Queen sacrifice at Wartburg College

Wartburg College logoSeveral American campuses have made queen sacrifice* moves these past couple of weeks.  In this post I’ll address the case of Wartburg College.

Wartburg  is getting ready to remove 12 of 105 – nearly 10% – of its full-time faculty. This seems to mean tenure track professors.  As a local paper puts it very concisely,

Wartburg cuts faculty
Declining enrollment cited for nixing 12 positions, VPs say

The current phase involves letting go three tenure track faculty, and not hiring in some open lines.  Which programs are hit?

the annual review… targeted some of the most beloved faculty members on campus: Erik Grayson, an assistant professor of English; David Herwaldt, an assistant professor of art; and Jennifer McBride, an assistant professor of religion and the college Board of Regents Endowed Chair in Ethics.

The college also is proposing not to fill open French, philosophy and theater positions — the only ones on campus, faculty members say.

What is the reason for these cuts?  My readers will be unsurprised by this explanation, involving enrollment and income:

the college has pointed to declining enrollment and a $3.7 million budget gap as a reason for the cuts. Graham Garner, a Wartburg spokesman, said the college has seen a decline in enrollment for each of the last five years, from just over 1,800 students in 2011 to about 1,537 today.

Plus two interesting local factors, not limited to Iowa:

That’s partly due to the national debate over college value, [Garner] said, as well as local factors: a shrinking high school feeder population in Iowa and more aggressive in-state recruiting by public universities, due to new legislative incentives for enrolling Iowans.

Wartburg has followed a route of escalating layoffs to reach this point, starting with faculty not on the tenure track: “Wartburg laid off 11 nonfaculty staff members last year, and this year nontenured faculty lines were on the chopping block.”

The process isn’t complete yet.  The college still needs to finish this process.  Students are protesting.  There’s a Google Doc petition.  We’ll watch this to see how it unfolds.

Once again, an American campus facing enrollment and financial pressures chooses to cut academic faculty and programs.  As usual, the humanities bear the brunt of the reductions.  The queen sacrifice looms ever larger as a higher education strategy for our time.

*”Queen sacrifice” is my metaphor.  It describes when a campus cuts its academic mission, usually by a combination of removing faculty and programs.  I chose the chess expression to get at the power of such cuts, which sacrifice what academia putatively claims to be its central mission.

Here are some examples.

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