McDaniel College’s board of trustees will vote this weekend on plans for reinvestment and possible restructuring of the college’s academic programs, as some students and alumni have taken to social media to express frustrations about the lack of communication regarding the potential cutting of major and minor programs at the liberal arts school.
The college has declined to release details about the recommendations that will go before the board, which is set to meet Saturday, Feb. 23.
A faculty group, called the Strategic Thinking Group for Pedagogical Value, made recommendations to the president and provost regarding each academic program based on 10 years of data about student enrollment, retention and other factors, according to McDaniel College President Roger Casey. They recommended one of four options: inactivation, combination/consolidation, no action or strategic investment.
Casey will be able to discuss the board’s approvals after they have voted. The board of trustees meeting is not open to the public because the college is a private institution.
“It should be clearly noted and emphasized: The college is not in a state of financial exigency,” Casey wrote in an email Thursday.
McDaniel College President Roger Casey was recently appointed to two national higher education boards, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the American Council on Education.
The potential cuts to programs would not prevent currently enrolled students from graduating with a major declared through the rest of the academic year. Faculty positions will be eliminated as a result of the changes.
Casey wrote that, “Even if a program is slated for inactivation, the college will need to teach classes in that program for an additional two to three years, so that all students with that major can graduate with their intended degree.”
Faculty might still teach courses in a subject matter of an eliminated program.
“In the event that a faculty line is eliminated, the college will strive to meet all guidelines and protections laid out by the [American Association of University Professors],” he said.
The restructuring process was spurred by the board of trustees at its May 2018 meeting. It ties into the college’s strategic program dating back to 2015.
Casey wrote that the strategic program included “a thorough and immediate assessment of our curriculum to identify and highlight successful programs, restructure or eliminate weaker and/or unsustainable offerings, and investigate and implement new curricula which can lead to enrollment and/or growth.”
Some current students expressed feelings that they have not had adequate opportunity to express concerns prior to the decision being made.
“The outcome of this restructuring process should NOT be inevitable amidst the outpouring of concern and calls for more honest communication from the college community,” the McDaniel Progressive Student Union wrote in a post on its Facebook page Thursday.
“We have NO CONFIDENCE that President Casey will relay the extent of our concerns to the Board of Trustees this weekend.”
Member Sylvan Greyson, a senior, said that in regards to administrative communication with students, “I think the kind of ambiguous question of what people wanted to see at McDaniel didn’t really address that they would be going into big changes like this.”
The STGPV’s recommendations to the board were not available to students.
“They didn’t ask about anything that wasn’t working,” sophomore Jake Fine said. “They only asked what programs we wanted to see in the future. … They didn’t talk about a restructuring process.”
Fine is a music and education major. The music program is one rumored to see cuts. Though the college has promised that current students will be able to finish out their majors and minors, Fine is concerned that full-time faculty might be replaced by adjunct professors in the two years before he graduates if his professors know that they will eventually lose their jobs.
Fine said there is no clear way to contact the board of trustees.
“It feels very rushed and pretty sneaky,” he said. “We understand that these processes do happen and they are happening at colleges across the country. We would like more of a voice and more of a fair process in these decisions.”
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Casey wrote to address what he called “an extraordinary amount of misinformation” spread on social media.
He wrote that students were wrong to suggest that they hadn’t been listened to in the process because the data reflected student behavior more accurately than their comments.
“I believe students speak verifiably with their actions and decisions far more than with their tweets,” he wrote.
For some alumni, Casey’s Facebook post felt like the first time the proposed changes to academic programs had been addressed to them.
Mariah Ligas, an alumna who went through the college for her undergraduate and master’s degrees, has heard conjecture that the German program is one on the metaphorical chopping block.
She questions whether the data being used to make the decisions takes into account students who attended classes in a program but did not major or minor in it. She also questioned whether the faculty committee was representative of different programs, especially those in danger of being cut.
For Ligas, who is now a German teacher, she said her professional credibility would be negatively affected if the program she graduated from was no longer offered. If the German major and minor are cut, she said she would not donate to McDaniel in the future or recommend it to her students.
“These decisions are short-sighted, shallow, and a betrayal of the core values of the college,” she said. “To value money over impacting students’ lives … it’s deeply disappointing to see this happening at a school I love.”
Casey replied to one comment on his Facebook post, which garnered many comments from alumni, parents and current students: “These recommendations are not ‘bean counting’ decisions taken lightly. They are the product of hard examinations of the economic and cultural realities of our times. They should have been spread over a 20-year period — but they weren't. We pay the price for that now in discomfort.”