Like many universities across the country, St. John’s has been affected by the current economic recession.
According to multiple department chairs, the University has put an indefinite hold on the hiring of new faculty members.
“We made no hires last semester and we have none for this semester,” said Stephen Sicari, chair of the English department in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We’re hardly the only department not hiring, but this is the first time we haven’t had a new hire since 1996 or ’97.”
In a conversation last week with the Torch, Dr. Julia Upton, university provost, said, there is “currently no hiring freeze,” but that new hires must go through more filters now than in the past.
“If a department wants to hire a new person, it goes through an extra level of review,” she said. “So, for example, instead of a dean approving a hire, it’ll be the dean and the provost approving the hire.”
Although faculty members have noted there has been no formal announcement declaring a University-wide hiring freeze to date, many say new hires have been scarce within St. John’s since the fall.
“I asked for some new faculty and it was originally approved during the fall, but then I was told that my request was put on hold, not that they were canceled, just put on hold,” said Professor Joseph Trumino, Social Sciences chair for the College of Professional Studies.
Other departments have had similar experiences.
“We were told that hiring will be limited and based on need,” said Professor Luba Racanska, Government and Politics department chair for St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“So [my department hasn’t] done any new hiring this year, but I’m sure there are some departments where a position was vacated because someone retired and they needed to be replaced and they were granted that replacement.”
Along with the hold on hires, some departments have had to contribute funds from their budget towards student financial aid.
Upton also confirmed these details last week.
“We have asked the departments to go through their budgets and return funds that are not essential so we can use them for aid to students,” she said. “For example, if a department prints a five-page newsletter every semester, maybe they can print a three-page newsletter.”
It seems St. John’s College has been affected the most.
Sicari said the English department had to give up around $3,000.
“I was able to find some money in our travel budget and returned those funds,” he said.
“There have been little things here and there that we have cut back on, like maybe we won’t have catering for every event, but we haven’t had to make any significant cuts as of yet.”
Racanska said her department had to give 10 percent of their budget.
“We’ve had to curtail travel expenses that were deemed unnecessary, like to conferences that are substantially far out of the area, and to curtail any spending that was not student oriented,” she said.
However, other department chairs said they have not had to cut much, if anything.
In fact, Professor Anthony Missere, chair of the department of Hospitality, Tourism, and Sport Management, said things have been operating like “business as usual”.
“We’ve had to cancel a few classes, but that was due to a low number of students registering,” he said. “But for the most part, we aren’t doing anything differently here than from last spring.”
Missere added that his department has also had to hold off on new hires and offered his own theory on why his budget has remained relatively the same.
“We haven’t had to cut anything probably because we have nothing to cut,” he said. “We haven’t been living large here.”
Trumino said another method he has noticed St. John’s implementing in an effort to cut costs is to “not allow professors to overload the number of courses they teach each semester.”
“Each professor who works full-time is allowed to teach up to four courses per semester. Now let’s say a professor goes on to teach a fifth course, because another professor is unable to teach the course and they step up to take over, then they have to be paid overtime,” he said. “For a full-time professor that would be about 1/12 of their salary, maybe $6,000-7,000.
So instead of having a full-time professor take an extra course, they’ll permit a part-time professor to take it and they are paid at a set amount, up to $3,000.
“It makes sense, it saves the University money and with this economy, everyone has to save.”
Sicari said he believes next semester will be a very telling sign as to whether things take a turn for the better, or worse.
“I think people are waiting for what next year is going to look like,” he said. “A lot is going to depend on what enrollment is going to look like next year. Even if enrollment is steady but we have an increase in students who need more financial aid, that money has to come from somewhere.”
“A lot depends on how deep this recession goes, too” he said. “But I have every confidence that the University will return to the growth they are accustomed to, if things get better.”