The budget cuts announced Nov. 17 will affect 42 total faculty and staff positions in total over the next two and a half years, according to an email last week from President Philip Ryken. The email on Nov. 29 provided a recap of the faculty town hall on Nov. 18, and no changes or new information were announced.
“We do not plan to make any further announcements for the Academic Division that have a direct effect on student experience,” Ryken said in an email to the Record.
At the town hall, administrators confirmed that, in addition to the 10 pre-tenure or permanent lecturer faculty positions that are being eliminated involuntarily, the positions of 15 faculty who are retiring will be eliminated once they are vacated in the next two and a half years, starting with 12 in spring 2023. Provost Karen Lee said in an email to the Record that the latter category of decisions were individual and voluntary.
According to the charts shown at the town hall and sent to faculty and staff in the recap email on Nov. 29, 17 faculty will depart at the close of the spring 2023 semester, as a result of position elimination after voluntary resignation, in the case of 12, or the nonrenewal of five visiting or part-time faculty lines.
Next year will see the beginning of the losses from the 10 involuntary faculty position eliminations announced on Nov. 17, as seven faculty (five pre-tenure, two part-time and two permanent lecturers) will depart in May or June 2024, alongside two more position eliminations after voluntary retirements. Finally, in 2025, one permanent lecturer position, two pre-tenure, and one position elimination after voluntary retirement will occur.
The 10 staff whose positions will be eliminated or hours reduced are the only affected staff so far in the academic reprioritization timeline. Academic staff includes, for example, office coordinators, administrative assistants and laboratory staff, among others, who have a non-faculty role within the college’s academic division.
During the town hall, which was closed to students and to the media, Ryken, Lee and Vice President for Finance Chad Rynbrandt provided details on further budgetary changes, including a 15% cut to academic operational expenses, which include things like copying, hospitality, office supplies and equipment. Ryken reiterated in the recap email that a separate review of the planned position eliminations determined that they were proportional with overall faculty and staff demographics, primarily race and gender.
At the town hall, the administrators also presented a chart that estimated that by the 2025-26 academic year, the student-faculty ratio will be equal to what it was in 2017-18, as the size of the faculty will then be proportional to undergraduate student enrollment at a ratio of 10.7.
The reductions in general have been on the horizon for faculty for months, but the individual losses are nevertheless making waves among faculty and students alike.
“Many faculty believed that a number of reductions needed to happen,” said Ken Chase, associate professor of communication. “What no faculty are pleased with are any of the individual personnel decisions that had to be made, because these are valued colleagues with family and friends and careers.”
Some students began to circulate open letters of support for individual faculty members in the days following the initial announcement, but Ryken said his office had not yet received any petitions.
Nathan Cartagena, assistant professor of philosophy, said that there are a range of moods among faculty in the wake of the announcements. Some whole departments made it through the cuts unscathed, while others will see more significant downsizing.
“Some [faculty] feel betrayal and confusion; others feel anguish and rage; still others feel sorrow and relief,” he said. “And for many departments, morale is low–really low.”
The town hall and subsequent recap email also provided guidance for students, faculty and staff to acknowledge and support colleagues and mentors who are leaving as a result of these cuts. The presentation given at the town hall encourages students to send cards with messages of appreciation and pray for affected faculty and staff.
Michael Wilder, dean of the conservatory of music and division of arts and communication, emphasized that the academic cuts came from a need to correct a looming budget deficit, not to fire incompetent faculty and staff.
“One thing that helps is that most of what we’re doing isn’t performance-based,” said Wilder. “It’s really looking at the structure of the academic program and trying to work within that.”
No official list of position eliminations has been released, and so far details besides what was in the emails and the town hall are being spread through word-of-mouth.
“Because these decisions affect personnel, they’re confidential,” said Chase. “So, many faculty would like to know more about how individuals are doing and how departments are doing. But we can’t know everything that we want to know.”
Wilder said he is hopeful that the changes can be reversed with increased enrollment in the coming years.
“I so deeply believe that the world needs more of Wheaton College, not less,” said Wilder. “This is to make the college less, as far as its resources and otherwise, and so I’m deeply prayerful that this is temporary.”
Noah Cassetto contributed reporting.