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Academic Division Prioritization - Frequently Asked Questions

The prioritization within the academic division marks the final step in a process that began a few years ago. The following FAQ is intended to provide answers to questions related to this final step. (Please see the letter President Le Roy sent to students on Wednesday, October 14, 2015 to review the final recommendations).

If you are interested in learning more about the overall prioritization process, the strategies being followed by the college to pay down its long-term debt and the progress it is making in each of these areas, please visit www.calvin.edu/admin/president/finances/ 

Updated October 14, 2015

1. Which programs are being cut per the final recommendations?
The art history major, classical languages major, Greek major, Latin major and theatre major are being eliminated. The college will still offer courses and minors in these programs, a major in classical studies, and the Calvin Theatre Company. The architecture minor is also being cut.

2. The German major, which was slated to be cut per the preliminary recommendations, is being retained. What prompted this change?
Between the time preliminary recommendations were made public and final recommendations were made, the German department presented a way forward. This plan included restructuring the major in such a way that it can be taught by regular faculty members, without the use of affiliated or adjunct instructors, except in exceptional situations. This is also contingent upon an approved revised major being in place for student advising in spring 2016. The approved revised major will include targets for viability, and that viability will be assessed as part of the academic division’s regular review of all programs.

3. What process was followed leading to these final recommendations?
These recommendations 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 that 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 a faculty task force (nine faculty members representing nine different disciplines) in April 2015 to make preliminary recommendations to her and the deans for program reduction. That happened in late August. Those preliminary recommendations were sent to the college’s planning and priorities committee in late September and then were made public to the Calvin community. In early October, the provost, deans and president met with students and faculty to make sure they understood the implications of the recommendations. With those interactions in mind, the provost sent final recommendations to the planning and priorities committee for consideration. They, in turn, sent their final recommendations to the board of trustees, which ratified those recommendations on Oct. 13.

4. What metrics did the faculty task force use in evaluating these programs?
Some of the key metrics by which the faculty task force made its recommendations dealt with student interest and demand in the majors being recommended for elimination. So, such quantifiable measures as graduates by program, student to faculty ratio by department, current majors in programs and interest by first-year and transfer students were strong factors in the recommendations.

5. How many students graduated in 2014-15 with those majors/minor being cut? (The average number of grads over the past four years is in parentheses.)
Art history majors - 2 (3); Classical languages majors - 2 (1.25); Greek majors - 0 (1);
Latin majors - 1 (1.25); Theatre majors - 3 (2.25); Architecture minors - 5 (5.5)

6. I see programs are cut, but what about people?
Five regular faculty positions and one affiliated faculty position will be eliminated. When programs are eliminated, people are involved as well. We have had to make some difficult decisions throughout this process and this final stage of the process is no different. We will lose excellent faculty, as we have in previous steps in this process.  

7. What does this mean for my son/daughter who is enrolled in a program being recommended for elimination?
We are committed to teaching these programs to completion for current students and have an accreditation obligation to do so. Your student’s advisor and other faculty and staff across campus are here to support him/her and provide helpful counsel during this time. We encourage your student to talk with them.

8. Will there be more programs cut as a result of the prioritization process?
No. The implementation of these recommendations will conclude the academic division’s work in meeting the recommendations set forth by the board of trustees and the Planning and Priorities Committee in January 2014. All divisions of the college have had to realize expense reductions the past few years. As long as we continue to make progress on our enrollment goals we do not plan to make further reductions. In the future, regular review of program strength, health and viability will be a routine part of our practices.

9. Will there be more faculty and staff reductions?
As long as we continue to make progress on our enrollment goals we do not plan to make further reductions beyond those associated with the implementation of the current recommendations. This holds true for all divisions of the college.

10. This prioritization step is focused on faculty and academic programs. What has been done in other divisions of the college related to prioritization?
Every division has made significant reductions in expenses over the past three years to meet our obligations and maintain a balanced budget. This last stage of our prioritization effort includes the restructuring and elimination of some academic programs.

11. Why has the college turned to look for cost reductions from the arts and humanities? What about other areas?
In 2012, the college began a prioritization process with the goal of putting Calvin College on a sustainable financial footing by 2017. Since then, every division of the college has strategically made substantial expense reductions. For example, since 2012, attrition, reorganization and some involuntary reductions in force have reduced staff by 29 FTE (full-time equivalent). In the academic division in particular, since 2011, we have reduced the size of the faculty by 50 (312 to 262). We have done this even though we are teaching almost exactly the same number of students. Several departments are teaching more students with fewer faculty and this model is unsustainable. These cuts represent the final step of reductions that are necessary to reach the goals laid out in the prioritization plan.

12. Is Calvin College still committed to the humanities, languages and arts? If so, why have cuts seemed to focus on those areas?
Calvin College remains committed to the liberal arts as the foundation for learning, and that includes the humanities, languages and arts. That will not change. The reality is that we are passing through a challenging financial season and are nearing the end of a restructuring process that began in the 2012-13 academic year. While it is clear that many of the current program and employee reductions have come within the arts and humanities, these recent cuts were part of a careful and collaborative process that aimed at aligning faculty resources with student demand. A nine-member faculty committee, representing nine different disciplines and taking into account a plethora of qualitative and quantitative data, reached consensus on these recommendations for the provost. 

While it is difficult to see beyond the affected people and programs, we do recognize that by aligning faculty resources with student demand and the college’s strategic goals, we become more financially healthy as an institution, and we will be able to invest in innovative ways to help all disciplines of the college, including the humanities, languages and arts, flourish. What that will look like could be different from what we currently have but our commitment remains, nevertheless. 

13. What does it mean to reimagine the arts and humanities?
A group of faculty will be resourced and immediately commissioned to explore an alternative administrative/departmental structure that will strengthen the fine and performing arts, with implementation of the restructuring to be done by July 1, 2017.

14. What additional changes are being recommended related to the organization of some academic programs?
The task force identified several programs where additional cost savings and efficiencies could be captured; some of the programs are already working toward this. Rather than make prioritization decisions about these programs, the Academic Prioritization Task Force (the nine-member faculty committee) has charged the dean for academic administration and the academic deans to work closely with these programs to achieve the necessary savings.

15. How will programs’ viability be reviewed going forward?
The Planning and Priorities Committee has charged all divisions with reviewing each program’s viability at regular intervals. The Academic Prioritization Task Force recommends that by July 1, 2016, the Committee on Governance puts in place a structure and process by which to do this. Indeed, achieving efficiency will remain indispensable as we continue striving to provide students at Calvin College with the best possible education.

16. We have heard about cuts and buyouts recently at Calvin, but where is positive momentum being seen at the college?
Calvin continues to see steady enrollment, again bringing in a class of 1,026 students (same as 2014-15). The current study body represents academic strength, geographic breadth (55 countries, 48 U.S. states, five Canadian provinces) and record diversity.  AHANA (African; Hispanic; Asian; and Native-American) students make up more than 14-percent of the student body.

The college is implementing its five-year strategic plan and has developed a campus master plan. The college is also exploring potential graduate program additions.