What is the #NotMyHiram movement?
This movement is a response to President Lori Varlotta’s administrative agenda to remove nearly 20%* of professors regardless of tenure status from Hiram College. The #NotMyHiram movement seeks to maintain the integrity of academic tenure and to keep our professors teaching at Hiram.
Why do we oppose the removal of nearly 20%* of our professors and of academic tenure at Hiram?
Varlotta stated in her “Strategic Executive Plan” that she would form the “New Liberal Arts” by increasing “faculty and staff accountability and success“. To do this, the school would “recruit and retain a competent and caring faculty and staff who place students first” and that it would “align faculty and staff expertise with institutional priorities to foster a culture of success and accountability“. Little did the students or professors know that Varlotta and her administrative staff have been planning for professors to vote against each other in a decision that would lead to the removal of nearly 20%* of them and of tenure at Hiram College. By attempting to fire these faculty members, President Varlotta has failed to “recruit and retain” faculty as her “Strategic Executive Plan” originally intended. It is clear that Varlotta and her administration is not retaining faculty, nor are they being upfront about the intentions of their plan.
When considering that Varlotta and her administration are pursing this plan for “financial security” at the college, the intentions behind the “Strategic Executive Plan” become more unclear. Because professors are essential to the operations and success of an academic institution, reducing spending costs by cutting professors, especially nearly 20%* of the campus’s professors is counterintuitive. A portion of Varlotta’s “Strategic Executive Plan” is focused on an initiative created by Varlotta called “Tech and Trek”. As the “Strategic Executive Plan” reads, “As part of Tech and Trek, all students are equipped with an iPad Pro and associated tools.” The “Tech and Trek” program was intended to distinguish Hiram from other institutions and to improve technical infrastructure at the college. To equipt each student with an iPad Pro and accompanying accessories, Varlotta received a $2.1 million grant from Dean Scarborough and Janice Bini. Why is this significant? As described in the Record-Courier media publications, “Varlotta said she contacted Scarborough, a 1977 Hiram grad and former CEO of Avery Dennison, upon his reengagement with the college as a member of the Board of Trustees a little more than a year ago. She said he expressed interest in assisting with moving the university forward with technology improvements.” Varlotta initiated the contact with the donor for the “Tech and Trek” program, indicating that it was possible for her to gain additional funding for our institution. We are left, then, with this question: If Varlotta and her administration are planning on removing almost 20%* of Hiram professors to try to cut back on spending, why did she initiate a $2.1 million grant that she allocated to a program that is arguably unnecessary if the college needs to survive economically? One should also consider that the “Tech and Trek” program has also employed two full-time Apple technical support and program leaders, Matthew McKenna and Garrett Munro, to assist with technical support for the iPad Pros. If the administration’s intention is to reduce spending by reducing faculty salary costs, why did Varlotta and her administration more hire two new full-time employees to focus on technology, rather than academic learning? Finally, one should also consider that the president-to-faculty salary ratio for Hiram is 5:1, meaning that President Varlotta could take a substantial pay cut from her $293,336/year in order to prevent the removal of these professors. If the administration’s intention is to reduce spending by reducing faculty salary costs, why did Varlotta and her administration not cut the president’s salary that is exponentially larger than that of the faculty salary?
What makes Hiram so special?
Founded in 1850 and headed by President Garfield before he became President of the United States, Hiram College has had a long history of superb liberal arts education. Hiram College was in the 2014 edition of Princeton Review’s “The Best 378 Colleges”, considered a “Best in the Midwest” school. U.S. News and World Report ranked Hiram highly in its 2014 National Liberal Arts College rankings and among its “A-Plus Schools for B Students. Hiram College was recognized in the 2014 edition of Forbes’ “America’s Best Colleges”, ranked first in Ohio in The Washington Monthly “Best Bang for the Buck” 2013 rankings of liberal arts colleges.
What exactly has made Hiram College such a fantastic institution? Lauren Pope wrote in her book “Colleges that Change Lives” that “concern for the student’s personal as well as academic welfare is one of the qualities that makes Hiram such an exceptional college.” Hiram achieves this because it is a coeducational, interdisciplinary, liberal arts college with strong student-professor relationships. According to U.S. News, “The student-faculty ratio at Hiram College is 10:1, and the school has 84.4 percent of its classes with fewer than 20 students.” With such a small student-to-faculty ration, students and faculty actually know each other and interact in close personal and professional ways. Taking away nearly 20%* of Hiram’s professors takes away exactly what makes Hiram College special.
How does Varlotta and her administration’s agenda conflict with Hiram College’s mission?
We must explore how the decision to remove nearly 20%* of Hiram’s professors and their tenure poses a conflict of interest with Hiram College’s mission. Hiram College’s mission statement declares:
- “The mission of Hiram College is to foster intellectual excellence and social responsibility, enabling our students to thrive in their chosen careers, flourish in life, and face the urgent challenges of the times.”
- “We are committed to the well-being of each member of the community.
- We demonstrate unwavering commitment to the pursuit of learning and quality scholarship.”
- “We are committed to supporting the continuous personal and professional growth of community members.”
- “We honor our tradition in the liberal arts and its profound relevance to society.”
- “At the heart of these values is the student.”
To honor Hiram’s mission, we need to maintain the integrity of these values.
We must allow Hiram students to thrive in their chosen careers by allowing them to pursue and complete their undergraduate academic careers with the professors under which they have been mentored, and who have been nurturing their academic interests.
Given that there is pressure from private, corporate interests on academic integrity in colleges all across the country, Hiram should respond to the urgent challenges of our times. To do this, we should not give into privately interested economic endeavors, and instead maintain the integrity of our values as an institution by honoring the academic freedom and integrity established by tenure. For further clarification, here is an except from “Academic Threat Under Threat Everywhere“, an article published by Inside Higher Ed:
“To better understand the idea of academic freedom, it is useful to understand its development. The concept dates back to the medieval period, where in freedom was limited to teaching. It expanded to include research with the founding of the Humboldtian model of the university in the 19th century. The next major development was the expanded notion of academic freedom defined by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in the early 20th century. This organization asserted that academic freedom extended outside of a scholar’s field of expertise and beyond the walls of the university. While autonomy is not the same as academic freedom, the concept of autonomy has provided significant protection for professors and students. Thus, university autonomy indirectly protected academic freedom during periods when it otherwise might have been repressed, although sometimes with limited success. This is especially significant in Germany and America when during Nazi rule in Germany during the 1940s and the “Red Scare” movement in the 1950s in the US at the start of the Cold War, the ideal was under serious threat.”
We must remain committed to the well-being of each member of our community by ensuring that administration honors the agreement of tenure that they promised our Hiram professors.
We must demonstrate unwavering commitment to the pursuit of learning and quality scholarship by assuring that academic freedom and security through tenure continues at Hiram. For further clarification, here is an excerpt from “Is it time to eliminate tenure for professors?“, an article published by The Conversation:
“The tenure system provides lifetime guarantees of employment for faculty members. The purpose is to protect academic freedom – a fundamental value in higher education that allows scholars to explore controversial topics in their research and teaching without fear of being fired…It also ensures that faculty can voice their opinions with university administration and ensure that academic values are protected, particularly from the increasingly corporate ideals invading higher education institutions.”
Tenure provides professors, through time and hard work, an opportunity for professors to grow as community members as they become more familiar with the Hiram community. Further, tenure provides professors space for professional growth through the continuity of research. We should show our commitment to supporting the continuous personal and professional growth of community members through providing security and space for professional growth through the continuation of the tenure program.
What is the meaning of liberal arts? Liberal arts is about teaching students how to think, not what to think through interdisciplinary engagement with a variety of disciplines– both sciences and humanities. By teaching students how to think, graduating scholars are prepared to use critical thinking skills to make society better. By reducing faculty, there is the potential for single-professor departments to become non-existent. This threatens humanities departments in particular, who are typically in smaller numbers, and therefore, undermines the mission of liberal arts. President Varlotta and her administration’s decision to cut nearly 20%* of the faculty at Hiram undermines Hiram College’s mission as a liberal arts college. To cut these faculty members is to dishonor our tradition in the liberal arts and its profound relevance to society.
In the FAQ section of Hiram’s website, there lies a question that asks, “What are the liberal arts’?” The answer reads as s:
“The short answer is—liberal arts are the disciplines which develop students’ problem-solving and critical thinking skills. They equip you intellectually to succeed in any career field, whereas a professional program equips you to succeed in one specific career field.
The longer answer is that colleges of liberal arts and sciences are among the country’s oldest institutions of higher education and are distinctive to American tertiary education. Liberal arts degrees are university degrees—equivalent in every way for employment and entrance into graduate and professional schools.
Hiram’s education doesn’t teach you what to think, it teaches you how to think. It’s not just theoretical and philosophical, but practical. It connects you directly to the real world and teaches students how to work, how to find work, and how to succeed at work.”
Finally, at its heart, Hiram seeks to value the student. To honor Hiram’s commitment to its students, President Varlotta and her administration should listen to the demands of the students that have formed as the #NotMyHiram movement.
*[May 15, 2018 Comment: This percentage my no longer reflect the changes now publicly announced by Hiram College. It is currently unknown how many tenured faculty will actually be leaving the school. While Hiram indicates that four tenure and tenure-track professors are recommended by the administration to be cut, there are more tenure and tenure-track professors who will be leaving because it is in their best interest to step away from being further damaged by the Hiram administrative agenda.]