Department close concerns students

When PsTL closes in two years, some worry students will lose a valuable first-year experience.

Taylor Nachtigal

Some students and faculty members are worried that when the University’s Postsecondary Teaching and Learning Department closes in two years, its programs won’t serve its students as effectively.

Although the leaders at the College of Education and Human Development say the dissolution will only affect some faculty members, others in the college say it’s likely that students will bear the costs of the closure.

PsTL, a department in CEHD, focuses on serving underrepresented student populations, like first-generation college students who are placed in the department’s First Year Experience Program during their first two semesters at the University.

The department currently has more than 40 faculty and staff members. The closure will downsize CEHD from eight departments to seven. The college will disburse PsTL faculty members, staff and programs across the rest of the college, CEHD Dean Jean Quam said last month in an email to the department’s students, staff and faculty members.

While PsTL faces its closure, an email sent from the school to faculty members this week lauded CEHD’s 95.6 percent student retention rate, which is tied for second-highest at the University with the College of Science and Engineering, the email read.

“When the first-year experience gets dissolved, that retention will almost certainly go down,” said Dan Detzner, a PsTL professor. “That program that has helped keep those students here is being dissolved.”

With its high retention rate, PsTL associate professor Tabitha Grier-Reed said, cutting the department doesn’t make sense. She said the department’s current structure and community sets it apart from other colleges and makes it effective.

She said placing faculty in different departments will cloud CEHD’s cohesion and its mission to create access to education for underserved populations.

“When you break up the infrastructure, you break up the community and spread everyone out. It makes it a lot harder to do that work,” Grier-Reed said.

School leaders have said the closure will take place over two years. Task groups will preside over the transition, according to an email sent to the department.

The task groups will evaluate current PsTL curriculum to identify gaps or overlap in course offerings and to determine where to house classes once the department closes, the email read.

“We don’t have any [specific] details at this point. Student access to programs and student experience will not change as any result of the realignment,” said CEHD communications director Steve Baker.

Still, some students are raising concerns over the closing.

Mariana Morgan-Sawyer, a third-year student in PsTL, is in the process of creating a petition objecting to the closure.

She said PsTL’s first-year program was instrumental in her success at the University and said the closure will shatter the department’s close-knit community that helps students prosper.

“In my experience, it has been closer than between other departments,” she said.

Morgan-Sawyer said she’s in the process of talking with faculty and other students to learn about their experiences in the department.

“I think [the petition is] a necessary action and needs to be followed through on,” Morgan-Sawyer said.

Grier-Reed said students have contacted her with questions. But because no one has communicated any specific plans to anyone in the department, she said, she doesn’t have answers for them. 

“When you close something like this, having a clear vision that people can see and react to makes people feel more comfortable,” she said. “There is no overarching vision. It leaves everybody in the dark.”