Lehigh’s Comparative and International Education program is in its final days. The program will be terminated when the last enrolled students complete the program, a decision that has angered many CIE students and faculty.
Gary Sasso, the dean of the College of Education, said the program prepares students to understand educational and developmental issues in international settings. CIE is a graduate program and offers both master’s and doctorate degrees.
Suzanne McAllister, ’09G, said she applied to the program because there are only a few other programs like it in the country. She has taught internationally and consults international agencies.
McAllister completed her undergraduate degree from the University of Vermont in 1999 and continued on to receive a master’s in education from Lehigh. She started her doctorate in the CIE program in 2013 and plans to finish her dissertation next year.
McAllister said she was notified of the program’s closure through an email sent to CIE students by Sasso on April 20. She said that she was completely blindsided by the decision and that the email was paternalistic, offering no rationale behind the decision other than it being final.
Sasso’s email said the decision to discontinue the program was made after a few years of deliberation and communication with CIE faculty members, college leadership, Lehigh president John Simon and provost Pat Farrell.
Before the email was sent out, an emergency CIE meeting was called where students were informed that the program would be phased out over the next three years. Students were given little warning.
A subsequent meeting was held April 25 for online students who were unable to attend the first meeting. A group of students responded that day to question the decision and the manner in which it was communicated.
“I would definitely say it was done poorly,” McAllister said.
Sasso said the college moved quickly to call the original meeting to be transparent with students and ensure students didn’t receive inaccurate information from secondhand sources. His second email said the decision to discontinue CIE is final, but that college leadership is always willing to meet with the CIE student community to address any questions or concerns.
“To involve students in the administration’s continued decision-making regarding CIE would be both inappropriate and unethical,” Sasso wrote in the email to the CIE community.
McAllister said there was no initial warning that the program was struggling and when students appealed to talk about the possibility of the program’s continuation, they were “shut down.” The dean denied the request for a meeting during the week of April 24 in his follow-up email given current schedules.
However, the dean did call a meeting May 4 to further address students’ questions and concerns, which mainly concerned transparency.
Graduate student Christina Phillips said students had no idea there was an issue with the program. Phillips said the CIE Program is the most diverse program on Lehigh’s campus and is a quality program.
“Obviously we were disappointed about the decision to close the program, but I think most students were hurt by the decision-making process and the way the decision was communicated,” Phillips said. “(The program’s closure without prior warning or knowledge by students or faculty) sends a chilling message.”
Phillips started a petition on the same day the student email was sent asking for support for the program as well as to raise awareness about the program’s discontinuation. So far, the petition has over 100 supporters and 35 responses.
“We’re just trying to get as many voices heard as possible,” Phillips said.
Phillips said she wanted to use the support and comments on the petition to find an alternative solution to closing the program. However, she said after the meeting on May 4, she doesn’t think that’s going to happen because it was clear the decision is final.
McAllister said the program’s closure affects all students’ futures in CIE professions and in the industry because CIE degrees are relevant and add value internationally.
Sasso said there isn’t one singular variable that is responsible for the decision to discontinue the program. He said colleges within Lehigh must continuously evaluate their programs to determine their viability in a constantly changing educational landscape.
Alexander Wiseman, a professor in the CIE Program who helped create the program 10 years ago, said the decision to discontinue the program was ultimately the dean’s and enrollment was the primary reason that was given.
The program was given an enrollment challenge a few months ago, and from Wiseman’s perspective, he thought enrollment was growing.
Wiseman said none of the faculty in the program imagined the program would ever be terminated. He said faculty were given three years until the program officially ended, and unless professors had tenure, he didn’t think they would have jobs after the program’s closure.
While students still have the option to complete the program, Wiseman thought newer students would probably look to enroll in other programs. He said his No. 1 priority is supporting students in their decision to complete or not complete the program, a mindset that other faculty members share.
Sasso said current students will continue to be supported, classes will continue to be held and support will continue to be provided by college leadership and program faculty until the last student has completed the program.