The New Jersey branch of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has sent a letter to University President Dr. Joseph Nyre, protesting the administration’s proposed restructuring plan, calling it a “violation of shared governance.”
The plan, announced in late April by Provost Katia Passerini, would change the structure of several colleges, merging the College of Communications and the Arts with the College of Education and Human Services, merge the College of Nursing with the School of Health and Medical Sciences, create closer ties between the School of Diplomacy and International Relations and Seton Hall Law, and make internal changes in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The letter signed by NJ AAUP president Diane Campbell alleged that the process by which the restructuring plan was created, with input from just three faculty members — one from the Stillman School of Business and two from Arts and Sciences — violated Article 11, Section 4 of the University’s faculty guide.
“Changes in the internal academic organization of a college, including the number of departments/divisions therein, are determined by majority vote of the full-time college faculty holding tenured or probationary appointments, and approved by the dean,” the guide says.
This would appear to include the restructuring of Arts and Sciences. It is currently unclear if the other aspects of the reorganization, which involve multiple colleges, would be considered changes in “internal academic organization.”
The University has asked each affected college to vote on the restructuring this month but has confirmed that the votes will be non-binding and will "inform" the provost's presentation.
University Spokesperson Laurie Pine said the NJ AAUP's letter "contains several incorrect statements, which are being addressed through a written response."
"Seton Hall University has been collaborative, transparent, candid, and communicative throughout the process of developing the 'Harvest Our Treasures' strategic plan and its related parts, including 'Seeds of Innovation,' the University’s academic reorganization initial proposal," Pine said.
The AAUP operates as a faculty union at public colleges, but private universities like Seton Hall have advocacy chapters of the Association, which advocate for the rights of faculty. The AAUP has a process by which it investigates violations of its standards.
“If the current plans are carried into effect, the University will be investigated and will, in all likelihood, be censured by the National AAUP,” Campbell said in the letter.
Universities that the AAUP finds to have violated "generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure" are published on a public list.
Campbell encouraged the University to engage with faculty more directly in the restructuring plan and demonstrate why the proposed changes are necessary.
“If in fact a fiscal crisis exists at Seton Hall, we request that the administration demonstrate that fact to faculty and then follow the procedures indicated in the [faculty guide and AAUP’s guide,]” Campbell said.
The restructuring, Passerini told the Setonian in April, will cut administrative costs but is “coming from a position of strength."
Some students also take issue with the restructuring plan. An online petition written on Change.org by the account “Concerned Seton Hall Student” had garnered 256 signatures by the time of publication.
The petition specifically takes issue with the plan’s proposed merger of Communication and the Arts with Education and Human Services, saying the announcement had students and faculty “taken off guard by design.”
“The merger is an insult to both career paths,” the petition’s description says. “To force an educator to graduate with half of a comm degree, and a communication professional to graduate with an education degree is ridiculous and will devastate career outcomes for these graduates.”
The petition, which was supported on Twitter by Seton Hall’s advocacy chapter of the AAUP also took issue with the process, saying stakeholders were “disenfranchised from the beginning.”
“It is painfully clear Seton Hall has no interest in actually looking out for it’s students with this proposal,” the petition says. “If the plan was at all intended to benefit students or faculty, there would be no fear in giving students a voice in the proposal — or at the absolute bare minimum informing them of the potential restructuring instead of surprising the vast majority of the Seton Hall community with a poorly explained plan just weeks before it is to be voted on.”
Daniel O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @itsDanOConnor.