This article has been corrected.
VICENZA, Italy — Citing drawdowns, defense budget cutbacks and declining enrollment, the University of Maryland University College has made drastic staff cuts, laying off half of its full-time faculty overseas.
Scores of professors were let go this spring, reducing full-time faculty in Europe from 104 to 53, according to UMUC officials. Some professors not subject to lay-offs left voluntarily, officials said.
But Nancy Williamson, vice president and director of the college’s Europe operations, said in a recent interview that the college would nonetheless provide the same level of service it had been. “We absolutely will,” she said, “if not better.”
The departing faculty were let go with severance pay and a brief letter on July 31 from the overseas operations vice-president of the college, which since the 1950s been the premier provider of college classes for U.S. servicemembers overseas. The buy-outs amounted to a month’s pay for every year of service.
“It’s sad to think that today you’ll be taking steps to leave Europe and Asia for parts unknown,” wrote Allan Berg. “However, I know that most of you were like me and never really unpacked all of your bags.”
But for many, that wasn’t the case, said Thomas Murphy, a history professor based at Aviano Air Base in northern Italy, who’d been with UMUC for 16 years.
“We had the rug pulled out from under us,” he said. “It wasn’t just the question of a job. It was a question of a whole way of living.”
In a change of policy, professors who were being let go were told that they would not be eligible to join the ranks of part-time “adjunct” professors for at least three years. Those positions are not well paid and have few benefits. But they provide military base passes and an employment status that some professors said might allow them to stay in the country.
“We argued, ‘We’re in Europe already. We’re tested entities,’ ” Murphy said. “Why lock us out?’
Murphy said he did not dispute that enrollment was declining but rather questioned the college’s response. “That’s what got to the faculty: the way they were being treated, regardless of the policy.”
Williamson said that the college had all the adjunct faculty it needed. She said laid-off faculty members had been provided with adequate transition assistance: the severance payments, which she said the college had never provided before.
“We didn’t need them to continue to teach for us,” Williamson said.
Cutting half the faculty will have no negative impact on students, UMUC officials said.
About half of the professors who were let go had been teaching less than full course loads, Williamson said, either because they lived in communities with fewer troops or the subject they taught wasn’t in great demand.
“It’s less enrollment and where they chose to live,” she said. “There wasn’t necessarily the need.”
Remaining professors in Europe will be based in communities with the highest enrollments: Ramstein, Wiesbaden, Kaiserslautern and Stuttgart in Germany and Aviano and Naples in Italy.
In addition, traveling faculty will teach courses as needed throughout Europe.
“For example, if an anatomy class is needed in an installation, we can send a faculty member to teach this course at that installation for one academic term or session each year. During the rest of the academic year, he/she would teach needed courses at other installations/countries,” UMUC spokeswoman Iris Close said in an email.
“In fact, the changes will provide our students with a wider range of course offerings throughout the academic year,” she said.
According to the college, student enrollment, or what the college calls “headcounts,” has steadily declined, both in Asia and Europe. In 2000, 26,425 students were enrolled in Europe; last year, there were 20,196. The graduation rate had also declined: 1,563 undergraduate degrees were awarded in 2000; last year, 1,129.
UMUC faculty work on annual contracts. They do not enjoy tenure or seniority protections.
But until now, the contracts were routinely renewed, said Murphy, 52, who hopes to remain in Europe. He said he had applied for a historian position with NATO, and was also looking for a variety of jobs on U.S. bases at Aviano and Vicenza, Italy.
“Teaching, bartending, whatever comes along,” he said.
A statement on professors' status under the new contract and the number of degrees awarded in 2013 was incorrect in an earlier version of this article.