Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Columbia Union to cut, freeze teaching positions

Cuts at CUC part of college's shift to health sciences

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Columbia Union College will eliminate or freeze up to 22 faculty and staff positions in order to restructure the school’s curriculum and relieve some of the multimillion debt that has plagued the institution.

The announcement, made at March 26 meetings with students and faculty, comes three weeks after officials said they were planning to discontinue some majors at the Seventh-day Adventist college as part of a new three-school model that shifts the school’s focus from liberal arts to health sciences.

Faculty members were told that the cuts would affect the communications, computer science, math and English departments, and some professors have already been laid off.

The college has not released a definitive list of the positions being cut or frozen.

No professors at Columbia Union have tenure. They all sign yearly contracts.

Scott Steward, a spokesman for the college, said in a statement Monday that three faculty positions will be eliminated next year and that three to four others will not be filled after current professors leave.

‘‘There is a little bit of fluidity still in the process,” Steward said on Friday. ‘‘It’s not an overnight process. It’s something that takes a lot of deliberation and thought.”

In the communications department, two professors were laid off and bachelor’s degrees in journalism and public communication will no longer be offered, according to public relations professor Barry Casey.

‘‘That effectively shuts down our journalism program,” said Casey, who resigned March 25 after 27 years in response to the announcement.

Columbia Union president Weymouth Spence said Monday that the classes being targeted all suffer from low enrollment, and that in the past year some have even had to be canceled. College enrollment figures show that only four students were registered for the fall 2007 semester in the communications classes being phased out.

Columbia Union, located in Takoma Park with about 1,100 students, has been looking for ways to reduce its debt, last reported at $5 million.

Two years ago, the college’s board of trustees considered turning the college into a health science institution, but decided against it after student outcry. Last year, the college entered negotiations to sell its Christian-music radio station, WGTS, but rescinded an offer for upward of $20 million after a barrage of protests from listeners, alumni and trustees.

‘‘That sale would have brought significant income that would have increased endowment for operations,” said John Gavin, the college’s social work program director.

Spence, who took office in January, said in March that beginning next year, the school would stop offering several liberal arts majors that have had low enrollment, including media studies and entrepreneurship, while adding new majors in health science fields.

Students in the discontinued majors will be allowed to finish their studies. The college may need to hire adjuncts in order to do that, Spence said.

But some students and faculty said they were not prepared for how drastic the changes would be.

‘‘We had some idea that one position would be cut,” Casey said Friday. ‘‘We honestly did not anticipate two, and we certainly didn’t imagine that they’d be closing down the journalism program, and I resigned partly in protest to that.”

David Miller, a communications professor who this year served as the faculty representative on the board of trustees, said he was told March 24 that he was being laid off after 13 years. He declined further comment.

Faculty members and students said they were unhappy about how the college handled the matter.

‘‘We knew there were a few majors that were going to be cut, but we didn’t realize it was going to be such a large scale,” said Michelle Means, a senior print journalism major. ‘‘I was very surprised because, from a student’s perspective, I’m impressed with this program and this department as a whole. I didn’t see it coming. I don’t think any of us saw it coming.”

Grant Leitma, chairman of the psychology department, which had a hiring freeze placed on one open position, said he will now need to hire more adjunct professors and take on an increased workload.

‘‘For the [professors] who are here, we have to share more of the burden of advisement and mentoring and sharing the day-to-day burdens of the department,” Leitma said.

Casey said he saw the cuts coming, ‘‘but it hasn’t been a thoughtful process that engaged the whole community. It’s been hastily done and badly done and it’s just what makes us sick.”

Spence said the college didn’t want to make premature announcements, and added that he maintains monthly open office hours and holds regular town hall meetings to discuss concerns. He hopes to have a list of curriculum changes by the end of April.

Programs to be cut

A partial list of majors that Columbia Union College has announced it will no longer offer next year:

Business: Entrepreneurship, human resource management, information systems, international business, and long-term health car administration.

Journalism and Communication: Media studies and media production.

Religion: Lay ministry, religious education, and minor biblical languages.