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Staffing Realingnment at AMU a Source of Concern to Many Faculty, Staff and Residents

mcd2-200The summer break at Ave Maria University is off to a somewhat uneasy beginning due to uncertainty about personnel changes at the school.

Timothy McDonnell, highly-regarded professor of music, was removed as chair of the department. No replacement was immediately named.

Dr. McDonnell raised concerns about the university's marketing efforts to attract music students at a meeting of the Board of Trustees' Academic Affairs Committee in February. Board Chairman Michael Timmis subsequently told staff and faculty that he had asked the administration to present at the trustees' May meeting an analysis of "the status of the university's music program and recommend strategies to preserve it." An unsigned memorandum from the board following the May meeting gave no details of the analysis or future plans for the department other than saying, "We are committed to the advancement of the fine arts and have asked the administration to make whatever changes it deems necessary to reverse the decline in the number of music majors."

Dr. McDonnell also serves as artistic director of the Symphonic Chorale of Southwest Florida and recently was a guest conductor for performances by the Naples Symphony.

UPDATE: The entire music faculty sent a memo May 25 to AMU Vice President of Academic Affairs Seana Sugrue to "formally express our objection" and asking for an explanation for the change. By week's end, they had received no response, a music department faculty member said.

The status of another AMU faculty member who brought concerns before the board's Academic Affairs Committee in February, economics professor Joseph Burke, is unclear. He has had meetings with the university administration about his future but as of Friday, nothing had been determined.

All faculty at AMU are untenured. Faculty have contracts of various terms, but a number of professors are currently questioning exactly what job protections are provided in those contracts.

At the end of the school year, AMU announced that Michael Dauphinais was leaving his job as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty to return to teaching. He was named chair of the theology department which was followed by the resignation of former department chair Gregory Vall from AMU to teach elsewhere.

AMU President Jim Towey announced earlier in May in a letter to staff and faculty that he has appointed a search committee to help "identify and recruit the best candidates possible" for the job of VP of Academic Affairs. In the interim, Seana Sugrue, a politics professor, was named to run the department.

Dr. Sugrue did not return requests by phone and email for comment.

At least one member of the board of trustees apparently was uncomfortable with the university's response to concerns that have been raised about matters such as the school's academic standards, Catholic character and student behavior. John DeFelice, one of the earliest residents of Ave Maria, said he and board Chairman Michael Timmis had "irreconcilable differences" and that he was informed that he would not be renominated to the board. He did not attend the board's May meeting.

In addition to the faculty changes, at least two three other Ave Maria residents who worked in staff positions at the university have been let go and some employees are worried that other reductions in the workforce might be on the way. In his letter to staff and faculty, Mr. Towey said that, "This is the time of year when the administration reviews how it is organized to make sure that we deploy our limited personnel in an optimal fashion, and so some staffing changes will be made in the coming weeks."

[This story was updated May 29 to reflect new information including the memo from the music department faculty and the termination of an additional staff employee who lives in Ave Maria.]

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