College aims to balance budget deficit, prompting concern from faculty committees
Holly Shaum, Staff Writer
The College of Wooster faculty frequently meet as members of numerous faculty committees. As important issues concerning the College’s internal framework are discussed amongst faculty and administrators, each faculty committee has two student representatives who attend meetings regularly and ensure that the student body has a presence in these deliberations. The following is an overview of conversations in some of these committees during the summer and beginning of the fall 2022 semester.
To start, the College’s Board of Trustees (BoT) met in June 2022 to tackle a host of issues. There was a discussion regarding diversity on campus, specifically efforts to diversify trustee membership and expand Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts. The Vice President of DEI, Cheryl Nuñez, gave a presentation regarding her philosophy on DEI and her plans to develop an equity index“to accurately define and measure our goals.” The goals of the project are, “capacity building and creating conditions for success.” She described her leadership approach as, “moving from positions where one is aware of systemic racism and being race-conscious and being guided by evidence…” The BoT is also using the Racial Equity Task Force (RETF) as an effort to “drive engagement of diverse alumni” and reach out to diverse alumni for fundraising.
There was an exploration of the College’s enrollment efforts and how the College ranks against other liberal arts colleges in the area and the country. According to an Enrollment and Marketing Strategy Report prepared by Jeff Roche, research from The College of Wooster and outside parties shows that, “the average seventeen-year-old is looking for a particular kind of degree that we don’t offer… We lost more students to Ohio State recently than any other institution.” On top of standing out from and competing with other liberal arts colleges, student retention is also a major issue. The Report also stated that further research must be done on Wooster’s 76% graduation rate to find any possible correlation with recruiting efforts or financial aid practices.
The student body has observed the recent renovation of Lowry Student Center, but there are more projects being considered. Associate Vice President of Facilities, Design, and Construction, Mike Taylor, and former President Sarah Bolton, gave an update on additional construction in the College’s future, including new tennis courts and a parking area that the City of Wooster has approved. This construction project is set to be completed for use in spring 2023. A more significant topic of discussion was the College’s current standing with staff. There is discontent amongst the College’s staff and faculty, as evidenced by staff shortages, burnout/uncertainty and decreases in morale and motivation. The Committee on Conference with Trustees (CWT) noted that retention of faculty was identified as a “major issue”, as well as “a lack of confidence among faculty as to the future of Wooster.”
Additional highlights from the summer months include the BoT focusing on Wooster’s standing amongst its peers of the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA). In terms of endowment, Wooster, “…continues to perform in the top 5% of its competitors,” but other GLCA members continue to have higher endowments, like Kenyon, Denison and Oberlin. Despite these challenges, Interim President Wayne Webster expressed his optimism on several topics such as the student center renovation, Beall Avenue safety plans and DEI initiatives. Also, the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) got two proposals approved: the Costa Rica TREK program, and the creation of a new minor: Global Queer Studies.
September meetings of the EPC and Special Planning and Priorities Advisory Committee (SPPAC) covered the importance of the College’s Academic Program Review (APR). Questions were raised amongst EPC members, “…about the APR and transparency about the budget,” as well as the need for, “frequent debriefings at the faculty meetings about the APR and the decision-making process.” It was recognized that COW is not “in a strong position financially,” while still capable of competing with its peers. However, the APR is, “…a great opportunity by the trustees to fix our budget program over the next three years and their willingness to help manage our deficit during that time.”
Provost Lisa Perfetti gave SPPAC an overview of APR and expressed that this review must be led by, “a representative group of faculty who are committed to the process.” After the specifics of the overview document were explained, SPPAC members raised questions and concerns about the College’s “decision to undergo an APR at this particular point.” Webster clarified that he had consulted BoT over the summer and an announcement had been made via email in August. Webster also pointed out that, “…by giving the College a three-year period in which to undertake the APR and resolve the structural budgetary deficit, the BoT has created an environment in which this work can be undertaken in a grassroots, bottom-up manner, rather than a top-down process controlled by administration and the BoT.”
More recent fall happenings consist of the SPPAC suggesting a different collective of colleges that could be used, “…as a better base of comparison for benchmarking the College of Wooster than the Great Lakes College Association (GLCA).” Wooster finds itself in, “a tricky mid-range position relative to different competitors for students.” Because of the College’s size, it is not practical to measure Wooster, “…against colleges which have far more resources available.” It is also important to recognize The College of Wooster’s unique strengths, such as the Independent Study (IS) program, in future benchmarking exercises.
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