Thursday, July 18, 2024

Lesley University students and faculty protest Sunday. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The four programs being cut by Lesley University were announced Friday, noting that the sunsetting – in which everyone enrolled in the programs will be able to graduate in them – affects 51 students. “Ninety-eight percent of students at Lesley will not be affected by these changes,” a spokesperson said in a press release.

The programs being phased out in the restructuring Better Lesley are political science, sociology, global studies and a graduate program in photography, which the school said Oct. 4 were chosen exactly because they have low enrollment.

Because the Better Lesley cuts weren’t announced in detail over the past couple of weeks, guessing which programs were ending became a kind of grim guessing game that students got mostly right: On Sunday they were named as political science; sociology and social change; global studies; and communications or gender studies.  

“It’s important to point out the programs being eliminated as majors are not vanishing – these areas will not go away entirely,” but will continue to be part of the school’s general education curriculum or other programs, the spokesperson said. In addition, “The liberal arts will continue to be a foundation for students, a major for some students and a second major for those studying education.”

Political science major Mia Dillon, an organizer of the Sunday protest of an open house at University Hall near Porter Square in Cambridge, said it wasn’t clear what administrators meant by that – but liberal arts certainly would be diminished and “the educational level is not going to be the same.”

“It’s awesome that they say that, but you’re not going to have liberal arts without [the cut programs] and when they’re cutting core faculty to replace them with adjunct professors,” Dillon said. At $4,200 a course, adjuncts can’t teach enough courses to allow them to put in the time that a full professor might, she said.

Students and faculty at the protest expressed concern that liberal arts was being diminished, as well as that their programs would languish from their vestigial natures – a concern that wasn’t assuaged by the Friday statement and the campus-released video that preceded it by a day. Dillon said: “People are scared they won’t get a good education and will transfer out” as a result. Another fear is that there are more cuts coming; another objection was to treatment of faculty during the layoffs, which one educator on Sunday called “shocking” and many have said leans toward older people, those active in the union and vocal in their feelings about the school and administration being “bloated” and uncommunicative. The layoffs are said to affect some 30 educators, but the estimate wasn’t addressed in the Friday press release.

“We understand these are difficult decisions for the campus community, but they are essential decisions for Lesley University,” the press release said. “Lesley plays a unique and important role in the higher education landscape, conferring the most degrees in New England for specialized education and mental and leading in graduating practicing artists. We are evolving to meet our students’ needs.”

There have been a series of refocusing processes under president Janet 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, though faculty members said Sunday they felt their involvement had little to do with what was announced Oct. 4 as the outcome.

The school may also “reimagine” online classes and other offerings, Steinmayer said in June, while keeping prices “at or near the low to mid-end of our private competitors.”

Dillon said the cuts have become a constant conversation among students.

“There’s a general feeling of emotional turmoil,” Dillon said. “It’s a weird time to be at Lesley.”