By Jada Butler
Long Island University President Kimberly R. Cline’s contract was extended an additional six years, until Dec. 2023. The Board of Trustees announced the contract extension to the campus community by email on Thursday, Nov. 16. Eric Krasnoff, Chair of the Board of Trustees, wrote that President Cline’s contract was extended due to her “outstanding accomplishments” since her hire in July 2013.
As the 10th President of LIU, Cline has helped to improve the university “academically, financially, and in the involvement with the communities we serve,” Krasnoff wrote in the email. Since Cline’s start, the university’s endowment has reached $200 million, she has secured over $100 million in scholarships, and has implemented a number of programs to “move the university forward,” he added.
But just how did she do it?
“Success is derived from strategy,” Cline said in an interview with The Pioneer on Nov. 22, elaborating on the “Strategic Plan,” a collaborative plan focused on academic excellence, a secure and sustainable financial position, an expanded culture of community engagement, a vibrant and distinctive student experience, and recognition as a “best value” institution by 2020.
Several of these goals outlined in the Strategic Plan have already been met, Cline said. New programs such as international relations and diplomacy, sports management, and nursing complete with the new simulation lab, have been successful in the short time they have been implemented, she said. Students are able to experience a “robust student life” with events across the university, at Tilles Center for Performing Arts, and with the Global Institute that expand their perspectives and invite them to think on higher levels; and the university has secured a stable financial footing, she added.
Yet students and faculty have raised concerns.
The Faculty Council, composed of LIU faculty members, sent a four page letter to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) on June 28, which provided an overview of “violations of accreditation standards, shared governance, questionable financial operations, and mismanagement of student support services.” The Faculty Council followed up its initial letter four months later with a 284 page report detailing the charges against the administration and Board of Trustees. The larger document, created by Faculty Council President and English Professor John Lutz and several other members of the Faculty Council, was filled with supporting documentation for NYSED.
“These issues are a sign of a breakdown in the communication process,” Lutz said. Many faculty are feeling that the “shared governance,” which is a collaboration between faculty and the administration to best serve the education of students, within the university is beginning to crumble. “Faculty don’t feel like their collaboration is meaningful [to the administration] in a lot of areas,” he said. “Faculty interact with students every day, we have a point of view on what students need and it hasn’t been considered.”
Yet, Cline stated, “I am an over-communicator,” despite faculty complaints about a lack of transparency. “I want to make sure that people do feel that they know what is going on and that they feel comfortable with it.” At senior administration meetings, Cline has begun to include the new deans in the conversation, and the idea is that they in turn will communicate to the department chairs, and then the chairs to the faculty and so on.
“There are conversations going on all the time, yet conveying an adequate point of view is difficult,” Lutz said, expressing faculty frustration.
“Our faculty is deeply committed to providing students the transformative liberal arts education that [our] mission statement celebrates,” Willie Hiatt, associate professor of Latin American history, said.
“However, we continue to have deep concerns about university leadership and how it is affecting our financial and intellectual vitality.”
Among the many issues brought up within the document submitted by the faculty to the state education department, there have been several violations that jeopardize accreditation in key programs, according to Hiatt. Majors, programs, and support have been cut without consulting the faculty. Staffing deflects and a lack of institutional support in areas such as LIU Promise mean that the university is failing in its commitment to student success and degree completion, faculty members state.
President Cline did not respond about the allegations in the NYSED document specifically, yet on the topic of LIU Promise, and in light of the editorial written by the Pioneer’s Editor in Chief on Nov. 1 about her experience with her success coaches,“Switching to 120 Credits: My Nightmare,” Cline admitted that the LIU Promise office is in transition. “When I first brought this promise program, the first year I was very engaged in it. At some point it started to pivot from its birth.” Cline said she is beginning to work with Promise again, in order to return it to an area of continuous outreach and engagement. “We [would like] to have [coaches] individually tailored to the student,” she said. “It’s not always going to be perfect.”
In regard to the cutting of majors and programs, Cline said the programs that were eliminated were “undersubscribed” with “zero- to-two” students occasionally. “It’s unconscionable to try and teach someone by themselves in those programs,” she said.
Enrollments over the past four years have been “struggling,” according to both Lutz and Hiatt. “We’ve had declining enrollments,” Lutz said. “This fall, the incoming class enrollments went up [from 500 to 701], but transfers and graduation numbers went down.” Hiatt added, “The administration has failed to solve LIU’s enrollment crisis and has not sustained the level of fundraising necessary to provide students the scholarships and support services they deserve and desperately need.”
Cline disagrees. The university has secured over $100 million in scholarships, and that does not include the scholarships from various donors such as the Sanford scholarship or the Winnick scholarship, she said. She has also convinced the Board to keep tuition increases at 2 percent until 2020 to keep tuition affordable. “The goal is for 100 percent graduation rate – a little unusual, I know, but when you have students that are passionate about the university, and really want to be at LIU, we want to be there to see them through.”
Hiatt believes that the timing of Mr. Krasnoff’s decision to extend President Cline’s contract appeared “premature at best” since the board has yet to acknowledge, address, and hold the administration accountable for these failings or to do anything to fix these problems raised by faculty. Both Cline and Lutz have confirmed that an ad hoc committee of the board received the faculty document sent to NYSED a week and a half ago, and has agreed to meet with faculty and speak about the concerns addressed in the document once they complete a review. A meeting date has not yet been determined.
“There are many hardworking, talented faculty, administrators, and staff at Post, and we’re all dedicated to improving the experience of students and preparing them for flourishing personal and professional lives,” Lutz said. “Faculty and administration sometimes have differing points of view about how to do this, but students should trust that we will work out these differences to provide them with a meaningful education.”