30 faculty and 30 staff positions to be cut by May 2020

Faculty and staff discuss upcoming cuts at faculty senate meeting and community gathering

By Molly Korzenowski and Emma Eidsvoog

With a projected $11 million budget deficit over three years, the Executive Leadership Team came up with a three-year plan to set Bethel University up to balance the budget, mainly with staff and faculty cuts. During a gathering in the Underground, President Jay Barnes unveiled the plan to the Bethel community Dec. 10 regarding these cuts coming in January and April.

In April, about 30 faculty positions will be cut, according to Provost Deb Harless. Eight of the cut positions are vacant or filled by retiring or phasing out faculty.

About 30 staff positions will be eliminated, according to Chief Human Resources Officer Cara Wald. Those who are included in the cut will be notified Jan. 13 and 14. Five of the cut positions are already vacant.

“We need to make decisions to increase the likelihood of Bethel’s success in the future,” Barnes said.

In the past, Bethel has relied on enrollment increase to balance its budget. But due to the current climate in higher education, Barnes said that focus needs to be shifted. Bethel’s budget needs to be reduced so that the institution can run even if enrollment drops from about 2,300 to 2,100 students.

The plan consists of expense reductions, innovations and restructuring. According to Wald, 23 percent of funds will come from new programs, 15 percent from material reductions, 14 percent from typical annual reductions and 45 percent from personnel reductions.

According to Barnes, 11 out of the 13 schools in the Christain College Consortium have made major cuts like Bethel is about to make. Secular universities, such as University of Minnesota-Duluth, have made similar changes as well.

Harless said help will be available to any student whose degree or schedule is affected by any of these changes.

The previous Wednesday, Faculty Senate discussed budget cuts at the start of its meeting. Assistant Provost Deb Sullivan-Trainor answered questions from faculty about the decision process.

The week before the meeting, emails were sent out to department chairs and program directors to gather information about each department. Sullivan-Trainor hopes to glean insight on different aspects of each department as well as which positions would be difficult to fill with adjuncts. All of this will inform the President’s Cabinet on 2020 staff and faculty cuts. However, some faculty voiced concern about having to answer these types of questions.

Art professor Amanda Hamilton said she wasn’t comfortable providing information on who was “dispensable” in her department.

“I am contracted to be a faculty member. Not to make faculty cut decisions,” Hamilton said. “It feels like it puts the chair in a position to indicate significant parts of the program or people to be eliminated.”

Along with insight from the senate and department chairs, Sullivan-Trainor will look at data on the number of graduates and current students in each program.

Hamilton asked Sullivan-Trainor if there was a dollar amount required from each department, insisting that if they knew that number, her Art and Design Department would be spending its next two weekends finding solutions.

Sullivan-Trainor advised her “say what you’re comfortable saying” in her responses to the questions.

According to Sullivan-Trainor, personnel makes up most of the budget, but it’s difficult to equate a dollar number to a number of staff positions. And it’s difficult to make these choices.

“There are horrible decisions and there are really horrible decisions and we want to do the least damage possible,” Sullivan-Trainor said in response to Hamilton’s concern.

Some faculty voiced concerns about non-academic cabinet members having the final say on which positions will be cut. English professor Marion Larson questioned the decisions of cabinet members, such as facilities management or marketing administrators, calling that strategy “so deeply problematic.”

Sullivan-Trainor assured faculty based on her experience on the cabinet during the last round of cuts last year, they listen to one another to make an informed decision. Faculty members voiced support for Deb Sullivan-Trainor, saying they trusted her with such decisions and thanked her for her work. As assistant provost, she said she isn’t in a position to make those decisions before she retires this year. She insisted that, although Provost Deb Harless is one vote, she has a strong voice among the cabinet.

“I appreciate your candor and honesty,” Biblical and Theological Studies Professor Eric Leafblad said. “It feels like the first time someone has spoken to us like adults.”

Additional reporting by Makenna Cook

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