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Using Data to Shift the Campus Conversation

Gather the data and success follows.
By David P. Nalbone

In the spring 2013 semester, the Purdue University Calumet administration notified the faculty that it should prepare to deal with looming financial difficulties. In particular, the provost asked departments to draft two separate plans to cut 10 percent and 15 percent of all course offerings. No mention was made of cuts to faculty ranks; the emphasis was on cuts to courses. Faculty from each department suggested course cuts in line with the request, in some cases emphasizing that following through on the cuts would be financially suicidal. Then, at the end of the semester, we were notified that cuts to the faculty ranks would take place—largely to continuing lecturers, who are full-time employees, but also to limited-term lecturers, who are generally part-time employees working on semester-to-semester contracts. About a dozen continuing lecturers—some of whom had been working on year-to-year contracts for decades—were not renewed. These cuts were made in addition to a dozen or so continuing lecturer positions that had been terminated the previous year.

In fall 2013, the administration announced further cuts, this time without even the semblance of meaningful faculty input. Six tenure-track faculty members and one continuing lecturer were sent letters of nonrenewal. The stated reason? A financial crisis that required immediate redress. However, other factors indicated that something else was going on: the university continued to hire administrative and athletic support staff, and the administration would not label the issue as one of “financial exigency,” probably because the athletics budget was growing at the same time.

These shocking actions by the administration led to efforts to mobilize the faculty by forming a chapter of the AAUP on campus. After electing officers, the chapter got to work. In less than a month, we went from not existing as a chapter to being one of the largest chapters in Indiana. We assisted numerous faculty members affected by the cuts in filing grievances and loudly questioned whether faculty cuts paired with administrative hiring really constituted a financial “crisis.” In short order, the fall (but not the spring) nonrenewal letters were rescinded.

It became clear, however, that we faced a major impediment: the administration had more data than we did (or so we thought).

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David P. Nalbone is associate professor of social psychology at Purdue University Northwest. He is the past president and external liaison of the Purdue University Northwest AAUP chapter and was just elected secretary of the Indiana AAUP conference.

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