Teaching in a ‘toxic environment,’ but supported by peers and students
It all started with a dull bureaucratic word: “prioritization.”
Point Loma Nazarene University had told the campus community in April that a handful of majors would be phased out in the next few years, mostly in the humanities, due to falling interest from students.
Provost Kerry Fulcher had said that faculty in those fields wouldn’t be immediately terminated.
But “we were under the impression that we could be let go at any time,” one humanities professor told The College Fix. “That’s why professors left.”
And that’s when depression started for this professor, who asked to remain anonymous to speak frankly about tensions in one humanities department and the loneliness of going through depression at a Christian college.
‘Our department is crumbling and we all know it’
The university offered faculty in “prioritized” departments an early retirement package. Seven took this two-year option and another five left the school, according to George Latter, vice president for finance and administrative services.
The humanities professor argued against making the cuts, which spanned a few departments, to no avail. The administration’s allegedly icy reaction to that outspokenness has made the professor wary of trusting anyone with future concerns.
“It’s a larger issue than prioritization. It is how our administrative service does not care about us,” the humanities professor said. “My own boss won’t speak to me after I stuck up for what I believed about cutting majors.
“The cuts have made this a toxic environment,” the humanities professor continued. “I’m tired of crawling back into my office corner, being shut down, and having no one.” The professor has been depressed for more than six months, going back to the first faculty discussions about prioritization, and dreads coming to work.
Asked about prioritization and why the school was cutting so many majors, Provost Fulcher told The Fix that he disliked making the cuts but that it was for the better of the university.
“When you look at the news releases that are coming out there and you see the real traumatic things, even though it was rough and created anxiety because we didn’t know what the end result was going to be, I was relieved at the outcome,” Fulcher said.
But the majors announced for phasing out in April weren’t the only ones considered for the chopping block, the humanities professor said.
A meeting was held in June to consider whether to cut another major that had seen student decline. One professor in that department didn’t bother waiting, and took a position at another Christian college. A decision still hasn’t been reached on the major’s future.
Faculty in that department feel like they could lose their positions at any moment, the humanities professor said. “Our department is crumbling and we all know it.”
“To not tell us leaves my head spinning and I can only think of the worst scenario possible then,” said the humanities professor. “I have taught at this department, this major for over 15 years and to know that this major could be next to go – it’s depressing.”
Opting for prayers and coffee talk instead of official school resources
How Christians treat mental health issues has drawn more attention in recent years.
The Clause at Azusa Pacific University, another Christian college near Point Loma, ran an opinion piece last week on a new outreach effort on campus to diagnose potential depression among students.
It’s less clear how Christian colleges in general deal with depression among faculty and staff.
Point Loma does offer a free confidential counseling program for faculty and staff, known as the Employee Assistance Program, Jeff Herman, associate vice president for human resources, told The Fix. It offers help with “personal concerns like depression,” he said.
The humanities professor already had a counselor, so opted not to try Point Loma’s official services. A few faculty members have reached out to spend time with the professor. Some students have gone to coffee with the professor, written letters, shared encouraging Bible verses and prayed with the professor.
Other faculty are also depressed, the humanities professor said.
“It’s not worth being at a university where people hate me,” said the humanities professor, referring to administrators. “It’s sad to say, but I think I have done all the good I can do here. “
College Fix reporter Samantha Watkins is a student at Point Loma Nazarene University.
IMAGE: Billy Wilson/Flickr