By Sara Sanchez-Contreras, Justin Blunt, Khi’Asiah Holland and Victoria Albanese; The Whetstone
Dr. James Wilson has been a professor at Wesley College for 11 years.
The small liberal arts school seemed a perfect fit for him in 2010, he said, because he had just earned his PhD and was looking for a full time, tenure-track position as a music professor.
Like more than 50 other full-time, tenured professors at Wesley, he dedicated a lot of his time and effort toward earning tenure and promotion. But when Delaware State University (DSU) completes the acquisition of Wesley this summer, their tenure – and jobs – probably will not be transferred.
“It’s a form of torture,” Wilson said. “Most people lose their jobs or are laid off suddenly and with little notice. The faculty at Wesley have been led down a path of false expectations for two years. We were told by the President that our institution would continue through a partnership with an outside institution. That partnership has proven to be a discount clearance sale.”
Dr. Mika Shipley has been a professor at Wesley for 15 years.
“Tenure generally takes several years of quality teaching, service to the college in the form of committees, and research/scholarly activities,” she said.
Tenure also helps support academic freedom in the classroom so professors may not be fired without due process.
Dr. Jack Barnhardt, who has been at Wesley for 15 years, said some professors will be hired by DSU, but they will probably be stripped of tenure and demoted.
“Those not hired will likely have a very difficult time finding teaching positions, since there is a hiring ‘season’ based on the academic year, which we’ve now passed,” he said. “So unless you get lucky, you’re looking at starting work in the fall of 2022.”
Dr. Brantley Craig said earning tenure was important to him.
“It is important for the peace of mind, but also as a reward for hard work and dedication to the college,” he said.
Dr. Angela D’Antonio has been a professor at Wesley for 13 years, and said she worked hard to earn tenure and promotion.
“What I gather is that rank and tenure will not be transferred over, we will have to start all over again,” she said. “It’s very frustrating. All of that hard work and investment and the notion of not having that continued is demoralizing.”
Dr. Jeffrey Mask has been with Wesley College for 30 years. He said he and his fellow tenured faculty members have been brushed aside.
“I’ve been here at Wesley College since 1991,” he said. “My work for tenure doesn’t mean anything now. It’s disheartening to be cast aside all of a sudden. It’s disrespectful and not morally right.”
Professor Susan Bobby has worked at the college for 27 years. She also earned tenure and a promotion.
“We were already told that someone from DSU said that it wouldn’t be fair to DSU faculty if a whole bunch of Wesley faculty were brought over and automatically given tenure,” she said.
Several professors said their contracts, contained in the annual Faculty Handbook, were broken last year.
“There are protections against this eventuality laid out in our Faculty Handbook, which acts as a contract,” Barnhardt said. “However, based on the President’s handling of our contracts last year, I’d guess that the College will claim they are not responsible for honoring those protections.”
Barnhardt and others said the president of the college was required to issue contracts by March 15 last year. Professors did not receive their contracts until July 15, four months later.
Faculty members said they also now have to worry about how they will survive financially following the probably disappointing news.
“Fortunately, my house and car are paid for,” Dr. Kathleen Curran said. “We can survive, but no luxuries until I find something else.”
Curran said she wasn’t as worried about her children.
“I think they should be fine,” she said. “One is through school and the other has one more semester in college left. We have enough in our savings.”
Curran has been at Wesley for 20 years. She said she hopes to find a job somewhere for three more years until her husband can retire. Her husband is a Fish and Wildlife administrator.
Professor Victor Greto, who was a working journalist before he came to Wesley in 2008, said he’s finding his field different after 13 years.
“I finally had gotten to the point at Wesley to be earning what I was making when I left the News Journal in Wilmington,” he said.
Greto said he unhappily learned recently that a senior reporter position he was interviewing for was going to offer him $25,000 less than he is earning at Wesley – $25,000 less than he was earning at the New Journal more than a dozen years ago.
“It’s depressing,” he said. “I am especially sad that administrative mismanagement has driven Wesley into the ground. We were the only liberal arts school in Delaware. We were one of the oldest educational institutions in the state. Now, it – and most of my colleagues – have been flushed away.”
Other Wesley faculty expressed similar feelings.
“It feels pretty awful losing everything you have done,” D’Antonio said. “The acquisition was not a choice. This was thrust upon us. This is a result of a failure of leadership. There is anger associated with the Delaware State University acquisition.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mask said. “I’m not ready for retirement.”
Craig said he will take a financial hit, which includes losing health insurance if he is not hired by DSU, seriously affecting his wife and two sons.
“My family’s life will change unless I remain employed locally, and will change more if I end up relocating,” he said.
Wilson said he doesn’t have high hopes concerning the acquisition.
“I think the majority of Wesley faculty will be laid off and not taken up by DSU,” he said. “As for the College, I think the Wesley Alumni office will make a valiant attempt at preserving our legacy, but eventually our memory will rest in one or more memorabilia cabinets at DSU.”
Bobby said her first choice would to become a novelist.
“My secondary goal would be that I would like to be a full-time book editor,” she said. “Sadly, these jobs are in short supply in the middle of Delaware.”
Some faculty said they would like to be offered work at DSU.
“As of now, the last week of February, not a single staff or faculty member has been officially offered continued employment at DSU,” Wilson said. “I see a lot of anxiety, depression, and various stages of the grieving process.”
Like many others, Wilson said the situation should have been handled differently.
“Wesley was a vibrant institution when Bob Clark became president in 2016,” he said. “I expect that our alumni, students, staff, and faculty would all attest to this.”