‘Tough time for everyone.’ Instructors left insecure by sudden cuts

At the final Faculty Senate meeting of the semester on Dec. 12, 2019, several actions regarding funding for academics were passed. 

Lily Burris and Jack Dobbs

Throughout the week, at least five WKU instructors received letters notifying them that their positions were eliminated starting June 30, 2020. The number of students enrolled in classes taught by the instructors in the Fall 2019 semester totals 514, and 458 in the Spring 2020 semester. 

In the final Faculty Senate meeting of the semester, senators passed a resolution asking the WKU administration to rescind the layoffs before the Dec. 15 deadline, citing previous cuts to academics and general feelings of insecurity for employees. 

Scott Dobler, Geography and GIS Instructor II, received a letter notifying him that his position would be eliminated after teaching at WKU for 20 years. In that time, he said he has taught about 19 separate classes in different subjects. 

This semester alone, Dobler taught about 138 students, which he said is a common number. 

Outside his own subject, Dobler said he works with other departments like the agriculture department to teach students about using data in the field or the department of sociology on crime mapping.

“I don’t just teach within my specific content, I can actually work with a number of different departments when it comes to visualizing data.”

Dobler said he was also surprised by the cuts because of his various credentials in the STEM field, which he said has been a focus in the state. 

As a professional geographer, Dobler said he does several additional things within the state outside of teaching at WKU. In 2006, he was appointed by then Gov. Ernie Fletcher as State Geographer for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, represented WKU this year as a geographer for the development of social studies standards for K-12 curriculum and is currently the Kentucky Geography Steward for National Geographic. 

“I do a lot of things besides teach in my classroom,” Dobler said. “I am a professional geographer and it just blows me away that this would come.”

Dobler went through an instructor rank change, meaning he is a more senior instructor in his department. Despite there being Instructor I’s in the department, he was selected to be let go. 

Before receiving the letter, Dobler said there were no clear signs he would be leaving, and through the letter there was no clear or formal explanation. Above all, Dobler said he’s concerned and upset about the apparent lack of effective communication and transparency on these matters between the administration and faculty. 

“I am not interested in whining, I’m just saying there needs to be transparency and the process does not seem to be, I’m suspect of the process,” Dobler said. “I knew that cuts were taking place, I knew that things were slowing down, but it’s the decision making process that was not shared with me.” 

This is a sentiment shared through the university. Dobler said because of the lack of communication, WKU is risking a loss of institutional memory as more experienced faculty and administrators are let go or seek other, more secure jobs. 

“It’s a real tough time for everyone,” Dobler said. “Nobody knows.” 

Tonja Miick, a math instructor, also received a letter. Miick taught 106 students during the Fall 2019 semester and is expected to teach around 116 students in the Spring 2020 semester.

“Working at WKU as an instructor is my dream job,” Miick said in the December Faculty Senate meeting. 

Miick received an email letting her know her position in the mathematics department was being terminated nine days after her 35th birthday and 22 days before Christmas. She said she was devastated. Miick came to WKU in 2003 and “never wanted to leave.”

In her statement to the Faculty Senate, Miick spoke of her love for Bowling Green, WKU, the subjects she teaches, her students and her department head.

“This has never been temporary jobs for me,” Miick said. “This what I wanted to do until I retire, and I’ve done my very best to do it well.”

Miick said she hopes WKU rescinds the termination. She said she understood she was the one to be let go because she was the last one hired in a budgeted position in her department.

“That gives me hope that if the funding was present, I would be rehired,” Miick said.

She said she wasn’t certain what to do next because looking for another job and then getting her job offered back would put her in an awkward place with other employers, but she can’t hold out on hope her forever.

“The idea that I lost my job because enrollment in our classes has declined too much declining in a fallacy,” Miick said.

Miick said she didn’t understand the funding of the instructor positions, but she did understand how many students she taught. She said she taught the foundations courses that all students take and there was no way enrollment was so far down that the credit hours she was producing needed to go.

“I will say that I personally believe that instructors are the backbone of this institution, providing the foundation that is needed for students to succeed as they move up into the more intricate focus of the classes in their chosen discipline,” Miick said.

Miick said she knew WKU was focused on “right-sizing” but didn’t understand how cutting educators right-sized a school. Even so, Miick said she is appreciative of the support she has gotten from her colleagues.

“So what do I do now?” Miick said.

News reporter Lily Burris can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @lily_burris. 

News reporter Jack Dobbs can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @jackrdobbs.

Editor-in-Chief Rebekah Alvey contributed to this story. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @bekah_alvey.