‘Allegheny has entered an age of chaos’

Editor reflects on the new semester’s staffing changes and challenges

On Tuesday, August 23, Allegheny College President Hilary Link announced via email to the campus community that Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Tevis Bryant had resigned from his position. Bryant took up the role when April Thompson resigned on Feb. 28, and his brief tenure is now archived in our Allegheny inboxes under yet another “Staffing Update” subject line.
In an op-ed I published earlier this summer, I questioned whether the new restructuring of offices planned out in Link’s “Renaissance Vision” were actually “synergies” — as she referred to them in earlier reporting. A “synergy” at Allegheny College is no longer something that helps students, it is something that places unnecessary pressure on those who support students.
The email announcing Bryant’s departure listed each department under management of the Dean of Students: Class Deans, the IDEAS center, Residence Life and Spiritual and Religious Life. Many of these offices were moved to the Dean of Students’ portfolio through Link’s plan, and others were placed there after Link and her administration created her plan.
Sure, one could argue that all of these offices fall under the umbrella of “Student Life,” but with so many staffing changes and so many positions unfilled, it looks as though the college is providing the illusion of progress. That is, administrators have found a way to make everything look tidy on paper even though the internal structure is still deeply flawed. For example, the Director of Spiritual and Religious Life, Jane Ellen Nickell — who ran SRL in its entirety when I began at Allegheny in 2019 — retired in 2021, and the position has remained unfilled until recently when Assistant Professor of Arabic Sami Alkyam assumed the role.
Here is the crux: Allegheny has a corporate crunch problem, and it’s gotten to the point where everyone — students, staff and faculty — is affected.
Often, especially near the beginning of the semester, I tell my writers that when an article doesn’t get written, the work doesn’t go away, it just falls on someone else. Now, as more and more professors and administrators leave, those remaining are asked to fill empty roles as requests for more employees either drag on or are ignored. I can feel this strain. In fact, I think more students have noticed the gaps than administrators care to admit.
The completion of my Journalism minor was delayed semester after semester as I patiently waited for a political science or English professor to cram the required courses one by one into their already-packed schedules. At this moment, I have completed all the requirements for my major — 48 credits across a number of courses varying in topic and skill level — yet my 20 credit minor remains unfinished. I’m not even sure I’ll be able to finish without negotiating with the registrar as the only professor who teaches the capstone course is retiring. This is a program with only one full-time faculty member, held together by an ecumenical group of professors.
Allegheny has entered an age of chaos where the only thing that matters to administrators is a bottom line that is appealing on paper. Another full-time professor for any department might solve the lack of labor, but it’s better for the college’s financial situation if someone on the tenure track can fulfill the duties of two people across two departments for half the price. Sure, we’re saving money right now, but if this brain drain keeps up, we’ll run out of faculty and staff long before we burn through the donor dollars.
How can we achieve holistic student success and create solid touchpoints for lost students when all those touchpoints change semester by semester? How can we promote inclusive excellence when so many women, LGBT+ individuals and Black, Indiginous and People of Color staff and faculty members are leaving? How can we make the best Allegheny experience, the typical liberal arts experience Allegheny advertises, when so many of those who directly create that experience feel like they don’t belong here?
There is a simple answer: we can’t. Allegheny is currently careening toward Link’s “pillars of success” in such a reckless way that by the time we achieve them, there will be no Allegheny left. If the goal is to create solid points of contact for students, then the first step should have been to provide staff and faculty with strict, well-thought-out duties and descriptions for their positions. Their job should be one job, and they should be able to do it well. A liberal arts school should provide students an all-encompassing education, not requiring individuals to fill multiple roles, often working outside their area of expertise, all for the sake of the bottom line.
Upper-level administrators must acknowledge that hosting Class Gatherings to scold students for not making use of all the college’s systems is entirely disrespectful to both the students, who are effectively their customer base, and the faculty and staff who have been shuffled around from year to year — especially when these administrators are the ones who broke down all of those systems in the first place. Holistic student success is not telling a student to attend class or else. It is asking a student what is stopping them from attending class, carefully listening to understand their issues and amending them.
I love Allegheny College. I know a lot of people do. But, I am also at a point in my career here where the connections I have made far outweigh the assignments and grades. Once my class graduates, I’m sure less and less of them will look back as fondly, and the tight Allegheny community — the thing that makes this place so special — will fall away with them.