In late September, as the fall semester was getting underway, three tenured professors attached their name to a 17-page long letter addressed to Albion College Leadership. The three professors, Elizabeth Barrios, Dominic Quinney and Eric Hill, are not the only professors who contributed to the letter. Other contributors went unnamed, concerned they could lose their jobs.
Barrios, an assistant professor of Spanish, said in a conversation over Zoom on Oct. 6 that there were two or three dozen contributors to the letter. “A lot of people wrote it but Eric, Dominic and I signed it because we were tenured.” Recent drafts of the letter include nearly 30 new signatures.
The letter, titled “The Albion College Community’s Letter to Leadership” outlines numerous areas of concern, primarily regarding the budget cuts that have been initiated this year. The authors state that the administrations decisions “are very likely to lead to disastrously reduced retention and recruitment of students, faculty and staff and, therefore, to serioud future budgetary shortfalls which would put this institution at risk.”
Their concerns include the closing of the Philadelphia Center, the understaffing in the writing center and the slashing of student jobs on campus, among other issues. The authors express frustration with an alleged lack of communication.
The Philadelphia Center, an off-campus program that gives students an opportunity to study and work an internship in Philadelphia, was one of the few programs that was easily accessible for undocumented Albion students, according to Barrios.
“If you are undocumented, its a nightmare to get anything, let alone aninternship,” Barrios said.
Now, the Philadelphia Center is closed and is no longer an option for students, something Barrios says students have found to be “crushing.”
The letter also states that “Two staff members [of The Philadelphia Center] were fired days before the start of student orientation.”
The treatment of Jeanna Morrison, an assistant professor of ethnic studies who worked in Philadelphia with The Philadelphia Center, is what motivated Hill, an assistant professor of psychology and a member of the Ethnic Studies Committee, to get involved with the drafting of the letter.
Hill said that Morrison was told that she had three options for the future of her job: take severance and leave her job with the college, continue working until Dec. and take severance then or, “come to Albion in a tenure track position for a very substantial pay cut,” said Hill.
The letter says that this decision was made on Aug. 19, only 10 days before the start of the semester.
Another concern raised by the letter regards the understaffing of the Cutler Center, and the lack of writing consultants available to students.
Albion College’s web page for writing consulting currently reads “Writing Consulting services are temporarily unavailable due to staffing issues. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
Barrios said during the Oct. 6 conversation that students seeking assistance with writing at the Cutler Center are turned away and told to talk to the professor they are writing for.
Barrios said she feels this is potentially dangerous and harmful to the students and the college.
“To me, that seems like it compromises Albion College as an academic institution,” she said. “When you’re a small liberal arts school that has a writing proficiency requirement for graduation but you don’t have a writing center, you are, in essence, breaking some of the commitments you’ve made to students.”
The authors spend a significant portion of the letter discussing student jobs. They state that “$600,000 that had been paid to student workers last year is presumably no longer available,” saying that “no clear announcement was made,” about the reduction of campus employment.
Within the letter is an email written by a former Whitehouse Nature Center employee and Waterford junior Alyvia Martinez. The email, addressed to Interim President Joe Calvaruso, calls the administration’s actions “selfish,” writing that as a financially independent student who is reliant on their campus job, the school is “messing with a student’s ability to attend Albion.”
Following Martinez’ email are over 20 quotes from students and alumni regarding the way they have been affected by the absence of jobs at the nature center.
“The nature center was my way of being able to make enough to pay my monthly bill,” reads one, written by Ashley Biedler, Burr Oak sophomore.
“To be without the nature center now? I’m lost,” reads another, written by Mikayla Armour, Chicago junior.
Vice President for Marketing and Communication and College Spokesperson Cathy Cole said that the recent changes made to student employment are simply a return to pre-pandemic levels of student payment.
“Cole said, “for the past two years, we have had a huge influx of dollars into the student wage accounts because of COVID.”
She said that student employment was bolstered by COVID relief money that the college no longer has. “They were one-time funds.”
Cole also said that budgeting decisions were made with students in mind.
“The student experience really is our guiding principle,” Cole said. “We want students to have that Albion Experience that is a hallmark to this institution.”
Cole said that everybody across campus has been asked to cut back on spending, and that the issues that have arisen are being dealt with.
For example, the college opened an online application for the Executive Director of the Center for Sustainability and Environment and Director of Whitehouse Nature Center on Sept. 16. The application is still open.
As for the lack of assistance at the writing center, “The cabinet has said a number of times that that is on us fully. We opened the school year without having the right people in place,” said Cole.
On Oct. 19, over three weeks after the first draft of the letter, the president’s cabinet held a meeting to serve as the formal response from the administration.
The entirety of the president’s cabinet was present. For over an hour they fielded questions from a few members of the college community, including at least two authors of the letter.
The administration addressed parts of the letter in a conversational format.
Interim Provost Lisa Lewis said that hiring at the nature center was delayed because of the untimely departure of two key employees.
“I’m still in the dark,” said Dylan Ranshaw, Eaton Rapids senior and a former nature center employee. “This school has a transparency problem.”
The through line of the meeting was that many members of the Albion College community – faculty, staff and students – feel like the communication from the college has been substandard.
Professors said their students are struggling without help from the Writing Center, something they could have mitigated if they knew about the vacancy earlier.
At the end of the meeting President Calvaruso said “We’re going to work to do better.”
Multiple professors expressed a desire to have known more information earlier on about the budget cuts, emphasizing that they think there should have been more communication.
During a conversation with Hill, he put it plainly:
“If we’re on hard times that’s fine, as long as we’re honest with eachother,” Hill said.