Former EWU president takes 9-month paid sabbatical

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Photo by Jasmine Kemp

Dr. Mary Cullinan speaks at the investiture in Showalter Auditorium on May 1.

By Lauren Reichenbach, Co-Managing Editor/Copy Editor

Mary Cullinan stepped down as president of EWU on August 4, following a no confidence vote from the university’s faculty senate.

“Long-standing concerns about her leadership have been discussed quietly for years,” the senate’s statement said. “As it’s become clear that those quiet conversations were not leading to change, the faculty decided to speak with a louder and more unified voice, voting we do not have confidence in Mary Cullinan on June 22.”

Due to Cullinan’s contract, she will retain a position as a professor in the English department. 

But she’s taking a nine-month sabbatical first.

While many were confused and upset when they heard about Cullinan’s plans to take a year off in order to brush up on her teaching skills and write a book, Cullinan argued that it was the normal thing to do.

“There shouldn’t be confusion about my taking a sabbatical,” said Cullinan. “It’s very common for administrators who are returning to faculty to take time to renew their skills.”

Cullinan’s presidential salary was approximately $372k a year. While her salary as a professor only comes in around $111k, Cullinan will be getting paid roughly $225k during her time off. Many faculty members are appalled at this information, knowing Cullinan was exempt from the 10% pay cuts all other faculty, including new interim president David May, took this year due to the state of debt the university is in. 

Board of Trustees Chair Uriel Iniguez and President Mary Cullinan listening to the first read of the budgets. They voted to approve the 2019 budget in June. (Taylor Newquist)

“For a year-long sabbatical professors are given 80% of their annual salary,” said David Syphers, a physics professor at EWU. “However, Dr. Cullinan was also promised her full presidential salary for 6 months while being a professor.”

For someone who was let go from two presidential positions by two votes of no confidence, however, Cullinan’s situation might come off as unfair. Many staff members have been laid off in the past few months because of the university’s financial situation, so it’s understandable for them to be frustrated that Cullinan is getting paid to take an entire year off.

“Lecturers often make around $50k/year,” said Syphers. “So the [staff] I’ve heard from have been understandably frustrated that Dr. Cullinan is being paid four or five times as much as they are to literally do nothing useful for the university. It is very frustrating … that the highest-paid employee of the university is getting a golden parachute of compensation as a result of doing her job poorly, when many low-paid university faculty and staff doing good work are losing their jobs with little to no warning, and with no compensation.”

Students are also frustrated by the situation. Tuition went up by 2.4% this year and many are wondering if they’re paying for Cullinan’s sabbatical.

“I pay out of state tuition so now I’m paying $8,000 instead of $6,000,” said Quentin Gonzalez, a student at EWU. “It’s very stupid and makes me want to take some time off for a bit.”

Kevin Gomez, another EWU student, said Cullinan’s salary was already too high and thinks the university should not be paying a professor so much for time off while the university is in debt.

“For a year-long sabbatical professors are given 80% of their annual salary,” -David Syphers, Physics professor at EWU

“I’m not up to date with everything,” said Gomez, “but I know that she didn’t do a great job with the university’s budget.”

Syphers said Cullinan shouldn’t even be eligible for paid leave. The Collective Bargaining Agreement states faculty must work for six years as a regular faculty member before even being eligible to be considered for such a large amount of paid leave time. Currently, Cullinan holds zero years of regular faculty experience at EWU. 

In March, many professors at the university had never taught an online class. Regardless, they were only given a two-week window to transfer their entire curriculums online and begin teaching remotely whether they were prepared or not. Syphers, as well as many other professors, had to learn how to teach labs entirely over Zoom.

Syphers said his classes would no doubt be better if he had a full year to prepare them before-hand. However, he thinks it absurd to ask students to continue paying full tuition for the year while not receiving any instruction from their professor in order for the class to feel “right.”

“Dr. Cullinan’s reasons for her paid leave are laughable,” said Syphers. “The regular job of faculty … includes adapting to new teaching modalities like online, and also includes writing books.”

Former president Rodolfo Arévalo points out different faculty members to incoming president Dr. Mary Cullinan (2014) (Photo by Jasmine Kemp)

Syphers said he used to think Cullinan truly cared about the wellbeing of the university, but now feels convinced she is only trying to get as much money out of EWU as she can. He also mentioned his disappointment with the Board of Trustees for agreeing to such inflated terms of Cullinan’s resignation, as well as with interim President May and then-provost Donahue for going along with it while knowing the state of the university is suffering greatly.

“We can do better,” said Syphers. “For our students, we must do better.”