Restarting Ohio: Wittenberg to cut 6 academic programs in response to pandemic

Restarting Ohio: Wittenberg to cut 6 academic programs in response to pandemic
Wittenberg University. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF

SPRINGFIELD — Wittenberg University will cut six academic programs in response to financial pressures created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university’s board of directors voted June 18 to act on plans and proposals that had been in the works for months, according to a statement university officials released to the Wittenberg campus community.

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The board accepted the recommendations of an 11-member Academic Program Futures Committee, which included President Michael Frandsen, five board members and four faculty members. The APFC, formed in February, was tasked with finding $2.5 million in savings from academic program expenses.

Those savings approved by the board include:

  • Discontinuing the archaeology minor; geology major and minor; French minor; Japanese; Russian minor; Russian and Central Eurasian Studies. Students currently involved in majors or minors in these programs will be able to complete their studies. Earlier in the year, the board accepted recommendations from faculty to discontinue the French major as well as the dance major and minor.
  • Eliminating two tenured faculty positions, one each in geology and Japanese. The faculty members will continue at the university through the 2020-21 academic year.
  • Not filling other faculty positions left open by retirement and resignation.
  • Eliminating staff positions, including the Graduate and Professional Studies office and reducing staffing in other areas.

“These are painful but absolutely necessary steps,” said board chairman, the Rev. Jonathan Eilert.

“We’ve spent months working on these plans. We’ve heard from faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni. The decisions we’re making reflect input from all those groups to help us reach this point. I also fully understand that people are losing jobs and academic programs are being eliminated. Those are among the most difficult decisions any university must make. And it speaks to the serious financial situation we face.”

“We knew we needed to take decisive action now to address our current budget shortfalls and to set Wittenberg on a path to financial sustainability,” Eilert said.

President Frandsen said, “The pandemic forced us to re-think health and safety, but more than that it reinforced in a very stark way that we must be more agile and able to adapt to the changing needs of our students. We will be a dynamically creative University, we must continue to make changes, and we are confident that will help drive our financial health.”

Re-opening plans for in-person classes continue, with the 2020-21 academic year beginning Aug. 17, a week earlier than originally planned.

“We know when classes are starting,” Frandsen said. “And we’re working every day on how we’ll reopen safely, but differently.”

Frandsen also said the freshman class entering in 2020-21 is 16% larger than the previous year’s freshman class. First to second year retention – a key factor in students staying to get their degrees – is tracking at the highest rate since 2014, and fundraising has continued at a very strong pace.

“All these facts point to Wittenberg coming out on the other side of this crisis much better positioned for the educational needs of our students and their families,” he said. “All of higher education is adapting and evolving. We plan to embrace the challenges and opportunities of change.”