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Black Studies Minor, Honors College and Consolidation

*Editor’s note: BUnow is publishing the following letter received from Dr. Julie Vandivere, former director of the Honors College at Bloomsburg University. She is currently a professor of English at BU. In the letter, she outlines her reasoning for stepping down and examines what she sees as fundamental problems in the administration’s handling of the Black Studies Minor, Honors College and PASSHE integration.

Dear Colleagues:

Many of you know that I recently stepped down as director of the Honors College. I made clear to the president and provost that I was doing so because they refused to support the program and the students. Listening to the discussion of the minor in Black Studies has been like experiencing my last year anew. 

When the provost and president do not support the Honor College or the Black Studies Minor with classes and faculty, they refuse to recognize the needs of all students and especially economically challenged and diverse students. In recent years, the Honors College worked with ACT 101, BOG, admissions and a bevy of unbelievable faculty, many of whom were also connected to Frederick Douglass, social justice and ACT 101. Because of the joint effort, we were able to provide funding and a safe and supportive environment for a very diverse group of students. The Honors College grew from 80 students to 450. More importantly, it moved the needle on diversity —  from 0 percent diversity to 20 percent.  In addition, we created an early-access program that brought more than a hundred diverse, high-achieving students into Honors College classes each year.

It was a joy to work with the faculty and administrators who saw and who loved students and were committed to social equity.  In contrast, the present president and provost indicate no awareness of or interest in learning the components necessary for a successful and diverse Honors College that is built on NCHC standards. They removed courses, personnel, and faculty and took scholarship money designated for students (because someone, somewhere had overspent their Foundation money by $60,000).  Most egregiously, they emptied the Honors College of personnel, scholarships and classes while touting a new building addition that would cost millions of dollars. 

Thank goodness for Ralph Godbolt who understood the need and helped those students whose scholarship money had been taken.  He can see and care for students in a way our president and provost do not, and he helped provide funding.   

The administration has chosen, as its only priority, to take on, without complaint or pushback, the impossible financial weight of two other universities. I am including a printout that shows that Mansfield and Lock Haven provide scholarships for an incredibly high portion of their student body – almost their entire first-year classes. This is just one area of the financial cost that Bloomsburg students must now bear in this shotgun wedding of unequal partners. When we strip-mine our university of scholarships, secretaries, faculty, majors, minors and programs, Bloomsburg students ARE abandoned. 

For example, why would the president and provost move the ACT 101 directorship to Lock Haven when 90 percent of ACT  101 students are here and are energized by the leadership?   Why would they move the Honors deanship to Mansfield when Mansfield has 35 Honors students and we have 400?  Bloomsburg students are abandoned by the corporatization that sees education as a way to resource the unsustainable. 

The union’s obligation is to protect faculty at all universities equally. I am a union supporter, but that obligation means that – by definition – the union will protect the faculty at Lock Haven and Mansfield before it protects Bloomsburg students.

Who then, will watch out for students? And who, other than full professors like Safa Saracoglu, Wendy Lee, George Agbango, Nancy Gentile Ford and myself are safe enough to speak out that our students are being short-changed?  The faculty who taught for Honors or who were on the advisory board call and say they are so thankful for the voices who speak up when they are too vulnerable to do so.  They, quite frankly, have pushed me to speak up. 

While the president and provost claim to care about students, my experience is that they care for metrics. We are all just checker pieces occupying positions that can be moved around the state. 

What is missing in the administration’s checkerboard approach is the knowledge that teaching is about relationships, and it’s about love. In the goodness of faculty and some administrators here, I have seen what amazing things can happen when we count on relationships and love to build minds, characters and citizens.  Working in the Honors College, teaching as a team among such good and committed people, has been [the] best experience of my professional life.  Working with this administration as it simultaneously aggregates power and denies doing so has been my worst experience.  

Before this ill-conceived rush to administrative power,  there was a decrease in enrollment. However, thanks to good financial planning,  we were able to provide a full and strong education for our students, and we had the ability to chart a path in the future to do so. We, with West Chester and Slippery Rock, were the three most financially stable campuses. 

West Chester pushed back against PASSHE’s requests. Slippery Rock was not absorbed with financially unstable universities. 

But our president and provost are consolidating resources without complaint or push back, despite the damage it does to Bloomsburg students. I hear the love and commitment our faculty have to the students of Bloomsburg. Even if political forces are bent on destroying an education that resources history, social justice, social sciences, critical thinking and the humanities, and our administrators will be the gracious handmaidens of the destruction, we have an obligation to ourselves and our students to say that we, like they,  see the damage.  

One last point: It is not lost on me that the people who have spoken out and the people who have come to me are men of color, women and queers.  We know what a future without informed critical thinking and a sense of history would look like.  Because of that, we speak up. 

Julie Vandivere