The chaplain’s office is facing a $120,000 budget reduction for the next academic year in the latest round of campus-wide budget cuts related to enrollment shortfalls. For the chaplain’s office, which directs student spiritual life on campus, this means two staff positions will be merged, two will be reduced in hours by 50%, and there will no longer be class chaplains, a student leadership role. The first change, the moving of Family Groups to the Office of Multicultural Development, was announced in an email to students on February 15.
“We will take our reduced team and restructure the office in such a way that we manage the current resources we have — do more with less,” Chaplain Angulus Wilson said.
On March 14, Wilson announced in an email to the Discipleship Ministries Cabinet that Eric Larson, the current ministry associate for faith and sexuality, will also serve as ministry associate for discipleship in a role that merges the two positions.
In his new combined position Larson will continue to lead the Discipleship Group (DSG) for Refuge, a Bible study group designed for students navigating same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, while also guiding the Discipleship Ministries cabinet in their leadership of Discipleship Small groups (DSGs) and Strongholds groups.
While Larson said he was excited about the new role, he also urged a realistic approach to what a merger means.
“You are basically combining two full-time jobs,” Larson said. “So it’s a merger, it’s not a cut, but realistically it means we have one less staff person with a similar workload. Time will tell what is feasible or not.”
Senior Richard Poolman, discipleship ministries cabinet chair, said that the merged positions will affect the experience of students who come to the chaplain’s office seeking spiritual mentorship and guidance.
“We will lose a lot of face-to-face hours between qualified staff and students,” Poolman said. “That inevitably will affect how many students can receive mentorship and counseling from the office, although the quality of those reduced opportunities for mentorship that students may receive may not be affected.”
The second merger involves the position of Coordinator for Worship Arts, which is responsible for chapel program development and collaboration between college groups and departments for worship services. Under the new plan, that position will be combined with the ministry associate for care and administration. Jessie Taetz, the current coordinator for worship arts, will fill that role, which has been vacant since Francesca Tso stepped down in January.
Like Tso, Taetz will work closely with Wilson and Donté Ford, Donté Ford, the associate chaplain of worship, on administrative tasks. However, the aspect of care and support for the student chaplains will primarily fall to Wilson and his support staff.
Tso told the Record she resigned because she disagreed with the direction the chaplain was taking the office regarding the restructuring process. She said that she could no longer support the students in her care and had “experienced a decline in mental health due to the office environment.”
Poolman said that Abbi Littrell ‘21, who served as interim ministry associate for discipleship following the departure of Ray Chang ‘06, resigned for similar reasons in December.
In addition to the mergers, the restructuring includes reducing the hours of the discipleship ministries coordinator and the graduate chaplain, who presides over weekly graduate school chapels on Wednesdays, from 20 hours per week to 10.
Greg Anderson will continue as graduate chaplain, but the discipleship ministries coordinator position has been vacant since first-year master’s student Evan Young announced that he was resigning for academic reasons on March 15. A new coordinator will be hired this summer.
The plan will also eliminate class chaplains and their work of organizing class chapels and regularly meeting and praying with students.
Unlike the nine student chaplains who serve in campus-wide roles, class chaplains have no staff support in the office and few responsibilities, leading current sophomore class chaplain and communication major Evan S., who asked to be referred to by his last initial, to suggest that cutting class chaplains is best for the office.
“The class chaplain cut might marginally affect the student body, but all in all, I do not think it will have that large of an impact because class solidarity and class spiritual health are going to come from other sources anyway,” Evan said.
With the reorganization, Wilson said he expects collaboration to be the office’s strength.
“It’s going to be a very healthy office, because it’s going to pull us together to not work in silos, but look abroad to the other offices across campus,” said Wilson. “We’ve got to partner with everybody in order for students to be served well.
Even so, student leaders like Poolman are cautious.
“I am concerned about what would happen if the office tries to maintain the same levels of engagement with the student body,” said Poolman. “With the current staff support as well as financial budget, it would result in not only staff but student burnout and would be detrimental to the spiritual health of the campus.”