Tim Lavis & Erik Heidenreich, News Editor & Contributing Writer
SUNY Oneonta’s psychology department will undergo some significant staffing changes at the end of this
semester. Three of the department’s full time faculty and one of its adjunct lecturers will be leaving the department. Although the underlying reasons for which these faculty members are leaving are both multifarious and private, their departures threaten to leave a gap in the psychology department – a vacuum previously filled with a combined expertise that may not be easy to replace.
The response to the State Times’ investigation of both new and departing faculty has been as overwhelming as it has been muddled and controversial. The record of comments we have collected have ranged from a vague and completely unevidenced rumor of an administrative cover-up of the entire matter to unconfirmed rumblings of a coup wherein factitious faculty are attempting to undermine the stability of the department by manipulating information directed at us. Needless to say, while the unnerved nature of these responses suggested deeper controversy, we do not find it productive to dwell on these suggestions or to try to attribute truth to any of them.
Likely due to privacy issues, many faculty, including the vast majority of those who are remaining in the department, refused to comment on the State Times’ investigation. Among others, the department chair, Dr. Geoffrey O’Shea and the reportedly resigning Dr. Kenneth Walters did not respond to our emails – however, we did receive some form of response from all of the other departing professors. “It is incredibly frustrating that we are prohibited from ‘telling the other side,’” spoke Dr. Michael Brown, referring to the faculty who will remain at SUNY Oneonta next semester, and whom, he noted, “must remain professional and confidential.” An exception among a largely silenced faculty, Dr. Brown offered his comments, his criticisms and, to the extent that he was permitted, his assistance in our investigation.
Senior among the departing psychology faculty is Dr. Lawrence Guzy, who has been teaching at SUNY Oneonta for 39 years. Dr. Guzy noted contritely that he “will be retiring at the end of the semester.” A distinguished teaching professor and experimental psychologist, Dr. Guzy has been a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s award for Excellence in Teaching. Guzy’s professional experiences outside of Oneonta include research he has conducted at the NASA Ames Research Center as well as fellowship he received with the National Research Council. In past semesters, Guzy has taught a variety of classes, including some in sensation-perception and research methods; he has also expertly mentored several of Oneonta’s student researchers. In speaking about his long experiences at Oneonta, Dr. Guzy noted: “That old adage is true, ‘if you enjoy what you are doing, you will never work a day in your life.’ This has been so true for me.”
Dr. Kenneth Walters, an assistant professor at Oneonta, will also reportedly be leaving the school at the end of the semester. Dr. Walters is a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist who currently focuses his research on A.D.H.D. in teenagers and adults. Dr. Walters declined to offer the State Times any comment concerning his resignation or otherwise – a situation common among faculty throughout the course of our investigation. While possible motives for Walters’ resignation abound among faculty and students, one thing is certain: on the condition of his absence, the classes in abnormal psychology, forensic psychology and personality theory (among others) that Dr. Walters has expertly taught must find new and capable instructors. As of press time, the courses in personality theory that were previously instructed by Walters are being taken up by Dr. James Bercovitz, an adjunct professor and licensed psychotherapist. The aforementioned courses in abnormal psychology, however, still read “TBA” in the instructor slot.
Another of the psychology department’s assistant professors, Dr. Doreen Comerford, will also be leaving the college at the end of this semester. Dr. Comerford was scheduled to submit the materials for her final evaluation in the tenure process this past January. An applied psychologist, Comerford teaches classes in Introductory Psychology, Research Methods, Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Human Factors/Engineering Psychology. She also performs research with the Flight Deck Display Research Laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center. Of her resignation, the professor stated: “I am sad to leave. I am not leaving because I was unhappy with my position or living in Oneonta. I loved teaching and truly enjoyed working with the students.” Comerford continued, noting that her resignation was in accordance with her conscience; she notes that she “would not have resigned if I felt my contributions continued to be valued in the department relative to when I arrived on our campus.”
Adjunct Lecturer Karen Henry-Miller is also leaving at the end of this semester. In her correspondence with the State Times she stated “I’m doing so as I plan on moving out of the area. It is a complete coincidence that I’m leaving at the same time as some others.” Henry-Miller holds an MA in Community Psychology/Community Counseling from The Sage Colleges in Albany. For the last five years she has been writing fiction and nonfiction manuscripts and working toward a doctoral degree. Regardless of the coincidental circumstances, Henry-Miller’s departure will impact the department. Of her time in Oneonta, the professor stated: “I’ll miss our students and many of the friendly, kind and inspiring faculty and staff members that I’ve come to get to know… It’s been an honor working for the Psych. Dept, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve met some incredible students here [who have] taught me as much as I hope to have taught them.”
The faculty members who are leaving the psychology department at the end of this semester are doing so for a variety of reasons, which, due to the sensitivity of the circumstances and the obligation of the professionals involved to maintain privacy, remain vague. Nevertheless, the absence of these highly qualified and experienced educators will leave a profound gap in our learning community. While the college will, no doubt, attempt to replace the departing faculty with equally well qualified individuals, the new additions will enter into a difficult situation. A return to a consistent environment, one characterized by a community of professors acclimated to their posts and roles within their specific department, may take some time as the psychology department begins to rebuild from the loss of so many talented, long-serving individuals.
Additionally, there is to be a shift in the teaching-load of adjunct faculty member, Professor Sheila Serbay. Whereas Serbay has, in the past, taught exclusively or mainly in the psychology department, in the fall she will be teaching two sociology courses. Serbay is scheduled to continue teaching the course “Internship in Psychology,” as per her position as Coordinator of Internships for that department. Professor Serbay will also be teaching two psychology classes this summer. Last week, the State Times used potentially misleading rhetoric stating that Serbay is “moving over” to the sociology department – we apologize sincerely for any confusion this generalization may have caused.
The rumors over how the departing psychology faculty will be replaced are at least as numerous and varied as those concerning the underlying reasons for the departures, not to mention those buzzing on about the department’s internal political situation. For now, it seems that currently employed adjunct professors will be taking over the classes previously taught by those who are leaving. This, at least, may lend some sense of continuity in the face of this significant staffing disruption. Reportedly, the efforts of these adjuncts will be supplemented immediately by new, full time faculty. Dr. Cynthia Miller noted: “The psychology department has hired new faculty, and is fully
prepared to meet the needs of our students in all ways for the foreseeable future.”
Unfortunately, the lack of cooperation and undue apprehension the State Times received in response to our investigation has left us unable to name, report on or welcome these new professors into our learning community with this article. Whoever they are, the remaining psychology faculty appear confident in the ability of their department to provide for their students. Dr. Brown, echoing Dr. Miller’s earlier sentiment, stated: “Several talented and well-qualified people are in place to make sure there is no disruption in the courses we are offering.” Oneonta students, it seems, should have reason to believe that the psychology department, despite the departure of so many exceptionally qualified faculty, will rebound in order to continue providing a high quality of education and a wide variety of classes in future semesters.