Editorial: Professor firings don’t serve students

In the past week, students have expressed outrage with President Joseph Aoun for the firing of several faculty members. Like the students who have spoken out, we believe these firings were unjust, insensitive and a ploy to burnish Northeastern’s reputation, no matter the cost.

In a perpetual quest to boost Northeastern’s academic credentials, Aoun and the administration have gone a step too far. The administration chose not to renew the contracts of four professors, including the highly regarded communications professor Susan Picillo, because these professors did not have terminal degrees, the highest level of degree appropriate to their fields. The administration’s goal, according to Provost Ahmed Abdelal, is to have “the best faculty that can do the best job in the classrooms and guide and mentor the students.”

As students, we appreciate the administration’s interest in providing us the best education possible, but the way this was carried out is outrageous. At least Picillo and perhaps others were given only a month’s notice that they would not return to their positions after their contracts ended May 5, and had no opportunity to earn their terminal degrees while teaching.

We fully support raising the bar for faculty, and the administration should consider a professor’s educational record in the hiring process; but to abruptly fire professors who have clearly contributed to Northeastern is unacceptable. Picillo has taught at Northeastern for 10 years and was nominated for the Excellence in Teaching Award twice in the past three years. She has served Northeastern well, and it is shameful for the administration to end her Northeastern career

To lay off professors students so clearly benefit from contradicts the point of attending a university: to learn. A Ph.D. or other high degree is great, but it is not proof of a great professor. If administrators were really interested in enhancing our education, they would seek out and fire the professors who fail to enlighten and inspire students, regardless of their level of education.

Northeastern prides itself on experiential education, which recognizes the value of experiences outside the classroom. It is inconsistent to fire professors who have used their time to gain experiences in the real world rather than earning high degrees. For some areas, having a terminal degree might not be as relevant or valuable as those real-world experiences. This would seem especially true in a field like communications, where time in the field would yield an experience a classroom never could. There are some areas, like history, in which having a Ph.D. makes sense. But majors based in practical applications should have professors with practical educations who can bring something different to a class, something a terminal degree cannot guarantee.

Students stood up this week, and let the administration know these firings do not sit well with them. Petitions were circulated and meetings were held. The students have made their opinion clear. It’s your move, Aoun.

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