One queen sacrifice proceeds while another campus launches the opposite

I’ve been tracking queen sacrifices ever since coining the term, and in this post I’ll share an update on one.  But I’ll also add what seems to be a story of the opposite, so perhaps a new term is in order.

UW–Stevens_Point_sealFirst, an update on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point queen sacrifice.  Earlier in 2018 they floated the idea of cutting a group of programs, primarily in the humanities.  Now the idea has become reality.  To be cut: “French, German, geography, geology, history, and two- and three-dimensional art” along with “anywhere from six to 10 faculty positions.”  That’s about 1-2% of Stevens Point’s total faculty complement, according to Wikipedia, although I don’t know how many of that total are part time, tenured, etc.

Why is this university conducting such cuts?  My readers are ready for the financial reason: “Last month, university officials said it was facing a $5.2 million cash shortfall this year.”  Other sources cite a deficit as high as $8 million.  Demographics aren’t helping, as Wisconsin ages upwards, with a median age of nearly 40.

There’s also an argument about shifting demand among present and future students.  According to Stevens Point Provost Greg Summers, “what this has become is an effort to try to meet the changing needs of central Wisconsin.”

At the same time UWSP is creating two new entities:

the Institute for the Wisconsin Idea and the Center for Critical Thinking. Faculty members from liberal arts disciplines would teach in the institute to “create a stronger, more focused and enriching liberal arts core curriculum to complement the university’s career-focused majors,” the university said.

It sounds like a way to maintain scholarly and teaching work in the humanities without offering majors.  And without so many faculty members.

Here’s an interesting note about the process that went on throughout this year:

The university reduced the proposed majors to cut in part because of faculty retirements and resignations and efforts by faculty to come up with options to revise their curricula, especially in the areas of art and English.

So to some extent the cuts were made by faculty themselves, who retired or quit.  And then some fields energetically protected themselves through curricular revision.

Drew_University_shieldMeanwhile, Drew University is doing the exact opposite.  As far as I can tell they have expanded academic programs and cut “administration” (scare quotes because in higher ed the term means not just institutional leaders, but every employee who isn’t a faculty member).

President MaryAnn Baenninger has shepherded the creation of new programs: “new undergraduate majors in media and communications, public health, and cybersecurity, as well as master’s-level programs in finance and education.”  They did this by significantly drawing down their endowment.

On the other hand, the cuts are not about academics per se, but address administrative functions: “On the chopping block: nonacademic expenses and fringe benefits for faculty and staff ranging from public safety to retiree health-care subsidies to daycare.”   “Drew cut some health benefits for retirees and their dependents.”

This feels like a mirror to the queen sacrifice, with a challenged institution growing academics while slashing admin.  But like any good mirror, it reproduces the original in key ways.  Note this new program, aimed squarely at careers:

Earlier this month, Baenninger told students, faculty and alumni that a new undergraduate program, dubbed Launch, slated for fall 2019, will guarantee “real-world, résumé-ready experiences” such as internships, hands-on research and residencies in cities like London, New York and Washington. (The effort’s motto: “Put the ‘Hire’ in Higher Education.”)

LAUNCH’s site advertises this: “What you need for your next step—mentorship, knowledge, hands-on experiences, real-world skills and guidance on job and grad school applications—are embedded in your four years at Drew”.

And there are also very real cuts, just not to faculty numbers:

[Baenninger ‘s] staff searched “in a surgical way” for areas that had large numbers of employees but that weren’t contributing to instruction.

Among the two biggest areas: public safety and childcare.

The university plans to outsource operation of a long-standing, highly subsidized childcare center that serves dozens of campus and area families, but that “loses six figures every year — some years it costs us $300,000,” Baenninger said. Those funds, she said, come almost entirely from undergraduate and graduate tuition proceeds. Drew expects to cut 56 positions across several areas, including childcare. [emphases added]

Therefore I don’t want to celebrate this move as a humanitarian victory (did you catch the health care cuts to retirees, above?).  Instead I want to flag it as a sign of a new trend, a strategy of doubling down on academics and cutting administrative functions and people.  Perhaps campuses under financial stress will consider these as complementary strategies.

What should we call the mirror opposite to a queen sacrifice?  Perhaps it’s a rook sacrifice, or a castling.


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