Holding up a pair of fake caskets covered in the names of academic programs that will be cut from The College of Saint Rose starting in 2017, studio-art professor Scott Brodie looked for some helping hands.
“We need pallbearers,” Brodie, who lives in Schenectady, called out. “Hey, everybody, we need pallbearers.”
A handful of students took the mock caskets off Brodie’s hands and hoisted them up as a “funeral” procession of more than 100 people slowly walked down Madison Avenue on Tuesday.
One of the caskets carried the number 28 — the number of academic programs that school leaders announced last week would be cut as a cost-saving measure. The other casket carried the number 23 — the number of faculty members, including some with tenure, who will be laid off this time next year.
The procession circled around a long street of campus buildings, marched through a central quad and into a student center. The long line of faculty and students, dressed largely in black and donning “23” stickers, crossed the campus to the school’s administration building.
“We are Saint Rose,” professor and faculty association president Kathleen Crowley shouted out in a call-and-response with the other protesters. “Let’s let the administration know it, outside their building right now.”
After circling the administrative office, the chants rising in volume with each new loop, the protesters settled in on the office lawn. Students, stomping their feet in protest and chanting “Save Saint Rose,” took to the front porch of the office.
One by one, more than a dozen students shared stories of how professors and classes at Saint Rose had changed their lives. Disappointment and anxiety over the cuts underpinned the comments of each student as they defended the importance of countless programs.
“We are in the middle of an environmental crisis; we need environmental sciences, and we need sociology and economics more than ever,” said Sarita Farnelli, a Saint Rose junior studying English, listing programs nixed last week. “Why do they think we will believe them when they say they are doing this for our future? These programs are in absolute demand, and they are needed more than ever.”
On Friday, school administrators announced the layoffs of 23 full-time faculty members and the elimination of 28 academic programs across the school’s four colleges as part of a plan to “reprioritize.” The layoffs will take effect in December 2016 and the program cuts in January 2017.
In a letter to students, faculty and alumni, Saint Rose President Carolyn Stefanco, who took over the position in July 2014, wrote that the cuts were part of a “balanced and thoughtful plan” to right the college’s finances, which face a $9 million deficit. She said the school was committed to helping the laid-off faculty transition to new jobs, as well as investing in other programs in the coming years.
“All programs have value. Every discipline has value,” Linda Thomson, the school’s chief of staff, said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s just that not every institution can offer every program.”
Thomson said the school aimed to retain the same student-to-faculty ratio and invest in some of the college’s most popular programs. She added that students would continue to take religion, philosophy and other courses as part of the core curriculum even as those majors were eliminated.
But the distrust that faculty members expressed toward the college’s administrators Tuesday didn’t seem about to subside anytime soon. Around 90 of the school’s nearly 200 faculty members have signed cards in support of unionizing, said Crowley, a faculty organizer. She added that the relationship between the college’s faculty and leadership was at a “critical juncture.”
“It will be very hard for this administration to regain trust and show effective leadership,” she said.
Other faculty members said the administration’s plans to make cuts to low-enrollment programs — the president’s letter said that 12 of the eliminated programs had zero students and they averaged enrollment of just four students — missed the central aim of a liberal arts education.
They said majors like philosophy, American studies, sociology, economics, geology and more — all on the chopping block — serve students who come in thinking they want to study one thing but are inspired to change direction by a single course, book or professor. They called it a betrayal of the school’s underlying mission.
“The college is going for what is profitable and popular; the long-standing liberal arts tradition is being diminished in favor of popularity,” said Brodie, the studio-art professor who has taught at Saint Rose for about 30 years. “If you only give high school students what they want, you eliminate exactly what college is supposed to do — open minds up.”
As the students continued to share their stories, sociology adjunct professor Bradley Russell pointed out an irony in the cuts at the 95-year-old Catholic college.
“They cut the religious studies program,” Russell said. “The College of Saint Rose cut the religious studies program — really?”
Note: The original version of this story erroneously listed Scott Brodie's position at St. Rose.