Wittenberg University leaders will soon decide which 29 of the current 141 faculty positions should be cut to help address the university’s $7 million budget shortfall.
Spread over five years, the 29 reductions represents five more positions — and about $300,000 more — than the faculty’s Educational Policy Committee had recommended in its preliminary report in January.
Provost Christopher Duncan is holding a final series of meetings this week and said the additional cuts came after the administration and board reviewed the policy committee’s plan and found it “difficult to see” how the cuts could meet President Laurie M. Joyner’s goal of fixing the budget gap.
Joyner set the $7 million goal in August, a month after becoming president. The red ink built up during a time when enrollment declined and the university didn’t trim its expenses to offset falling tuition revenue.
Cutting the five additional positions would increase the academic side’s share of the cuts to $2.5 million.
The Wittenberg Board will meet in May to review the proposed academic and other cuts.
The university faculty has formal authority only over whether to start up or discontinue academic programs or degrees, not over individual positions.
But from the outset, Duncan, who as provost serves both on the faculty and in the administration, has worked with faculty members on the policy committee to identify the positions to be cut.
He said Monday he is “pretty inclined to accept most of the recommendations.”
This week, he’s making a final review of the proposed cuts with the heads of the academic departments to see if there are weighty enough reasons for last minute adjustments.
“These are decisions I will make, the president will review them and the board will review them,” Duncan said.
Whatever his recommendations, because of the size of the deficit and uncertainty over what other areas of the university can be trimmed, “we probably are still going to be exploring some more cuts,” Duncan said.
A big piece in the months ahead, he added, will involve how expenses and revenues balance one another as Wittenberg rolls out new programs it hopes will increase its income.
The university added environmental sciences and accounting majors last year. It also has approved a major in sports management and is on track to add a bachelor’s in nursing completion program.
Although the nursing program hasn’t been officially approved, the university has hired someone to create the program and anticipates a formal vote to establish it early next year.
“The new revenue usually lags behind the creation of the new program,” Duncan said. “The question is: How much?
“The sooner we move on the revenue front, the sooner we can start to pull back on the cost-cutting front,” he said.
On the other hand, if revenues from the new programs lag behind start-up costs, the additional expenses would put more pressure on the budget and require additional cuts.
That would put Wittenberg in the unenviable position of having growing and shrinking pains at the same time.
“There’s a sense of urgency right now,” said Duncan. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Peter Hanson, a chemistry professor who heads the policy committee, said as positions are eliminated, the faculty is voting on proposals to trim the curriculum, cutting some existing programs to make way in the budget for a new mix of offerings.
The faculty already have approved dropping a minor in Japanese, though still offering courses, and phasing out both the minor and major in geography.
The faculty is still deciding on proposals to eliminate a physical activity requirement and replace Witt Sem courses required of all freshmen with another program that will help students develop a bond with the university and increase the likelihood they’ll stay for four years.
Without a vote, the faculty agreed with a recommendation to discontinue a music performance major because of the number of speciality classes required to continue it.
Robin Inboden, who chairs the Faculty Executive Board, said “we basically accepted cuts equal to about 20 percent of the faculty,” something that, in the face of an uncertain future and because it involves colleagues now on staff, “seems like a lot.”
She said the cuts also will require pared-down departments to get creative about redesigning majors with an eye toward offering students as wide a variety of courses as possible within the limitations of reasonable faculty workloads.
Hanson said he sees in the painful present the potential of at least one long-term positive.
“Once these changes do come into being, it’s really going to enable Wittenberg to be a lot more flexible and grow in ways we haven’t been able to grow in the past,” he said.
Higher education is going through a time of change, and higher-price liberal arts colleges are facing particular challenges. Because of Wittenberg University’s current and historic importance to the Springfield community, the Springfield News-Sun has followed events there through this difficult year, digging into its financial woes and examining proposed cuts.