BY REBECCA JASULEVICZ
East Stroudsburg University currently boasts more than 6,500 students. But how many of those students have some type of chemistry course as a requirement for graduation?
As of the Fall 2013 semester, 892 students fit that criteria.
On Tuesday, February 18, an informal presentation was held by Dr. Paul Wilson of ESU’s biology department concerning the university’s recent retrenchment.
Last semester, the university announced that 15 tenured and tenure-track faculty members will not be returning for the Fall 2014 semester.
Eight faculty members were offered transfers, two were eliminated through non-renewal of contracts, and five positions were retrenched. One of the eight professors offered a transfer did not accept the proposal. The chemistry department was reduced by three faculty members.
In the upcoming school year, only two types of chemistry courses are expected to be available—general chemistry and organic chemistry.
However, if the university wants to offer these classes with fewer than 300 students per section, the number of sections available will have to be nearly tripled, an act that is not possible with the projected number of staff members.
“Now we’re left with a situation where there’s not even enough to cover the general chemistry and organic [chemistry] needs,” said Dr. Wilson.
Students majoring in environmental science, biotechnology, biology laboratory medicine, medical technology, exercise physiology, nursing, and criminal justice find themselves unable to graduate without taking chemistry courses, not to mention the students majoring in chemistry, biochemistry, and chemical biotechnology.
According to Dr. Wilson, “These are all of the majors that are effectively eliminated currently because the courses are not offered. And again, this isn’t hypothetical.”
“In about two more weeks is when these things go live, which is why there’s a sense of urgency with this. In other words, you can’t register for classes yet, but very soon you can, so the problem needs to be fixed between now and that time,” Dr. Wilson continued.
Althea Ross, a concerned biochemistry student who attended the meeting, asked, “Can ESU keep their accreditation if they can only offer two types of chemistry classes?
To this, Dr. Wilson responded, “There would be no accreditation because there would be no chemistry degree, no biochemistry degree. All those majors are gone; they cease to exist.”
“At the end of the day, the catalog that you come in under does represent a contract. The university is allowed to delete programs…but when you delete a program, you have to have a teach-out program. That means that if there are even six [people within the major], they have to have a plan to get all of them through graduation,” said Dr. Wilson.
He continued, “The problem we’ve got with this is that, continually, even for chemistry, the administration has sworn up and down that there will be none of these majors deleted. If they’re not going to delete it, then they have an obligation to offer the classes that you need.”
Dr. Wilson also brought up the fact that while issues related to whether students will be able to complete their programs are sorted out, students will be losing out on their education. He said, “My fear is that things will go ‘boom’—as they will in two weeks—and it will take a year as they figure everything out. But that’s a year of your lives.”
Students within the affected majors may have their expected graduation date pushed back by as long as a full academic year as a result of retrenchment.
While ESU is cutting faculty vital to the sciences, the programs themselves have been growing in recent years.
Dr. Wilson said, “If you look at the departments that were looked at for retrenchment, they are all over the map in terms of profitability, in terms of increasing. If you look at foreign languages, they increased by 130-140 percent. So, they’re growing, but those are places that got cut.”
Chair of ESU’s biology department Dr. Maria Kitchens-Kintz said, “You’re studying everything from an atom all the way through to a galaxy. You’re studying life, and that includes physics, biology, and chemistry. If you cut one, you are cutting others. If you cut chemistry, you’re cutting biology, you’re cutting physics, you’re cutting math. It’s like cutting off an arm or leg.”
Dr. Wilson reiterated, “With the non-chemistry majors, you’re looking at 750-800 students, and then on top of that you’ve got chemistry, biochemistry, chemical biotechnology—all of those are gone. Because again, you can’t give the chemistry classes.”
However, both Dr. Wilson and Dr. Kitchens-Kintz advised peaceful steps that can be taken by students to stop cuts from their programs.
Dr. Kitchens-Kintz said, “Don’t run out with signs, pickets, and pitchforks and torches at this point.”
Dr. Wilson advised contacting state representatives, as well as Council of Trustees member Mario Scavello. Other suggestions were to contact Rosemary Brown, Lisa Boscolla, and John Blake.
“Find out who your representative is and write them a letter. It makes a difference,” Dr. Wilson advised.
“As troubling as it sounds, we do have one more shot,” Dr. Kitchens-Kintz added.
The next Council of Trustees meeting is taking place next Thursday, February 27, at 4:00PM at the Innovation Center. Students are encouraged to attend—peacefully—and wear clothing supporting ESU, such as club t-shirts.
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