As Stony Brook University moves forward with its plan to promote diversity and representation on campus, some are questioning how budget cuts could impact this initiative.
At a diversity town hall meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 8., University Provost Michael Bernstein was asked why faculty layoffs seemed to be most prevalent in departments with large concentrations of women and people of color.
For instance, in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, more than half of the 20 instructors whose contracts were not renewed are women, and many of them come from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
“It’s not about targeting particular segments of the faculty,” Bernstein said to the crowd at the Charles B. Wang Center on Wednesday. “We are also eager to make sure our deployment of resources, where we’re putting our funds and what programs, aligns with student interests and student needs.”
Bernstein said that a systematic review has been undertaken to assess the quality and impact of academic programs. Eugene Hammond, former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, claims this review was inaccurate.
“The idea that there was a qualitative evaluation is totally wrong,” Hammond said. “And we’ve told them that many of our adjuncts are as good as any lecturers and as good as any professors. That’s why we hired them.”
Dean of Admissions Judith Berhannan said her office’s enrollment outreach team visited 169 targeted schools with significant populations of African American and Latino students, a practice they plan to continue in the future.
Aside from pledging to give a voice to underrepresented demographics the diversity plan also promises to support a wide array of academic programs.
Shantia McCarthur, a senior multidisciplinary studies major, told panelists at the town hall that she felt it was unfair for the plan to claim that Stony Brook will promote arts and humanities majors when in reality these programs are being neglected.
“It’s a little upsetting because I’m not a writing major or minor, but I actually do enjoy writing,” McCarthur said. “And I have writing professors that have taught me more about life than Stony Brook professors have in other fields.”
Bente Videbaek, an English department lecturer of 21 years, is one of the full-time faculty members who is being transferred to the writing department to teach writing. “I’m not very happy because when you teach writing you have a very specific skillset that you have been taught and trained in,” she said.
Bernstein said that the changes being made in the Writing and Rhetoric program were done with a purpose in mind: to help reduce the University’s dependence on part-time faculty. “We’re reconfiguring the faculty deployment to increase the use of full-time faculty in writing and decrease the use of adjuncts and lecturers who are part time hire,” Bernstein said.
He also emphasized that despite the layoffs, Stony Brook is still looking to hire more humanities professors. “In the overwhelming majority of those programs this year, we’re hiring,” he noted.
Some of the faculty have taken issue with this strategy. “Why under the circumstances, we’re firing people and hiring people at the same time?” asked Hammond.
By implementing a hiring freeze, Hammond said the school could save roughly $100,000 for every tenured faculty member who retires, freeing up more money to retain the existing adjuncts, who get paid significantly less. “You could hire five adjuncts for the price of one tenure track faculty member,” he said.
President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said roughly $1.5 million dollars has been set aside specifically for the diversity plan, along with another $650,000 from other areas that will be put toward related initiatives. “That’s not as much as we would like – probably 10 times that would be a better number – but we’re working very hard and very effectively, I think, and efficiently, with what we have.”
One of the ways they hope to do this is by using the Undergraduate College seminars as a tool for fostering discussions about multiculturalism.
“For the first time this fall, all new students including all first-time full-time students and transfer students were able to participate in workshops around issues of diversity and inclusion, as well as gender awareness and equity,” Rachelle Germana, assistant dean and director of the Undergraduate Colleges said.
Even in the face of budget constraints, Stanley stressed that promoting diversity needs to remain a top priority in order to ensure Stony Brook’s success in the long term.
“It’s a critically important point to understand we have to do a better job in this area,” he said. “We have to change the culture on this campus.”
Correction: A previous version over this story misprinted professor Hammond’s name as Roger.