Saint Francis confirms ‘bold, new’ academic structure

Realigning programs into three schools will reduce costs

Saint Francis University confirmed an academic shift will affect personnel, but details remain vague.

A public announcement with more details about faculty position eliminations is planned for Aug. 9 after those most impacted are informed this week, according to University President Father Malachi Van Tassell, T.O.R.

“As with any change of this scale, there will be an impact on personnel. Our first obligation is to speak with those most impacted this week and then share changes with our entire university community on Aug. 9,” Tassell said. “After that, we will issue a public announcement. What I can share is that faculty positions are not being eliminated for the 2018-19 academic year. Students are able to continue toward the major of their choice, as no changes have occurred in programs and/or offerings. New majors are under development, and programs will be reviewed in 2018-20 that will offer additional career paths to students.”

In the meantime, rumors are circulating that two academic department deans have been fired and 15 faculty could potentially be laid off.

One of the deans rumored to be fired answered a call from the Mirror at the university, but said he could not talk about the rumor at that time. But he did offer a comment:

“It is restructuring for sure,” he said.

Marie Young, director of marketing and communications, said no employees were terminated.

“I can’t share specifics on personnel matters out of respect for the individuals’ privacy, however, no employees were terminated,” she wrote in an email. “Positions have been eliminated as part of the academic restructuring that will allow us to better align resources with emerging workforce needs. We will release a full version of the school department realignment after Aug. 9.”

The rumors and foggy details have caused anxiety among alumni, said Matt Ussia, Class of 1999.

Ussia studied English at Saint Francis and is currently an English professor at Duquesne University.

“It’s a place people care about deeply. The thought that they are in this crisis or moving in this direction is scary for a lot of folks. It’s scary for me,” he said. “Because Saint Francis is so small, current students and alumni have such a strong personal connection to faculty. To hear people might be let go or forced into early retirement, nobody knows right now what is happening. Anxiety and rumors are never good for anybody.”

Van Tassell wrote Monday that, in May, he shared with the university community that officials were working on a restructuring plan to better align programming and reduce costs while serving as a catalyst for innovation.

“We have made progress on the plan over the last two months, and we are ready to move forward with changes for the 2018-2019 academic year,” Van Tassell’s statement read. “The first part of this — a bold, new academic organizational structure — will be apparent right away. After a period of examination and reflection this summer, we developed an innovative framework that will better align academic programming, while also decreasing the financial burden of supporting a large organizational infrastructure.”

Going forward, Van Tassell stated, the university’s existing portfolio of programs will be realigned within three schools: the Shields School of Business, the School of Health Sciences and Education and the School of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.

“This shift resulted from an in-depth study that found having academic fields separated into four schools has increased costs for students and created silos that prevent the arts and humanities from being a truly immersive experience for all students. Conversely, these ‘silos’ are impeding our liberal arts majors from fully experiencing the benefits of a strong business and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) foundation,” he stated.

He cited statistics from the Common­wealth of Pennsylvania, which say nearly 300,000 jobs statewide require STEM skills.

“Over the next decade, more than 70 percent of new jobs will require these skills. We want to make sure these opportunities are accessible to every one of our graduates,” his statement read.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.


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