The queen sacrifice remains in practice among American campuses. This week’s practitioner is Vermont’s Castleton University, a public liberal arts institution founded in 1787 that is now considering cuts and layoffs.
VermontBiz reports that Castleton is facing “a projected operating loss of $1.5 million for the current year”, and will respond with “restructuring.” The last term here means “a combination of layoffs, position eliminations, and early retirements” and “what will amount to close to a 10 percent reduction in the University’s operating budget”.
As usual, the problem is primarily about enrollment decline:
While Castleton traditionally relied heavily upon students from Vermont and its surrounding counties and states in growing from 1,200 to more than 2,000 students from 2001-2014, the University has seen its enrollment decrease in recent years to around 1,800 full-time undergraduates.
Remember that Vermont’s population is aging rapidly, and actually starting to decline. The state system’s leader put Castleton’s crisis in a state-wide setting:
“The competition for a smaller number of students is intense,” [Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of Vermont State Colleges] said. “Vermont’s other state colleges are all in different situations and different stages of response, he said. Vermont Technical College underwent significant cuts several years ago. Lyndon and Johnston merged at a savings of $1 million a year. Community College of Vermont has been budgeting for declining enrollments.”
(At the same time, many Vermonters don’t think this demographic trend is a problem. It’s a terrible and ultimately destructive delusion.)
Castleton’s president, Karen M. Scolforo, describes the crisis and response in terms of sustainability and overbuilding: “While the University’s previous efforts to maintain staffing levels despite enrollment declines were admirable, they are no longer sustainable.”
It’s not clear yet which jobs will be cut:
Jeff Weld, Dean of Advancement, told VBM: “We have around 450 employees, including part time staff and faculty. We have yet to make a determination of the number of employees who will be impacted. The faculty task forces will play a role in the academic side and senior leadership will work to determine appropriate staffing levels with department managers, with a focus on student impact first and foremost.”
There are hints at program shuffling, with the mention of “additional [academic] programs”, such as “an innovative new ‘Content Lab’ aimed at getting students into the communication workforce.” Scolforo also uses the classic language of departmental prioritization: “We’ve convened three faculty task forces to explore new program development; assess, consolidate, and strengthen current programs…” i.e., Castleton is likely to reduce or close some programs, most likely those with lower student enrollment, while expanding others and introducing new ones seen as more likely to win attendance and majors.
According to the Rutland Herald “the number of majors [will be] consolidated from 79 to an expected 55.”
The administration is also up for cuts. “One of the first things that I looked at was my senior leadership team,” [Scolforo] said. “My cabinet members and I are carefully looking at the leadership team and the structure there. There’ll be some changes there as well, so really, there’s no department that’s exempt from this process.”
Recommendations and announcements are scheduled for April and May.
The Vermont Biz article also suggests Castleton is considering a greater emphasis on technology through distance and hybrid teaching.
To sum up: this is another case of a campus gearing up for cuts, which sound likely to include faculty as well as staff. Enrollment plays a key role, as ever.
I wish I didn’t have to keep tracking these moves, but they seem likely to play a significant role in shaping American higher ed.