your professors, write to you today to commend you on your recent activism and
efforts in pushing Wittenberg to reach its full potential. We are incredibly impressed
by all of you who are pouring your hearts into defending and protecting our institution.
You have stepped up to advance issues on diversity, transparency and fiscal responsibility,
and have made us proud to be a part of this community.
share your deep concerns about the current state of affairs at Wittenberg. As
you continue to embody Wittenberg’s mission and values by “combin[ing] an
awareness of suffering with a desire to respond,” we want you to have the
details of this complex situation.
As we discuss Wittenberg’s challenges, you will see the term “fiscal year” (FY) used. This is the year according to our accounting procedures. At Wittenberg the fiscal year starts in July and ends in June. Thus, FY22 begins in July of 2021and ends in June of 2022. We are currently in FY20.
1. There are three main financial issues facing Wittenberg: our structural deficit and two large but separate pieces of debt. We currently project yearly structural deficits of about $5-6M on a $48M budget. That is, the operational budget, excluding debt service, for this year has $48M in expense but only $43M in revenue. This imbalance arises from the day-to-day operations of the university. Such deficits have been ongoing for years, are unsustainable and must be addressed immediately. They affect our accreditation and our ability to run the university.
In 2016, we refinanced several pieces of debt, including debt taken on to build
Hollenbeck and renovate Kuss, into one package. We negotiated a payment
structure whereby we would only pay interest until FY21. The interest payments
are currently being paid, and principal payments start next year. Both of these
are in addition to the structural deficit.
To complete the Health, Wellness & Athletics Complex (HWA), Wittenberg took
out $34 M in loans in 2018. We are currently paying interest on those loans and
have principal payments due in FY20, FY22 and FY23. We have secured $20 M in
pledges, donations, and tax credits, enough to cover the first two principal payments
on those loans. The last payment is not yet accounted for. The yearly interest
and FY23 principal payment are in addition to the structural deficit.
The consequence of this debt is that our creditors are given certain legal
rights negotiated when the bonds are signed. Unless significant progress toward
balancing next year’s budget is made, they are permitted to begin to make
changes to personnel and the academic curriculum, as they see fit. This can be
done with little faculty, staff, administrative or board input.
Separately from our creditors, we will be visited this fall by our accreditors (from
the Higher Learning Commission). The HLC will perform a comprehensive
evaluation of our status as an institution of higher education. Finances are a
consideration in accreditation, and were a concern during HLC’s last visit in
2016 when they required us to make progress towards a balanced budget by this
of the Problem
The most egregious and financially damaging decisions at Wittenberg occurred
7. The board of directors has ultimate fiduciary responsibility for the institution, and those who served on our board in the decade prior to 2018 bear significant responsibility for our current financial situation. However, fiduciary responsibility does not mean that aboard is obligated to personally cover any financial issues created from acting on behalf of the institution.
8. Senior administrators manage the institution, and those who worked for Wittenberg in the decade prior to 2018 bear significant responsibility for our current financial situation.
Faculty hold oversight responsibilities for academic programs and thus also
share in the responsibility for aspects of our current financial situation.
Tenure is not the cause of our problems. However, it does constrain the way in
which colleges and universities can address financial or staffing issues. Prior
to attaining tenure, probationary faculty may be dismissed at the discretion of
the school. Tenured faculty, however, are protected from dismissal under most
circumstances and unless the department they teach in is discontinued.
11. Wittenberg has lacked consistent fundraising efforts. Our last comprehensive capital campaign ended in 2001, while our peer institutions hold 1 –2 of these fundraising events per decade. We are now in the silent phase of a comprehensive campaign to begin within the year.
President Frandsen arrived at Wittenberg with the HWA project already underway.
He was handed an incredibly difficult situation to sort out, and ultimately
faced a choice between halting the project mid-way, which would have left millions
of dollars wasted in planning and construction costs and incurred penalties for
allowing associated tax credits to expire, and seeing the project through
despite having only 60-65% of the project funding covered.
The senior administrators responsible for overseeing years-long erosion of our
finances, including those primarily responsible for the HWA project, no longer
work at Wittenberg. We have a substantially new senior team, which collectively
has more finance and administration expertise than Wittenberg has seen in
Board members who served prior to 2018, some of whom remain on the board today,
decided that no operating or endowment money would be used to finance the HWA
project. This turned out not to be true.
President Frandsen’s decision to switch enrollment management companies likely contributed
to the small entering class last fall. The size of this class adds to our
challenges, as does our retention rate for the last three cohorts, and
increases the urgency with which we must reduce our deficit.
Program Futures Committee.
At its last meeting, the board commissioned a task force (the Academic Program
Futures Committee) to evaluate options for finding $2.5 million from the academic
budget. We must reduce academic program expenses by $2.5 million per year
beginning no later than FY22. In addition, we must have larger incoming classes
and increased retention in the future.
Faculty representation is guaranteed on the Futures Committee. However, this
task force’s recommendations are likely to circumvent faculty governance
procedures due to how quickly we must make progress on our deficit reduction
plans. This is not to be taken lightly. Only in extreme circumstances would a university
entertain the idea of suspending its faculty manual.
18. Moreover, the faculty body was asked to make cuts, using our governance structures, three times in the last eight years. This extremely difficult task was done with substantial effort and hard work, and twice resulted in the painful loss of programs and colleagues. Unfortunately, that process did not yield the amount of reduction needed for a sustainable model with our current and projected student enrollments. In fact, despite these cuts, our 11:1 student to faculty ratio is the same now as it was in 2012. It did reach a high of 14:1 in 2016, but has decreased progressively as we’ve hired new faculty and admitted fewer students. A sustainable model for Wittenberg includes increasing the student to faculty ratio from 11:1 to 13:1.
Although we deeply lament the need for the Futures Committee, we hope for a
model of shared governance. Some faculty view the Futures Committee as a way to
have representation and voice in the upcoming cuts. Some disagree and do not
want any faculty to participate. Signing this letter are faculty representing
both perspectives. Know that we maintain respect for each other regardless of
these differences. We recognize we all want Wittenberg to succeed, and each of
us is pursuing the path we think will be most successful.
20. All of us prefer the Futures Committee to work through processes and committees outlined in our manual, but the board must balance this desire with their fiduciary responsibility and the need to move with urgency.
Wittenberg has struggled with recruiting and retaining diverse faculty. The
most recent cuts reduced the already-low number of African-American professors
on campus. This is an important issue that faculty and students agree cannot be
dismissed. The impact of this loss on the entire student body, but especially
for Black students on campus, must be acknowledged. We are committed to moving discussions
of these issues toward policy solutions, particularly through faculty
committees that set rules for tenure &promotion and awards, in order to
advance diversity, equity and inclusion in our ranks.
Our board must do better when faced with opinions that differ from their own.
The behavior from some board members in reaction to some student protesters
recently was unacceptable, and we appreciate the chairman of the board coming
to campus to publicly apologize on the board’s behalf.
Since his arrival, President Frandsen has added six new members to the board.
We welcome the increase in diversity and fresh perspectives represented by
these recent additions. We are starting to build a better board.
The board is still lacking in representation from women. This is a systemic
problem in the United States, as women collectively hold a small minority of
seats on corporate boards. Our board should be concerned with solving, not
contributing to, this problem.
these issues will involve painfully difficult decisions. More faculty will be
let go. The personal and professional toll this will take, has already taken,
is impossible to overstate. Ultimately, however, we aim to make Wittenberg
thrive again. We are dedicated, along with you, to pursuing knowledge and truth
with both moral courage and reflection, as our mission asks us to do. You, the
students, will remain the focus as we work to make sure that Wittenberg is
passing on light for the next 100 years.
stop demanding the best of Wittenberg administrators, board members, staff,
alumni and us—your faculty. The freedom to question authority is a cornerstone
of democracy, and your willingness to use your voices only makes Wittenberg
stronger. As you ask questions and draw conclusions, embrace the liberal arts
principle of seeking multiple viewpoints. For our part, we pledge to ensure you
access to clear and accurate information to the best of our ability as we
navigate our way through these challenging times.
Andrews, Professor of Statistics
Brannan, Associate Professor of Education
Brown, Professor of Psychology
Burgett, Associate Professor of Biology
Cunningham, Associate Professor of Communication
Dillon, Assistant Professor of Communication
Dudek, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Hasecke, Professor of Political Science
Jeong, Assistant Professor of Business
Jurewicz, Assistant Professor of Practice of Health &Sport Studies
Little, Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology
Mattison, Associate Provost and Associate Professor of English
McWhorter, Associate Professor of Biology
Meermans, Assistant Professor of Business
Parker, Chair and Professor of Math & Computer Science
Phillips, Associate Professor of Biology
Prebys, Associate Professor of Art
Reinsel, Associate Professor of Biology
Warber, Chair and Associate Professor of Communication
Wagner, Associate Professor of Sociology
Welch, Chair and Professor of Biology
Williams, Chair and Associate Professor of Physics
Wilson, Chair and Associate Professor of Business
Woehrle, Associate Professor of Psychology
Yontz, Chair and Associate Professor of Education