Wittenberg board OKs $4.5M in cuts

Springfield university president discusses what might come next.

Wittenberg University’s Board of Directors this weekend approved a plan to cut $4.5 million from the budget in the next four years.

The spending cuts were worked out over a difficult 10 months in which Wittenberg President Laurie M. Joyner arrived on campus and sounded the alarm about a $7 million budget problem, which some sensed was looming but caught others flat-footed.

And at a time when the trend is to judge college outcomes by graduates’ incomes, Joyner sat in her office last week, entertaining another notion.

“I’ve never known anybody who thinks (he or she) is living a meaningful life who isn’t successful,” Joyner said.

Her view that the current emphasis is “too much on the career piece and not as much on the meaningful life” may furrow brows outside the university. But it may also motivate a Wittenberg community trying to stay true to its liberal arts tradition as it moves toward a curriculum that offers more career-oriented programs needed to balance its budget.

The cuts leave $2.5 million more in red ink for the university to find over the next four years from one of two sources: cuts to its current staff and programing or new income from programs it already has started to develop, among them a bachelor of nursing completion program.

Peter Hanson, head of the Educational Policy Committee, which struggled through the cutting process in the past year, said the next year still is likely to be difficult but not as grim.

“I think it’s going to be one of change, when we’re going to start to begin to see the effects of the cuts,” he said. “But one thing that will be different is that Laurie (Joyner) has constituted an innovation committee” filled with people “charged to think outside the box.”

“I have confidence in the people who will be doing this work,” he said. “I think there’s an expectation, and I think there’s a faith, that they’re going to accomplish some very significant things.”

He said the speed at which the university moved to create a program to help registered nurses get their bachelor of science in nursing shows what can be done.

The program’s director was hired April 1, “and from that day, we proposed a new curriculum and degree, and it was approved by the faculty April 30,” Hanson said. “It’s a 29-day turnaround,” said Hanson. “I’ve never seen such a thing.”

The program will start in the fall.

Joyner she hopes the innovation committee can help the university’s parts connect in a way that can make a stronger whole.

“We have our admissions people working on a comprehensive internationalization plan,” she said, one that would not only boost enrollment by attracting more international students but address the serious educational question of “how we’re going to educate for global citizenship.”

At the same time, the university is trying to find out how to build on its strengths. One of those area has been East Asian Studies, a program some think the university should have exploited and grown into the kind of so-called “signature program” — one that would help to advance its reputation.

Joyner said such a program could be built by adding high-profile field studies or semesters abroad and co-curricular programs, related activities on campus related to the programs.

Joyner also said the university might build a program of “social entrepreneurship” by merging lessons taught in the business school with Wittenberg’s goal for students to find a vocation or calling and reach out in service to others. That could link, of course, to the university’s community service program.

Her brainstorming includes the possibility of parlaying the strength of Wittenberg’s science programs to build the first part of a physician’s assistant program in which students would spend their first three years at Wittenberg and perhaps two at another school for their practicums.

Joyner also talked about the need to change Wittenberg’s administrative structure so it can help students coordinate their classroom and out-of-class activities in ways that makes their educations more meaningful.

“We talk about educating the whole person,” she said, but need to develop an integrated approach to deliver on that, “a four-year developmental approach to each student.”

Although she said the most motivated and directed Wittenberg students take advantage of international study, internships, community service and other offerings, some others others do not.

“If we don’t organize our institutions in ways that work for them, we don’t maximize true potential,” she said. Doing that “is what families are demanding,” she said.

Again, the proposal serves two purposes: Getting students more involved in the whole college experience is not only more true to the idea of the liberal arts education, it also is a way to address one of the university’s chronic problems: students who leave Wittenberg before graduation, taking their tuition money with them.

“Ultimately, I think what a liberal arts education is about is helping students figure out who they are and what they value and what their responsibilities are to others,” Joyner said.

She and Wittenberg and hoping to persuade enough people that this remains the foundation of the successful career that goes with a meaningful life and is worth the $47,766 tuition and costs projected for the 2013-14 school year.

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