Nearly 90 percent of the faculty of Manhattan College that took part in a plebiscite last week cast votes of no confidence in President Milo Riverso. The results of the vote, which included 70 percent of the faculty, and documentation explaining the reasoning behind it, were forwarded to the school’s board of trustees and Riverso.
The explanation included the administration’s termination of faculty, for the stated reason of financial distress, while failing to provide tenured employees with proper notice and severance, as spelled out in the faculty handbook.
Additionally, the faculty cited the administration’s elimination of several majors and minors, including religious studies, ethics, critical race and ethnicity studies, women and gender studies, urban studies, philosophy, and all languages except Spanish and English. All of these decisions were made without faculty input or consideration, according to the faculty’s letter.
Despite the fact that these changes have already been made internally, the college’s online course catalog for 2024-25 does not mention the eliminated programs. Some believe that could mislead future students as they decide whether to attend the college next year.
The terminations do not comply with the American Association of University Professors’ definition of tenure, the document further states.
Overall, the perceived lack of transparency and collaboration on the part of the administration is described by the faculty as “the antithesis of shared governance.” The professors’ letter also states that the college had made a sudden shift from last in, first out protocol, and that threat “was used to coerce 23 mostly less senior faculty to take voluntary separation packages.”
Manhattan College officials could not be reached for comment.
On Jan. 12, it took administrators all of seven minutes to terminate Marlene Gottlieb from her job of 15 years. Gottlieb, 78, was a professor of Spanish with a specialization in contemporary Latin American poetry.
Terminated faculty were given the option to remain for the semester and receive 17 weeks’ pay, or leave immediately and receive 10 weeks’ pay or one week’s pay for every year worked. Spring semester classes began on Jan. 16, giving faculty little notice before they welcomed back students.
“It’s shocking to suddenly find that your whole professional life is just cut in that fashion,” Gottlieb said. She described the handling of the situation as “inhumane.”
She has been on sabbatical this year, and despite being aware of campus turmoil, when she received the email from the provost requesting her presence at a meeting, she thought little of it. She joined the meeting on Zoom, and was fired by way of a video call.
According to Gottlieb, the college’s chief financial officer, James Perrino, said that the school had a $14 million deficit. No data confirming that claim has been provided to the faculty, despite their numerous requests.
After her termination, Gottlieb received an email containing its terms and conditions. It included her agreement to give up her tenure voluntarily.
“It didn’t feel very voluntary to me,” she said.
Gottlieb has decided that this will most likely lead her to retire, but she isn’t sure what might come next. Her initial plan was to return from her sabbatical and teach for another year or two before ending her career.
“I love teaching — I enjoy working with my students,” she said. “I think my students enjoy working with me. I always knew I wanted to work with other people who were interested and wanted to learn something that we could share.”
More than 60 faculty members have been terminated since last June — about 25 percent of the 225-member faculty. They included Jordan Pascoe, a professor of philosophy who taught at the school for 12 years, and Jeff Horn, a professor of history for 23 years. When given his options, Horn chose to stay through the spring semester.
“I would feel extremely uncomfortable leaving the students in (the) lurch,” he said of departing before the end of the academic year.
“Horn teaches the senior seminar, and felt it was ethical to tell his senior students about the decision. They reacted strongly, he said: “Their reaction was anger and disappointment in the institution, and disbelief.”
Horn, too, is disappointed in the college’s decision-making, because administrators waited so long to inform the faculty members who were being terminated. “There is no chance that I will be able to continue the profession that I have followed for the last 31 years, and the life that I have loved,” he said.
He continued, “I am disappointed that they chose to go about their process in such a way that those who are being let go have no possibility whatsoever of continuing their careers. Looking for a new career at the age of 58 is not for the faint of heart.”
Gottlieb shared Horn’s sentiments, saying that the college “fired many senior professors, and it’s really not easy to get a job when you’re 58, 68 years old.”
Horn said that his favorite course was one he developed in 2019, on the Industrial Revolution, because of how excited the students were.
“The students engaged so deeply with the material and with each other that you could almost see them thinking differently from day to day,” he said, “and that’s always a joy.”
The college’s history department is now down to three professors, after starting with six last fall.
“This was the type of teaching environment that you always dream about,” Horn said.
“Very frequently we would get a group that would engage, they were eager to learn, they were willing to do the work, and if you were really, really lucky, they might even laugh at your jokes.”
Horn quipped that, as a father, he’s used to hearing “crickets” after his jokes, and thoroughly enjoyed when his students enjoyed what he had to say.
Lately, however, Horn said, the atmosphere at the college has changed, and students whisper.
“I love Manhattan College,” Gottlieb said. “It’s a wonderful place, but I fear that it’s going to change, and I feel very bad that it is changing in that way.”
As of Monday, a GoFundMe page collecting contributions to back the faculty in a lawsuit had raised $27,861 of its goal of $35,000.