A Wittenberg University committee recommends eliminating 24 professors to help cope with a $7 million budget shortfall.
The preliminary report by Wittenberg’s Educational Policies Committee, or EPC, recommends trimming two dozen faculty positions over the next five years but not in the manner the administration had requested.
The cuts would achieve the $2 million savings the university estimated it needs from faculty positions. However, the EPC would do so by making across-the-curriculum cuts than rather eliminating specific programs and course offerings.
Faculty members and departments have until Feb. 15 to comment on the preliminary recommendations, which then will be brought to the faculty as a whole. The faculty is expected to act by mid-April and forward the proposal to the administration for review and presentation to the board of directors in May.
In October, Provost Chris Duncan, the university’s chief academic officer, asked the EPC to consider discontinuing programs in music, geography, French, Japanese and computer science; to consider eliminating a physical education activity requirement; and to eliminate WittSems, an integrated learning activity required of incoming freshmen.
Peter Hanson, a chemistry professor who chairs the nine-member EPC, said the committee ultimately decided that approach “seemed more like an amputation, where careful surgery might help.”
“We quickly realized that part of our strength (at Wittenberg) is in the diversity of offerings that we have,” he said. “A student taking dance was also a student majoring in biology. But we knew we still needed to achieve these (budgetary) goals, so we came up with an alternative proposal.”
The preliminary recommendations recommend:
- Downsizing the music department by 3-4 faculty but keeping a music major and minor;
- Reducing the dance department by one, dropping a dance major but retaining a minor;
- Cutting French by one professor but keeping a major and minor.
- Dropping a faculty position in Japanese and continuing to offer a minor only if it’s viable;
- Keeping the geography department and re-evaluating its staffing;
- Retaining current staffing and a major in computer science, and
- Cutting French and German faculty by 1 each.
The Witt-Sem programs would be eliminated and replaced by a new kind of freshman experience, and the physical activity requirement would be reduced from two semester hours to one.
The recommendation also calls for cutting: one faculty member each from the biology, business, education, math, political science and combined health, fitness and sports department; one to two positions from geology; three from English; two from history and religion; and up to one from psychology and sociology.
Many of the cuts come through unfilled vacancies and retirements.
“I won’t claim everybody is happy” about the proposal, said Hanson. But he said the round of applause the committee received last Thursday from a meeting of 80 faculty members demonstrated faculty support for the recommendations.
“I do feel good about this report,” Hanson said. “I think it offers a proposal to address our part of the budget in a way that doesn’t damage the mission of the institution.”
One thing likely to be on the mind of administrators and board members is whether it might be wiser to eliminate some programs in order to bolster the strength of those that remain.
That likely would call for more current faculty to lose their jobs.
Duncan, who sits on the committee, acknowledged that the proposal was “more of a global approach” than originally had been considered, but called it a “good-faith effort.”
“I think the committee has done very good work in a very short time under very difficult circumstances.”
“The bogey man” in the process, he said, involves financial assumptions and realities that are going to “drive a lot of these decisions.”
“The one thing that can’t be stressed enough,” he added, is Wittenberg’s hope to “improve enrollment and retention and build Wittenberg through growth rather than reduction.”
Duncan said that would be done by a two-pronged approach of boosting enrollment in the traditional program, including expanding the number of vocational-oriented programs; and expanding the number of non-traditional students in the School of Community Education through programs including degree completion, management and nursing and health-related fields.
The Springfield News-Sun has explained Wittenberg University’s financial problems for months, reporting on student enrollment and cost-saving measures to cover a $7 million budget gap. We will continue to uncover this important local story for the community in the months ahead.