Financially challenged New Jersey City University has taken another step toward “rightsizing” by sending notices of potential layoffs to 30 tenured faculty whose jobs may be eliminated as of June 28, 2023. About 200 tenured professors are currently on campus.

In a post on its website this week, NJCU said it will also end contracts with “up to 19” non-tenured faculty and “some administrative staff” while at the same time phasing out 48 undergraduate programs, 24 minors, 28 graduate programs, 10 certificate programs, and one doctoral program—or 37% of its academic offerings.

Some of those programs will be discontinued at the end of the academic year in June, NJCU spokesman Ira Thor said.  Others, he added, will be cut “upon completion of the degrees.”

For example, Thor explained, “if there is a current freshman majoring in economics, one of the programs being eliminated, (that student) is part of the class of 2026.  That means economics will still be offered through Spring 2026.  The only programs cut after this year will be those where everyone registered is scheduled to graduate this May.”

These actions come on the heels of the university’s reducing its “managerial-level workforce” by 41 percent — from 125 to 73 — and eliminating five student athletic sports programs as part of NJCU’s efforts to reduce its “structural deficit of more than $20 million.”

Those economies still leave the university with a deficit of $12.67 million, the university said.

Projected savings from its academic portfolio cuts “will not be fully realized until fiscal 2024 … it is expected these rightsizing steps will be significant in positioning the university to move forward beyond its current fiscal emergency, with projected future annual savings of at minimum $5 million,” NJCU said.

Joseph Scott, NJCU Board of Trustees chair, said, “Our current financial crisis has made clear that the breadth of our current academic portfolio is no longer tenable for the size of an institution we need to be, and the low enrollment in many courses can be linked to students’ inability to complete their degrees in a timely manner.”

In an email to faculty last month, Donna Adair Breault, NJCU acting provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, said, “Losing programs from our portfolio is painful. However, we know that we are not going to recover the full amount of enrollment loss. We cannot anticipate 8,000 undergraduate students moving forward. We need to set goals and prepare ourselves for an enrollment of 4,500 to 5,000.”

NJCU’s current enrollment is approximately 5,200.

Breault went on to say that NJCU’s current curriculum of 101 undergraduate programs, 67 master’s programs and three doctoral programs “is currently larger than many universities that are more than double our size.” As an example, she said NJCIU’s portfolio is 13 percent larger than Rowan University’s, whose enrollment is “nearly four times the number of students than we enroll.”

Maintaining such obstacles “is not tenable” for NJCU, she said. “We cannot stretch our resources to adequately support and sustain so many programs. Our portfolio strains our administrative capacities, leads to low-enrolled courses, and prevents students from (completing) their programs in a timely manner….” In some cases, she said, some programs were competing with others for the same market.

To figure out which courses to cut, Breault said an NJCU task force came up with a ranking system that considered “mission, market, and margins,” with majors that satisfy the college’s mission rated the most desirable. Any program found to be “no longer consistent with the mission”—unless “it was generating significant revenue”—was deemed expendable.

In applying market considerations, Breault said the task force weighed whether programs were “consistent with market trends and needs, reflected new and/or changing occupations,” and addressed “labor shortages.”

“If we saw that the market for a program was not sustainable, then we took that very seriously when we deliberated about programs to close,” she said.

Finally, Breault said, margins “played a central role in our deliberations.  As we examined the return on investment for programs (faculty/staff costs versus tuition fees), we tried to ensure that we were measuring consistently across all programs.”

As part of its evaluation, Breault said the task force took into consideration external factors such as ‘Are the numbers low due to Covid-19?’ or ‘Is it a new program showing low numbers but a growth trajectory?’

Some longtime NJCU faculty took exception to the reasoning behind the cuts.   

One male faculty members who wished to remain anonymous said, “Entire departments have been decimated. Nursing has been severely cut. Early childhood education, earth/environmental science, and English as a second language all took huge cuts. Early childhood education in particular is essential to our school’s mission. There’s a great demand for employment of (pre-K teachers).  Nursing took a hit during the pandemic, but it’s starting to rebound. We’re an urban university dedicated to serving the urban community. These moves compromise that mission.”

Anne Mabry, a 30-year associate professor who has taught ESL, said, “A completely subjective rubric or framework was applied to make these layoffs by three administrators who have very limited experience at NJCU.”

Breault summarized NJCU’s position, saying, “In order to position ourselves to serve our future student population, we need to ensure that our academic portfolio is sustainable.  We need to ensure that we are investing in the essential support our students need.  We need to ensure that we are supporting faculty as teachers, scholars and vital community members of NJCU.  The state recognized this and gave us this charge.  We believe our recommendations will position us to thrive moving forward.”

Still, the anonymous professor fears things could get worse before they get better.  “There was supposed to be a “town hall meeting” with the acting president this month, but that’s apparently not happening…. Everybody is nervous, scared of what’s coming. William Paterson University went through the same process two years ago, and we’re worried about losing more students.”

Meanwhile, NJCU continues to await word on a pitch for an additional $10 million in state aid for which State Sen. Brian Stack (who is also the mayor of Union City) has been pushing in the legislature. An audit of NJCU’s finances ordered by Gov. Phil Murphy is also awaited.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...