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:
- Note, again, the presence of the humanities in cuts. Languages other than Spanish are suffering in 21st century America.
- Simpson did not declare financial exigency. Once again, a campus can cut tenure-track faculty (and anyone else) without taking that step.
- 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.
- 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.