This article has been updated to reflect clarifications sought by members of the faculty and the administration.
Gordon College will not offer twelve current majors to incoming freshmen this fall, including: Physics; Chemistry; Combined Languages; Spanish; French; Secondary Education; Middle School Education; Recreation, Sports, and Wellness; and Social Work.
The History and Philosophy will be brought together with Political Science to create a new department of Political Science, Philosophy and History. While the Political Science and International Affairs majors will remain as stand-alone majors, several different integrated options are under consideration for incoming freshmen in the History and Philosophy majors. The Sociology major will be moved to the Psychology department, where it will combine to create a new “Psychology, Sociology, and Social Practice” major. The Psychology major will remain in its current form.
Via Facebook, an email to the campus community and a dedicated section on the website, Gordon College announced the conclusions of an extensive budgeting process that utilized, in the words of Gordon President Michael Lindsay, “thousands of points of data.” The process continued throughout the 2018-2019 academic year. To allow for thoughtful consideration, Lindsay said, this decision-making process intentionally took twice as long as the similar but smaller process that occurred in 2015.
“It is agonizing to have to make these decisions,” Lindsay said to a crowd of nearly 100 students gathered to hear details of the upcoming changes on Saturday morning. The community learned more details regarding the elimination of three dozen positions, including 14% of current full-time faculty. About half of the cuts will come from already vacant positions.
The President said that eleven faculty members will lose their jobs; an additional two faculty members are proceeding with their planned retirements and their vacant positions will not be filled. Two of the eleven faculty members were offered different positions within the school. While most separations came from restructured or eliminated programs, some departments not listed on the school’s website lost faculty. The Art department will lose faculty as part of the college’s financial restructuring but the program will largely remain the same.
“In the end, we had to identify what would be the most financially sustainable path for the college that would serve the most number of students who are here and who we believe might be coming here in the days ahead. Truthfully, that’s what we’ve tried to do,” Lindsay continued.
Nicholas Blondell, a senior theater major at Gordon who was present at the forum, later expressed dissatisfaction with the process and the responses provided by the administration. “It seems like more time has been put into the packaging of Gordon’s next marketing (Gordon Plus, Gordon Traditional/Essential/Global) rather than preparing departments for the elimination of their respective professors… It was also disappointing seeing students in tears and leaving in anger — the presenters were not prepared to answer difficult questions in kind, concise ways.”
During the meeting, several students expressed concern about the lack of information for those whose majors are slated for elimination. Some questioned the quality of programs that they fear will lack the proper faculty. Others expressed their desire to transfer to schools with programs not under threat. The tone of student questions suggested a clear frustration; students wonder how they will be able to finish their soon-to-be defunct or “integrated” courses of study in light of significantly reduced faculty.
Bobby Grinnell, a current senior in Secondary Education and Spanish, also present at the Saturday forum, later echoed these concerns in an interview with the Tartan. He was pleased with the way Rick Sweeney, Gordon’s Vice President for Marketing and External Relations, was honest and ‘non political’ in his communication at the forum. “He felt very genuine.” But Grinnell expressed great concern that “the pathways to completing majors (particularly for underclassmen) are ambiguous, and many students are worried about a decrease in the quality of their education.”
Responding to one student’s expression of these concerns, Lindsay said, “I assume you made a prayerful decision when you came to the college. If you have a high view of providence as I do, when you came to the college, God knew that this would happen when you came here. So, my encouragement would be to you, please give us time. Our desire is for you to stay. You are a valued member of the campus and we want you to stay. We want to find a way to make this work. We really want to find the right pathways.”
Dean of Faculty Sandy Doneski said that faculty advisors will work with affected students over the summer to chart a plan for their remaining years at Gordon. Students in the thirteen affected programs will be contacted between June 1 and June 15. The college is beginning to work with incoming students within these programs on a case-by-case basis.
Nevertheless, some students present expressed that they feel as if these decisions were made too late in the year, and that incoming students were not given a proper heads-up that their desired majors will no longer be offered upon arrival. Such complaints are currently flooding the college’s social media. One parent’s comment is indicative of a common attitude towards the process expressed on social media. “Wait. What?! My son just opted out of Carnegie Mellon to attend Gordon this fall for physics and now there is no longer a physics major? I wish we had known this before the May 1 deadline. 🙁 He was just there a couple of weeks ago specifically to visit the physics department and nothing was said to us about this change.”
A few parents of current students voiced support for the Gordon community during this time of transition. Barb Grinnell wrote, “My husband and I are alums and our children attended/attend. We love Gordon College. It is easy to sit back and be critical, but I think the best course is to pray for the College, for those dear professors and staff let go, and for the leadership.”
While the cuts to academic programs are significant to students, alumni and parents, they are not the only portions of the college’s budget that will be restructured. Lindsay listed many changes coming to non-academic services and operations throughout the college.
For example, the school is looking at counseling options for students outside of Gordon’s current offerings. Options on the table include partnerships with local Christian counselors and working with the counseling center at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. There will be no personnel reductions in the college’s counseling center.
Gordon College is looking to increase investment in solar energy to reduce energy costs; the police department will also receive less funding for non-essential training and overall operations, but no full-time officers are being cut from the Gordon Police force; the Dexter house will be sold after this academic year, and the dorm is housing its last cohort of students this semester; the Center for Technology Services, the mailroom, and the development office will also see reductions in expenses and personnel.
Looking to the future, the college hopes to implement a three-pronged approach to diversifying revenue streams and enhancing current offerings. The college plans to maintain the traditional four-year experience as essential to Gordon programming. Acknowledging how difficult it is for Gordon families to afford the cost of a four-year liberal arts education, the school hopes to provide opportunities for students to graduate in three years. This new option could reduce costs in tuition by 10% by utilizing winter and summer breaks to offer classes. The college is also reducing the total number of hours needed for graduation from 124 to 120. Finally, by creating Gordon Global, the college hopes to create ‘stackable degrees’ in the style of other universities that have exploded into the online education market.
Commenting on the future of the college in an email to the Tartan, Sweeney said, “I am a product of Gordon. I graduated from here, I’ve worked here twice and sent my kids here. Gordon’s core identity will not change, even as we adapt the core values of a residential liberal arts education to meet the rapidly evolving needs of students, families and employers in the 21st century. We know the future of liberal arts is education plus preparation, and we’re committed to strengthening that synergy at Gordon.