An open letter concerning recent programmatic changes,
Last Friday the campus community received an email effectively announcing that there are ten majors that are now closed to new students. Along with this announcement came the news that a number of professors, many of whom have tenure, will lose their jobs at Concordia. After thinking about these announcements I have a few concerns which I feel must be addressed. These concerns regard the timing, the communication and the criteria of these changes. Before I begin, I think it is appropriate that I recognize the perspective from which I am writing. I am a student in my third year at Concordia and I am majoring in Philosophy, Global Studies (Worlds in Dialogue Concentration) and Classical Studies. If you do not happen to have a copy of Dean Eliason’s email in front of you while reading this, Classical Studies is one of the majors which have been closed to new students.
Now, on to my concerns.
The announcement of which majors are being closed to new students was made Jan. 29. While some students and faculty were aware that some majors would be closed (though not yet sure which ones) earlier this month, many in the Concordia community did not know that these changes were imminent until earlier last week when the Forum ran an article about them (more on this later). In any case, the changes were not announced until the end of January. Considering the fact that Concordia has been dealing with financial troubles for years, and that there has been no significant change in enrollment (and therefore no significant change in Concordia’s financial situation) since August, these decisions were both made and announced unacceptably late in the academic year. For the professors who have been told that in three months they will no longer have a job, this means that many application deadlines for positions at other schools have already passed and that finding a job in academia for the 2016-2017 academic year will now be next to impossible. For students currently enrolled at Concordia, this means that there was no opportunity given for students who had been considering joining one of the closed majors to do so; and for students already a part of these majors, it is too late to transfer to another school (one that will continue to fully support their area of study) this year, and it may be difficult to do so in time for the 2016 fall semester. For any prospective students who had hoped to enroll in one of the closed majors this coming fall, the college search must now begin anew. What delayed these decisions? Why were students and professors not warned that their programs might be cut before it happened? And why did this all seem to unfold in the space of a single week?
This brings me to my second concern,
As I mentioned before, many members of the Concordia community did not become aware that any majors would soon be closed until Jan. 26 when the Fargo Forum ran an article announcing that the administration’s programmatic decision was impending. I recognize that the administration had made some efforts to inform the Concordia community before this, but these efforts were clearly insufficient. Furthermore, I recognize that, since Jan. 26, the administration and student government leaders have taken steps to improve communication between the administration and the student body. I commend these efforts, but I am afraid that the horses have already left the barn. While I have hopes that the efforts of our campus leaders will lead to improved communication in the future, it worries me how poorly communication was handled regarding this incident. Why did the administration not tell us what was coming sooner, and why did we have to hear about it from the Forum?
My other concern about communication is somewhat more personal. Jan. 29 at 3:50 p.m., along with the rest of the campus community, I received the email from Dean Eliason announcing which majors would be closed. In the body of the email we were told that, “Students directly impacted by these decisions have been notified.” Seeing that Classical Studies was on the list, I then became curious as to why I, a Classical Studies major and therefore a student who was fairly directly impacted by the decisions, had not been notified. Five minutes later, at 3:55 p.m., I received another email addressed specifically to me informing me that the Classical Studies major was being closed to new students. While this five-minute delay is, in itself, of little importance, the fact that it came after the email to the rest of the student body (in which I was informed that I had already been informed) displays a lack of integrity. I would have thought nothing of this mishap (after all, to err is human and a belated email is by no means a deadly sin), but for the other failures in communication up to that point.
I understand that Concordia is undergoing financial troubles which necessitate budget cuts, and I understand that closing majors allows the administration to terminate tenured faculty positions thereby reducing operation costs. The administration felt that cuts needed to be made and I do not envy the dean, the division chairs or the other members of the administration who were tasked with deciding which majors to close and which positions to terminate. However, I am disturbed by the criteria used to make these decisions. In the second email I received I was told, “In making these decisions, we have worked to align our staffing and resources to those majors whose current enrollments and attractiveness to potential students are strong.” In other words, the administration decided to close majors because they had few students enrolled in them and it did not appear likely that these majors would draw new students. Majors were not closed because they failed to prepare their students for careers. Majors were not closed because they failed to integrate the goals of liberal learning. Majors were not closed because they offered a lower quality of experience for their students than the majors which remained open. Majors were closed because they failed to attract big numbers. If Concordia’s purpose were simply to minimize costs and maximize profits this would be an acceptable metric for deciding which majors to close and which majors to leave open. If Concordia’s purpose were to attract as many students as possible or to maintain its current size, this criteria would be acceptable. However, the purpose of Concordia College is, ostensibly, to influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life. If the programmatic changes are not grounded in this mission (which seems to be the case) then I believe it is time to ask ourselves who we are as a college. Are we a place where people are challenged to think critically about a broad range of issues so they can become engaged citizens of the world or are we simply a business which attracts students and sells them diplomas? Is Concordia about quality, or is it about quantity?
I have great respect for the administration of this college and I understand that the decisions that have been made regarding programmatic changes must have been difficult. Furthermore, I believe that the people who made these decisions did what they felt was best for the future of Concordia. However, the timing, communication and criteria regarding these changes have been poor.
I hope that my concerns will be addressed and I hope that I will be able to listen with an open mind when they are.
This article was submitted by Levi Heath, contributing writer.