One university conducts another queen sacrifice

How do colleges and universities respond to enrollment and financial pressures?

One response is to cut tenure-track faculty members.  Years ago I nicknamed this “the queen sacrifice” after the desperate chess move, when a player gives up the most powerful piece on the board (here tenure-track faculty stand in for the queen) in a big to win.  I’ve tracked too many of these sacrifices, and today will describe another.

Cabrini University recently laid off six professors, three of whom were not just tenure-track, but tenured.  For perspective, that half-dozen “represent 8.7% of Cabrini’s 69 full-time faculty,” according to that short Philadelphia Inquirer account.

Which departments felt those losses?  The same sources lists “writing and narrative arts, two science, one math, and one visual and performing arts.”  Yet Cabrini did not cut a single program this time.

Cabrini University sign

Why these cuts?  The campus faces a $5-6 million deficit, which looks like it was driven by a shocking enrollment drop, “from 2,360 in 2016 to approximately 1,500,” according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Cabrini has been having problems for years.  Back in 2021 the university led an even larger queen sacrifice, “eliminat[ing] 46 positions and cut[ting] or chang[ing] 15 of its 69 programs.”  Targeted programs then:

Majors in religious studies, Black studies, philosophy, gender and body studies, human resources management, liberal studies, and nutrition will be cut, as will secondary education certifications in biology and chemistry. English and writing will be offered as a combined major, and a master’s in biological sciences and two certificate programs as also being phased out.

In fall 2022 Cabrini cut senior administrative positions, including provost.  Diverse adds that Cabrini “was exploring a merger,” a few months ago, which Inside Higher Ed confirmed.

A few thoughts from someone who has never visited Cabrini, nor studied it beyond the requirements for this post:

First, this looks like a classic queen sacrifice so far, with enrollment driving financial pressures which lead to faculty (and other) cuts. It’s the second one at that institution in several years; I’m not sure how often these strategies succeed each other that quickly.  Note the preponderance of cuts felt by the arts, humanities, and education.

Second, I often hear analysts and consultants say an organization cannot cut its way to success, but that seems to be what’s happening at Cabrini so far. I’m not sure which majors they hope to build upon, or what other campus offerings they expect to draw better student numbers.

Third, while American higher education as a whole continues to experience enrollment and financial challenges, we should expect more queen sacrifices from the most brittle institutions.

Again, I’m not expert in the structure and history of this institution. I would love to hear from people who know Cabrini better and can share their insights.

(photo from the Cabrini University official Flickr account; thanks to Mark Corbett Wilson for reading keenly)

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