Nine SNU faculty members laid off

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Sierra Nevada University’s Prim Library

Brayden Stephenson, Managing Editor

Citing a stagnant enrollment and Covid 19-related shortfalls in revenue, Sierra Nevada University cut nine faculty positions June 21, dealing a blow to several departments as the college aims to reduce costs. Several longtime and beloved faculty were among those who were informed that they would be offered a severance instead of an annual contract, which would traditionally start July 1.

The fired faculty, some who have dedicated 30 or more years to SNU, were informed during brief planned in-person and Zoom meetings during the day. Retained faculty also learned of their continued employment at the same time. Entering the day, faculty knew of impending layoffs, but no information about the scope and depth of the cuts was revealed prior to notices of non-renewal. Staple members of the SNU community such as Chuck Levitan, June Saraceno, Sheri Leigh O’Connor, and Richard Gire were fired. The nine fired faculty members embodied the backbone of the university’s culture, and taught classes at the core of most of the majors. No information has been offered about how curriculum will be remodeled or how classes will be replaced.

An e-mail from first-year SNU president Rob Valli to student accounts read, “Based on data related to undergraduate enrollment, the needs of students, market demand, and the future viability of Sierra Nevada University, we have made a decision to better align the number of undergraduate faculty to the size of the university…Unfortunately, throughout this painful but necessary process, the Board of Trustees has approved a budget that will require a lower number of full time undergraduate faculty.”

Without providing specifics, Valli also alluded to a new vision for SNU, stating, “Let us begin to focus on goals for the future, and how to move ahead with those who will join us in what we fervently believe will be a stronger and more exciting future for our students.”

Cuts have been a theme at SNU for years. The reductions in staff follow the firings of the university’s provost and executive vice provost last fall. The university also parted ways with its psychology department chair during the school year, a position which was not refilled. For years college employees have gone without an employee retirement-matching plan, and during the Covid 19 crisis, a 10 percent pay cut, ostensibly proffered as an alternative to layoffs. Six faculty members were laid off in 2017. For years, SNU’s sports programs have also been in disarray, with coaching and roster vacancies, including for the college’s storied ski program and the once-powerhouse men’s lacrosse team, which at one time had aspirations of a move to division 1.

Current and past faculty members voiced their concerns for the future of the college and its students.

“I just really want the best for the students,” said June Saraceno.

Over 30 years, the former English and humanities department chair curated the English and journalism departments. She also founded and directed the Writers in The Woods speaker and workshop series, bringing renowned authors to campus every year. Her passion for the students and for the school was contagious and transparent within her work at SNU.

Sheri Leigh O’Connor, another irreplaceable teacher at SNU, was also laid off in last week’s cuts. She said that it’s heartbreaking for both her colleagues and her students. A dream job for O’Connor, she has been a faculty member at SNU for 24 years. As the fine arts department chair she’s led student-favorite programs such as the Japanuary course, a chance for students to travel to Japan and gain travel writing experience as well as get the chance to ski or snowboard. She’s also led the high-profile Summer Visiting Artist Workshops, where she invites world-renowned artists to come to Incline Village to teach and take part in ceramics courses. O’Connor is continuing to teach the Summer Visiting Artist Workshop through July.

Remaining faculty members were informed of a July 7 “all-hands” meeting to include a presentation by the college’s administrative and board leadership.