On the evening of Monday, May 5, the deans at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut received an email informing them of a staffing meeting the next day. At that meeting, the deans of certain schools were told that they had a grand total of two days–during final exam week–to consult with department chairs and determine which 16 full-time faculty would be terminated on May 31. The reason? A smaller than anticipated incoming class this fall. The deans quickly did their duty, and the unlucky 16 were told of their fate on Thursday, May 8. This was all reported in a May 14 insidehighered.com story.
As soon as the 16 faculty were notified, Quinnipiac’s VP for Public Relations, Lynne Bushnell, publicly announced the terminations and explained that they were happening in areas that had seen declining enrollments over the last two years. Quinnipiac’s Faculty Senate acted quickly, voting to censure President John Lahey just days before undergraduate commencement. And, early last week, the Connecticut AAUP Conference’s Committee A sent a letter to President Lahey, expressing its disapproval of the terminations and its concerns about due process and shared governance on campus. By this past Friday, 5 of the 16 terminated faculty had been inexplicably reinstated (I say “inexplicably” because Bushnell told the New Haven Register that the university doesn’t comment on personnel matters, even after she commented quite openly on personnel matters in announcing both the terminations and the addition of 12 new faculty).
Some context for this bewildering series of events is in order.
John Lahey became the eighth president of what was then Quinnipiac College in 1987. During more than a quarter-century at the helm, Lahey has gotten credit for transforming the institution from a small, local college to a nationally-ranked university. With three campuses, eight schools and colleges, Division I athletics, and roughly 6,500 undergraduate and 2,500 graduate students, Quinnipiac University has seen radical change over the past 15 years. Lahey has been compensated well for his efforts; as of 2011, his $1.2 million in total compensation made him the second-highest-compensated president of a private institution in the state–behind only Yale’s Richard Levin.
Unfortunately, Lahey has taken other, less publicly visible steps in recent years–steps away from shared governance and faculty rights. The most important was his successful petition to the NLRB in 2006 to decertify Quinnipiac’s faculty union, which had been on campus since 1975. In a speech to the faculty announcing his decision to file the petition, he claimed that faculty unions create an “adversarial structure and culture.” The American Federation of Teachers promptly censured the university.
When the story about the faculty terminations at Quinnipiac first broke last month, a blogging dean wrote: “This is the kind of hamfisted, capricious, secretive approach that feeds every hateful myth [about administrators].” He concluded by offering “free advice to my counterparts at Quinnipiac: roll it back. Admit that you overshot, and put together a serious process on campus to make strategic decisions next year. Either that, or get some very, very good lawyers.”
I would add to the dean’s sound advice: Get some very, very good public relations people, too, because Quinnipiac University could well become the next University of Southern Maine.