In Defense of Saint Martin’s University’s Liberal Arts Faculty and Program

Image: Wikipedia.

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?

The books are filled with names of kings.

Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?

–Bertolt Brecht

Four weeks ago, Saint Martin’s University sent me and thirteen other faculty notices of “non-renewal of faculty appointment for 2025-2026 Academic Year Termination of Faculty Appointment Without Prejudice.” Revised contracts accompanied these termination notices, notifying us that next year would be our last. The fourteen of us teach in the liberal arts and literacy programs; with terminal contracts sent to almost the entire English Department, all of history, communication studies, political science, sociology and anthropology, French, gender and identity studies, and the only non-Catholic professor in religious studies. Many of us teach in small programs with few majors, but we teach large numbers of students in our core general education program–which is what we were hired to do. We represent over half of our liberal arts faculty, and the university apparently plans to replace some of the classes we now teach with prepacked generic online courses from a third-party vendor based in Texas. We, the 14 terminated faculty now await the outcome of an appeal we have filed.

I have taught at Saint Martin’s for thirty years. It has always been some version of broke, and like many small colleges it now faces serious financial difficulties that it hopes to solve with a greater focus on expensive “professional programs.” The sudden decision to issue termination contracts was hatched by administrators, increasingly withdrawn from the faculty, who failed to share meaningful data with faculty on the budget committee or to follow Faculty Handbook and Bylaws procedures.

Our liberal arts professors are poorly paid; after 28 years of teaching, I still made under $70,000 a year as a full professor, a salary below the average starting wage for incoming assistant professors at American universities, while administrators are paid salaries closer to industry standards. Still, I have never seriously considered leaving because of the fine community of scholars I work with in this Benedictine community and because of the students I have the honor of teaching—large numbers of whom are first generation college students whose lives are often transformed by our teaching.

Following the issuing of these termination notices, at an emergency Faculty Senate meeting on March 21st, motions of no confidence against interim co-President (and former President) Dr. Roy Heynderickx, and our Provost, Dr. Tonya Smith Brice, were adopted. Later that day at an emergency faculty meeting, faculty voted no confidence against interim co-President Heynderickx (95%), and the provost (91%)–as anyone familiar with the full-contact politics and divisions of academia knows, such unity on anything is remarkable. At the opening of this emergency faculty meeting, retired English Professor Dr. Olivia Archibald read the below essay to assembled faculty, which gave her a standing ovation. –David Price

In Defense of Saint Martin’s Liberal Arts Faculty and Program

by Olivia Archibald

I am so glad to be with all my colleagues today who have committed so much heart and soul to this institution.

When I retired from Saint Martin’s in 2018, I never imagined I’d be standing at this podium to advocate for my fellow Liberal Arts faculty, many of whom have been here for years, teaching students, doing scholarship, performing service, and carrying most of the weight of governance as part of their workload at this university.

When I look at names of those who received one-year terminal contracts, I see most affected are the fields and faculty of literature, history, anthropology and sociology, philosophy, political science, education, gender studies, communication, foreign languages, and religion.

Considering these disciplinary fields, considering who is being terminated, including full professors with tenure, I see a university – a Benedictine university – that seems to have forgotten a significant part of educating a person. My daddy used to talk about the 3 important Rs in education – Readin’, (W)ritin’, and Rithmetic. It would seem, when we examine the faculty who have been given their walking papers, two of the 3 Rs have been drastically impacted.

True education also focuses on being human. It focuses the human condition and what it means to engage morally and ethically in the world. The disciplinary areas and faculty being singled out for contract terminations are teaching students how to be human and how to live in the world, meeting Saint Martin’s mission, as their website says, for “students to learn to make a positive difference in their lives and the lives of others through interaction of faith, reason, and service.”

These disciplinary areas teach us to see and understand and learn from the past, allow us to learn by experiencing life through stories, teach about other peoples and cultures and their languages, and teach us to analyze power and power structures in the world. The faculty teaching in these fields teach a different way of thinking, a different way of critical thinking, a different kind of knowledge than, for example, numbers and scientific knowledge, and quantitative reasoning. This list of faculty names that were given terminal one-year contracts reflects a sanctification of some kinds of thinking, and an erasure or at least threat to erase others. Some departments are being gutted of all faculty.

The Saint Martin’s website’s Q & A says students will not be affected by this change. Yeah, right.

When I see that faculty termination list, I notice Saint Martin’s has decided to solve their financial “emergencies” again on the backs of the liberal arts faculty.

And what are these terminal one-year contracts doing to faculty receiving them? These faculty are lying in their beds at night after receiving their contract, worrying about finding a job at this point in their lives, worrying about uprooting themselves, uprooting their families…maybe wondering why they didn’t choose another college when they finished their education and maybe feeling very sorry they made the choice to teach at Saint Martin’s.

This decision by the management flies in the face of the university’s “vision” that, as their website says, “strives for holistic development, collaborative exchange, and an integrated approach to teaching and learning.”

Those contracts going to faculty are a hard punch in the gut, a punch with profound bruising. The bruising might not ever go away.

One more comment: Many faculty on this termination list have often been active in the Senate, very active on committees, and often carry the weight of Saint Martin’s governance. They can be among the most visible faculty who often find themselves seeking policies and practices that protect faculty.

Such responsibilities sometimes put these faculty at odds with the administration.

Considering this, I can’t help feeling this manner of solving Saint Martin’s latest financial emergency has a strong political smell to it as well.

There must be a much more equal way of solving this latest financial problem than just on the backs of the Liberal Arts faculty.

Since retiring from the English Department at Saint Martin’s University, Olivia Archibald spends her time in Olympia, Washington, writing fiction and nonfiction, her stories typically set in West Virginia.

Anthropologist David Price is a longtime contributor to CounterPunch. His book, Cold War Deceptions: The Asia Foundation and the CIA, has just been published by the University of Washington Press.