On Dec. 19, EMU students were informed via email that some budgetary reduction would be put in place for the 2018-2019 academic year. This included the discontinuation of majors in philosophy, theology, and theatre, as well as the TESOL minor and special education licensure. Additionally, EMU’s faculty population was reduced by seven members.
Vice President for Finance Daryl Bert detailed the university’s financial troubles at a student forum held on Wednesday, Jan. 24. According to Bert, from 2010 to 2015, EMU was growing slowly. However, in 2016, enrollment slowed down. EMU had been enjoying an average of 230 new undergraduate students — in 2016, there were only 190 new undergraduates. This — in addition to enrollment declines in other programs — led to EMU beginning to tighten its belt by reducing staff positions and offering voluntary early retirement to faculty.
It became clear that this was not enough when at the beginning of this academic year, the university budget was still short about $1.5 million. Enrollment numbers were still projected to fall, pushing the university to take more severe action — namely, the reduction of faculty numbers.
University Provost Fred Kniss further narrowed the financial focus at the same forum. He said, “I want to focus on [a factor] that goes way back, and that is a single metric that describes a structural problem we have had in our budget for years that we haven’t been able to solve and we’re trying to solve. That is our student-faculty ratio.” EMU’s student-faculty ratio is 10:1. “[The ratio] is unsustainable, financially,” Kniss said.
Kniss continued. “We were talking about [student-faculty ratio] back in 2009 when I arrived, and the strategy then — which I think was the right strategy — was say ‘if we grow enrollment, it’ll solve this problem’ … Now that we’ve had two years in a row where enrollment has declined, the problem has reared its ugly head. And we really have to do something to solve that.”
The administration’s goal is that by reducing faculty numbers, the university can move back into an economically sustainable range. Kniss estimated that with seven positions cut, about 10 load and salary reductions, four unreplaced retirements, and six voluntary departures, EMU’s student-faculty ratio will be at about 12:1, which is still a low figure among private universities.
The following data comes from an FAQ document written by Associate Professor of Language and Literature and Vice President of Faculty Senate Kevin Seidel, and from a document of Guidelines and Criteria constructed by faculty and administrators in accordance with guidelines from the American Association of University Professors.
The criteria used for determining what programs to change or cut were — among others — the program’s impact on EMU’s mission, national and regional enrollment trends, enrollment trends at EMU, student-faculty ratios within the program, and the potential to reduce the program in size while still “maintaining an adequately rigorous academic program.”
Similarly, criteria used for identifying specific individuals for load reduction or position elimination were a review of an individual’s academic specialty, the individual’s centrality to program growth, recorded instructional quality, adaptability, and credit-hour generation. If decisions could not be made from these criteria, priority was given to tenured faculty, then tenure-track faculty, and so on. Student course evaluations were not directly used, but according to the FAQ document, course evaluations inform materials used for contract review, which was in turn used to help make the reduction decisions. Therefore, student evaluations indirectly inform the process.
The Faculty Senate has been involved in the process from the beginning, from determining whether or not faculty cuts were necessary to helping design and then approve the criteria listed above. According to Seidel’s document, meetings between administrators and faculty representatives lasted for hours. “Faculty voices were heard and are reflected in the [Guidelines and Criteria] document,” Seidel wrote in the document.
The cuts made will become effective at the end of the Spring 2018 semester. In terms of the majors and programs cut, no EMU student currently in one of the cut programs will be asked to change their field of study. The university is required to provide teach-out plans for each of the cut programs that will allow students already in those majors to complete their coursework. No new students will be able to enroll in those majors, and no current students will be allowed to transfer into them.
The Weather Vane printed last semester that it would release a list of faculty affected by these cuts, but in the interest of preserving the dignity of those affected, the information has not been made available, nor will it be published in any way.