Final recommendations for the academic division's prioritization
On Tuesday, Oct. 13, the board of trustees held a special meeting and ratified the final recommendations for prioritization within the academic division.
The final recommendations include the elimination of five majors (art history, classical languages, Greek, Latin and theatre) and one minor (architecture). Calvin will retain the classical studies major and courses and minors in art history, Greek, Latin and theatre, and the Calvin Theatre Company will continue to be supported.
The German department faculty were able to present to the provost a way forward using their allocated teaching resources that will allow the department to keep its major—contingent on the Educational Policy Committee’s approval of a revised plan for spring 2016 advising.
We are thankful to be able to keep German as a major, but our gratitude is tempered by our grief about what the reductions in programs and the loss of valued colleagues will mean for us as a college. Please join me as you are able in praying for and supporting those directly affected by these decisions.
Prioritization Process Overview
This document is intended to help our many Calvin College constituents better understand the history of our prioritization process to date and to provide current information about our next steps. I apologize if for some of you what follows repeats information from earlier reports, but I have observed, too, that occasional review of our entire process can be helpful for all of our stakeholders.
We now are nearing the end of a process that has taken several years, a process in which these last steps are, in fact, some of the most difficult. We are in the final stage of a journey that sees us working faithfully to complete a significant financial restructuring by June 2017. This process began in the 2012-13 academic year, when we recognized the need to develop a long-term restructuring plan to meet the college’s debt obligations and put Calvin’s finances on a sustainable footing.
The college’s board of trustees then approved our prioritization plan in January 2014, and we have been working each year since then to meet the plan’s goals. Indeed, the prioritization plan provided a basis for the college’s financial restructuring effort and has involved cost reduction, reorganization and personnel reductions in every division of the college from the 2012-13 academic year to the present.
In May 2015, I provided a broad summary of our progress on all five strategies of the prioritization plan. This October 2015 update provides particular focus on the academic division’s contribution to prioritization.
Academic Division Prioritization Process
This last and most complex set of tasks has involved academic program reduction and reorganization as outlined in the provost’s recommendations. These recommendations did not come out of a vacuum, but came from an evidence-based process that began in 2012-13, with each department at the college providing quantitative and qualitative information about their programs. Departments were provided information by the provost’s office about the number of their graduates and majors and the interest in their programs from prospective students. Each department was invited to discuss their particular program’s mission statement and distinctives, the external partnerships their program had established and future opportunities their programs might want to explore. During the fall of 2013, the prioritization plan included campus-wide communication as to which programs were likely to be reviewed. The college’s Planning and Priorities Committee (PPC) then gathered more input in December 2013, and that input informed the final draft of a prioritization plan that was submitted to the board for approval in January 2014.
The final draft of the prioritization plan prompted some departments to make curricular revisions to improve efficiencies. In addition, faculty reductions by attrition and buyout were undertaken in alignment with the plan’s objectives, and further work began this spring to review all academic programs that fell below specific enrollment thresholds.
Provost Cheryl Brandsen appointed an academic prioritization task force in April 2015 to make recommendations to her and the deans for program reduction, so that she, in turn, could make final recommendations regarding our academic programs to PPC and the board of trustees this fall. The faculty task force worked to realize a net decrease of at least $800,000 in expenditures, while it kept the college’s mission statement, prioritization plan, strategic plan and educational framework at the forefront. In particular, the task force sought to adhere diligently to the principles identified in the prioritization plan:
- The preservation of quality in academic programs.
- A commitment to minimize any adverse effects on students from changes required by prioritization.
- A commitment to faculty and staff of the college to provide clear and accurate information and to handle reductions inworkforce fairly and according to the provisions contained in faculty and staff handbooks.
Over the summer, this task force of nine faculty did excellent work to study each program, review enrollment patterns and trends, assess demand for programs under review and meet with the faculty from programs under review to understand the human factors that go beyond the numbers. The task force reached consensus on its recommendations in September and forwarded them to the provost.
In short, the task force recommended the elimination of six majors (art history, classical languages, German, Greek, Latin and theatre) and one minor (architecture). Note: Final recommendations include keeping the German major.
In late September and early October, the provost, the deans and I met with students and faculty to make sure we understood the implications of these recommendations. After considering these interactions, last week the provost submitted final recommendations to PPC, which sent its final recommendations to me, and I, in turn, forwarded them to the board of trustees. These recommendations were ratified by the board on Oct. 13.
The task force listened well to the faculty who teach in these programs, but the enrollment in these programs over the past several years does not appear to be sustainable in an era of historically low tuition increases. (For more information on the number of graduates in each of the recommended programs please see question #5 in the FAQ.) It should be noted, though, that any student who is currently enrolled in any of these majors or minor will be fully supported in their effort to complete their degree at Calvin. It should also be noted that Calvin will retain the classical studies major and courses and minors in art history, Greek, Latin and theatre, and that the Calvin Theatre Company will continue to exist and be supported.
The task force also recommended changes to the organization of some academic departments, an ongoing commitment to reimagining the arts and humanities at Calvin and changes to the review of the viability of programs going forward. We will as a college be much more strategic and deliberate about regular reviews of opportunities, cost savings and efficiencies that might be gained college-wide by new ways of thinking about academic programs.
I want to add that the faculty task force was unanimous on this point (and I concur): Calvin will not thrive if the only outcome of prioritization is offsetting debt. On the contrary, the college must be deliberate about continuing to invest in its own reinvention and innovation. Put otherwise: Calvin must, in going forward, be as creative as it is careful.
In an academic community that values relationships, these kinds of program and personnel changes are painful and difficult. Yet, in all of my years of higher education work, I have never seen such a thoughtful, decisive and forward-looking set of recommendations from a faculty task force, and I believe that we as a Calvin community are indebted to the task force for its good work.
Any updates to the prioritization process will be added to this page to ensure that you are well informed. Until then, faculty, staff, students, alumni and many others, please know that we will continue to appreciate your prayers, support and the many examples of charity and grace.
Michael Le Roy