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.
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.
I hated this place by the time I left. I worked and got my degree from here. It is such a mess. This used to be one of the top Christian workplaces and by the time I left no one cared. Just think I worked here and no one could explain in a clear concise way what Bethel was and what our exact mission was. One day I would be told we are a university that happens to be Christian to we are to be the #1 Christian university to you name it. If I work there and cannot get a straight answer how can someone else get it. So I was sold in the degree program I was in that it was faith based and at no time during my time in the program was that delivered on. People have asked if they should come to Bethel and I have told them they should look elsewhere due to what I saw happen here. I witnessed good people being laid off who loved their work and then would go to the campus store and see staff sitting around talking for hours doing nothing. As mentioned above Bethel has strayed from their roots and gotten liberal. Many donors would give to the school, however the school has gotten increasingly liberal and repelled many people because of it. I know I cannot in good faith encourage people to come here and look so many others just got their degree and got out as soon as I could.
I used to work here and be a student and when I started here Bethel was continually rated as a top ten Christian workplace in MN. For the graduate degree I signed up for I was promised a faith based viewpoint on the degree. By the time I got my degree and left my job Bethel had really gone downhill. Bethel was no longer a top Christian workplace to work at due to most of the faculty/staff that older got systematically laid off/early retirement and since like mentioned above Bethel has gotten more liberal alot of the faculty/staff that valued the Bible and its values left for Northwestern and other more Bible based colleges. I personally in my degree program was mistreated for having believed the Bible for what it stands for and because Bethel has mistreated its workers also have told people who have asked to avoid Bethel and go elsewhere. If I told you have I and other staff/faculty have been treated at Bethel you would not want to come here either.
As a Bethel alum who graduated with a degree in English Literature, I’m very disappointed to see Bethel moving in this direction. On my very first day as a Bethel student, one of my professors asked: what saves more lives, poetry or medicine? His point was that medicine may seem like a more practical and more obvious field to invest in, but society runs on poetry as much as it runs on medicine, and on art as much as it runs on math, science, and business. I always felt like Bethel grasped that truth and was prepared to invest in it.
But now I see these cuts and think that Bethel no longer values these disciplines and is interested in only the most obviously lucrative disciplines. However, many articles have shown that the humanities and degrees in the arts are actually more attractive to future employers because these students have the communication and critical thinking skills that aren’t central in many other disciplines. They learn creative, complex, and nuanced ways to approach work and they are driven by more than money. They want to make this world better.
I believe the arts are not only marketable, but they are vital to lived faith and to building a better world. I’m sorry to see Bethel cut programs that are a crucial building block in our society. I think it’s a road Bethel will ultimately wish it had not taken. Invest in science. Invest in business. But invest in art, too. It saves lives.
I, for one, am grateful that I attended Bethel during a time when the arts and humanities are valued and invested in. I am glad I was a student when professors were allowed to push students to think outside the box and consider other ways of looking at the world. I hope Bethel returns to those bold roots and works harder to manage money in a way that serves all of its students and faculty.
Jesus told parables. That was the resonating core of my education in the theatre department: the importance of stories and the importance of people connecting. So I’d love to share a few stories of what training in theatre has led to in my life. These stories are only a small portion of the legacy of this program and my passionate professors:
5 students dance to the music, following a blue circle taped to the floor. One slides on his knees into the middle striking an exuberant pose, starting an avalanche as the other students from the circle add their own frozen statues to the tableaux. The last student, a particularly thoughtful boy, walks to the back of the tableaux, and turns his back to the others. “What do you see?” I ask the remaining students who are watching from their chairs. Hands wave eagerly in the air. “He’s alone and sad.” “How can you tell?” I ask. “His head is down and he is turned the other way.” “Interesting. How could you change this picture?” I ask. I watch as the student gets up from his chair and goes to join the boy who has turned away, slinging his arm around his shoulder.
This moment may not seem remarkable to you, but perhaps if I told you these students are first graders that live in a volatile neighborhood where the housing is not up to code, several families are often living together, gunshots are a familiar sound, and domestic violence is commonplace. Perhaps if I told you that the student speaking has started a fight nearly every day that I’ve worked with him in the past few months. Perhaps if I told you, these two students in particular have fought several times before. Perhaps if I told you that this was the first time I’ve seen this child openly demonstrate empathy towards another.
In another moment I am kneeling in a classroom holding out two laminated pictures to a student who uses a wheelchair: one with a lion, one with a mouse. I ask him which one he feels like inside. One of his aids says to me “he can’t talk” I glance over and give a cursory nod and smile to acknowledge I’ve heard them and turn my attention back—waiting. The student slowly shifts his head so he can see the two choices and I adjust to a better angle sensing his cue, and then he grows animated reaching decidedly for the lion and throwing his head back with a giant (and totally silent) “ROAR” and sly grin. The adults standing around him look startled and delighted, but I am too busy roaring back because the two of us have just exited the cramped classroom and are frolicking on the Savannah.
I’ve seen time and time again if you keep making the space for it and keep learning all the different ways people might reach out, eventually the day will come when they give back in some way and you find communication together. I have seen a man with no mobility beyond his facial muscles choreograph an entire dance with his eyes, I have met incredibly precise and imaginative directors without sight, and I have even heard people who I was told could not talk suddenly speak full sentences.
In another moment a police officer is offering to get me a drink of water and asking my name while I scream and cry. No, I’m not under arrest. I’m in the training center of the Hennepin County Jail. I work there as an actor re-enacting real-life scenarios between police and people who live with mental illness who are in crisis. My work allows police officers, nurses, teachers, and other first responders to practice verbal de-escalation using empathy and building rapport–training that can ultimately save lives as we reduce hands-on interactions and continue to elevate all human dignity.
Theatre is a powerful thing.
This comment from a Feb 7 Clarion is a dangerous indication of a lack of leadership, from the president’s office on down. “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.” Nothing new under the sun. No new ideas, and lacking new leadership, ‘been there, done that’ will become the mantra of us all. – Greg Smith ‘79 and former journalism adjunct and CAPS adjunct