Editor’s Note: Due to some sensitive subject matter included in this article, some sources have chosen to remain anonymous.
During a faculty meeting held Feb. 5, President Greg Christy announced to the Northwestern faculty members that the college will be going through a process called “rightsizing” — a task that will include evaluating Northwestern’s current financial situation and cutting positions on campus to meet budgetary constraints.
“We are in the process of identifying programs that need to be reduced or eliminated to make things work,” Christy said. “If we can’t do them with excellence or don’t have demand from students, it could be time we stop doing some things.”
Though the exact number of positions that could be cut is still unclear, it is likely to include both faculty and staff members, and potentially even entire academic programs.
“We have no idea how many or who,” Christy said, “though it won’t be a massive amount like some institutions are having to do.”
The decision to rightsize comes from NW’s Board of Trustees, after attempts at other budgetary cuts have not added up successfully.
“We previously asked each department to look at their budgets and see where possible savings could be made,” said Dean of Faculty Adrienne Forgette “Everyone responded very well, but even that didn’t result in all the savings we needed.”
Between now and July 31, the Dean’s Council — a group made up of both faculty members and administrators — will meet to evaluate current programs and positions. Although the final decisions will be made by the president, this committee’s suggestions and input will be taken seriously.
“I highly value their input,” Christy said. “We’re dedicated to working as a community.”
By July 31, just a few weeks before the Aug. 15 start date of new faculty contracts, everyone will be notified of the status of their position. Faculty members, both tenured and non-tenured, will be given at least a one-year notice before their position is eliminated. Staff members are not contracted employees, so they may or may not receive the one-year buffer.
“We’re taking time to be thorough,” Christy said. “The process will involve robust discussions and thorough analysis.”
The main reason for the cutbacks is low enrollment.
“It’s all about getting the budget in line with the enrollment we have and hope to have,” Forgette said.
Enrollment in private institutions has been low ever since the Iowa Board of Regents made changes this past summer to the way funds are allocated to public universities by the state. Now, 60 percent of the funds provided for these schools are based on their in-state enrollment. This means that large public universities in Iowa have significantly increased their recruiting efforts in the state, resulting in decreased interest in smaller private schools like NW.
“This is a hard season,” Christy said. “We’re not isolated in this. The competition has never been greater than it is today.”
“We have good years, and we have challenging years,” said Director of Enrollment Kenton Pauls. “This year is shaping up to be a very challenging one.”
Two years ago, 287 students came in with the freshman class. Last year, there were around 350, which is about average for NW. According to Pauls, this coming year is expected to have enrollment numbers closer to those from two years ago.
Faculty reaction to the announcement of layoffs has been varied.
“None of this should come as a surprise,” said tenured Sociology Professor Scott Monsma. “If I’m a younger first- or second-year faculty member, I actually have more freedom. Me, being over age 50, people don’t even want to look at me. The people most likely to leave are the ones most likely able to find new work.”
Others do not see the situations as being quite so hopeful.
“I think what is most concerning is the long-term domino effect the announcement could have on both the college and the town,” said an untenured professor. “It could be big. And I don’t think that putting your entire faculty and staff on notice is ever a good thing. It could undermine people’s loyalty to the college.”
“There are just so many questions left unanswered at this point,” said a tenured professor. “I’m sure that we’ll be communicated information as it’s decided, but right now it’s hard not to worry.”
The announcement comes with direct effects for students as well. Concern has been raised about how students will be notified of the decision, and what the future could look like for students enrolled in programs that will not longer exist.
“We’d notify students at appropriate times and work with any and all students,” Christy said. “We’d like to help those students finish here. We hope, but I can’t promise that.”
Forgette explained the college is obligated by accreditors to assist students in finishing programs that are terminated. This could include enrollment in online classes, assistance with transferring to other colleges or “Teaching Out” certain programs — keeping faculty members on staff long enough to allow all current students in a program to finish their degrees.
If an employee who has a family member receiving a Tuition Waiver at the school is terminated, it is unlikely that the school will be able to continue offering that funding, though Christy said those factors could be “taken into consideration” during the decision-making process.
“We want to be gracious and try to help those students land on their feet,” Christy said.
Some faculty have expressed a concern for current students.
“It’s hard to just teach and grade and not be anxious about this,” said the untenured professor mentioned previously. “Unfortunately, I know for some it affects our jobs now.”
Other professors, however, are more hopeful this change could bring necessary adjustments given the current greater educational circumstances.
“It’s painful,” Monsma said, “but if we don’t adapt we’re gone.”
The Dean’s Council, who met for the first time this past Monday to begin the long process of suggesting cuts, will continue meeting for an unspecified number of sessions until final suggestions are delivered to the president for his consideration.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” Christy said. “These are colleagues we deeply care about. It’s important for NW to remain strong and vibrant long into the future. We’re doing this with heavy hearts.”