During the current global economic downturn, many colleges face harsh financial realities. Colleges with suffering endowments have had to make priorities and fund their initiatives selectively. As one such suffering college, Lawrence has had to put some programs temporarily on hold. Although such measures have been deemed necessary by the Lawrence administration, some faculty members have expressed concern that the core academic mission of the school has been jeopardized.Wage and salary freezes
The latest measure designed to preserve the university’s financial well-being took place last week, when President Jill Beck sent an e-mail to all members of the faculty and staff informing them of a wage and salary freeze and a reduction to Lawrence’s contribution to faculty retirement plans.
Beck said, “The Lawrence endowment has declined considerably in the economy of the past several months. Because this source of revenue has declined, we must find ways to control expenses.”
David Burrows, Lawrence provost and dean of the faculty, said that the faculty compensation freeze is part of a larger budgeting scheme to preserve the primary mission of the university.
Chief of Staff to the President Cynthia Roberts expressed a positive view of the budgeting process. “Very few institutions approach their budget decisions with any guiding principles, let alone the ones we have – a thoughtful, very cautious approach, constantly monitoring external environments.”
Beck said, “In general, the welfare and educational experience of Lawrence’s students has been foremost in our planning. There are three principles that guide budget planning at Lawrence.”
Burrows elaborated on those principles, saying that, first, “We need to protect the academic and artistic core of the institution. Our mission is the liberal education of our students, and we wanted to make certain that we could preserve the quality of the educational experience.”
Burrows added that a second guiding principle was to “protect the employment status of those who work here.” Lawrence also had to be “careful, as we don’t know when the downturn will end. … We need to stay away from deficit spending.”
Third, Burrows said that in keeping with the university’s goals, the administration made an effort to retain all faculty and staff members and to not actually cut faculty and staff compensation from current levels. Burrows said that these salary retention measures were “good for morale purposes.”
According to Burrows, the faculty members with whom he has spoken about the compensation freeze have been “understanding,” describing the situation as “regrettable.”
In addition to the faculty compensation freeze, some other Lawrence initiatives have also been suspended.
One such initiative is the fellows program. According to Burrows, fellows already at Lawrence will be allowed to complete their time here, but new fellows will not be recruited to replace departing fellows. Next year, the number of fellows will drop from 13 to 10.
However, Beck stated, “Lawrence has stood firmly behind our quality of education and faculty-student ratio by searching for and hiring eight new professors for next fall, to fill open positions in our departments. This is not all that typical of colleges across the country this year.”
In fact, Burrows said that Lawrence “stands out compared to other schools, as we went ahead with faculty searches and maintained the operating budgets of departments, including support services such as the library and student academic services.”
Burrows also noted that a number of the key initiatives begun during the tenure of President Beck are continuing despite the economic downturn. Burrows characterized these newer initiatives as being “now essential to the university’s mission.”
One important new development under Beck’s tenure has been the Warch Campus Center, which is still set to open at the beginning of the next academic year. Burrows said that the campus center’s construction was fully funded before work began.
Burrows also said that, though the center will require an operating budget next year, it will “enhance residence life” and allow “more students and faculty to interact.” The center will also make Lawrence “more attractive to potential students.”
Another campus initiative, the Posse program, will also continue next year. Burrows said that the program “enhances diversity … in perspectives, which is good for the university mission.”
The effects of Lawrence’s cost-saving measures on Lawrence’s individualized learning initiatives have been more controversial.
According to Burrows, Lawrence’s system of independent studies, tutorials and summer research has become “part of our core mission and distinctiveness as a liberal learning institution” in recent years.
Burrows said that the Lawrence administration has “kept [individualized learning] going” by maintaining faculty salaries and operating budgets at current levels while also “maintaining our internal grants programs,” thereby allowing for “faculty development and faculty-student collaboration.”
Burrows noted that, though a plan to compensate faculty members for the time they spend providing individualized learning experiences was supposed to go into effect, such plans have been “placed on hold.”
Roberts said that this placing on hold should not be confused with elimination. Speaking generally, She noted, “Our approach was that if you cut something, it’s very difficult to bring it back. We have taken very careful measures to not do anything so drastic.”
Roberts stated that promotion of individualized learning was “one of the reasons why we felt it was so important to fill these faculty positions.” She continued, “We don’t want to place undue burdens on a limited number of faculty to fulfill these individualized learning experiences, which is of course one of the hallmarks here at Lawrence.”
Some faculty members do not believe the university is doing enough to preserve the culture of individualized learning at Lawrence.
One faculty member who did not wish to be identified described the situation as “head scratching.”
“It seems that if something needs money, it gets money,” said the faculty member. “I disagree with the ranking of priorities [for funding]. Individualized education is the heart of our academic program, a faculty labor of love, and it is a great idea to pitch it [to prospective students], but if we do that, we need to make sure it is funded.”
According to the faculty member, placing faculty compensation for individualized education “on hold” is not acceptable.
The faculty member insisted that faculty should be compensated for their work with students during the summer and during independent study.
Such compensation was proposed in a report titled “Supporting Individualized Learning at Lawrence University,” which was composed by the committee on individualized learning, chaired by Beth De Stasio, associate professor of biology and Raymond H. Herzog professor of science.
The report, which was approved by the faculty, the administration and the trustees, recommended that faculty be compensated for providing individualized learning experiences by receiving credits toward sabbaticals that would be paid at a higher-than-usual rate.
De Stasio said that the committee she chaired “worked closely with both the provost and the financial planning task force last year to work out a reasonable reward scheme for faculty.” Consequently, it is possible to put the plan into effect at any time.
Consideration during reaccreditation
The plan to compensate faculty for providing individualized experiences found in the De Stasio report was lauded by
the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools during Lawrence’s recent reaccreditation.
The North Central Association report noted that Lawrence “has already used assessment information to apportion resources and drive rewards: during the visit the Team heard that preliminary studies of the value of individualized instruction had suggested the significance of gains in student learning made by such study. As a result, Lawrence has created a plan for compensating faculty for sponsoring individualized learning experiences by enhancing their sabbatical compensation. The Team applauds this data-driven decision.”
“I don’t want faculty to stop [providing individualized learning] because they are not compensated … producing bad morale,” the faculty member said. “Though Lawrence can build shiny new buildings, individualized learning is what really brings in new students.”
The faculty member added that many other faculty members feel the same way.
David Hall, associate professor of chemistry, said, “I fully support the De Stasio committee recommendations and think they should be funded.”
Peter Peregrine, professor of anthropology and chair of the anthropology department, said, “Of course these decisions [to place faculty compensation on hold] are going to negatively impact faculty willingness and ability to provide opportunities for students – how could they not?”
Peregrine also questioned whether the North Central Association would have found Lawrence so praiseworthy had the Higher Learning Commission known that Lawrence would not follow through on the De Stasio committee recommendations.
De Stasio commented, “We should acknowledge the really extraordinary amount of individualized learning opportunities we provide our students at LU.”
She added, “I would hope that acknowledgement of faculty work with students would be one of the highest priorities of the university. Of course, in this economic climate we need to balance this priority with the long-term stability of the college.”
Despite the difficulties Lawrence is currently experiencing financially, Burrows remains optimistic.
“Lawrence’s future remains very bright,” Burrows said. “What will enable us to get through tough times is the quality of the Lawrence educational experience. This is what makes people come here, what makes us prosper.