Manhattan College Betrays Faculty


Don’t take a job at Manhattan College, says Manhattan College.

At least that is the message conveyed by the decision of the school’s administration, led by president Milo Riverso, to violate the reasonable expectations of tenured faculty regarding job protection and termination notice.

Last month, it was reported that the school was planning on shutting down several programs, including its philosophy major.

The American Philosophical Association (APA)  sent a letter to Riverso and other administrators raising various objections to the program cuts and recently announced faculty layoffs.

The college went ahead with program cuts.

Now, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports more on those layoffs:

The staffing reductions, which are part of a planned restructuring to alleviate a financial deficit and which will eliminate 20 majors and minors, violate the college’s faculty handbook and generally understood norms of tenure, job security, and shared governance, according to professors interviewed by The Chronicle.

This latest chapter in a continuing conflict at the Lasallian Catholic institution began on January 12, when 19 tenured faculty members and four nontenured scholars were informed in short meetings that they were being laid off (two of the tenured faculty members’ layoffs were later revoked by administrators). The tenured professors were told that their last day of employment would be June 15, 2024, and that they’d receive severance pay through January 12, 2025; the nontenured faculty members’ contracts would end on June 15, 2025.

An appendix to the severance agreement, a copy of which was shared with The Chronicle, says that employees were identified for layoffs based on “an objective methodology in furtherance of the college’s financial budgeting requirements, enrollment, academic and programmatic needs, streamlining, centralization, and consolidation.” But faculty members said that justification was unclear and inaccurate, and that Manhattan administrators had declined to provide further explanation or share data on which the layoff decisions had been made.

 According to faculty, the layoffs were “a totally unilateral, top-down decision” by the institution’s president.

The Chronicle notes that the college has not declared “financial exigency” and so the layoffs violate the norms of tenure protection:

Both the originally announced layoff plans and the decisions made last month contravene commonly held understandings of tenure, popularized in 1940 by a joint statement of the American Association of University Professors and the American Association of Colleges and Universities. That statement holds that tenured faculty members can be terminated only for cause or in the case of bona fide financial exigency. (The college has not declared financial exigency, and although it has repeatedly cited a large deficit, it has not specified the size.) Meanwhile, Manhattan’s faculty handbook provides that tenured faculty members, and tenure-track faculty members who have been at the college for at least two years, be given at least one academic year’s notice of termination, the professors said.

Further, it is unclear whether the program cuts and layoffs will actually help the college:

But those changes aren’t likely to immediately improve Manhattan’s balance sheet, according to the bond-rating agency Fitch Ratings, which downgraded the college’s outlook from stable to negative this month.

They certainly won’t help the college’s reputation.

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David Wallace
1 month ago

In 2018-19, Manhattan College apparently had 4,342 enrolled students. At present it has 3,495. That’s a 20% decline in five years, and will have led to absolutely catastrophic financial consequences for them, consequences they are unlikely to be able to reverse given the nationwide trends in college enrollment.

I don’t say this to defend Manhattan College’s leadership, who seem to be handling this poorly at best, illegally at worst, but just to provide some context. Like it or not, if an institution whose controllable costs are staff-dominated and whose income stream is tuition-dominated loses 20% of its students, that institution is going to have to cut staff one way or another. We’ve seen this before and unfortunately we’re going to keep seeing it over the next decade: student enrollment is declining and the effects of that decline will be very unevenly distributed.

SLAC Associate
SLAC Associate
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Unfortunately, David is exactly right about this. There is going to be wave after wave of faculty layoffs over the next few years, not only but especially in humanities, as colleges resize their teaching staff for an anticipated smaller student body. My own institution, which just two years ago thought itself well-positioned for the coming headwinds, is presently bracing itself for our administrators to announce an anticipated 10-20% reduction in faculty positions.

State School Prof
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Sounds like they should have declared financial exigency!

Nick
Nick
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

an institution whose controllable costs are staff-dominated

But surely since “staff” includes administrators, consultants, tech workers, and everyone else, there is no justification for just laying off faculty. Tenured faculty should be close to last on the list. I’ve hunted for relevant news or announcements for the past 18 months and the only other cuts that have been announced are to Student Clubs. Since MC isn’t sharing any budgetary details with anyone, we literally have no idea if they had more ethical and equitable options. My priors on that question are pretty clear, tho…

M.A.
M.A.
Reply to  Nick
1 month ago

Was thinking same exact thing. Higher education costs have risen sharply becuase of excess administration. At the least that’s where some or most of the cuts should be

David Wallace
Reply to  Nick
1 month ago

I don’t have any information about layoffs elsewhere in the college, and I wouldn’t expect to – there’s no particular reason to expect it to make the news. This story is visible because there are organized interests motivated to defend academic staff and academic tenure; there are no comparable organized interests to protest if Manhattan College cuts back on its IT support or cleaning services or student counselling. I’d be surprised if they are not making cuts there, though: there’s no obvious reason to think that their senior leadership care more about those people than about the academic staff, and they are much easier than academics to make redundant (or just not renew, for people on fixed term contracts).

That said, the lives of those people are not obviously less disrupted by losing their jobs than the lives of academics. (Of course the university should honor its promises, and in that sense plausibly it’s more ethical to fire non-academic staff than academics.)

Silent
Silent
Reply to  Nick
1 month ago

As David Wallace states, non-faculty staff are getting laid off at many schools. It is done very quietly. Such staff, if not in a union, have no mechanism for defense of their positions or expression of professional / financial distress. Often others in the university are not aware that it is happening. I am a non-faculty librarian trying to do three jobs because the other two were eliminated once vacated; this is another way that salary savings are realized among non-faculty university employees (as it is among faculty positions, of course). (*Edited to clarify that I am not employed at MC, but am at a SLAC of limited means and declining enrollment).

Last edited 1 month ago by Silent
Louis Zapst
Reply to  Nick
1 month ago

Non-teaching staff are undoubtedly viewed as disposable, but there are other reasons faculty are vulnerable. I’ve seen tenured faculty terminated due to financial exigency who were targeted because they have been outspoken in their criticism of administrators or are otherwise troublemakers. Even apart from such targeted terminations, any time that hitherto “untouchable” tenured faculty can be terminated and replaced with precariously employed and therefore timid contingent faculty, that is a win for the administration. For administrators, there is simply no downside to replacing tenured or tenure track faculty with adjuncts. Budgetary challenges provide this opportunity to do what cannot ordinarily cannot be done.

David Wallace
Reply to  Louis Zapst
1 month ago

(1) Speaking out against administrators can’t be a reason faculty are vulnerable as compared to non-faculty. It’s not as if the library or IT staff have even a prima facie protection against retaliation in this sense.
(2) It can’t globally be true that ‘[f]or administrators, there is simply no downside to replacing tenured or tenure track faculty with adjuncts’, or else there would be no tenured or tenure track appointments happening anywhere.

Philip Kremer
Philip Kremer
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Regarding item (1): Perhaps faculty members’ prima facie protection against retaliation for speaking out against administrators causes faculty to have a false sense of security. This false sense of security might make faculty members more vulnerable than IT staff members in this regard: a faculty member, misled by this false sense of security, is more likely to speak out than an IT staff member, and therefore more likely to make themself a target for termination.

M G
M G
1 month ago

Apparently “financial exigency” is some technical legal status.

Can anyone explain what it is, and why administrators might be reluctant to invoke it?

This is not an attack in the form of a question. I’m genuinely curious.

Matt Tedesco
Reply to  M G
1 month ago

Your second question, at least, is a relatively easy one to answer: declaring exigency is tantamount to declaring that you are an institution on the brink. This will almost certainly cost you at least some prospective students and some donors. Any private college on the brink is utterly dependent on tuition revenue above all, followed next by gifts. So any institution on the brink will desperately avoid declaring to the world that they are on the brink.

The problem is that, in fact, many non-elite institutions are in fact on the brink right now. So these kinds of seeming blindsides on seemingly safe faculty are only going to increase in coming years.

SLAC Associate
SLAC Associate
Reply to  Matt Tedesco
1 month ago

Exactly this. The moment that students stop being confident that the school will exist in four years, incoming classes will shrink considerably, which only hastens the austerity spiral.

Jon Light
Jon Light
1 month ago

If tuition is ~90% of revenue, and if enrollment is down ~20% over the past x number of years, what’s supposed to happen? That’s an enormous budgetary shortfall, and faculty salaries are where most of the money is. I don’t think we have to get too far down into the weeds of what “financial exigency” means to scratch out this simple arithmetic.

It’s not that tenure is meaningless, it’s that tenure only exists in light of students paying tuition. (This is often where people start saying stuff about administrator’s salaries or the football team being the problem; those are disingenuous replies, in my opinion. Also, MC doesn’t even have a football team.)

Look: this is all going to accelerate, not stop. I respectfully think this chirpy post misses the structural issues at play. And that philosophy departments will be worse off if we don’t start to figure out basic economics.

State School Prof
Reply to  Jon Light
1 month ago

You’re missing the point (and throwing in some straw manning to boot). The college did not declare financial exigency and is not following their stated policies concerning layoffs. For example, they gave untenured faculty more notice of layoffs than tenured faculty based on their completely bad faith “interpretation” of the faculty handbook.

The college is in financial exigency and is refusing to acknowledge it for transparently cynical reasons.

David Wallace
Reply to  State School Prof
1 month ago

But if the college is in financial exigency (which I think is right) then the objection is not “the university is laying off tenured staff and should not” but “the university is using the wrong process to lay off tenured staff”. (Which looks correct, but it puts the story in a somewhat different light.)

State School Prof
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

What, in my post, are you taking yourself to be replying to or correcting?

Cause I say so
Cause I say so
Reply to  Jon Light
1 month ago

It is hardly disingenuous to suggest that administrative positions should be cut with faculty. Bloated administrations (and they are *all* bloated) never, ever recommend cuts to their own ranks.

Also, people who point out the obvious societal preference for funding football over academics are, well, pointing out obvious empirical facts.

By all means, reduce US universities to legions of poorly paid adjuncts, handsomely paid administrators, and the friggin football team. Just don’t be surprised in 20 years when other nations with better priorities out compete us across the board. FAFO, as the saying goes.

David Wallace
Reply to  Cause I say so
1 month ago

 Bloated administrations (and they are *all* bloated) never, ever recommend cuts to their own ranks.”

I’d be interested in the evidence for that claim. Oxford (the only university whose financial situation I have understood in detail) certainly made periodic cuts to administration.

”Also, people who point out the obvious societal preference for funding football over academics are, well, pointing out obvious empirical facts.”

At least in the cases I know, universities aren’t paying their football teams substantial amounts because they want to subsidize sport: they’re doing it because they think it’s a net source of income, both through direct revenue and through its role in building an alumni community that donates to the university.

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

But why on earth should we take them at their word when they say it makes money through alumni donations? I have never once seen any evidence that this is true. On the other hand, there is evidence that all but the top 10 or so football schools subsidize their football teams.

David Wallace
Reply to  benjamin s yost
1 month ago

But why on earth should we take them at their word when they say it makes money through alumni donations?

It conforms with the consistent explanations I get from development professionals at universities (mostly Oxford) about how alumni engagement interacts with fundraising (explanations which conform to the way I have seen fundraising actually work out in Oxford), and the numbers look broadly plausible in the financial accounts of the US universities I’ve been involved with (USC and Pitt). Beyond that, it’s not obvious what motivation ‘they’ would have for lying, and falsifying the basis of your organization’s business model is a pretty dangerous game to play.

On the other hand, there is evidence that all but the top 10 or so football schools subsidize their football teams.

I’d be interested in seeing a link. I’d also be interested whether ‘subsidize’ means just that immediate revenue does not cover costs, or that revenue plus development benefits from alumni relations do not cover costs.

Chris
Chris
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

This is probably what he meant:
https://www.goacta.org/news-item/most_ncaa_division_i_athletic_departments_take_subsidies/

But again, this is about athletic departments as a whole, not merely football.

David Wallace
Reply to  Chris
1 month ago

Interesting, thanks.

Chris
Chris
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Incidentally, during the pandemic, lots of schools cut sports to save money. This is perhaps some support for your claim that it isn’t just academics that get cut when times are tough:
https://businessofcollegesports.com/tracker-college-sports-programs-cut-during-covid-19-pandemic/

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  Chris
1 month ago

Here’s a more recent analysis (though it doesn’t include alumni donations). https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/i-found-18-profitable-211-money-losing-ncaa-public-scott-hirko-ph-d-

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

The motivation is to have a good D1 football team, which confers prestige, the opportunity to hobnob, etc.

Chris
Chris
Reply to  benjamin s yost
1 month ago

I don’t think this is right. Maybe you mean to say “evidence that all but the top 10 or so schools subsidize their athletic departments”.

Football is the biggest moneymaker. (mens) Basketball comes in at number 2. These two sports subsidize nearly all the other sports at a university. If schools eliminated all sports except mens football and basketball, I think most schools would make money.

Still, I think it is OK e..g, if much of this money subsidizes things like women’s sports (title IX). (My undergraduate school, e.g., eliminated men’s swimming. We could save money by eliminating men’s tennis, baseball, track and field, etc. etc.) But one could argue that these programs do offer benefits to the university. Maybe they’re not worth it, but it isn’t really football that’s the problem!
Plus, I don’t think athletics spending was (or is) the problem at Manhattan College.

That’s not to say there isn’t a crisis in the humanities, etc.

Dr.G
Dr.G
Reply to  Chris
1 month ago
Jon Light
Jon Light
Reply to  benjamin s yost
1 month ago

This statistic about how many sports programs are “profitable” has been thoroughly debunked. Specifically, it conflates *direct* revenue from sports (e.g., ticket sales) with *indirect* revenue from sports (e.g., students choosing to go places that have sports, state legislatures appropriations being partially driven by sports, etc.).

If sports were actually a net economic loss for a university, I’m sure there would be fewer of them. The point is they aren’t, as evidenced by their continued existence.

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  Jon Light
1 month ago

If it’s been thoroughly debunked, can you show me where? Has someone collected evidence that alumni give more to universities that plow money into their football teams? I’d love to know that athletics were not a huge drain on university resources, even if I have to admit I’m wrong 🙂

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  Jon Light
1 month ago

If sports are a net economic gain for a university, then why don’t universities put together a tip sheet or some other document to show skeptical faculty that sports aren’t a net loss? Is fundraising top secret? If it is top secret, what independent reasons do you have to think that sports are revenue positive? There ae *plenty* of reasons why presidents and boards would be happy with money losing D1 sports, a couple of which I mentioned above. So the fact of their existence proves nothing about their economic viability.

benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
Reply to  Jon Light
1 month ago

The most recent overview (2017) I can find says the the economic research is “inconclusive” with respect to whether athletics increases alumni donations (much less to the degree that they are a net positive). So I’m curious what data you have in mind supporting the “thorough debunking.” chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://gceps.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/162rosen.pdf

Chris
Chris
Reply to  benjamin s yost
1 month ago

Notice he’s talking about athletics, not merely “football”. But because of title IX, Rutgers can’t just eliminate all sports except mens football, even if they wanted to break even that way.

no name
no name
1 month ago

I recently got accepted to Manhattan just to get an email that my Art History major was no long offered lol.

Danielle P
Danielle P
1 month ago

Amidst all this, MC hired a Dean for the school of health Sciences and a consultant to explore the launch of a nursing program, promising a substantial amount of funding for infrastructure and going so far as to start advertising it!
MC banking on Nursing to make up for lack of liberal arts $$$ is a loosing bet. It couldn’t save neighboring Concordia College, which had a system behind it and similar lawsuits to try and save Faculty and staff jobs.
To be hiring when you are firing is pretty gauling to current employees.
The new president and annointed provost seem to be working hand in hand with these unilateral cuts. The prior administration, albeit interim seemed at least on the outside to have some integrity.

faculty
faculty
Reply to  Danielle P
1 month ago

Neither Milo nor his annointed provost have been a full-time tenure-track faculty (or even visiting) at any institution.

Neither One of them went thru the process of designing an integrated degree-program Curriculum.

Neither one of them understand the process as well as the level of Commitment it takes to get tenured.

Neither One of them have been a member of a Tenure & Promotion Committee Or College Wide Curriculum Committee.

Neither One of them have been a member of Council of Faculty Affairs (CFA) or Faculty Senate. Not @ Manhattan College neither anywhere else.

Manhattan College Faculty should have had their vote of no confidence in the board instead.

faculty
faculty
1 month ago

Coming from the construction Industry, Milo has no academic experience, relying heavily on consultants and has the previous administration that got the college in trouble as his advisors

nick Spinella
nick Spinella
1 month ago

This may be the source for a large portion of the recent operating deficits and comes from a recent article run in the NY Post:

The college’s athletics department went $55.575 million over budget between 2019 and 2022 according to an audit obtained by The Post.

Here is the link to the recent article as even two Nuns were not spared in the cuts:

https://nypost.com/2024/03/05/us-news/manhattan-college-cuts-and-nun-firings-spark-protest/?utm_source=email_sitebuttons&utm_medium=site%20buttons&utm_campaign=site%20buttons

If the Post article is correct, how were internal accounting processes and controls not able to pick up the huge budget overruns in the athletics department.

I am an ’87 graduate and hoping the school gets back on track ASAP, for its students and dedicated faculty and all of its other employees.