A Warning to Adams State Employees

WATCHING ADAMS GUEST COMMENTARY – 2/26/19

The following is a cautionary warning to faculty and staff at Adams State University.

My name is Roger Eriksen. I was a professor of graphic design and art history at Adams for 16 years.

The recent and ongoing budget crisis resulted in my termination.


HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING

I began my teaching at Adams in August 2002. I had just finished my Masters of Fine Arts degree at the University of Idaho. Previously, I had taught graphic design at a polytechnic school in New Zealand for 7 years. I began as a visiting professor due to the abrupt departure of another art professor. I had applied for a permanent position that June, but that was rejected due to budget issues even then. The vacancy proved fortunate. Later, this was made a tenure track position.

I “hit the ground running” when I started 10 days before the academic year began. I had to devise lesson plans from scratch as the courses I was starting to teach were different and more extensive than those I had taught before. Later, I was asked to teach art history, a subject I had never taught before. Needless to say, there was a lot of on-the-job training.  I was granted tenure in 2008.

When news broke during the fall 2017 semester that the university was in serious financial trouble, there was an “early retirement incentive”. At 61 years, I was thinking of retiring in the next few years. The amount offered to me was about $16,000, a thousand dollars per year of service. This was a paltry amount given all that I had done for Adams. I declined the offer.

On April 3rd, 2018, I was called to the human resources office. I was informed by Matt Nehring (acting president) and Tracy Rogers (HR director) that my contract was to be terminated. Last day of service: May 15. Last paycheck: August 31.


NO RETIREMENT INCENTIVE, NO “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE”

I was stunned. I was never told the criteria for the termination. I knew that no matter what I would say I could not change their minds. I asked if the retirement incentive was still a possibility. No. I said that would be the least you could offer.

Leaving Adams meant leaving the San Luis Valley and selling my house. Nehring said he would bring it up with the Board of Trustees. The answer was still NO. So, no money. Not even a thank you for my service!

The former president, Beverlee McClure, resigned at the end of March 2018. My understanding is that she was responsible for worsening the budget crisis. I heard she had the rest of her contract paid out: $250,000 plus a car! Am I angry about this? You bet.

I found out that 9 people were terminated, and most were staff, with one other faculty member. One had even served for 20 years!

I suspect that all were dismissed because of age. I even considered a lawsuit, but that would take years and finances I do not have. I spoke with an attorney and we agreed that everything the administration did followed what was in the faculty handbook.


PREPARE FOR TERMINATION, PLAN FOR SURVIVAL

Everyone at Adams should be aware: YOU ALL COULD BE TERMINATED AT A WHIM. YOUR TENURE MEANS NOTHING!

Look for yourselves. Dire financial situations can result in draconian measures! You need to have a serious review of the university’s policies. No one reads that from cover to cover when they first start at Adams. I am not a rules junkie who revels in the minutiae of handbooks. BUT EVERYONE ELSE SHOULD!

My colleagues in art, music and theatre should be prepared for their entire programs to be cut. The emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) often overlooks the benefits of courses in the humanities.

I am at a loss for words about the ruthlessness with which the ASU administration and Board of Trustees had with these terminations. Surely someone had to have a heart? Apparently not.

I am not sure how I will survive on the small pension I have with TIAA. Finding a job in your 60’s is difficult. I have gone overseas to get medical care. I have permanent residency in New Zealand and I am fully covered. However, times are tough here. I must rely on the graciousness of friends to survive.

My hope is that this commentary will serve as a warning to others. No number of years of dedicated service will save you from being dismissed without so much as a “thank you.”


Despite such a difficult transition upon being terminated by Adams State, I have received so many words of support and encouragement from friends and former students.  This statement in particular was an unsolicited acknowledgement which brought me to tears.

FB-Eriksen