Mercyhurst University, a Catholic institution in northwestern Pennsylvania, is preparing to cut academics. According to a local news report, MU’s president announced he was ready to reduce spending on anything, including academics, which brings this story into queen sacrifice territory.
The outlines are familiar, starting with the cause: a financial shortfall brought about by low enrollment. “Times are changing; demographics are changing; pocketbooks are strained,” observes president Gamble. The Go Erie account adds: “Mercyhurst’s overall enrollment dropped by about 5 percent across all campuses from 2013 to ’14, to 3,938 in 2014-15.” If Mercyhurst is primarily a regional institution, the northeast’s K-12 decline is clearly a major factor.
In the classic queen sacrifice pattern, certain academic fields appear as culprits, especially the humanities. President Gamble identified these, which suggests their status as more likely departments to face cuts:
the university’s enrollment is declining primarily in education, arts and humanities and among undeclared majors.
“The current worldview makes people afraid to major in arts and humanities, in which Mercyhurst has always been strong,” according to the minutes’ summary of [president] Gamble’s comments.
Once again the humanities are in the target zone. Note, too, education, which makes sense if the local/regional K-12 population is shrinking.
This may lead to expanding certain fields, while cutting others:
faculty and administration are working to identify possible areas where reductions and shifting of resources could occur as Mercyhurst tries to reshape its curriculum in the short and long term. [emphases added]
I can’t tell which departments would received increased funding.
There are unusual aspects to Mercyhurst’s potential queen sacrifice. First, athletics are also considered for cuts.
Regarding athletics, the minutes stated, in the summary of Gamble’s remarks, that “it is believed that athletics do bring in revenue but it is recognized that spending the money elsewhere might bring in more revenue”.
More directly: “Athletics… should be looked at along with everything else. There are no sacred cows.” That’s an unusual perspective, given American academia’s love for sports even in hard times. Perhaps we’re seeing the emergence of a counter-pattern, if we recall the UAB football cut.
Second, Mercyhurst saw a financial crisis in 2014, and already made cuts… to administration and staff.
Mercyhurst on Nov. 20 eliminated 14 administrative and staff positions, reduced the positions of six administrative employees from full time to part time and suspended employer contributions to its pension plan through May. Mercyhurst also said some top executives took pay cuts.
Third, campus faculty are apparently involved in the cutting process:
A faculty committee is examining potential sources of additional revenue and is prioritizing where about $1 million in cuts could occur, said Meredith Bollheimer, vice president of Mercyhurst’s faculty senate.
In some queen sacrifice stories the faculty oppose cuts formulated by the administration with apparently little professorial input.
I’ll end this post with Gamble’s general observation: “The thought is that life in higher education, across the board at all institutions, is rocky.”