nicole Grewling said the process of hiring new professors to ensure the French department could continue being provided for students was “complicated,” as the department lost two tenured French professors.

“In our scenario, the situation was complicated by the fact that with two professors, we lost our entire French staff. That made it urgent that we find an instructor, or our students would have been left without any French courses, no options for students trying to fulfill their language requirement, and French majors and minors possibly unable to finish their programs,” Grewling said.

Dr. Karen Manna was hired to “take over administration of the French studies program,” but according to Grewling, one new hire does not fix the complications that came from such sudden departures, and the French department course offerings for the 2021 year were heavily affected by these changes.

“This transition does pose some problems, as all institutional memory of our French program disappeared so suddenly. Dr. Manna has to build a lot from scratch, but I’m hopeful that our French students will help her with that, for instance, when it comes to running the French Culture Club,” Grewling said. “What is more, the turnover affects our offerings in French. With only one French faculty member, we can staff fewer courses.”

“Due to the timing of events, we had to cancel one of two sections of introductory French that was originally scheduled and enrolled for this fall. Going forward, we will be able to offer students all the coursework they need to complete a major, minor, or their language requirement in French Studies, but there will be fewer choices in course topics,” she said.

While many departures were planned in advance by the administration, also present is the yearly turnover of faculty who decided to leave WC on their own, sectioned under “Other Departures,” according to the departure list email. These include Dr. Aaron Amick and Dr. James Lipchock, professors of chemistry and co-chairs of the department; John Boyd, director of the Writing Center and lecturer in Education; Bill Schindler, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Eastern Shore Food Lab; and Larry Stahl, technical director of Gibson Center for the Arts, who retired.

Many of the vacant positions have already been filled for the 2021 academic year. Dr. Rachel Rodriguez took over Boyd’s position as director of the Writing Center, and Digesh Raut and Dung Do will replace James Lipchock and Aaron Amick as professors of chemistry.

Photo by Izze Rios

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