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Lesley University is laying off faculty as the private Massachusetts institution phases out four academic programs. 

The university said this month it is axing degrees in political science, sociology, global studies and graduate-level photography as it confronts financial troubles — reportedly a $10 million budget deficit, as of early 2023. 

Officials said the university needed to reduce faculty numbers as part of the consolidation. Although the institution has not publicly disclosed the scope of the layoffs, a petition against the cuts from a former Lesley professor indicated at least 30 faculty members were being sacked.

The cuts come on the heels of the university bleeding enrollment, which officials said contributed to the financial distress. The university’s president, Janet Steinmayer, has also faced two no confidence votes since 2021, being castigated by faculty for taking a massive raise amid the problems.

A university spokesperson did not provide a comment by publication Tuesday.

Enrollment woes

Lesley has endured the same enrollment troubles plaguing a wide swath of colleges, issues often attributable to factors like the COVID-19 pandemic and a dwindling number of high school graduates. Employee and programming cuts have arisen recently at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Dickinson State University and West Virginia University.

At Lesley, located near Boston, headcounts fell from 5,994 students in fall 2012 to 3,406 in fall 2022, representing a roughly 43% decline, according to federal data.

The university had been turning a corner until last fall, Steinmayer and Interim Provost Deanna Yameen wrote in an email announcing the cuts to campus earlier this month. It had been working to bridge a preexisting budget gap and had been returning to pre-pandemic enrollment numbers, they wrote.

The sharp enrollment downturn — from 4,010 students in fall 2021 to 3,400 or so the next year — prompted the university to examine its slate of academics. 

Lesley University’s enrollment has dropped over the past decade

Fall enrollment by year

“Our complex offering of 77 programs, frequently without the sharing of common courses, is difficult for students to navigate and for the university to sustain,” the administrators wrote. 

University officials identified programs with low enrollment “and those not core to Lesley,” the duo wrote. And though a painful decision, the university said it would shed four of them over time.

Those programs enroll 51 students, who will all be able to finish their degrees, officials said, noting the cuts would only affect 2% of the student body.

With the austerity moves came layoffs, they wrote in their email, which did not state how many faculty the university would look to drop. The administrators wrote the university had identified alternative jobs for some affected faculty and that many would have a year’s notice before losing their jobs.

The email did not share how much the cutbacks would save the university. 

“We know these changes are hard and difficult for our affected faculty, and for those who remain,” they wrote. “Please be assured that these decisions did not come easily, quickly, without deep concern for our employees and students, or without significant effort to make changes in other ways.”

Despite this missive, students and faculty alike have come out against the cuts, with a few dozen formally protesting them earlier this month.

Presidential problems

As the university has struggled with its finances, faculty have clashed with Steinmayer, who arrived at Lesley in 2019. 

She first faced a no-confidence vote in December 2021, when faculty representatives alleged she gave a tepid response to students who protested spoiled dining hall food and campus housing lacking heat and other basic amenities.

The second vote came earlier this year, when faculty members also condemned the trustee board. They said the leadership had not accounted for the faculty voice in strategic planning and that faculty were concerned about the university’s financial direction. 

Faculty have zeroed in on Steinmayer’s salary jumping from $257,642 in 2020 to $535,271 in 2022, “despite enrollment drops and massive budget cuts,” the petition against the faculty reductions states.

That petition attracted more than 1,700 signatures as of Monday afternoon. It also alleges faculty have been pushed out of the process of revising the university’s academics.

“We demand Lesley University to stop this draconian attack against Liberal Arts education and treat faculty members with dignity and respect,” the petition states.