Many community members upset, confused about program cuts

An email announced the majors and programs that will be discontinued, leaving many of the affected students, faculty and staff sad and confused.

By Maddie DeBilzan and Jasmine Johnson

Three days after a bleak Monday, when professors wore black and staff and faculty members were notified of cuts due to a budget shortfall, a 2:24 p.m. email from Bethel University President Jay Barnes popped up in every student’s inbox.

It was stormy and thunder roared outside while students hunched over their laptops and read the news aloud to each other.

Theatre, physical education, health education, media production, sociology and independent filmmaking majors will no longer be options for incoming students, the email said. The film studies minor will also be discontinued, and the reconciliation studies program will be moved to the Department of Social Work. Some majors that have been discontinued will still be offered as minors.

“About 10 open positions will not be refilled,” the email said. “In addition, we’ve eliminated about 15 current staff positions.”

Students who are already enrolled in one of the affected majors will be able to finish their degrees at Bethel in a “teach-out” program.

Six faculty members have also been let go, and three of those positions will not be refilled. The three remaining positions will stick around throughout the teach-out process.

But students and professors are still confused about the future of their affected programs.

“How big will the class sizes be? How many of my professors will still be around? How will this affect the quality of my education? What will the “teach-out” program look like?” Are all questions the Clarion staff members heard throughout the hallways and in anonymous interviews.

“I think the cuts just show that Bethel has set its focus on the majors such as business and nursing,” Beau Smith, a media production major, said.

Lisa Kemple, instructor of health education, will not be returning to Bethel next year. She said she was surprised to hear the news, and that she isn’t sure who will teach the students who need to finish their health education major at Bethel.

Bethel’s total enrollment has decreased by 744 students in the past five years.

Since 2008, Seminary enrollment has halved, the College of Adult and Professional Studies enrollment has gone down 33 percent, and the College of Art and Sciences enrollment has shrunk by 12 percent.

A scanned chart of Bethel’s total enrollment over the past 10 years. Courtesy of Pat Brooke.

Pat Brooke, Bethel University’s Chief Financial Officer, said private universities across the country are being affected by competitors that offer a more affordable education, such as the University of Phoenix, DeVry University, and nanodegree programs now being offered by companies such as Microsoft and Google.

He also said enrollment is down because there are fewer high school graduates in general — especially in the Midwest.

Student body president Kennadie Anderson acknowledged Bethel’s financial position and the program cuts in an email response to the Clarion:

“We are clearly encountering a financially challenging time as a university,” she wrote. “As a student, I am of course saddened by necessary cuts, yet I trust the discernment of administration as they lead us forward.”

The theatre department is especially upset about the changes.

Freshman theatre student Kyle Doherty, who enrolled in Bethel because of its theatre and choir programs, expressed his frustration of losing the opportunity to perform in any productions his senior year.

“It’s sad to me that people coming in won’t be able to experience that in full,” Doherty said. “It’s been a growing passion of mine and I’m just really upset about it.”

Hank Olson, a theatre major and the student leader of Intelephant, the improvisation group on campus, also expressed frustration at the announcement of the changes.

“The theatre department is all about relationships and care, and I feel like none of that was taken into consideration,” he said. He said he and fellow theatre majors are full of grief and mourning as the realization sets in that the theatre department will soon be phased out.

Olson also said he feels that the people interested in theatre at Bethel have been underrepresented, because more than 40 students are usually involved in each production — which is a lot more than what the narrow list of theatre majors actually shows.

Theatre department chair and associate professor Meg Zauner said that the loss of the theatre program was both shocking and short-sighted.

“How is it that we’re a liberal arts university and we lose one of the arts?” she said.

The theatre department proposed to save up to $100,000 annually and said it would continue to create revenue through their four productions every year. The proposal efforts failed.

An all-faculty email from Faculty Senate President Chris Gehrz on Sept. 20 mentioned a community gathering Tuesday morning at 11:15 in The Underground.

He also invited CAS faculty to a meeting on Wednesday at 4:15 for worship and prayer. “After that time has concluded,” the email said, “faculty leaders and any available senators will stay behind in order to listen to your concerns in advance of the Senate meeting the following week.”

Editor’s note: stay tuned for more updates throughout the week as this story develops. Additional reporting by Clarion staff members. 


12 comments on “Many community members upset, confused about program cuts

  1. Lindsay Maer

    This is wrong. Bethel has failed it’s students by cutting the theatre program. The professors there invested much more time, energy and support than I ever recieved from my major (psychology). In a world that is crying out for Christian influence particularly in this realm we need to support and train more people in this manner. To say I am angry and disappointed is an understatement. I will have a difficult time supporting you in the future.

  2. Pamela Cooper

    I graduated from Bethel in 2006. I was a non-traditional adult working my way to my degree in Youth Ministry and minoring in drama. Now both of those programs have been eliminated. I am so saddened and dismayed at the decisions that have brought these cuts about.

  3. Traci Petersen

    I, for one, am an alumna that participated in theatre without being a theatre major. It is a sad day for Bethel when future students will have to be told they cannot have the same benefit I had.

  4. I’m in shock. Bethel Theatre goes beyond education- it’s a welcoming and needed community. How can Bethel be a liberal arts college without a full scope of all art forms? Sadly, with the elimination of the Theatre Department my connection to Bethel in the future as an Alum has been diminished.

  5. This is just common sense on Bethel’s part. Private schools rely to a large degree on alumni donations, which generally come from alumni in the business and hard science fields. Additionally, Bethel has been alienating many older conservative donors through its progressively more liberal social science and religion departments.

    • As a parent of a current student, I tend to agree. We were excited by the prospect of sending all four of our children to Bethel. However, after our child’s first year on campus, we’re reconsidering that notion. A professor refused to address God as “Himself” and rather requested students use “Themselves”. I just read an article online that Bethel encouraged the use of humankind versus mankind. Chapel speakers are unprepared and not a huge draw for students. We’ve been in ministry for 25 years and wanted a conservative Christian college experience for our children. I guess we were expecting a more committed and deeper spirituality on campus. Sad to say, we are considering recommending our eldest transfer to a more conservative school.

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