UNION COUNTY — Kean University abruptly canceled 500 classes, and then reinstated 130, leaving students and professors scrambling to figure out what to do before the term begins next week.
The class cancelations are not only an 11th-hour hitch that complicates the spring semester, but also could result in some Kean students not being able to graduate on time.
But while some speculated the move could be the result of low enrollment numbers, others maintained the massive cancelations were merely the result of poor management on the part of the university.
It all started Jan. 4 when Kean University Local 6024 Adjunct Federation of Teachers President Kathleen Henderson heard there had been “massive course cancelations,” by Kean Academic Affairs Associate Vice-Chairman Katerina Andriotis. Without consultation with the deans of each college and no advance notice to department heads or unions, such a move was alarming.
Even more confusing, said Henderson, was departmental chairs were told students could re-register for the canceled courses after Jan. 11. “The same courses they registered for the first week in November,” said the perplexed AFT president in an email to Kean Executive Vice President Philip Connelly Jan. 8.
Henderson said none of the more than 1,000 adjunct professors know if they are teaching the spring semester or not.
“Many of us still have not gotten our contracts and those that did had their courses cancelled last week,” Henderson told Connelly in an email.
According to the AFT president, because so many classes were canceled, only 37 adjunct professors out of the 1,128 that taught during the fall semester received “letters of intention” that they would be hired for the spring semester.
Henderson said there has been no communication with Kean administration and in fact, has not met with some administration officials for more than a year and a half.
“It’s bad enough that the adjunct faculty is being left in the dark, but now our 16,500 plus students are coming back to complete chaos next week,” the AFT president told Connelly, adding that many of these students will not be able to graduate because of the latest move by the university.
Henderson became so frustrated, she emailed the entire Kean Board of Trustees to inform them about the situation.
“That Kean can afford to cancel 30 sections of fine arts, dozens of sections each of psychology, music, math and english is telling the world outside that Kean is not the place to go if they want a world class education,” she said.
The AFT president made it clear in her letter to the board that Andriotis, in this position for less than a year, “has been on bulldozer mode ever since her arrival, making up rules as she goes along.”
Henderson told the board the only ones hurt by these class cancelations are students, many who planned on graduating in May and now will not be able to do.
“One of Kean’s Strategic Plan goals was to increase graduation rates within four years. Well this is not the way to do it. If students cannot get their classes, they simply cannot graduate,” she told the board.
The AFT president told the board that Kean is trying to restore its reputation “after last year’s embarrassments,” noting that Andriotis “comes in and destroys the reputations of entire colleges and schools at Kean.”
The university, which boasts more than 16,000 students, did not return repeated calls for an explanation regarding class cancelations. Contacted was Matthew Caruso, Director of Media Relations, Jeffrey Toney, Vice President of Academics Affairs and Katerina Andriotis, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs. Repeated emails and phone calls were not returned.
Monday James Castiglione, President of the Kean Federation of Teachers, and a tenured professor of psychology at the university, was deeply concerned about the cancelations, especially since there has been no explanation for the move.
“The administration has not produced any rationale for this, but what we are hearing is that revenue from the state may have been cut,” he said, pointing out that because Gov. Chris Christie’s appropriations for the state budget are falling short, he slashed state aid to state colleges and universities.
But, the KFT President admitted spring enrollment at the Kean Ocean County campus was down from 1,600 students last year to 900 for the 2013 spring semester. While he did admit super storm Sandy could have had an impact on this number since the shore area was hit particularly hard and is still in recovery, Castiglione said the Union campus should not be affected.
However, he did feel the cancelations reflected a problem that needed to be addressed.
“When they canceled 500 classes and then immediately restored 130, that gives the appearance administration doesn’t know what it’s doing,” he said.
More importantly, Castiglione said the cancelation of highly specialized classes, or “sections” of classes, put students close to graduation in a difficult position.
“In many cases these classes are required to graduate,” he said, adding that “students are livid.”
“They have been deluging department heads and professors with emails, demanding to know what is going on,” Castiglione said.
The KFT president said that in the long run, students could even lose financial aid if they are unable to take certain classes.
“You have to be a full-time student in order to qualify for student aid and if a student can’t take the required classes, they become a part-time student,” he added.
Castiglione said that although he contacted the academic affairs department, hoping to speak with Toney, he never did receive a call back.
The KFT president explained that there was growing concern among both full-time and tenured staff when so many classes were canceled at once.
“The problem here is that most students wait to register for classes because they can’t afford to pay until the last minute,” the professor said, explaining that had the university waited, a large number of those classes would have filled up this week.”
“We’re not Rutgers or Princeton,” Castiglione added.