Following the dismissal riot in Level Park, school has expressed concern concerning the variety and stability of the campus – PublicSource

In the middle of her apprenticeship during the pandemic, a Point Park University professor wasn’t too surprised to receive an email informing her that she would no longer be employed after the spring semester.

Kendra Ross, a 45-year-old black man from Pittsburgh, used to work in the music industry and knew what it was like to be in a cutthroat environment. So much so that she joked with former Universal employees that she packed a box by the door just in case.

Even so, Ross was optimistic about teaching at Point Park when she started.

She received her doctorate from the university in 2019 and was approached by other faculties to consider teaching in economics. After co-teaching as an associate faculty member in 2019, Ross was transferred to tenure track.

Then, in February 2021, 17 faculty members, many from marginalized backgrounds, were told that their contracts would not be renewed for the fall. The union that represents the faculty argued that the dismissal notifications were “directed at members of minority groups, including women of color and members of the LGBTQ + community”.

Point Park University, like many colleges across the country, announced that the institution was faced with difficult financial decisions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the university quickly faced backlash from faculty, students, and alumni who criticized Point Park for promoting diversity while undermining those efforts with layoffs.

“Point Park is a tremendously white space,” said Ross. “People are ready to start a multicultural office. You are ready to put Brown faces in specific positions. But the fundamental change in culture? How does the university work?

“Little has changed there.”

Four professors speaking to PublicSource talked about being in mostly white and heteronormative spaces. The lack of diversity was so remarkable that the professors felt they were a source of comfort for students from marginalized backgrounds. The union that represents Point Park’s faculty said 10% of full-time faculties and staff at the university identify as colored people.

Within months of the decision, an arbitrator said the university was violating the union’s collective agreement because the layoffs came after a deadline for renewing the contract. Ross and eight other professors had renewed their contracts before the arbitration decision made it mandatory. a step that the university attributes to saving elsewhere.

“When I speak to prospective students today, I am honest with them and let’s say the faculty is one of the best parts of the university …”

When the layoffs were lifted, the professors experienced a feeling of whiplash – one moment they taught knowing they had to find a new job, and then the next moment they learned that the university had to renew their contracts for now.

But the reverse doesn’t change Point Park’s financial position.

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Point Park spokesman Louis Corsaro wrote in a statement emailed that the decision not to renew these contracts was because the pandemic caused “significant disruption to higher education.”

“This has led many universities to realign their operations to ensure that their top priority is met – providing students with quality education,” Corsaro said in the statement.

The university declined to comment on the impact of the layoffs on faculty diversity. In one (n Online statement on the importance of diversity on education, Point Park says it is committed to accountability in pursuing its diversity goals.

Over the past year, colleges have faced financial disruption due to the pandemic, while at the same time faced increased spending on distance learning and safety precautions. While vaccinations mean that the next school year could look more normal, some observers wonder what the future of schools like Point Park will be like. In order to remain financially stable, universities tried different approaches even before the pandemic.

“The typical response from small private universities has traditionally been to try to grow, start new programs to attract more students, and spend a lot of money on marketing and advertising. But the pandemic may have changed that, ”said Robert Kelchen, a professor at Seton Hall University who has researched and taught college funding.

Although the pandemic sparked financial struggles for colleges, Kelchen said they were already facing challenges such as declining high school graduates and increasing competition from other universities.

“The pandemic took a lot of money away because they had to go into their reserves to get through the pandemic,” he said.

Point Park projected a million dollar loss due to the decline in general demand for higher education. Then-Provost John Pearson stated in an email on September 18 that the board had hired Point Park to fill a budget gap of approximately $ 10 million, according to documents in a May 6 award. In the months that followed, deans and university management discussed job cuts or other ways of reducing costs.

By January the university decided not to renew contracts with some professors. Although professors were to be laid off, the university said it would not have to cut majors or courses, and instead faculty, staff and administration are teaching the courses at a lower cost.

The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents the faculty, said the layoffs violated the faculty’s collective bargaining agreement because the university relied on it a section of the agreement that requires notice of contract terminations by September 15th.

Marion Dixon, assistant professor at Point Park University. (Photo by Ryan Loew / PublicSource)

The students were also confused by the decision. What would that mean for their graduation requirements? Who would teach the classes they were looking forward to this fall?

For her final year at the university, Sara Buchdahl wanted to take some of the courses taught by the faculty members involved. She and other students put their shock into action with a petition.

“When I talk to prospective students today, I’m being honest with them and let’s say the faculty is one of the best parts of the university and right now I can’t guarantee you will have” the best faculty, “she said in April.

Some faculties also worried about the future of their faculties.

Marion Dixon, assistant professor in the humanities and social sciences faculty, felt that tough financial decisions would be made last summer after hearing about possible pay freezes or layoffs. You and another colleague would have been released from the small department.

“We got so much support from students and alumni, it was really encouraging,” said Dixon, who was part of a group of nine dismissed professors whose contracts were renewed before the tribunal mandated it. “The students are going to be so badly affected, so I really feel sorry for them, especially the students in those particular departments that are basically being gutted.”

The arbitration decision from May means at least a temporary respite for the faculty. And some see the hiring of a new provost and president as a positive sign. The new president, Donald Green, has seen leading changes in enrollment, whereabouts, college financial terms and improved graduation rates for color students, according to a press publication.

“The system is not designed for us to thrive and prosper without us being at the mercy of those in power who pull the strings.”

Nevertheless, from the spring semester onwards, the professors began to totter.

Ben Schonberger, a photography lecturer who was part of the affected faculty group, said he had spent years diversifying the visual arts program and creating a series of lectures with artists who identified themselves as women, queer, and black around his To help students feel represented in the industry.

Although the referee’s decision was a victory for the faculty, Schönberger said he would have to spend this summer recovering from the incident.

“The amount of pain and stress from my family in my life is not nice. It was quite detrimental to my ability not only to work in my job but also to lead a healthy lifestyle, ”he said.

He always joked that summers were a time of healing, but this summer would really be the time for him to take care of himself and establish himself as valuable, regardless of the university’s stance.

Seeing the teaching opportunity as an opportunity to make a difference for color students, Ross said she wasn’t sure how she would feel about returning to college.

“I love my students and I love what I do, but I have to be my # 1 lawyer because no one is going to do it for me,” she said, adding that she no longer wants to adjust to what is traditionally of one term is expected to pursue professor. Instead, she said she would stand up for young women and color students by simply being herself.

“The system is not designed to thrive and prosper without us being at the mercy of the mighty pulling the strings,” she said.

She has more options along the way and is not sure if she will go back to university. While looking to pursue science in the future, she recognized the challenges that lie ahead for colleges like Point Park.

Faculties like Dixon want to see the university’s cultural change under new leadership.

“Yeah, it was really tough,” said Dixon. “I want to be hopeful.”

Naomi Harris, in partnership with Open Campus, covers higher education at PublicSource. She can be reached at

This story has been fact checked by Chris Hippensteel.

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