Queen sacrifice at Pacific Lutheran University

Another American campus launched a queen sacrifice this week.

(“Queen sacrifice” refers to when a college or university cuts tenure-track faculty members. The source of the phrase is chess, where queens are the most powerful piece, as tenure-track faculty are, in theory, the most powerful members of an academic community.  In the game giving up the queen is a desperate move, often an attempt to wrest victory from a very bad situation, and so it seems to be for colleges and universities axing people in those positions.  You can find many examples of this academic strategy being used here, alas.)

On the chopping block for Pacific Lutheran University are 36 positions.  Kris Olds observes that “[t]hat’s about 12% of the faculty base.”


Academic programs being cut include “majors in German and Nordic Studies, minors in Classical Studies, German and Norwegian, and the Master of Science in Finance degree.”  According to this statement,

the Division of Humanities saw the most cuts, followed by the Division of Social Sciences, the School of Arts and Communication and the Division of Natural Sciences. The schools of Nursing and Education & Kinesiology faced no recommended reductions, and the School of Business only one.

Why is Pacific Lutheran doing this?  The reasons are unsurprising: “the university was facing financial exigency stemming from declining enrollment, anticipated budget shortfalls and impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Cuts won’t hit for another year, which gives time to teach out some majors, and for faculty to start job hunting.

Pacific Lutheran University_Jeremy Yoder

Some quick observations:

Note that most of the cuts are in the humanities. This is typical for queen sacrifices.

Note, too, the huge pressure of declining enrollment.

Pacific Lutheran has some related recent history.  The AAUP censured them last year for firing a long-serving adjunct faculty member.

As I’ve been saying for years, watch for more queen sacrifices.

(thanks to Lisa Hinchliffe for the pointer; photo by Jeremy Yoder)

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4 Responses to Queen sacrifice at Pacific Lutheran University

  1. Glen McGhee, FHEAP says:

    Is this the first ELCA school to be hit? The earlier ones were LCMS.

  2. Glen McGhee, FHEAP says:

    This raises important questions — going forward — about teach-out plans that are filed with accreditors (like Belle Wheelan) because technically only flagged schools must file teach-out plans in anticipation of closure.
    That’s not the case with Pacific Lutheran — the school is not closing down. I wonder if Pacific Lutheran has filed teach-out plans with their accreditor — AND, if not, WHY NOT?

  3. Lisa Durff says:

    So what is the term for those who thought they were the queen’s in the academic chess game and really are no longer relevant?

  4. Dahn Shaulis says:

    Bryan, the “academic queen sacrifice” is an important idea in your arsenal. With the University of Phoenix, they did that to begin with. That’s one of the reasons I call John Sperling the most influential person in higher ed over the last century.

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