IUP ‘shell game’: lives upended, speech curtailed

An opinion

The following letter by Indiana University of Pennsylvania English professor John L. Marsden, Ph.D., was addressed to top administrators and faculty union leaders and emailed to faculty members at IUP on May 5.

By John L. Marsden

INDIANA — I write this late at night only because I am losing a great deal of sleep. I can only assume that you are too. Or at least I very much believe you should be. 

Yesterday — the day after spring semester classes had ended — one of my colleagues received notice that her letter of retrenchment from August had been rescinded. How grateful we must be that we can all say we have saved the job of an outstanding — and tenured — faculty member!

IUP English professor John L. Marsden. Photo: David Loomis, 2018

The only problem is that my colleague was forced to sell her house, move her family and seek another job in the meantime. So, despite the rescinded letter, she is gone. IUP has accomplished its goal of reducing faculty complement while, at the same time, not laying anyone off. I know that hers is far from the only story of this kind. 

Let’s ignore for a moment how many letters have been rescinded. Let’s talk instead about how many of my colleagues are leaving or have left based on retrenchment letters (rescinded or not) or based on their assumption that they expect to get such letters. 

In short, IUP has managed to accomplish most of its goals without actually retrenching the numbers of faculty who initially received letters. It is an amazing shell game. The consequence of this game has been that lives have been thrown into turmoil. 

Again, let’s forget for a moment the fact that my colleague’s letter has been rescinded long after her family has been uprooted by what I now consider to be a completely reckless action. (How else to explain the retrenchment letter and last-minute change of mind?)  Let us forget, too, that hers is far from the only story. 

Let’s turn instead to the many messages I have received, the many conversations I have had, related to retrenchment and the future of IUP. I am told by friends — senior colleagues no less — that they don’t want to speak out for fear of retaliation from administrators. What a devastating indictment that is of the current state of affairs at an institution of higher education. Who or what has created such an environment at IUP? That is not a rhetorical question. 

Ultimately, I claim only to speak for myself. I am in APSCUF, the faculty union, but I don’t speak for the union. I am assistant chair in the English Department, but I do not speak for our department either. I am just one member of the “IUP Community.”


John L. Marsden, Ph.D., is associate professor and assistant chair of the English Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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