Friday, June 14, 2024

A Lesley University sign for its Doble Campus is dismantled Oct. 19, 2021, at property the school sold. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Four programs will be cut at Lesley University as part of its Better Lesley plan to refocus on “core strengths in education, mental health, the arts and the fields related to those strengths,” according to a Wednesday press release.

The programs “not core to the mission of Lesley University” haven’t been identified by the Cambridge school, but a letter from president Janet Steinmayer on the Lesley website gave an example of why the cuts were found necessary during a 10-month refocusing process: in one, there are three faculty positions for 15 students.

“Students currently enrolled in those programs will graduate with those degrees, but these programs will no longer be offered as majors,” Steinmayer said.

A number of faculty positions have been identified as no longer necessary, and the university has notified the faculty union of those changes, the school said Wednesday. “Lesley is a close-knit and caring community, and these types of changes are difficult for everyone,” interim provost Deanna Yameen said. “We appreciate the service of our colleagues and are focused on taking care of them as they transition out of the university.”

The programs being eliminated will be identified after union bargaining is complete, according to a person familiar with the work. That was expected to be as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

“We knew changes had to be made and that they were coming, but we had thought they would be more spread out,” said Michelle Pate, chair of Lesley’s Faculty Assembly and associate chair of the school’s Department of Psychology & Applied Therapies. “I know of at least 14 faculty who have been requested to meet with the provost and HR as soon as possible.”

That could mean anything from layoffs to brief discussions of reassignments, Pate said, a lack of clarity that didn’t sit well with at least one faculty member – who learned Wednesday that his own major was being eliminated and that its arts and sciences honors program was being “transformed.” The information came from students, rather than the school.

“Lesley University is making decisions in an inhumane way,” said Michael J. Illuzzi, an associate professor of political science at Lesley.

Chairs and deans were not notified about the cuts and didn’t know which faculty were getting notices to report to the Provost’s Office, Illuzzi said, and faculty were being called into Zoom meetings with the provost “assuming that their contracts might be revoked, but given no information and told to schedule the meeting to take place within 24 hours.”

“It shows a lack of decency and care for its students, staff and faculty to conduct business at the university in this way,” Illuzzi said of the school.

Steinmayer and Yameen responded via spokesperson on Wednesday afternoon: “Change is difficult. Lesley University began engaging the university community in January with this Better Lesley process, talking with our academic leaders, management faculty, administrative leaders and others. We were specifically asked to make these difficult decisions ourselves, and while we sought input from many in the university, we honored that request.”

Restructuring processes

There have been a series of refocusing processes under Steinmayer; these cuts were signaled in June when Steinmayer described a decision-making process being undertaken by four management faculty teams that will set priorities and four administrative teams looking at implementation. The school may also “reimagine” online classes and other offerings, she said at the time, while keeping prices “at or near the low to mid-end of our private competitors.”

The school is also building ways to offer lifelong support to students, she said – engaging with employers to help them with more financial aid and guaranteed internships, for example.

“This communitywide process was driven by the vision of our board of trustees that we needed to operate as one university with a sharp focus on our strengths and the needs of the marketplace,” Steinmayer said. “These changes will help make Lesley more attractive to students through increased interdisciplinary learning opportunities, strong partnerships with employers, more flexibility in learning options and better student support systems.”

Steinmayer, who became president in July 2019, said leadership had recently managed to reduce a $7.5 million budget gap to $2.5 million despite the complications of the Covid pandemic. Instead of building slowly back to pre-Covid enrollment levels, though, a school that was finding its footing “hit a cliff,” she said, referring to a dramatic drop in enrollment seen as demographic in nature – that there aren’t as many traditional-age students seeking bachelor’s degrees, particularly in New England.

“I had shared with people confidentially that it was as big as $10 million,” Steinmayer said, referring to the expected structural deficit resulting from that drop-off.

Lesley University said in October 2021 that it planned to remake its campuses over the next five years, selling excess real estate and using the money for improvements. In a first phase, 10 properties were listed and nine sold, with 6 Sacramento St. being re-listed with five new addresses in a second phase in April, when Lesley University put a half-dozen Cambridge property listings on the market worth an estimated $38.2 million.