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Michael Frierson: Guilford cost-cutting process ignores key voices

Michael Frierson: Guilford cost-cutting process ignores key voices

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Guilford College chairs and benches (copy)

The signs affixed to these chairs and benches symbolize the jobs recently cut at Guilford College. The college's chapter of the American Association of University Professors organized this on-campus demonstration in August. Archdale Hall is in the background.

The UNCG Chapter of the American Association of University Professors condemns the program prioritization process and the ensuing decisions by Interim President Carol A. Moore that have resulted in proposed cuts that will damage faculty, staff and programs at Guilford College.

Recognizing that President Moore and the institution face serious financial hurdles, it is important to note there has been no public demonstration from Guilford's administration of financial exigency, an imminent financial emergency that threatens the survival of the institution as a whole. To eliminate faculty, the most valuable resource of the institution, without an open admission of financial exigency, is shortsighted and premature, and violates longstanding procedures established by the American Association of University Professors to ensure academic due process.

It indicates the administration’s willingness to prioritize the college's public image over the damage inflicted on faculty and staff who have served the institution, many for decades. Razing academic programs in the middle of a pandemic, when federal relief for higher education may be imminent, given the change of direction in the federal government, is unconscionable.

We note that the faculty committees tasked by Moore with making decisions based on academic purposes did not recommend eliminating any majors or any faculty but sought reasonable alternatives such as early retirement and furloughs. By choosing to dismiss the advice of Guilford’s experienced, committed faculty, Moore has seriously undermined shared governance, the idea that when institutions seek input from stakeholders, listen to that input and use it in important decision-making processes, this sharing of power strengthens everyone's confidence in the process and the institution.

The gutting of the sciences and the humanities that is being recommended cannot be a viable way forward for an institution like Guilford for a number of reasons. First, the adage is true: You don’t deserve the name "college" if you don’t have a philosophy department. Can Guilford really be successful long term when it goes even further to eliminate majors in history and religion, two subjects fundamental to the institution’s identity? How is the educational mission of Guilford enhanced in the long term by the discontinuance of these majors? How can this decision even be successfully marketed to potential students? Will these draconian cuts prevent prospective students from being able to recognize this institution’s other distinctive qualities?

Second, the programs eliminated are at the core of Guilford's commitment to diversity and social justice. Losing them at this Quaker institution, with its particular history, while contemplating adding new and unproven master’s level programs is a damaging over reaction. The AAUP has argued since the 1920s that when retrenchment is necessary, expansions of programs in other areas should happen only if the institution has made every effort to find other employment in the institution for existing faculty and staff.

At Guilford, tenured faculty (some with more than 30 years of service) have been given notice of termination without any effort to place them in another position on campus, or even an offer for them to “teach out” their terminal year. When educational institutions begin to substitute corporate goals for educational goals, they lose their most committed supporters at precisely the time they need them most.

The UNCG Chapter of AAUP stands with the faculty of Guilford. We urgently call on Interim President Moore and the Board of Trustees to suspend the proposed cuts to Guilford’s academic programs and administrative staff for at least a year and to engage in meaningful shared governance with the faculty.  We urge them further to follow the faculty handbook to the letter when dealing with impacted faculty, require highly paid administrators to share in the sacrifice asked from others, and consider more creative financial solutions like early retirement options, furloughs and voluntary unpaid leaves, as previously recommended by Guilford faculty committees.

To do otherwise is a shameful betrayal of the Quaker values that gave birth to the institution.


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