While I was occupied with other stories on the higher ed beat last week, the bubbling cauldron that is Guilford College continued to boil.
As I reported Nov. 6, the private Greensboro college is preparing to make some big, big changes: 16 tenured professors and nine other faculty members will be laid off at the end of the academic year, 9.5 more staff positions have been cut, and nearly half of Guilford's academic majors will be phased out over the next several years. Guilford College has seen significant enrollment losses over the past decade that have led to some financial difficulties, and the school's interim president and trustees believe that it's time to do something much, much different.
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That public announcement, which followed a two-month-long process of reviewing the college's academic programs, prompted faculty to take a no-confidence vote last week in interim President Carol A. Moore and the college's Board of Trustees. According to a news release I got Monday from Guilford's faculty, it's the only time in the college's 183-year history that professors have taken such a stance. The majorities, I should add, were overwhelming: 94 percent of the faculty at the meeting supported the no-confidence vote in Moore, and 93 percent voted no-confidence in trustees.
Faculty at this meeting last Wednesday said their no-confidence vote stems from seven issues. Among them: the program review process didn't start with faculty or focus on educational considerations as spelled out in the faculty handbook; professors and programs haven't gotten any specific feedback as to why they are being laid off or phased out; leadership has disregarded tenure rights, shared governance (in which faculty share with administration the duties and responsibilities of running an institution) and "the immense value those laid off have brought to the college over the years they have worked here."
The dominant emotions on campus seems to be anger and disappointment. Professors don't want to lose their jobs or for their colleagues to be laid off. Students, especially those in majors that will be phased out, are concerned about their academic careers.
Radio station WFDD and TV station WGHP talked to professors, students, alumni and Moore last week. The Guilfordian (Guilford's student newspaper) and Triad City Beat wrote about the student protestors who lined New Garden Road.
“There were alumni and current students. There were kids of the alumni dancing to the drums and cheering to save Guilford," junior Haydyn Foulke told The Guilfordian. "The vibe was energetic, hopeful and filled with righteous anger.”
Guilford's announcement made both of the national higher ed publications. Here's a short Inside Higher Ed story, and here's a Chronicle story that mentions Guilford in the context that U.S. colleges and universities have cut 10 percent of their workforces this year. It's tough all over, in other words.
Faculty members at other institutions have the backs of their colleagues at Guilford. In this op-ed that ran in Sunday's News & Record, UNCG's Michael Frierson calls out Guilford's interim president for not declaring financial exigency ("an imminent financial emergency that threatens the survival of the institution as a whole"), for dismissing suggestions to consider early retirements and furloughs instead of layoffs and for "gutting" its humanities and sciences offerings, several of which "are at the core" of a Quaker college that values diversity and social justice.
Here's Frierson, a media studies professor and president of UNCG's chapter of the American Association of University Professors:
"(The announcement) indicates the administration’s willingness to prioritize the college's public image over the damage inflicted on faculty and staff who have served the institution, many for decades. Razing academic programs in the middle of a pandemic, when federal relief for higher education may be imminent, given the change of direction in the federal government, is unconscionable. ...
"We urgently call on Interim President Moore and the Board of Trustees to suspend the proposed cuts to Guilford’s academic programs and administrative staff for at least a year and to engage in meaningful shared governance with the faculty. We urge them further to follow the faculty handbook to the letter when dealing with impacted faculty, require highly paid administrators to share in the sacrifice asked from others, and consider more creative financial solutions like early retirement options, furloughs and voluntary unpaid leaves, as previously recommended by Guilford faculty committees."
Frierson's letter was signed by 115 others, including UNCG faculty and professors and university employees from around the area, state and nation.
I need to note that these aren't universal sentiments.
I talked Monday with Mike Waddell, a 1991 Guilford graduate and long-time college athletics administrator who's now president of the minor-league hockey team in the Dallas suburbs. Waddell, who reached out to the News & Record, said he went to Guilford with three current members of the Board of Trustees, still has friends among Guilford's staff and faculty and keeps up with what's happening on campus.
He said it's unfair for all the fingers to be pointed at the interim president and Guilford's board. Faculty bear their share of blame for "their unwillingness to change because they think Guilford is a utopia bubble," Waddell said. "And it's not."
This day of reckoning has been a long time in coming, he said, and there's plenty of blame to go around.
"The current leadership of Guilford College is troubling to a lot of alumni," Waddell said. "Equally as troubling is the demonization of the volunteer Board of Trustees. ... The finger-pointing needs to stop and the solutions need to come up."
A note about college majors
When I reported this story back on Nov. 6, Guilford College said it was keeping 23 of its 42 majors and phasing out 19. I late went back through the college's course catalog and, by my count, Guilford is phasing out 18 of 41 majors. The counting is a little tricky, as modern languages (which are being cut) and education studies (which are remaining) are majors with multiple tracks.
For the record, here are the 23 majors that will remain (per Guilford's news release):
Accounting; African and African American Studies; Art; Biology; Business Administration; Computing Technology and Information Systems; Criminal Justice; Cyber and Network Security; Education Studies; English and Media Studies; Exercise and Sport Sciences; Environmental Studies; Experience Design; Health Sciences; Integrative Studies; International Studies; Music; Psychology; Public Health; Sport Management; Sustainable Food Systems; Theatre Studies; and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Here are 15 current majors that will be phased out:
Community and Justice Studies; Chemistry; Geology and Earth Sciences; History; Mathematics; Peace and Conflict Studies; Philosophy; Physics; Political Science; Religious Studies; and Sociology and Anthropology. In addition, French, German, Japanese and Spanish — all four Modern Language majors— will go. Guilford will continue to offer classes in these areas, but new students won't be able to major in these subjects.
Here are three current majors that will be absorbed into remaining majors:
Creative Writing (into English) and Forensic Biology (into biology). I was told that Economics would be absorbed into Business Administration, but I haven't seen that written down anywhere.
If you're looking for a theme, here it is: Guilford plans to keep its pre-professional majors and get rid of a lot of its liberal arts majors.
Moore was clear in her explanation to me earlier this month: Guilford is sticking with what it considers to be the more popular majors, both on campus and nationally, and going away from what it sees as less popular majors. That change will let Guilford redirect faculty and financial resources to programs that Guilford thinks can attract more students.
For context, biology, business and psychology are almost always among the top five most popular majors at any college or university. (That's true at Guilford, too.) Pre-professional majors (health sciences in particular, exercise and sports science, communications and most anything dealing with technology) are big these days. Liberal arts and humanities majors — the target of most of Guilford's cuts — aren't doing so well nationally.
This National Center for Education Statistics chart shows changes in degrees awarded over time by four-year colleges and universities. Since the start of the decade, big gainers include computer and information systems, health professions, engineering and the "parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies" category. Degrees that have declined the most despite an overall increase in degrees awarded include social sciences and history, English lit, education, foreign languages and majors within the "liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities" category.
There are lots of reasons for these changes over time but that'll require a whole other blog post.
Staff writer John Newsom covers higher education for the News & Record of Greensboro and the Winston-Salem Journal.
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