WATCHING ADAMS COMMENTARY – 8/28/17
In a campus email sent to all employees on the first Friday of the fall 2017 semester, there was little doubt around Adams State University that dark times loomed on the horizon. To be sure, President Beverlee J. McClure’s campus message closed ominously: “It is the focus on our mission that will help us through the difficult times ahead”. It may as well have stated, “Welcome to the Adams State Hunger Games”.
Throughout the email and in the accompanying press release – intentionally filled with the thinly-veiled corporate-speak of ruthless business calculus – there were repeated mentions of the administration’s plans to “right-size the campus” and to “right-size staff in the event on-campus enrollment continues to decline”.
So what is the “right-sized” version of the ASU campus? The formula is clearly spelled out in the numbers that follow.
This year alone, that drop was 6% for on-campus enrollment and 3% in total enrollment. Over the previous two years, ASU saw a net drop of 8% in on-campus enrollment. And the decline has continued since 2012. As stated, “a 3% enrollment drop would decrease tuition revenue by $513,000”.
What is most remarkable about President McClure’s campus email and the ASU press release is the candid admission that the administration has been willfully meting out suffering to inspire people to resign as a budget-saving maneuver… and then demonstrates a total failure to connect this hostile campus environment for employees with a continual decline in the enrollment of students.
“We do not anticipate layoffs. We intend to address this as much as possible through retirements and attrition,” said President McClure.
Incoming ASU Board Chair Cleave Simpson proclaimed, “the operating budget for fiscal year 2017-18 is balanced, with $700,000 in savings from vacant positions. In addition, the university recently restructured its debt, resulting in a reserve of $1 million. We anticipated achieving this savings through attrition and continued restructuring and realignment of personnel and services”.
Both President McClure and Board Chair Simpson use the word “attrition” – not a coincidental turn of phrase and whose meaning betrays a fundamental administrative attitude about the current campus climate. As commonly defined:
attrition – the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure
ASU employees on the brunt end of the various forms of intimidation, retaliation, and cruel campus culture know the harsh effects of attrition; they have been hunted down for forming critically-voiced committees, actively “dis-employed” for whistle-blowing on university practices which violate academic integrity, compelled to resign under duress or coercion and threatened with arrest for returning to campus.
As a result of administrative bullying codified and endorsed by the board, the workforce at ASU is emptying out fast; over 70 employees have left the small ASU workforce since 2015 and many vacant positions have never been filled. For such alarming turnover, the administration and board delight in “achieving savings”.
It is not surprising that many board members have no experience teaching in higher education and some do not have any advanced degree. If ASU’s leaders view professors and support staff as irksome leeches on their budget ledgers, they have no problem applying the administrative thumbscrews of “attrition” to attain these financial objectives.
Yet nowhere to be found in this perversely inhuman ideology is any explanation as to why enrollment has declined precipitously over the past few years – unabated by a new president’s reign of campus decline. The administration and board are either unaware or cynically opposed to the notion that treating university employees as valuable assets translates into attracting, retaining, and graduating students. Instead, ASU is performing poorly with students because it treats its workforce as the stuff of disposable garbage.
So is it any wonder that ASU’s six-year graduation rate is 26% lower than the state average?
Because university leadership has failed to understand the formula for success in higher education over the past decade, employees are now being subjugated to the harsh doctrine of financial austerity and told they are insufficiently contributing – that the university’s failure is their doing.
Among those who recently resigned are numerous employees in student support services, financial aid, recruitment and admissions, and full time faculty. Without qualified and well-trained replacements promptly in their place, the university could fall into a spiral of continual decline. Employee resignations represent a brief “cost savings” that may trigger even larger amounts of lost revenue in decreased enrollment, prompting even more staffing decreases.
So after years of enduring dog-eat-dog office politics in an underground setting, remaining ASU employees are now foisted into the arena. They are being told in explicit terms that they will be pitted against one another in a survival of the fittest, higher education battle royale. Or as declared by Trustee Simpson, “restructuring and realignment of personnel”.
Make no mistake: the methodology of “attrition” will be continually applied as more employees tap out under pressure and more “savings” can be “achieved” with each demise.
Employees are left to fight among themselves for monetary scraps, faced with demands that they meet enrollment quotas in the resource-poor landscape of declining student attendance. Faculty and staff will be told they must measure up to the “right-sizing” of benchmarks. Departments will be trimmed or eliminated and services will be consolidated or removed.
Will you make the cut in the latest round of the Adams State Hunger Games?
May the odds be ever in your favor.