Dr. Pascucci terminated along with Spanish major

By Meredith Sexton and Ashley Coker
Triangle Editors

In their October meeting, the Board of Trustees voted to cut the Spanish major and subsequently eliminate Professor of Spanish Dr. Michele Pascucci’s position.

These decisions were made on the grounds that there is only one student enrolled in the major this year. The decision to terminate Pascucci came immediately after her promotion from associate professor of Spanish to full professor of Spanish, which was established in the same meeting.

The board determined to cut the Spanish major at the recommendation of Interim Vice President of Academics Dr. Kevin Clauson. From 2009-12, the major averaged about 13 students. The number dropped to five in 2013 and to one this year. Clauson suggested the cut due to “extremely low enrollment.”

Though a tenured professor, Pascucci’s contract will not be renewed for the 2015-16 year. In her letter of termination, Clauson cited a section in the Faculty-Administrative Guide explaining the circumstances under which a tenured faculty member may be terminated. In this case, Clauson presented, “substantive change in the curriculum for cause,” for terminating her tenure effective July 30.

Pascucci in last final of semester / Photo by Meredith Sexton
Pascucci in last final of semester / Photo by Meredith Sexton

In response to this, Pascucci pointed out that, while cutting the major is a big decision, it does not constitute a substantive change. Next semester nine out of the 10 Spanish courses offered only fulfill general education requirements.

Clauson said that, even though the major is being cut, students can still choose to take Spanish courses to complete the two or four semesters of modern language required for their degrees.

Elimination of the major does not actually result in a substantial reduction in courses, according to Pascucci. She said the department has consistently provided a full workload for two full-time professors and one adjunct.

At the same meeting that her position was terminated, Pascucci was promoted to full professor for the remainder of her time at Bryan. The new title includes a slight pay raise. She was up for promotion last year and submitted her portfolio, recommendations and evaluations, and completed her interview in accordance with the process for promotion explained in the Faculty-Administrative Guide.

This promotion indicates approval by peers, the administration and the board, in spite of her program being cut, according to the guide.

Pascucci has been teaching at Bryan since 2003, longer than any other professor teaching Spanish, and is the only one who has earned tenure. Chair of the Foreign Language Department Dr. Dwight Page joined the college in 2008, five years after Pascucci, and is not tenured. Spanish Adjunct Lindsay Hackman began teaching at the college last year.

“Dr. Pascucci’s termination is disconcerting because tenure and seniority should take precedence,” said Chair of the Faculty Dr. Clark Rose. “However, it should not be an either/or situation. There is enough demand for the core curriculum classes to maintain two full-time professors.”

Pascucci was notified of the October decision on Dec. 3, the same day as Page and Dr. Ray Legg, chair of the Division of Literature and Modern Languages, were informed by Clauson.

Rose received an email from Clauson as well. Pascucci then sent an email to Rose and Vice Chair of the Faculty Dr. Phil Lestmann to inform them about the change.

Clauson notified the rest of the faculty at their final faculty meeting of the semester on Friday, Dec. 5. He did not mention Pascucci when he presented the information.

Rose said many faculty members are upset that Pascucci was not notified about the recommendation that the Spanish major be cut, and her position subsequently terminated, before it was made.

Lestmann said that the faculty felt “blindsided and stunned” when they heard. Some, he said, felt that the way it was handled was not biblical and most were shocked that there was no prior consultation.

Additionally, he said there seemed to be a disconnect between faculty members who felt that it was not handled well and Clauson insisting that it happened because they had to be sensitive to budgets.

“This pattern of cutting back and cutting back over and over does not inspire confidence in the college’s financial situation,” Lestmann said.

“You can either face adversity as a team or go into a closed room and make decisions for everyone else, then tell them about it,” he added.

Near the end of the meeting, when faculty members were expressing that they wished it had not been such an inside decision, Clauson said he was not sure it would have made any difference even if the decision-making process was handled differently.

“It would have made all of the difference,” Lestmann said. Frustrated, he left the meeting.

According to Lestmann, the Faculty Leadership Committee does intend to formally respond to the situation. The committee consists of Rose, Lestmann, Secretary Dr. Adina Scruggs, David Perron, Brad Gatlin and Dr. Peter Held.

“We will follow the appropriate process to support our colleague and hopefully have this decision reversed,” Rose said.

Clauson said that it was sad that the major was being cut, but would not affect Bryan’s standing with its peers. The single major in the program, junior Andrew Smith, will be able to graduate with his degree and provisions are being considered for the three current minors in the program.

He said the decision was, “purely financial, but that is not to say that the college is in financial trouble. We just have to be conscious of the budget we commit to majors that are no longer viable.”

Clauson declined to comment on personnel issues or faculty reaction.

Pascucci does not yet have a plan for after next semester. If she had been notified at least four weeks ago, the academic hiring cycle would have been at the right point to offer adequate openings, but now the chances are slim, she said.

In the faculty meeting, Clauson said that there were currently no other programs under scrutiny, but that did not necessarily mean that there would not be in the future.

Dr. Pascucci issued an official statement to Triangle. It is as follows:

“I completely respect the authority of the Board of Trustees and the Administration to make this decision, and I realize that they must consider many, many factors and often make difficult choices as they try to look out for the best interests of the College. However, all considerations for how this affects me personally aside, I am deeply saddened and disappointed by the decision to eliminate the Spanish major, because it seems to run contrary to the core values of a Christian liberal arts education and the College’s mission of “Educating students to become servants of Christ to make a difference in today’s world.” Today’s world is much, much larger than just the English-speaking world, and colleges like Bryan should be doing everything they can to try to strengthen their foreign-language programs rather than dismantling them.”