A queen sacrifice at Saint Leo University

One way colleges and universities can respond to rising financial pressure is to cut personnel.  Sometimes they fire tenure-track faculty, either by removing their academic programs or by declaring financial emergency.

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This is a policy I’ve dubbed “the queen sacrifice,” based on the chess gambit of giving up one’s most powerful piece.

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  In this analogy tenure-track and especially tenured faculty have the queen’s role, being often enough the most powerful pieces on the campus chessboard, given their governance powers and protections of tenure.  I’ve blogged many examples of this.  Far too many.

Today’s example comes from Saint Leo University, which just announced a series of cuts.  Their vice president for Strategic Enrollment Management described it as “[r]educing our university’s footprint and programs.”

The cuts include ending teaching at eight sites beyond the main campus: “Charleston, SC; Joint Base Charleston-Naval Weapons Station, SC; Columbus, MS; Corpus Christi, TX; and Jacksonville, Lake City, Ocala, and Mayport, FL.”   (Students can finish their programs online.). SLU is also shutting down some degrees: “Bachelor of Arts in international hospitality, Bachelor of Arts in human services, and the Master of Science in human services.”  Further, “all degree programs in the College of Education and Social Services will become a part of other colleges”; I don’t know if that sets the stage for further reductions.

In terms of personnel, “A total of 111 faculty and staff positions were eliminated.”  Note that “27% [of those] were recently vacant,” or 30, meaning 81 people will lose their jobs.

In addition to those academic cuts, six sports teams will end.

Resources thereby freed up will shift to other programs with higher demand:

Part of the university’s future focus will include growing the university’s bachelor’s degree program in nursing and many of the programs in its newly established School of Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Data Science.

All STEM and allied health.

What can we learn from this story?

Saint Leo University Campus Scene

Saint Leo has 1706 academic staff, according to Wikipedia, so the 81 lost represent just under 5% of the total.

The president has only been in office for less than a year, which is a common element in queen sacrifice stories.

The disciplines impacted are interesting. Unusually for a queen sacrifice, no arts or humanities programs are on the block.

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  Typically, STEM fields are scheduled for growth.  I am curious about why human services is ending there, as that field doesn’t seem to be having issues.

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  Is it in decline locally, or was the program in a bad way?

Note the emphasis on online learning:

“Throughout its history, Saint Leo University has continually evolved to meet the needs of students—from opening education centers on military bases to being one of the first to offer online degree programs,” [Saint Leo University President Ed] Dadez said. “The future vision for our university will continue on this course, including more educational partnerships with businesses and organizations, customized pathways for earning degrees, and new investments in our online learning program.”

Notes on language and presentation: the university described this set of cuts as “streamlining,” an interesting choice of words.  The announcement also noted the faculty and staff position cuts *after* mentioning sports teams, which says something about institutional priorities, communication tactics, or both.  And the text emphasizes adjusting to the labor market.

This hasn’t gotten a lot of press that I can see.  Does anyone have more to add, especially if they work for or near the university?

(thanks to Mo Pelzel for the pointer; photo by Allen Forrest)

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4 Responses to A queen sacrifice at Saint Leo University

  1. Joe says:

    Seeing sports cut does not bring a tear. Perhaps in years to come, for many schools the question will be “which sports bring in revenue?” The rest can become intra-mural. And the “student athletes” need to be paid in the remaining intercollegiate sports.

    That may end football at many smaller schools. Good riddance.

    Playing sports is good for a student. Big Sports has done little to advance the mission of higher education.

  2. Doug says:

    I imagine that those sports teams, even the ones cut, were responsible for at least 2 or 3 paying students per year choosing St Leo to play X. How many students were choosing St Leo to take a course from Prof X?

  3. sibyledu says:

    I appreciate that you put the number of lost positions in context, specifically as a percentage of overall staff. That is a great way to evaluate cuts going forward. (Incidentally, IPEDS has the Saint Leo workforce at 1,420 in 2021, rather than 1,706 [Wikipedia is using a 2017 source], which makes it slightly higher at 6%. And that number includes 658 part-time and 762 full-time employees, for a total of 981 full-time equivalent employees; it would be really helpful to know how many full-time and part-time employees are in the cuts.)

    It would also be helpful if we could understand the dollar figures involved in these events. “Shifting resources” is of course deliberately vague. I wonder whether the resources that supported the old education college will essentially be reallocated to the new SCAIRDS college, a net neutral.

    Dollar figures, like employee headcounts, are important anchors for these discussions, but are only rarely tossed around. It helps to understand when a queen sacrifice looks more like a pawn sacrifice.

  4. Pingback: Looking Back and Looking Fprward — Winds of Change for Higher Education in the U.S. | Rob Reynolds

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