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Unpopular Opinion: USNH Comparator Rethinking “Cluster” Approach Departmental reorganization, financial burdens show familiarity

By Justin Siewierski; Editor-in-Chief
On December 4, 2017

Unpopular Opinion: USNH Comparator Rethinking “Cluster” Approach

Departmental reorganization, financial burdens show familiarity 

Justin Siewierski



Dating back to early 2016, Keene State College began with the idea of moving to a larger school system than what was previously in the works. A four “school ” system, similar to the PSU cluster vision, lasted just over a year before the College’s recent decision to cut the idea in half, allowing for just two schools for departments to be sorted into.

With the recent reorganization being released just hours before The Clock’s Friday print, information dating back to early 2016 suggested that the idea to move to a four school approach might be detrimental to the College’s repertoire.

“Right now, we ha ve too many administrators and too many faculty who want to make us a mini [Ivy League] school,” said Keene State Professor Mark Timney in a 2016 interview with the Equinox, Keene State’s student newspaper.

Timney went on about the restructuring idea, claiming that the push to a four-school system could affect the amount of jobs that could potentially be on the line.

“I’m not an expert on higher education planning and how the business of the college works, but I don’t know how they can save the money they want to save without jobs being cut,” he said in the same interview. 

Keene State College initiated the schools into three major components, with a smaller fourth: the School of Arts and Humanities, the School of Sciences and Social Sciences, the School of Professional Studies, and the Library, which consisted of the library staff, academic technology, and those minoring in information studies.

This shift was no different than the older approach, designed by Plymouth State and used by Plymouth State before the cluster vision misted onto campus. The three colleges previously used by PSU: arts and sciences, business administration, and education, health and human services, honed in departments in a similar fashion to the Keene State proposal.

As each of the schools had at least 10 disciplines, Keene State’s school system had the ability to cut down on the number of deans that were associated with specific departments. Each school, in the earliest stages, was intended to have just one dean, with one to two associate deans. Previously, Arts and Humanities drew in a smaller amount of departments, and had double the amount of deans. Similar to the cluster approach at Plymouth State, the combination of new schools cut down on the number of “department chairs,” or deans, that represented specific disciplines, and therefore saving money.

In a 2017 article written in The Equinox, concerns that compared to the current state of the administrative assistants arose; one of the most important ones being, “who is going to be in charge of what?” As the Keene State school system called for assistant deans to help run disciplines that they may have been unfamiliar with, Plymouth has been able to fix that problem with their cluster vision, using cluster committees. As one cluster chair runs that specific cluster, the committee is comprised of, but not limited to, old department chairs. The additional issue is trying to find administrative assistants capable of scheduling, maintaining, and helping to run a well-oiled machine of a large amount of departments.

As Keene’s recent announcement to cut from four schools (technically three, if you cut out the Library school, which still garnered a dean and their assistant), the second problem that faced a hindering similarity to Plymouth State arose: financial compensation. An article written in EAB on June 24 inaccurately accused Plymouth State University with laying off 78 faculty members as a result to the cluster vision. One thing they forgot to mention was that those 78 lost faculty members were a result of voluntary separation agreements, retirements, and other means. This past Tuesday, Keene State announced approximately the same approach to saving money.

The term “buyout,” used in a cautious manner by College representatives, has familiar characteristics to the on goings of the cluster vision at

PSU in the summer of 2016. Faculty members in both situations will be given an ultimatum; stay, and be a part of something new, or... leave. According to a slideshow obtained by The Clock that was used in Tuesday’s campus-wide meeting, these buyouts are voluntary of the faculty members, and will offer compensation and benefits coverage by policy and lump-sum incentives. The Keene Sentinel reported that first-year president Melinda Treadwell noted of future layoffs, and although she doesn’t see a “mass exodus” of layoffs and voluntary faculty separation, she can vision future layoffs to balance an already unsteady budget. Something that Plymouth State has slowly seen in the last 18 months.

As both schools continue to break down expenses and find new ways to save money, the next six months will be worth paying close attention to. With Keene transferring to a two-school system and voluntary separation agreements, alongside with Plymouth’s first two clusters taking full affect after the winter break, The Clock will continue to cover what is to unfold.

Note: Unpopular Opinion pertains to the opinions of the contributor. The Clock will continue to report on the Cluster Vision, but the above statements adhere to the opinions of the contributor. 

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