San Diego State University laid off its 12 full-time ESL instructors, a program director and an assistant program director in May in response to what the institution describes as a “rapid change” in the nature of access to higher education.
The university’s ESL courses will continue to run, and the American Language Institute will not close, as new part-time teachers have been recruited.
Sources with knowledge of the situation told The PIE News that teachers had little forewarning of the termination of their contracts, and many had worked at the institution for more than 20 years.
Aware that there would be layoffs due to declining enrolment numbers, instructors were somewhat shocked to find they would all be losing their jobs.
“Obviously, the ESL market in the US is experiencing a considerable contraction,” a former instructor explained.
“We are not oblivious to the fact that layoffs are occurring elsewhere. In addition, we do not argue that no layoffs were necessary.”
Former teachers are reportedly unhappy about how the layoffs were handled and suggested that they were “unnecessarily callous and lacking in transparency”.
According to the institution, demand for international professional education has significantly increased, and the college is evolving to match as the landscape of that demand has changed.
“In particular, international learners are increasingly seeking just-in-time, professional, and cutting-edge programs that align with the needs of the global workforce, and English-language learning programs need to adapt to increasingly integrate with that model and modern demand,” a spokesperson for SDSU said.
“Such a change in demands contributed to a number of personnel changes within the College of Extended Studies at the end of the spring semester.”
SDSU will continue to offer its ESL courses and the American Language Institute has not closed, the spokesperson added, but former teachers fear language tuition at the university will now not meet expectations.
“As of this semester, the ALI at SDSU has no full-time instructors,” a source told The PIE.
“All the classes are now taught by part-time, hourly instructors with no benefits and at a lower rate of pay.
“Furthermore, the fact that the ALI had to hire new instructors and bring back former instructors to teach this semester offers evidence that this was just as much about completely eliminating full-time jobs with benefits as it was about declining enrolment,” they said.
As a university-based, non-profit organisation, the ALI’s instructors are required to have a master’s degree and at least two years of experience in a university-based program, former teachers have said.
“One expects a professional, appropriately educated, experienced cadre of full-time instructors to form the core of the organisation,” one teacher added.
“That cadre might need to be smaller in response to declining enrolment, but it needs to be there nonetheless to provide leadership, mentoring, institutional knowledge, and stability.”
Prior to losing their jobs, teachers wrote a letter to the dean of the College of Extended Studies, in which they argued layoffs would “lose many decades of knowledge and experience that will not be available when the [international student] numbers begin to rebound”.
In the letter, instructors offered to take short unpaid leaves during periods of low enrolment, reduce their working hours, increase administrative tasks and work on low-cost marketing ideas to increase the college’s revenues.
In response, teachers said they received a very brief email from the dean acknowledging the letter.
After instructors were laid off, they sent another letter to the president of SDSU detailing how they had been instructed to clean out desks and cubicles, following a morning meeting.
They had been locked out of their computers, emails had been shut down and key cards had been deactivated, they explained.
“We grieve for the loss of our careers, but we grieve even more for the loss of our respect for the SDSU community that we served and supported for so many years,” instructors wrote.
As of yet, former teachers have said they have heard no reply.
According to SDSU, CES will continue to operate and its four ESL programs will merge into a single course this summer “to help students feel more closely connected to their peers and to provide greater diversity in the classroom”.
“The college will continue to have a strong international presence and focus on English language learners and adult learners in countries around the world. The American Language Institute is placing a greater emphasis on offering a broader range of programs to serve international learners,” the university stated.
CES has also created an additional position to focus on evolving international strategy.
However, for those teachers who are no longer employed at the university, the future appears bleak.
As one former instructor highlighted, “it is June, we are unemployed, and we are wondering what we will do next with our lives. It is jarring, to say the least.”