Follow the Leader? Mansfield University Student Speaks Out Against Budget Cuts

Photo credits: clipped images from #LoveMU on Twitter

As the sun sets over the small campus at Mansfield University, I am reminded of why I decided to start my college career in this small town. Not only is the view absolutely breathtaking, but this place reminds me of home.

I came to Mansfield when I was 18 years old. Fresh out of high school, I thought that this was definitely the place for me after I toured the campus. I saw the small class sizes and met with some of the professors who were kind and welcoming. My mind was made up, so I signed all of the necessary paperwork, not knowing the true crisis that Mansfield was facing at the time. This was 4 years ago.

Fast forward to 2014 – the crisis at Mansfield University has expanded. As of right now I am a senior studying Anthropology/sociology with a minor in Art History. I declared my major the end of my freshman year, after I had taken a cultural anthropology class with Dr. Robert Clark. Throughout all of my years here at MU, I was fascinated and interested in the topics that I was studying. I became dedicated to pursuing the education that I was getting from the quality professors in my department (and other professors in various departments all over campus). I was ready to see what the future held because I had the guidance of my advisor and professors.

Mansfield M SlasshingAt the same time, the anthropology/sociology program has been under attack by the administration ever since I arrived at Mansfield University. These attacks came to a head when, in fall of 2013, students received news of budget cuts. We were told that there would be retrenchment of professors and many majors and programs would be placed into moratorium. The programs that were placed in moratorium as of last fall were: the MA in Music, MS in Children’s Literature, BS in Art Education, BS in Spanish Education, BA in Spanish and BA in Sociology/Anthropology. To me, it seemed as though the administration had it out for our major since my professors started the program. The provost and president claim that my program just doesn’t have enough students and isn’t bringing in the “kind of money” that the university needs. When the administration made this, I looked into the amount of money that departments and programs are bringing in; the numbers blew my mind.

Anthropology/sociology brought in over $300,000 in part because of the numerous general education classes that all of my professors taught. Nonetheless, our administration chose to place our major in moratorium, which means that the courses for our program will no longer be offered to incoming freshman. Additionally, after the administration eliminates professors from our program next year, those sociology and anthropology classes won’t be offered to students on the general education level.

I felt like there must be other reasons why the administration wanted to get rid of our major, because money really didn’t seem to be the issue. They chose to rid the campus of a valuable and unique program, in efforts to expand other ones that did not bring in nearly as much money as ours had. Our program had the ability to open students’ minds, it had professors teaching us how to think critically and question the things happening around. But, I feel as though because of this commitment to critical thinking, we are not valued. And, several of my professors spoke up about issues that the administration wanted hidden.

I was heartbroken to say the least. On the retrenchment list was the name of my mentor, my advisor, and a man who had helped me pursue my education; Dr. Robert Clark. This is a portion of an email that was sent out to students after we were told about the impact that the budget cuts would have on our campus.

The October 11, 2013 “Operations and Workforce Plan: 2020” indicated a total decrease, excluding vacancies, of 44 positions – 29 faculty and 15 staff. As a result of intense and productive team efforts across the faculty and staff, the number of positions either being retrenched or furloughed has dropped from the original 44 to 32. The breakout is 22 faculty (7 positions removed) and 10 staff (5 positions removed). Immediate savings will be realized by not filling the 27 vacancies also identified in the plan document.

The thing that hurt the most is that Dr. Clark is and was the only anthropologist on campus, and he remained on the retrenchment list through all of the alterations. Students in our major were confused, but more important than that our president and provost had not given us any answers as to how we were going to finish out our degrees when our only anthropology professor was being fired. We felt somewhat safe because before this point we were under the impression that we would be able to finish out in some way, shape or form. In 2013 the provost had stated that “Students enrolled in these programs will be provided the opportunity to complete their degree studies.” So with that said it allowed our majors to continue with some sense of security, but we were still not being told how we would complete our studies without an anthropologist to teach us.

I decided to try be proactive by setting up a personal meeting with the provost. He eventually got back to me and agreed to meet with me in his office. I made my way up to the fifth floor of the library, the whole way contemplating what I would say to the man who had my future in his hands. I was nervous, for sure. Basically, he told me that the university has no legal obligation to finish those in our major out with the same degree that we started with. In his own words, MU had a “moral” obligation to help us finish out, but no legal obligation. I was perplexed by what he had said, because I had been told otherwise. This did not make sense to me, because previously (like I stated in the last paragraph) he said that “Students enrolled in these programs will be provided the opportunity to complete their degree studies.”

However, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) guidelines for moratorium the university does have a legal obligation to finish us out with our original major… so why did he lie to me? The Provost sent me on my way to tell my fellow majors that they needed to go see our Universities registrar office in order to plan courses and see if they could finish in the Anthropology/Sociology program. He instructed me tell them what was going to happen. Isn’t that what he is getting paid to do? So instead of him dealing with other angry and confused students, he made me do it. Maybe that’s one of the reasons he suddenly decided to resign his position and step down last week.  It makes me wonder what would have happened if I had  never set up a meeting with him. Students in our major would probably still be left in the blind.

On October 17th, 2014 I received an email from President Hendricks that stated

I learned of the governing PASSHE policy regarding teach out for students impacted by the moratorium decision. A policy that should have been known, but wasn’t. Upon my confirmation of the policy, I notified the campus immediately and directed individualized plans for students be developed for a 4 year teach out. All impacted students will be afforded the opportunity to graduate from Mansfield University.

Exactly. It should have been known, and I should not have been told otherwise. It blows my mind that we bring people into high authoritative positions when they don’t know the guidelines or how to address issues.

Following the deep cuts last year, the Provost was encouraging students in our major to either transfer schools, or switch their majors. In reality, they didn’t have to do either. If money is the problem, how does blatantly encouraging students to leave Mansfield help? I feel like he was just trying to get rid of all of us before we figured out what was really going on. And, frankly, I feel like the students and faculty should have more access to the numbers than we currently have. We really don’t know where any of this money is going, they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes and leave us in the blind once again.

I really hope that some of the administrators at MU get the chance to read this. If you are reading this, administrators, I would like you to know that we (the students and faculty) will figure out what has been going on at our University. Whether it is sooner or later we will get the answers that we need.

As of today, my program has only two sociology professors left and Dr. Clark has moved on to bigger and better things. About two weeks ago all of the students of Mansfield took another devastating hit. We received an email from President Hendricks stating that because of the continuing “budget crisis,” as of next year our business administration major, education major (everything except music ed.) and the library studies major will all be put into moratorium (not to mention all of the other majors that are continuing in moratorium since last year; anthropology/sociology included). The official retrenchment list still hasn’t come out, but my two Sociology professors set aside time to let us know that they (the only sociologists at Mansfield) are going to be “let go” at the end of this school year. If both of them go, there will be nothing left of what we came to study.

When I received the news I immediately felt defeated. I don’t know how else to describe it. I felt like I had done everything that I could have done to make the administrators hear my voice. I set up meetings, I wrote letters, and I fought the good fight. At this point in my academic career I feel like I should be having the time of my life. It’s my senior year. I should be enjoying some of my last days at the school I love. However, it is quite the opposite. I’m more ready than I should be to leave these last couple months behind me. It has been a constant struggle with the people at MU who are supposed to be hearing the students and representing us.

Even though the devastation left behind by these cuts will not directly affect me because I am graduating in the spring (thankfully with all of my anthropology/sociology credits) that doesn’t mean that I am going to give up. That would be far too easy, and that’s exactly what the administration wants. I know that this is not just happening in Mansfield, it’s happening all over Pennsylvania and within all the universities in the PASSHE system. But there are problems specific to MU that need to be recognized and fixed for the sake of the students and our professors.

Last year when students were facing the first set of cuts the only people who really knew about it were the students who were directly affected by the cuts. This year, and with the email that was sent out, many students are now opening their eyes to what is happening here at MU. It makes me upset that it took so long for my fellow students to realize the crisis that we are facing, but better late than never. In order for us to fight this to our fullest abilities we all need to come together as a collective and raise our voices (which recently has started to occur); I just feel like it may be too late for it to make a difference.

I have two main issues with what is happening at MU. The first being the lack of student representation and the second is the lack of communication between students and administration. I still have yet to be told by our president what professors are being let go next year, he seems to be completely avoiding answering my questions by stating that it would breach privacy agreements if he were to tell what professors are being retrenched. That is all fine and dandy, but he still will not inform me when we will find out because the list has to come out eventually. On top of that the provost and president have both set up meetings with the business and education majors to help them finish out their degrees. What about the students in my major? I would also like to know why I had to set up a meeting with the provost last year in order to get ANY answers out of him. It makes me feel like the students in the anthropology/sociology program are not as valued because we have smaller numbers. I also brought up to the provost, how he told me in our little meeting last year that the university had no legal obligation to finish us out in our original major. He acknowledged that he was wrong about that and that they do have a legal obligation to finish us out; but what are our majors supposed to do with our only anthropologist gone and our remaining two sociologists on the chopping block?

At this point I’m not really sure what our next move is. It makes me fear for the future of Mansfield University because at this rate I see the budget cuts affecting us every year from here on out. It also makes me fear for the future of higher education as whole, and the value that is has in the United States. We put these people into power (no matter what the circumstance or situation) in hopes that they will actively represent our views and the way that we feel; but this is not the case. I wish that the interests and agendas of the administration were not being pursued as much as they are, but until we all come together to push towards a common cause I feel like those in power will always work towards their own ends and ultimately win.

Stinebeck
Former Mansfield University Provost, David Stinebeck. Photo Credit: Mansfield University

Some new information about our Provost, David Stinebeck. Students received an email last week stating that he is resigning from his position as provost at Mansfield. I feel like he is resigning now because he has come under a lot of scrutiny about the way that he has led Mansfield. The only thing that I can say now, is that there is a lot of work to be done at our university. Without administrators who actually care about the well-being and voice of the students we are going to continue on our path downhill. I predict a saddening and gloomy fate for Mansfield… I could see it downgrading to a tech school pushing only specific majors, or becoming a satellite university. I can honestly say that is not what the Mansfield students want to see happen, and I do not want that either. We need to bring people into power that care about education and the quality of the education that the students pay for and receive.

I’m clinging to a little bit of hope that we can make things better, but the only way that we can do that is by coming together to pursue our common interests and goals. If we are not going to be represented then we need to raise our voices and represent ourselves. We deserve answers first and foremost and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get them. In no way shape or form am I trying to talk badly about Mansfield, I truly love this place and the professors who have taught me along the way. I am just worried about future students and the quality of education that they will receive.

According to the university’s creed,

At Mansfield University, we develop leaders. We accomplish this by focusing on the four core values that have been our tradition since 1912: Character, scholarship, culture, and service.

The anthropology/sociology major was the main area where culture was taught first and foremost. By ridding the University of the education of culture, then we must rethink what exactly it is that we stand for. As far as developing future leaders… our students are the leaders and by jeopardizing their futures we are hindering the development of these students whom Mansfield claims to be developing. Instead we allow for the administrators to lead us blindly to the demise of higher education and critical thinking.

 

1 Comment on Follow the Leader? Mansfield University Student Speaks Out Against Budget Cuts

  1. I love this article, it’s extremely true. As a fellow Mansfieldian, I understand the woes this university has wrought upon its students.

    However, I did receive two emails within the last week stating the business and education programs were taken out of moratorium. Though, the fact that there were ANY programs in moratorium is absurd, and I am still disgusted with the university nonetheless.

    With that said, Mansfield University seems to be handing out these “get out of moratorium free” cards as an ass-backwards apology. I will personally NOT accept it. I will never trust this university again, and I am embarrassed to go to such an institution that refuses to service and represent its students, faculty, and staff. The fifth floor executives are only working for themselves.

    And about the “we totally didn’t know about this legal PASSHE obligation”, they definitely did. They’re just covering it up. STILL.

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