Adam Marshall, visiting professor of urban studies and anthropology, thought his three-year contract was too good to be true when he joined Wheaton’s faculty last summer.
“I wasn’t entitled to anything, but there was this expectation that [the contract would be extended],” he said he thought when he began the eight-month application process. “If it had not been personally articulated to me that the goal was to transition this position into a long-term tenured-track position after the 3-year contract, pending good performance, and going through the formal application process, I would not have taken this position.”
Marshall got the job and joined the department of anthropology, sociology, and urban studies to coordinate and teach in the urban studies program, which has about 30 students currently enrolled across a major and a minor. In November, Marshall was notified alongside other academic faculty and staff whose positions were being eliminated. As a visiting professor, he is not one of the 10 tenure-track faculty who were reported as “involuntary separations” in November. Visiting professor contracts are often renewed year-by-year, either to fill a temporary gap or in hopes of a permanent position. Marshall’s contract, initially offered for three years, was unusual.
Two other visiting professors in the department of anthropology, sociology, and urban studies were also informed that their positions are ending as scheduled, although it is possible that one or both will be returning for another year under new contracts or as adjunct faculty. Because those were one-year and year-to-year temporary contracts, respectively, the overall loss due to budget cuts to the sociology and anthropology department is only half of one full-time equivalent line, while the urban studies department also loses half of one full-time equivalent line, which Marshall’s position had previously combined.
Across the college’s 20-some academic departments, the overall decrease in full-time faculty, including visiting professors, will be around 13% by spring 2025, according to numbers of faculty provided by the Provost’s Office. The current faculty population, in spring 2023, is 213, but this will decrease to 184-186 by spring 2025. This is a result of lower than expected enrollment, which the college predicted would cause a 10% budget deficit by 2027 if changes were not made. Five of the faculty lines cut across various departments were added as visiting lines in 2016 to accommodate the introduction of the Christ at the Core general education curriculum.
Almost every academic department on campus is affected by the budget cuts of faculty and academic staff. Some departments did not respond to requests for comment on the effects in their department, and others did not wish to comment.
Provost Karen Lee told the Record in an email that every academic unit lost at least one full-time vacant position, but specific circumstances in each department determined whether those vacancies would lead to part-time replacements for instruction or position elimination. Some departments will lose multiple full-time faculty, others will merge programs or administrative roles to accommodate smaller staffs.
Faculty and Staff Reductions
In the applied health sciences and biology departments, which merged in 2021 to become the biological health sciences department, two full-time faculty and one part-time staff member had their positions eliminated, according to a staff member in the department. The reductions will mean that applied health science labs will be managed by biology staff, among other changes.
The department of chemistry will lose one of its six full-time faculty members. Allison Dick, assistant professor of chemistry, said this will affect class sizes in organic chemistry, which all students studying biological health sciences must take. She told the Record she is the faculty member who has been cut and will be departing the college at the end of her contract this summer to return to work in a cheminformatics industry position.
“I thought I was a teacher,” she said. “I thought that’s what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
The physics department lost two tenure-track professors and one three-quarter time lecturer unrelated to the cuts in summer 2022. Only one of those positions has been filled, and the other two have been eliminated in the cuts process.
The business and economics department, which with two majors confers the most degrees yearly of any academic department, is also facing the loss of one full-time faculty line. At the time that the cuts were announced in November, Matthew Forsstrom, assistant professor of economics, was finalizing an unrelated departure from the college to move closer to his family on the east coast. The faculty line left vacant by Forsstrom will now not be filled, according to Min-Dong Paul Lee, department chair and professor of business. Lee said that before the enrollment deficit began to lower class sizes, the business and economics department had difficulty getting all students into their necessary classes, even with 12 faculty. Now, he said, the loss of Forsstrom’s line will be sustainable until enrollment numbers return to their pre-pandemic levels, which he said he hopes will happen within a few years.
In the communication department, one of three full-time theater faculty has been cut, according to Michael Wilder, dean of the Conservatory, arts, and communication. Wilder, who is also the president of the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), said he appreciates the college’s approach to rolling out budget cuts slowly. He said he has seen other schools face similar or harsher financial difficulties and have to shut down completely, or at least cut down their budgets much more sharply. Though a number of full-time positions have been eliminated, the college is still supporting part-time and adjunct faculty positions to meet resultant needs, which he said he finds reassuring.
“I think that shows an institution that’s being as generous as possible and met some pretty stiff challenges,” he said. “And I for one very much appreciate that.”
The art department will lose one full-time faculty member position. One staff position, which serves as studio associate and gallery manager, will be reduced from a 12-month contract to a 9.5-month contract. Sheldon Till-Campbell ‘15 currently holds that position but is departing to go to graduate school, unrelated to the cuts process. The studio associate/gallery manager coordinates and sets up shows in the Walford Galleries and runs the studios in Adams Hall, where students take art classes and work on projects.
Till-Campbell’s position will be filled after his departure, but he said the cuts make him concerned for the workload that will increase across campus, particularly for the remaining academic staff who might be encouraged to “do more with less.”
“I worry for people in positions like mine, where the rubber meets the road, because I worry about our ability to say no and to prioritize well from that position,” he said.
The political science and international relations department is not facing personnel cuts of any current faculty or staff. Michael McKoy, department chair and associate professor of politics and international relations, said that the faculty line previously held by Kathryn Alexander, who stepped down from Wheaton in 2022, will now be closed as a part of the reductions. McKoy said that, though disappointed by the lost line, he is relieved that no current professors were let go.
McKoy said he hopes enrollment will recover in the next few years and allow the department to petition to reinstate the lost line, since Alexander helped teach vital classes in the department which were needed for students in the HNGR certificate.
“I think we have a strong case to do it,” he said. He added that as chair, one of his priorities is making sure every faculty member is taking stock of their own workload and eliminating or delegating responsibilities as needed.
Jeffry Davis, professor of English, is finishing a five-year term as dean of the humanities in June. He will maintain his position in the English department and as director of interdisciplinary studies. Davis told the Record in an email that the humanities division, which consists of the English, history, Interdisciplinary Studies, philosophy, and modern and classical languages departments, sustained more cuts than any other academic division. Davis’ role will be consolidated with that of David Lauber, current dean of the School of Biblical and Theological Studies, which encompasses both undergraduate and graduate programs. The new division, Humanities & Theological Studies, will cover humanities, undergraduate biblical and theological studies as well as the Center for Applied Christian Ethics and Core Studies departments. This merged division will be distinct from the graduate school’s Duane Litfin School of Ministry and Theological Studies, of which Marc Cortez will be the dean, filling a vacancy left by the departure of Ed Stetzer, which was announced in 2023.
The department of earth and environmental science, which covers the geology and environmental science majors, is consolidating with the chemistry department to accommodate administrative tasks. This merger is only administrative, meaning the majors will be unaffected, but will lose its office coordinator and department chair, as current chair Stephen Moshier will retire at the end of the semester. The two positions will now be covered by the chemistry department’s office coordinator and department chair, according to a staff member in the natural sciences division. The faculty line vacated by Moshier’s departure will not be filled, according to a staff member in the natural sciences division.
Departments have not yet finished deciding exactly how course offerings and programs will be affected by the cuts. Some faculty who have had their positions eliminated have contracts that end in spring of 2024, while others will be allowed to continue until 2025.
Some, like Marshall, have chosen to move on to other jobs. Marshall, whose background is in civil engineering, said he has accepted a civil engineering job in the neighboring suburb of Downers Grove beginning this summer. He noted that budget cuts are a problem many higher education institutions are currently facing, not just Wheaton. But as he leaves the academic world, he said he is disappointed to leave his students.
“I love teaching, and part of the depression and sadness is giving up on a dream that I had to have students and to journey with students through life and faith,” said Marshall. “ I would’ve loved to see myself here for a long, long time, but it’s just not gonna happen.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly implied that the department of anthropology, sociology, and urban studies lost three full-time equivalent faculty positions.