Faculty losses cause departmental challenges

Cassie Buchman, News Editor

Editors Note: This is the first part of a longer series exploring faculty departures at Eastern. The next part will explore the effect these departures have on the university.

Faculty members have been leaving Eastern over the last few years, leaving academic departments to find a way to cover classes and do the work they are used to with less people.

These Unit A, or tenure track, faculty members and Unit B faculty members, who have to have their contracts renewed each year, have left the school for various reasons. Some Unit B faculty members did not have their contracts renewed, leaving them without a position.

Both Unit A and Unit B faculty members have left Eastern because of uncertainty in the state budget, especially during the impasse, and a lack of state support for Eastern and other state universities.

While before, more people could have been hired to replace them; a hiring freeze resulting from the budget impasse has made it harder to do so.

Because of this, professors have been teaching more classes, leaving them with less time to deal with their other responsibilities.

While teaching is a large part of faculty members’ jobs, they are also expected to serve on committees and participate in scholarly research.

Richard Wandling, chair of the political science department, said this is a delicate balance.

“We don’t only want to be able to serve students in classroom, we also (want to) contribute to serving students in the long term by engaging in scholarly research,” Wandling said.

Four or five years ago, there were 13 positions in the political science department.

Now, there are eight.

Last year, political science lost one Unit B position.

“We are limping along at best,” Wandling said. “Our hope is the situation can be remedied in the future. In the minimum, we need to take action to minimize the damage from the one position we’re down over just one year.”

The political science department has four very well enrolled classes, and for a while they were not sure there was going to be anyone able to teach those classes.

“Fortunately, it has worked out for us and we were able to bring back a high quality faculty member,” Wandling said. “It could have gone the other way for us.”

The department is managing in the fall semester, but Wandling said they are getting close to the limit of what they can ask faculty to do.

Nora Pat Small, interim chair of the history department, said the department was also not able to renew their only Unit B contract—their undergraduate adviser.

That duty has since been reassigned.

“We’re all doing a lot,” Small said. “We always have.”

Small said professors in the history department are teaching the classes they need to—they have just recalibrated their schedule.

“People are picking up services. We’re trying to keep the course load the same and not increase everybody’s course loads across the board, but every now and again someone has to have an additional course,” Small said.

For the last several years, faculty members have been lost to retirement.

Small said not being able to replace them means the history department is now down to 18 full-time faculty members where before they had 25.

The business department lost four Unit B and four Unit A faculty members in the last two years.

One of the Unit B faculty members did not have their contract renewed, while the others are leaving for jobs at other universities.

John Willems, department chair of the business department, said one of them mentioned wanting to go to a state that supported education more than the state of Illinois.

Of the four Unit A positions, one retired and three left for jobs at other universities.

Willems said the faculty leaving could be attributed to a lack of state funding for Illinois universities.

“It’s becoming harder to expect research grants and other levels of support we have been used to expecting for many years,” Willems said.

In some cases, Willems said, retirements were expedited because of the uncertain financial condition of the state.

Although they may not necessarily leave, many faculty members are still worried about the lack of state support to universities.

“It’s not just Eastern—it’s other Illinois universities,” Willems said. “I’m sure that puts concerns in many students’ minds.”

Many of the people who left loved their jobs—they loved Eastern, the students they taught and their colleagues.

But, Willems said, when there is so much uncertainty in the state, some had to start planning for their families and their future.

“I think it’s reasonable to be worried in a state where there’s not extra money to spare,” Willems said.

In the biological sciences department, two professors left because they received offers at other universities. One of these was the former chair.

Gary Bulla, current chair of the biological sciences department, said one of the faculty members who left said he would have stayed if the budget was stable.

“This is hurting the bio departments,” Bulla said. “There are fewer research opportunities.”

Bulla said this is a problem because the primary objective is to have students do research during their time at Eastern.

Ten faculty members were lost over the past three years. Some of these have been retirements, with some retiring early because of budget issues.

“I guess that’s the biggest challenge, is struggling to have upper division courses for our majors (with) no faculty to teach those,” Bulla said. “We’ve lost lots of faculty over time. (We’re) still struggling with that.”

Bulla said losing the faculty to retirement and normal turnover is not the problem; not being able to replace them is.

John Mace, chair of the psychology department, said in the past two years, they have lost six people related to the school’s situation.

In psychology, they have been making sure students could get requirements they need by offering more online classes and having as many different courses as possible.

“What’s been lost, essentially, is their ability to take electives with us,” Mace said.

Mace said with six of the people who left doing 18 sections, it was almost impossible to figure out how to do these 18 sections and divide them between the remaining 14 professors.

In the math department, eight faculty members have not returned to Eastern.

“It’s definitely increased teaching loads,” Marshall Lassak, department chair of mathematics and computer sciences, said. “Even though we have a drop in student enrollment, we still have quite a few gen-ed courses. We need to teach overload or we’re offering fewer sections.”

For the department of mathematics and computer science, this semester has been particularly challenging because they had a faculty member on medical leave.

“That required a lot of shuffling,” Lassak said. “People schedule their time in different ways.”

Lassak said a lot of faculty networking and researching to find out what high schools are doing across the state is impossible due to time constraints professors have from teaching so much.

“It starts to impact the program,” he said.

Students will be impacted, Lassak said, as instructors will have to add more students to classes.

“If they are used to teaching 32 students and now are teaching 40, that’s eight more copies, eight more tests to grade,” Lassak said.

Professors also do not want to lose track of students in classes, Lassak said.

Because of all these constraints, it does not seem to Lassak like the department is making as much progress as they used to.

“We’re in a getting by mode, not seem(ing) to move forward,” Lassak said.

Although they are restricted by these challenges, the faculty understands the situation the university is in.

“The most difficult facet of the job is being able to think into the future and thinking of what the student demand is,” Wandling said.

The main question Wandling asks now is whether or not they are going to be able to meet these demands.

“We’re doing our best to be optimistic,” he said. “It’s the only thing we can be.”


Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]