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How are the recent academic faculty reductions at the College going to affect students?
Dr. Palmer: The faculty reductions at the College are a part of a comprehensive streamlining across Principia that includes reductions in personnel at the School, in shared services, and reductions in operating budgets and capital project expenses. At the College, reductions in faculty are in in the education, English and French departments. Each of these reductions reflect a strategic choice based on enrollment. The positions were open positions, so there weren’t actually people in those positions being reduced.
The other reductions were in the Writing Center and student support, and that impacted the six people currently occupying those positions. We have been for many years trying to think through exactly what the best design is to support students and to support faculty. The reductions represent a resizing to where we think the needs are, because those six were really built at a time where we had six phases to the writing program. And so, as we have streamlined the program, some of those positions that supported those processes are no longer going to be required. That’s really the rationale around reducing those positions from six to three.
We are really one of only three liberal arts colleges in the country that have a 7-to-1 faculty ratio, seven students to one faculty, so I don’t think we are under-faculties, given the number of students we have.
How will the dissolution of the Writing Center impact the writing program?
Dr. Schneberger: There are people who are concerned that the writing program has been cancelled, and that’s not true at all. There’s a writing program that the faculty have voted on, and then there’s the Writing Center that helps to implement the program. Well, we’re now saying we’re not going to implement the program with the Writing Center. We’re going to implement the writing program with a Teaching and Learning Excellence Center … we haven’t worked out all the details, so I think some of the confusion is understandable.
Instead of the Writing Center having to do all the evaluations of writing portfolios, we are going to rely more on the faculty and the TLEC to make these evaluations. So the initial emphasis will be on training the faculty to be able to better teach and evaluate writing, instead of just the concentrated Writing Center. So we expect it’s actually going to improve the writing skills of students.
So combining the learning part of TLEC for helping students, with the teaching part of TLEC for helping faculty, should result in better writing, reading and quantitative reasoning programs.
What other cuts have been made recently at the College?
Dr. Palmer: One of our prime objectives is to avoid negatively impacting the student experience…I think we have tried to be as inspired and insightful about what we are reducing, what we’re streamlining, what we’re ensuring we stick with and trying to be as good stewards as we can of both the physical resources and the human resources.
We are reducing staff positions in the registrar’s office and in institutional research. We are also reducing operating budgets in facilities, athletics and marketing. As you may know, the College and School admissions offices have merged. Three positions have been eliminated, and two field recruiters have been hired to allow for more face-to-face contact with prospective students. We expect them to reach families who perhaps are unfamiliar with all that we have to offer or who are new to Christian Science and have not yet even heard about Principia.
What is going to happen to the College bookstore?
Dr. Palmer: We are reducing the size and the offerings at the College store. We talked to a number of students and student leaders; we talked to a number of faculty, and I think everyone saw the trajectory that students were sourcing books online. So we decided to get out the book selling and buying business. In a related conversation we’ve had, an ongoing one for the last several years, is regarding Out of Bounds and establishing a “student hub” in Howard Center. So this project could bring the ping pong and pool tables upstairs, and it may allow us to link in a couple different ways and perhaps move student government to that space. So some of these things also are not purely a reduction in force of personnel, but also thinking about where strategic investments can improve the student experience.
What is the status of the strategic master plan?
Dr. Palmer: The strategic plan focuses on academics and character unfoldment – the student experience at Principia. The master plan focuses on the physical resources on the Elsah campus. We continue to focus on character unfoldment and on academics, and we want to make sure we provide, not only the best students and the best faculty, but also the best physical resources. I don’t really see that as a zero-sum game – that if we raise money for one initiative, then we can’t support a different initiative. But, I would say we don’t have an intention to take funding for the core academic buildings out of the budget or the endowment – we intend to raise the money. And that was always the case.
We have refreshed and updated the strategic plan every year since it was approved by the trustees in 2009. The conversation I think we will have, and perhaps in greater earnest now, is: what are the pieces that make sense for us going forward? Are there things that we missed or that we now would incorporate?
Specifically, regarding the core academic buildings: The CAB has been in the planning stages for some time, but it has always been completely dependent on donor funding and remains so going forward. We will be investing in some maintenance of the existing buildings (SOG, SON and library) while we continue to look for donors for the core academics buildings.
Could you speak a little bit to how you see the College’s position right now, for the future, for drawing in new students and attracting new faculty members?
Dr. Palmer: To provide some perspective, when I came five years ago, there were almost 20 open faculty positions. We’ve now filled virtually all of those … We’ve made significant progress. When you look at the people who have been hired in the last five years, I think they’re exceptionally strong … I feel very good about the kind of people who are coming to teach at Principia … And we have both very senior faculty and some folks who are newer, and I think that’s a pretty nice mix. And it’s a unique combination that we need because most of our departments are small.
I think on the student side, we feel very good about the students that come in every year … We’re not in a situation where we’re even thinking about closing. Our projections for the next five years look equally positive for a stuent body of 500. We’re not in a situation where we have great residence halls empty of students, so I think we’re quite viable going forward … I think there are a lot of very compelling things here. Principia’s offering for students is what it always has been – the entire package of wide open opportunities. It’s an opportunity to write for the Pilot, to play a sport, to study abroad and in an environment that is promoting spiritual growth.
There is nothing in the next five years that leads me to believe that we won’t have both the right kind of faculty and the right kind of students available.