Retrenchment Retrospective: Dean Kuzma explains criteria for cuts

Lyn Kuzma, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in her office last October.
Randy Hazelton | The Free Press
Lyn Kuzma, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in her office last October.

Posted on April 21, 2014 in News
By Sidney Dritz

Though the retrenchments and position discontinuances that were announced last March have since been rescinded, the process by which faculty members were selected for layoffs is still seen as unclear.

One of the reasons that understanding the process is important, according to Dean Lynn Kuzma of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, is that if, as President Kalikow has said is possible, the university enacts another series of faculty cuts in the fall, those cuts will have to follow the same criteria as the last, since those criteria are outlined in the faculty union contract.

Last week, Kuzma explained to the Free Press what those criteria are. “I had to get a crash course in it because the retrenchments were mostly in my college,” she said.
At the time of the retrenchments, the term heard the most often was “last hired, first fired,” which Kuzma said was true after a certain point, although certain other considerations complicated the absoluteness of that rule. The Provost’s office identified departments with a high faculty-to-student ratio, and within those departments they looked at faculty reductions proportional to the faculty-to-student ratio.

Faculty were then divided into categories listed in Article 17 of the faculty union contract, determined by how many years faculty members had been employed at USM, divided by three year increments.

There were, however, a series of other considerations detailed in the faculty union contract, including faculty members’ individual qualifications, the departmental needs for those faculty members’ areas of specialization, and a priority toward minimizing any effects detracting from affirmative action.
These considerations, rather than rumored “deals” alluded to in a short series of Free Press live tweets, are the reason “last hired, first fired,” was not the only rule determining faculty cuts.

The Free Press reached out to Provost Michael Stevenson, who Kuzma credited with the retrenchment and discontinuance decisions, and from whom she said she had received her information on the process. When asked about the criteria for faculty cuts, the timeline for that process, the source of his information about what constituted “departmental need,” and what’s next now that the retrenchments have been rescinded, Stevenson responded to the Free Press in an email, “Having given your questions some serious thought, I think there may be other discussions that might be more beneficial.” He then suggested that next week would be a good time for these discussions.

“The idea was that, ‘are people taking deals to save their jobs?’ And the answer to that was ‘absolutely not,’” Kuzma said.

According to Kuzma, in only one degree program did the provost need to make a judgement call between two faculty members who began working at USM at the same time. In that case, both faculty members teach the same category of classes, constituting the same departmental need.

Those two faculty members were English Professor John Muthyala and Associate English Professor Deepika Marya. The Free Press approached both Marya and Muthyala for comment, and neither replied by press time.

According to Kuzma, since the two both teach postcolonial studies in the English department, the two remaining considerations were individual qualifications and the effects on affirmative action.

“They’re both Indian, from India. John is a full professor, Deepika is not,” Kuzma said.

Because of this, she said, qualifications rather than affirmative action were the relevant consideration, and Muthyala was selected not to be retrenched. “The explanation given to me [by Provost Stevenson] was that he was a full professor, and he outranked her,” Kuzma said.

She acknowledged that another consideration related to affirmative action could be gender, and that there has been criticism that a disproportionate number of faculty who were selected for retrenchment were women. However, she said, unlike many other departments, more than half of the English department faculty members are women.

“In this case, her status as a woman, if more than 50 percent of the faculty are women, does not override the issue of qualification,” she said.