- A group of students, employees and unions from at least 17 Catholic colleges signed a petition urging their institutions to preserve faculty and staff jobs and to not "needlessly shed" core academic programs.
- Coronavirus-related budget cuts have sparked several other faculty and student movements, and one prominent faculty association recently launched an investigation into seven colleges over shared governance concerns.
- Colleges should involve faculty members in making programmatic or budgetary changes, higher education experts say.
Some organizations signed the petition after their colleges announced drastic budget cuts. Canisius College, in New York, announced over the summer that it would eliminate almost 100 positions and several majors, including classics, to fill a $20 million budget hole. And Marquette University, in Wisconsin, plans to cut up to 300 positions to make up for its budget shortfall.
Other petitioners include groups and unions from Loyola University Chicago, Georgetown University and the University of San Francisco. They say these moves threaten Jesuit colleges' commitments to providing a liberal arts education and caring for their employees.
Canisius is among seven colleges under investigation by the American Association of University Professors. The faculty association said it began probing the colleges in September after their faculty members complained that administrators were taking "unilateral actions" on issues such as program closures and layoffs.
Large cuts at other colleges have eroded employees' trust in their administrations. In mid-November, faculty members at Guilford College, in North Carolina, levied a no-confidence vote against their interim president after the school said it would phase out roughly half of its academic majors and make severe job cuts.
And employees and students protested plans at Ithaca College, in New York, to cut 140 jobs in the spring and demanded to examine the school's finances, according to a local media report.
Robert Dickeson, a higher education consultant and president emeritus of the University of Northern Colorado, advises schools to involve faculty members in evaluating programmatic changes. "That takes some time," he said, adding that administrators may feel they have to act immediately amid a financial crisis.
Experts also recommend colleges be transparent with employees about their finances and invite faculty members to develop solutions to budgetary challenges. "I don't know what value comes from secrecy," Dickeson said. "Suspicion comes from secrecy."
Some pushback has spurred colleges to change their plans. The University of South Florida reversed its earlier decision to eliminate all undergraduate education programs following criticism from lawmakers and the campus community.
Budget cuts haven't been the only source of contention. This term was marked by strikes and other collective action against colleges over their pandemic responses and reopening plans.
Faculty members at the University of Michigan narrowly passed a vote of no confidence against their president, and its graduate union went on strike early in the fall term to demand better working conditions.
The pandemic could accelerate the formation of college unions, which have been growing in recent years, according to research from Hunter College's National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions.
Unilateral changes from administrators could prompt faculty members to conclude "they need representation in a collective manner," said William Herbert, the center's executive director.