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Rider to eliminate programs, lay off faculty

Rider University, which has seen enrollment fall over the last several years, will soon shrink even further, as the school closes academic programs and lays off faculty.

Rider University, which has seen enrollment fall over the last several years, will soon shrink even further, as the school closes academic programs and lays off faculty.

Twelve undergraduate majors and a graduate program will be shut down, and some majors will be scaled back to minors. Fourteen of the university's 248 full-time faculty members will lose their jobs.

Five vacant full-time faculty positions also will be eliminated, and an undetermined number of part-time faculty will not be rehired.

Administrators notified faculty union officials of the changes Thursday morning. Faculty members being laid off were summoned to deans' offices.

The layoffs and program reductions will save Rider close to $2 million annually once the changes take effect next school year, the university said. The university has a $216 million operating budget and faces a current deficit of $7.6 million, a school spokesman said.

At its Lawrenceville and Princeton campuses, Rider enrolls slightly more than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students, down 1,000 students from the 2009-10 school year. Tuition for full-time undergraduate students is $37,650.

"The decision to move forward with these closures and changes was not made lightly. They have profound impacts on those who are directly affected by them," the university said in its statement. "But they are needed to put Rider on a more progressive path and position the university more strongly in an increasingly competitive environment."

The 149 current juniors and seniors in the programs being closed will be allowed to finish their degrees. Rider academic coordinators will work with the 123 affected freshmen and sophomores "to evaluate their options and make decisions that are best for them moving forward," the university said.

The undergraduate majors being closed are art and art history, advertising, American studies, business education, economics, French, geosciences, German, marine science, philosophy, piano, and Web design. Rider also is closing its Italian minor and organizational leadership graduate program.

The business economics, entrepreneurial studies, and sociology majors will become minors.

Jeff Halpern, the faculty union's chief grievance officer and contract administrator, said closing academic programs by executive decision rather than careful study would leave faculty members and students wondering about the futures of their own programs.

"This is simply terrible practice and is likely to exacerbate whatever financial situation we're in," Halpern said.

"It's also going to affect your ability to recruit students, not just because you don't necessarily have a specific major . . . but it's what this says to both our present students and potential students about the reliability of the institution," he said.

A criminal justice student already has come to Halpern, he said, asking whether that program might be eliminated.

"This has all been done in the wrong way. You can imagine what morale is in this moment," Halpern said.

"We will try to have a conversation with the president about this to how we can try to find alternatives to this, as a community, and how we can work together to rebuild what is a shattered confidence." 856-779-3220 @elaijuh