Bethel University is expecting a $6 million deficit next year largely due to a decrease in overall enrollment.
By Callie Schmidt and Alayna Hoy
- There is a $6,163,700 budget shortfall projected for next year.
- The President’s Cabinet is saying the shortfall was primarily caused by a decrease in student enrollment in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS).
- As part of a temporary solution, the Cabinet has cut $1.6 million from the budget this year that would have been used for maintenance and general projects around campus.
- A temporary salary freeze will mean no raises for faculty, staff, and administrative members within the next year.
- The Cabinet plans for the budget to be balanced by next year after all of their initiatives.
- Humanities professors are worried Bethel is steering away from a liberal arts university and more towards a science and career-based institution.
More than 80 people gathered Wednesday night at the faculty senate meeting in the Eastlund room to discuss Bethel’s budget shortfall, which caused a $1.6 million cut from next year’s budget, plus a reevaluation of Bethel’s current programs.
According to provost Deb Harless, the problem is a recurring one, and will remain so until Bethel can find a sustainable solution to increase student enrollment.
Though the meeting lasted over 90 minutes, many faculty and administration members stayed afterwards to discuss the issue further.
IMPACT ON STUDENTS
With no mention of the budget shortfall in the Bethel E-announcements, many students do not know about the deficit – but how will this affect CAS students?
Patrick Brooke, Bethel’s chief financial officer, said a commitment to providing financial aid will hopefully keep the budget crisis from greatly impacting the net cost of tuition.
Susan Brooks, English professor and previous faculty senate president, agreed that everything will be done to not let the projected budget shortfall impact students. Still, Brooks and other faculty worry that if professors are stretched thin by increased workloads and hours, the result could be a decreased responsiveness and individual engagement with students.
“I think this directly threatens the quality of the education you’re receiving,” said Chris Gehrz, faculty senate vice president. He added that if budget problems continue, it could someday lead to courses or even departments being cut.
RESPONSE FROM FACULTY
That’s how Gehrz described the feeling among faculty in light of the budget shortfall.
Both faculty and cabinet members remember the sting of a budget shortfall five years ago that led to faculty layoffs. Many have expressed frustration in finding themselves in the same position. They want to know how this budget shortfall happened, why they didn’t know sooner and what is being done to fix it.
Other professors asked why the solutions set into action are not keeping Bethel out of financial trouble now.
“If all of these strategic plans are so fantastic why are we sitting here again?” Brooks asked.
Paul Reasoner, a philosophy professor, appreciated Brooke taking some responsibility for not communicating the data with faculty members in a timely manner.
“I still think there’s a kind of dissonance in that we’re a Christian liberal arts institution, but it’s pretty clear that any departmental track that automatically leads to some kind of career is where the money is going,” Reasoner said.
Reasoner suggests better marketing to prospective students and their parents about the benefits of the humanities.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FUTURE?
Faculty senate will meet again in two weeks and will continue discussing the unanswered questions. Staff reductions announcements will be coming out in May, but there will be no professors cut.
Other short-term adjustments to the deficit problem will include salary freezes for all faculty next year and the elimination of some staff openings.
“I think there are a number of questions that we don’t have good answers to yet,” Brooks said. “Now the senate needs to look and see what our next steps will be.”
More in-depth coverage will appear in our upcoming print edition Feb. 14.