One week after the board mixer protest, no students were chanting. They were not holding signs. Instead, they were sitting silently across from President Michael Frandsen, waiting to speak with him face-to-face at the open forum at 5:30p.m. Thursday night in Shoulvin 105.
Frandsen, Rev. Eilert and Provost Mattson gave students a more complete picture of the budget crisis and what the board plans to do about it, providing updates from the board meeting last week.
“We need to reduce our expenditures,” Frandsen said. “And that means cutting. We’re going to have to do that. Period.”
A budget projection back in October estimated a 10 million dollar loss for next year. With low enrollment, low retention and high debt driving the crisis, Frandsen said actions must be taken so that the budget can be balanced within the next two years.
To help solve this immediate crisis, the board created two committees. The first is focused on financial restructuring and debt reduction, and the second is charged to reduce academic program expenses by 2.5 million dollars by the 2021-22 academic year.
Frandsen said the faculty lines not renewed last fall account for 30 percent of the committee’s goal.
“It gives you an idea of what the magnitude of the additional change might look like,” he said.
Frandsen will appoint the members of these committees based on recommendations from the Provost and Faculty Executive Board. There will be no student representation on either committee.
“This is really about how we structure the finances. It should have no impact on what the student experience is here,” Frandsen said.
Several students voiced their disagreement. “It sounds like one of these committees is the literal grim reaper of our academic programs,” Ethan Bochicchio (’23) said. “Obviously cutting stuff is going to affect the day-to-day life of students, so I don’t accept that.”
Frandsen said that the committees will work through the Educational Policy Committee, which does have student representation, and Student Senate is still the best avenue for students to voice their concerns.
In addition to the committees, the board is building a future foundation through the current comprehensive fundraising campaign that will publicly launch next homecoming. The goal is to raise 100 million dollars before 2023. To date, they have slightly under 35 million. Frandsen said this campaign is long overdue, as the last campaign ended in 2001 and was started more than 20 years ago.
The priorities of the campaign will be infrastructure, scholarships and programs and faculty support. Students had lots to say on Wittenberg’s infrastructure, particularly regarding the athletic complex.
“Here we are building The Steemer, while our music department is failing,” Ben Strommen (’20) said. Several students nodded and snapped their fingers when Strommen said Krieg was “falling apart.”
Carly Schneider (’20) also spoke on the accessibility issues that students with disabilities face daily on campus. “People like me can’t come here unless they want to fight every day, and I’ve done it, and people shouldn’t have to,” Schneider said.
“Kudos to you for making those sacrifices,” President Frandsen answered. He reiterated that Wittenberg’s needs were great, especially with accessibility. In terms of buildings, the campaign will target the historic heart of campus.
Aside from these needs and cuts, Frandsen made it a point to highlight the strength of the academic program.
“I believe that all of you are having a great educational experience,” he said. “Sure, there are places where it might be better here or there, but you are all having a good experience here at Wittenberg.”
Faith Scully (’22) tested this statement. Scully asked all students who have considered transferring from Wittenberg to raise their hands. The vast majority of the room shot a hand into the air.
“I’m sorry we’re all here in this moment,” Frandsen said. “I’m especially sorry that you students are here in this moment.”
The other apology of the evening came from Reverend and Board of Directors chair Jonathan Eilert, who apologized to the students on behalf of the board for “things that may have been said or were said” during the board mixer last Thursday.
The final question of the forum asked Frandsen what sacrifices he and the board had made during this crisis.
“I certainly have made sacrifices and I’m not going to go into the details of what those are,” Frandsen said. “I think the board has been asked to respond where it has the ability to increase its financial support to the institution or its time devoted to the institution moving forward.”
“President Frandsen and I were actually late getting down to that reception that night because we were involved in further discussion with folks that we need to be about a lot of these financial matters,” Eilert said.
The forum ended after nearly an hour and twenty minutes, with several students still waiting to ask questions. Student Senate Vice President Emmanuel Thombs (’21) encouraged students to continue the conversation at Student Senate meetings.
Student protesters did not wait until the Senate meeting to continue conversations. Riddle told every student who came, “Kudos to you,” and solidified plans for future protests, including a walkout on Friday at noon.