At Least 17 Faculty Departed ASU in 2015-2016


ASUDesertedWhile high employee turnover has been a significant challenge for Adams State University (ASU) in the past, the 2015-2016 academic year saw an unprecedented number of faculty members leave the institution.  Along with the predictable retirement of one and the unexpected loss of another, ASU lost at least 17 full time professors or instructors this past year.  ASU is estimated to have around 96 full time faculty members, so this latest round of faculty departures represents about 18% of all full time faculty.

Most of these professors chose to leave while several did not have their contracts renewed, retired, or passed away unexpectedly.  The most significant number of departures were from the English, Theatre, and Communications department with a total of 8 faculty no longer at the institution.

A Watching Adams reader encouraged ASU students to ask, “What does it cost to replace a single professor? These costs include but are not limited to the time of search committee members, travel expenses for multiple candidates, and moving expenses for the selected candidate. How could these resources (i.e., your tuition dollars) be otherwise allocated if ASU valued and supported their people enough to retain them?”

There are many ways these questions can be answered.  From a February 2015 article in The Argonaut at the University of Idaho: “Hiring a new faculty member at the University of Idaho comes with a price tag. According to a report by a University Budget and Finance subcommittee, the costs amount to almost $13,000 on average for a search process and for moving expenses.”

As reported in March 2016 by Inside Higher Education, Why They Stay and Why They Go: “A conservative, decade-old calculation from Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) provosts’ advisory board on the cost of replacing a faculty member was $96,000. A 2012 report in Science estimated that start-up costs alone for a faculty member in science or engineering range from $110,000 to $1.5 million, and take up to 10 years to recoup.”

A recent publication from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Faculty Retention and Exit Survey, explains the many hidden costs of high turnover:  “The investment includes search and hiring costs such as advertising, search committee staff, travel for three candidates, relocation, and the start-up package. There may also be costs associated with spousal/partner hiring, especially of dual-academic couples. Once in place, professors generate direct and indirect costs for orientation and training, release time, and teaching and learning support.”

The article goes on to state, “Beyond lost investment and contributions, faculty and administrators describe the problem of departures also as a matter of equity. Do some groups leave for reasons different than—or even as a result of—other groups? Might knowing the answer help us address their concerns? In addition to these concerns is the low morale departments suffer when they lose faculty stars and good colleagues, not to mention the loss of national reputation to academic programs, which might subsequently be ranked lower as a result of the loss.”

One former faculty member characterized the recent departure of ASU faculty as “a mass exodus, especially for the English department – which now will include almost entirely new professors in the fall semester.”  They added, “if you look at the faculty who left, most are younger professionals, many were tenure track but left without pursuing tenure.”

A current faculty member added, “Students who found out about these departing faculty said all of this looks really bad from their perspective. Relationships matter!”

One student said, “I’ve signed up for classes with a specific professor only to have it change by the time the semester begins.”

One current ASU employee simply asked, “what’s wrong with this place?”

Another remarked, “ASU administration says ‘if you don’t like it, you can leave’ and more faculty are saying ‘okay.’”

Another ASU employee stated, “What’s frustrating is that some are delusional in thinking that there are only a small group of people unhappy with the state of Adams State. This list is a prime example of just how delusional that thinking is. How big is the list of those that were applying and interviewing for positions elsewhere but just didn’t make it out this round? It would be pretty substantial. The numbers don’t lie.”

Another observer noted, “what we know about retaining students is that it starts by retaining faculty.  As ASU continues to shed its own best asset – its people, I think it is becoming obvious that there are deeper problems that can only worsen as students return to campus without seeing the faces that matter the most in their academic success – their professors.”

It is worth noting that many staff also left ASU in the 2015-2016 academic year.  While more difficult to verify and track, the institutional loss of anyone from a close-knit campus is significant and costly for the university.  For more on the lack of regard for departing ASU employees, see ASU Throws Its Own People Down the Memory Hole.

Based on verification from multiple sources familiar with staffing at ASU, Watching Adams compiled the following list of faculty who are no longer teaching at Adams State and included what we believe is best attributed to their absence:

History, Anthropology, Political Science, Philosophy, Spanish
Lisa Nealy (not renewed)

Gustavo Plascencia  (left on own accord)
Blanca Guerra (visiting, not rehired)

Jared Romero (left on own accord)

English, Theatre, and Communications
Paul Echeverria-Jones (left on own accord)
Katie Gubbels (left on own accord)
Eden Wales-Freedman (left on own accord)
Cathy Heaton (left on own accord)
Robert Affeldt (resolved by settlement)
Paul Newman (retired)
Leah McCormack (left on own accord)
Phil Ray Jack (deceased)

Erwin Romero (not renewed)

Shellie Beeman (left on own accord)

Shawn Elliott (stepped down)

Kim Kelso (left on own accord)

Thomas Heddleston (left on own accord)

UPDATED 9/1/16: According to a Watching Adams commentator today at 8:25pm: “Three full time nursing faculty members in addition to Dr. Shawn Elliott have resigned their positions in the Spring or Summer of 2016. The newly hired RN to BSN coordinator (she only lasted a couple of months) and two other faculty members.”

UPDATED 4/19/17: We have updated the reason for Dr. Affeldt’s departure to more accurately reflect his resolved settlement with the university.