Cabrini University made the decision in March to cut a number of faculty and staff positions and eliminate several departments and academic programs. Two departments that teach numerous courses in the core program, romance languages and literature as well as philosophy, were among those eliminated, along with one of the two professors in each department. Each department has just one professor remaining.
One romance language professor was in her third year and had just purchased a home and gave birth to a baby. “Now that I purchased a home in the area and have a baby, finding a full-time job in academia, particularly amid the Covid-19 pandemic, is extremely difficult particularly towards the end of the academic year,” Dr. Melissa Gonzalez-Contreras, assistant professor and acting chair of the romance languages and literatures department, said.
With an ever-growing deficit and the struggles of the coronavirus pandemic, Cabrini University has made the decision to let go of some faculty and staff, as well as cut several departments. This is a common tactic at this time among tuition-dependent universities.
The Chronicle explained that universities facing a financial crisis “will respond by slashing discretionary expenditures: stop unnecessary travel, defer routine maintenance, freeze hiring, etc. This modest short-term step slows cash outflow, but for severe crises, such as the one we now face, it seldom solves the problem.”
Students, faculty and staff find it hard to understand why young faculty, who make an average of $57,704, are being cut while administrators like President Donald Taylor makes six times as much. Taylor received bonuses while the university was running in the red. Taylor’s salary and bonus in 2018-19 was $346,362.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Cabrini is “eliminating 46 of the 250 positions, the bulk through voluntary separation agreements, but also including about 10 layoffs and some jobs that will go unfilled. 15 of Cabrini’s 69 programs have been tagged for elimination or change, including religious studies, philosophy and Black studies that will instead be offered as a minor.”
“The department of Modern Languages and Literatures was eliminated,” Gonzalez-Contreras said. “With this change the Spanish major and my position were also eliminated.”
This decision has not only affected the students, but also made a huge impact, personally and career-wise, on the professors of those departments.
On Thursday, March 11, one day before the President’s update to faculty and staff, Gonzalez-Contreras received the news about the elimination of the department, as well as her termination, from the dean and representative from the Human Resources office.
It was a hard pill for her to swallow because in the three years that she has been at Cabrini, she became very close with her students, colleagues and Cabrini’s mission of Education of the Heart.
“The faculty that I have met in these three years at Cabrini are the ones that really live out the Education of the Heart mission through their commitment to their students,” Gonzalez-Contreras said. “I can assure you that all faculty that have been involuntarily separated from the institution are no exception.”
The elimination of this department, Gonzalez-Contreras believes, goes against what Cabrini was trying to move towards: the promotion of diversity, inclusion and equity. She also mentioned that her students were the first ones she thought of when she got the news.
“They don’t understand the rationale behind Cabrini becoming a Hispanic-serving institution with these changes,” Gonzalez-Contreras said. “As the days go by and I continue to talk to my students, particularly to my Latinx students, they feel let down because the Spanish major has been eliminated and because they are losing a faculty member that represents them.”
This termination came at the wrong time for Gonzalez-Contreras, personally impacting her work, life and family, especially during the pandemic.
“The number of positions that are published after March are very few and I don’t have the same flexibility I had when I first arrived at Cabrini, now that I purchased a home in the area and have a baby,” Gonzalez-Contreras said. “I also thought of all the work I have done for the institution and my department. Finding a full-time job in academia, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is extremely difficult particularly towards the end of the academic year.”
Although Dr. Sharon Schwarze and Dr. Joseph Romano of the philosophy department were not personally impacted, they still had very strong, personal feelings about the decision to eliminate the philosophy department and let one of the two full-time faculty go.
Romano, who retired from full-time teaching in 2013, continued to teach two courses each semester part-time. The philosophy department also received news that it is being eliminated as a major, but will be offered as a minor.
“I am deeply offended by the school’s actions. Not only has a member been let go, but there is no more philosophy department,” Romano said. “Yes, I am saddened. Personally, Cabrini has just told me that 60 years of teaching have been a waste of time and money.”
Schwarze, who also retired as a full-time professor and now works as an adjunct professor, said, “I am angry, however, because [these cuts] come because of earlier poor decision-making on the part of the administration. Now faculty and staff pay the price. So do the students who will have fewer choices going forward, especially in the humanities.”
She went on to say that she and Romano were “both very severely impacted, however, in our love and respect for Cabrini University. We both no longer want to teach philosophy at Cabrini.”
On the evening of Friday, March 12, Dr. Joseph Cimakasky, a philosophy assistant professor, received a phone call from President Donald Taylor that the philosophy and liberal studies department was getting cut, as well as his position.
Cimakasky has been teaching college-level philosophy courses for 13 years, six at Cabrini, loving every aspect of it, so when he got the news, he expressed that he was “disappointed. It stung. I admire teachers, so having the opportunity to become a teacher myself was a dream come true. I will miss it. Nevertheless, I consider myself lucky.”
“As strange as it may seem, I leave Cabrini with a deep sense of gratitude,” Cimakasky said. “Plus, who knows if this wasn’t a blessing in disguise? I am reminded of Socrates’s final words from Plato’s Apology: “Now the hour to part has come. I go to die, you go to live. Which of us goes to the better lot is known to no one, except the gods.””
Hillary Chybinski, adjunct professor and instructor in the social media marketing certificate program, was not personally impacted since she was on a contract-basis position. However, she was disappointed, but understands the decision to discontinue the program.
“I feel confident that the decision to discontinue programs was a business decision. Not an easy one, I’m sure,” Chybinski said. “As a parent of a current student and an alumni, I want to see the university do what it needs to do to remain strong through this and come out better on the other side. I am sad for the Cabrini professors and staff losing their programs and their jobs, that’s never easy.”
“I trust them to make difficult business decisions with the grace, heart and honor that is part of being Cabrini.”