Five tenure-track positions in the College of Arts and Sciences have been eliminated in response to university-wide budget cuts. The affected faculty members received letters of termination last month, but Dean Sacha Kopp said he is still working to find other teaching positions for them at Stony Brook.
The move, seen as highly controversial among academics, was a main point of contention at Monday’s CAS Senate meeting.
For many, the Dean’s failure to renew these contracts violates a well-established precedent at the university. “Stony Brook is not like Yale,” Sara Lipton, a history professor, said. “If you do your job and you do it well and you publish and you teach and you do service, you will be tenured.”
Former University Senate President Frederick Walter noted the abnormality of this situation in a manifesto sent out to faculty members last month. “When a scholar is hired into a tenure-track position, there is an implicit understanding that the incumbent will become a candidate for tenure, and will have the opportunity to prove themselves qualified,” he wrote.
Aside from posing an ethical dilemma, many professors worry that this decision could have an adverse effect on the intellectual climate of the college. “Stony Brook’s reputation will be tarnished;” Walter continued. “Young scholars will think twice before accepting a faculty job offer from Stony Brook if they think they may not get a fair chance at tenure. Faculty in related jobs may feel insecure and seek jobs elsewhere.”
Kopp said a mandate from President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. requires CAS to decrease spending by $3.5 million. In doing so, Kopp said he felt it was important to assess their budget on the whole, rather than look at each department separately. “As a college, how do we get the most back out of the strategic plan, and how do we get the most bang for the buck in our missions to do research and our missions to do education?”
Kopp repeatedly stated that these cuts were made with the college’s strategic goals in mind. “The word strategic does imply that we’re going to be adding resources to program A because it can help lift us up as a campus. And that might mean that we take the resources from program B,” he said.
While Kopp characterized the cuts as strategic, others called them divisive. “You prey on the weak programs to support the strong programs. And you fail to imagine that we are a unit, that we work with each other,” Peter Manning, an English professor, said.
Chair of the history department, Paul Gootenberg, said the anger and bewilderment of the faculty could be traced back to a lack of trust and communication between professors and the administration. “It’s not the budget cuts per se that are getting to the faculty morale. But it really is a question of the process, and the feeling that we’ve been left out. And that our proposals and our alternatives have not been taken as seriously as they should have been.”
Kopp maintains that he consulted with faculty throughout the decision-making process; however, many of those in attendance contested this.
This tense relationship between Kopp and CAS faculty is nothing new, as is demonstrated by a 2016 survey from the University Senate’s Administrative Review Committee. When asked to what extent the dean involved faculty, staff and students in decisions that affect policy, 62.8 percent of respondents said the dean involved them only a little or not at all.
“Informing is not consulting. Diverse viewpoints have to be heard,” said Manning. “What we want to ask you to do is say to the upper administration ‘your stumbles, your poor planning have resulted in this.’”
Dean Kopp pushed back against the notion that he failed to properly advocate for the interests of CAS faculty. “If I wanted the solution that was the most administratively convenient… we would just have cuts across the board. Everyone would share the same percentage cut as the college.”
Even amid the harsh criticism, Kopp kept his composure. “It will be inconvenient for us. It will challenge us. It will force us over and over again to discuss what it means to be a liberal arts college and what are we willing to give up in order to keep what’s essential,” he said.
Kopp continued his closing remarks, but toward the end, it became clear that his call to action was falling on deaf ears. “We’re in a moment of some very serious decisions. Serious intellectual decisions underlying serious budget decisions. I hope that we can go through that together.”