This past Friday morning, university president Michael Frandsen sent out an email to campus which detailed the university’s decision to not renew the contracts of eight professors, two of which were tenure-tracked. In the email, Frandsen cited a need to reevaluate campus operations for why this decision was made. Wittenberg students, alumni and faculty have all become upset at the loss of these eight professors.
While Frandsen did not specify the professors not being renewed, a few are known: Kimberly Anderson, visiting assistant professor; Sha’Dawn Battle, assistant professor of English and one of the few black professors on campus, and Kate Polak, assistant professor of English and director of creative writing.
Frandsen stated that this decision was not an easy one and the decision is not based on the valuable contributions these professors have made to the campus.
“It was one in a series of difficult decisions we must make as we analyze our operations, staffing levels, and programmatic offerings in light of our current and projected enrollment, changing student demographics both in Ohio and in the nation, changing student interests, and new ways of knowing in the world today,” Frandsen said.
Frandsen continued on noting that Wittenberg is still focused on following it’s liberal arts background. However, he also noted the financial struggle the school has become involved in.
“There are growing realities that Wittenberg, like most institutions our size, face with regard to increasing challenges impacting higher education and the cost of delivering that education,” Frandsen wrote. “If we are to adapt and evolve as we continue to work for the success of our students, we must right-size our institution, streamline operations, and realign for future success.”
This isn’t the first time that Wittenberg has fallen into tough times financially in the recent past. As recently as 2013 the school was struggling; that year Forbes gave Wittenberg a D grade in their Financial Grades. The school also had made $ 6.5 million in cuts in 2015.
With this burden in mind, Frandsen also addressed what else the university plans to do in order to continue to financially prosper.
“We are working to identify all areas where we believe we can compete the best for future investment and growth,” Frandsen wrote. “Additionally, we are examining all options for possible cost-savings, which include but may not be limited to the following: review and/or renegotiation of all institutional contracts; exploration of outsourcing for select services; evaluation of all University assets; review of all employee benefits; restructuring of athletics offerings; and review of the academic program.”
Frandsen also discussed the adversity that is waiting for Wittenberg in the future.
“This will be a challenging time for all of us at Wittenberg and across higher education. We cannot escape this fact, but we must face these challenges directly if we are to be an institution that continues to go all in for student success, remains grounded in the liberal arts and sciences, and believes in the transformative power of integrated learning within a residential setting,” Frandsen said.
When Frandsen first came to Wittenberg he noted in an interview with the Springfield News-Sun—published under the title President: Wittenberg needs to grow enrollment, retain more students—that two areas the university needed to improve upon were retention and recruitment of students. However, that need has not been met. In the same article it noted the goal for campus was to host 2,000 students; today that number sits around 1300, which is a main reason for these cuts.
Preceding this email, students and alumni got a hold of this decision and began voicing their opinions through social media. Mainly, students have been exceptionally angry about the professors being dropped. Across social media, the blame is being placed solely on the foundation of the Steemer, which will be officially be opened Homecoming weekend.
“Overall, it’s extremely disappointing of Witt to drop some truly amazing faculty, some of whom have been here for years and have done so much to make this campus better,” Jessica Pinkerton (’21) said. “It’s many of these faculty that make this place Witt.”
Pinkerton added that the professors each have a specific background in the English department and offer a lot to students because of their knowledge. For example, Polak’s studies graphic novels among other things, which is very unique even across the United States.
Students across campus seem to feel the disappointment of losing these professors.
“I am disappointed that we are losing so many great professors because I know a lot of students stick around because of the professors on campus,” Lexie Parker (’21) said.
Parker also described the difference Battle has played in her education, on top of helping her in the major.
Alexandra Schmidt (’20) looks at the issue from a different perspective.
“It is not great, but at the same time, I look at it from a business perspective and we cannot keep running in the red,” Schmidt said. “Do I think professors should have been cut? No. Do I think Dr. Battle should be cut? No. Do I think something needs to change? Yes.”
She also added that the Steemer was going to happen and noted that the project is “10 years overdue.”
In essence, these are difficult times for Wittenberg as they struggle with a low budget and students see beloved professors leave campus.
Pinkerton noted how difficult it is to know some of her professors will not be back, “These professors give so much of their time, energy, wisdom, and knowledge to us, and in the past few days have not only felt frustrated, but have felt unappreciated. It’s painful to see they’re hurt, to know they’re terrified and upset—rightly so, given the circumstances.”