Simpson College commits to a queen sacrifice

In the most recent example of a college or university cutting faculty, Simpson College of Iowa announced it will lay off thirteen people, including twelve professors.  Its art department (where George Washington Carver once majored) will be shut down, as will French and German majors.

With the latest round of layoffs, Simpson has eliminated nearly 20 percent of its faculty positions this year. The college has 104 faculty jobs and 134 overall staff positions after the downsizing.

I just want to repeat that: the campus “has eliminated nearly 20 percent of its faculty positions this year.”

I am unable to determine much about those professors.  A local article mentions two, “a full-time, non-tenured faculty member, and… a tenured faculty member” in history.  This Facebook thread mentions faculty in the arts.  Another local article named a tenured art professor who is being cut.

Why is this happening?  My readers know the answers.  First, “Simpson’s enrollment has dropped 9 percent in the past three years,” despite a larger first-year class. Second, a process of weighing departments and majors has been under way: “Simpson recently completed a nearly yearlong effort to prioritize the academic and administrative departments.”  As the Simpsonian reported,

Academic Dean Kent Eaton answered by saying the college has to eliminate departments that are least profitable.

“Quite frankly, if we were to use the data from the prioritization process, what we would have right now is a college without the arts,” Eaton said.

This isn’t the first Simpson cut of late, as “[o]verall employment at the college is down 17 percent over the past two years.”  Dean Eaton remarked that “there hasn’t been an academic department that hasn’t been untouched by faculty reductions, even the top ranked departments.”

Here’s a Facebook post purporting to contain the president’s announcement.  Looks legit.

A few quick observations:

  1. Note, again, the presence of the humanities in cuts.  Languages other than Spanish are suffering in 21st century America.
  2. Simpson did not declare financial exigency.  Once again, a campus can cut tenure-track faculty (and anyone else) without taking that step.
  3. As far as I can tell the college went through a prioritization process, which emphasizes student interest through enrollment, minors, and majors.  Expect to see more of this.
  4. I’m not seeing much coverage of this story so far.  It’s possible that it’s because it takes place in the midwest, and people only want to touch Iowa when it’s the start of presidential primary season.

To explain the blog post title: for years I have referred to campuses cutting tenure-track faculty as “queen sacrifices.”  The term comes from chess, when one player will willingly give up their most powerful piece – the queen – in a gamble to win the game.  In the analogy, tenure-track faculty are a college or university’s queens, having some governance role, a long term role in teaching and service, and (potentially) more job security than anyone else.  They are, at least in theory, the most powerful “pieces” on higher education’s chessboard.  In 2018 we are now accustomed to their sacrifice.

(via Inside Higher Ed)

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8 Responses to Simpson College commits to a queen sacrifice

  1. Mike Richichi says:

    “Academic prioritization” smacks of Dickeson, which you’ve mentioned before. It seems that’s a common blueprint for this, I think in an attempt to both bring legitimacy to the process; and a thought that a process created by an academic, for academics, is somehow less odious than prioritization by other methods (cost, etc.)

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Definitely has a Dickeson vibe.

      And it really can lend legitimacy to a process. The method involves full faculty participation in these discussions, including openness about data (financial and enrollment). It’s supposed to take enough time for everyone to learn and participate. That sounds much better than a quick fiat rif.

  2. Claudia Holland says:

    We are becoming a nation bereft of the beauty, civilities, and critical thinking offered and enhanced by the arts & humanities. It grieves me.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      At least academically. Outside the academy, we’re still making art and stories.

      • Claudia Holland says:

        True, but with continued cuts of A&H programs in our educational institutions and as funding in support of the arts diminishes, fewer students will be pursuing degrees in these disciplines, perhaps because they question their own employment future or no longer care about/recognize the intrinsic value of such degrees. By extension, will the general population be less inclined to favor tax dollars dedicated to the A&Hs? What impact will these decisions have on culture writ large?

        • Bryan Alexander says:

          Great questions, Claudia.
          I wonder if underemployment will increase appreciation of the arts and humanities.
          In the meantime, we keep making and consuming the stuff.

      • Vanessa Vaile says:

        Patronage of the arts has not always been a higher ed domain. It may shift again — I dare say it is already in the process.

        • Bryan Alexander says:

          I wonder how much of the 1% will do this.
          Some are fighting to keep costs down – i.e., many orchestra boards are pushing salaries down.

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