Lecturers teach at universities across the United States, and many work off of short-term contracts that can come up for renewal every one or two years.
This month, the University of New Hampshire informed five lecturers that their contracts would not be renewed for another year. This follows 17 non-renewals from the university last year.
Michele Dillon is the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at UNH. She spoke with NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley about how eliminating these positions fits into the college's overall strategy for success.
(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)
What's behind these cuts? What specifically are the challenges that you're facing?
Well, they're not specifically cuts. I have appointments of lecturer faculty who are up for renewal. So every year a different group of faculty are up, particularly people with multi-year contracts. And so as I do that assessment and review, I'm looking at the enrollment patterns within the college and across the university more generally. As well as within the college, [I'm] looking at some of the shifts and ebb and flow in terms of majors and where students are making their choices in terms of what courses of study to pursue. And so I keep in mind a lot of these considerations as I review each person's position in the college.
How have you seen student interests shifting over the years?
Well, I would say in the last 10 years, we definitely see -- and again, this is not just here at UNH, but it's a nationwide trend -- we see somewhat of a decline in students electing to do a major in English overall, for example. But we also see an uptick in students taking courses and majoring in new revised curricula in English, which we have here, which, for example, in digital writing. So on the one hand, people have lost somewhat of an interest in literature, but there's an increased interest in composition and digital literacy. And so our faculty has been really quite innovative and entrepreneurial in anticipating and responding to that shift.
How much pressure do you feel under your current budget situation? Do you feel that this is a part of a normal cycle?
Well, I actually feel that is part of just normal fiscal responsibility, even in times when one mightn't be confronted with some budget challenges. One has to be looking at are we deploying all of our resources in an effective manner, given that our commitment is we have to keep in mind the mission of our college, the mission of UNH, which is student academic success.
A lot of pieces to the puzzle. I understand that. How do you decide which programs to keep, which programs to cut, which programs to institute?
Well, that's a very complex set of considerations. And in a sense, you're trying to anticipate and you have projections in terms of numbers that are going to elect to come to UNH and to wherever college you are in the future. But you're also responding to current needs and prior practices. So it's really trying to get a balance across all of that. And so it seems to me that one has to really identify that you have to have a core commitment. And languages, for example, are a core piece of our curricula here in the College of Liberal Arts. But it's a matter of how many languages can we actually sustain in terms of minors, majors or simply in terms of offering courses in particular languages.
And so we have, for example, basically 11 language courses that students can take today. Some of those are majors and minors, some of them aren't. And so it's a matter of saying which ones can we bolster? And all of them have a certain level of popularity. But some are obviously more popular than others. Not nearly as languages, but how they link into other curricula that we have, such as, for example, our majors and international affairs or Middle Eastern studies and these other program areas that the languages are relevant to.
I know UNH is eliminating the Japanese program, for example, next year. So, I suppose, you made that calculation that that is not a major draw to the university, but with declining enrollment overall –
It's not to devalue any one language, but is really being realistic and looking at the reality of where, you know, students are making their choices. It is a complex, always set of considerations. And I certainly don't make any of these decisions lightly. But it really is looking as to how best you can use our current resources and to, you know, to invest in areas where we need more faculty.
And that, of course, always means that, you know, some people are going to be, unfortunately, their lives disrupted and maybe some students expectations of a particular set of options being disrupted. But I think, you know, what's to me, a great thing about UNH and about the College of Liberal Arts is that we are offering so many languages and so many majors in the languages, not just the traditional European languages, but also the Arabic, Chinese studies, Russian, for example. So I think there's a lot of great strengths that we have. And it's a matter of consolidating and capitalizing on those strengths.