Written by Emma Jones // Graphic by Cooper Turman
The Harding administration implemented reduction measures affecting 35 faculty members at the end of the fall 2022 semester in order to reduce the budget for an anticipated financial deficit and to help control student tuition costs for the 2023-24 school year.
In October, President Mike Williams announced to faculty that administration would be reducing the number of faculty members to reflect the current size of the student body. Faculty were notified during Dead Week if their contracts were not being renewed or were being adjusted for next school year.
In an effort to cut down on faculty this time last year, then-interim President David Burks announced on Jan. 24, 2022, a voluntary faculty retirement incentive and said the University sought to reduce total faculty by 30 people over the next three years, according to an article published by The Bison on Jan. 28, 2022. Williams said that not as many faculty took advantage of that offer as was hoped, which led to the administration having to be more proactive in the reduction process.
Though the recent measures were not announced until last semester, Williams said this is a conversation that has been happening for several years as the budget has continued to tighten and one he was made aware of as he entered the transition to the presidency this school year.
“Cuts very quickly get to personnel in higher education, and that’s why this enrollment decline nationally has been hard for higher education to resolve,” Williams said.
Williams said the rationale behind the reduction decision was not only to reduce a financial deficit, but was done with the recognition that the University’s main source of funding is student tuition, the total of which has decreased as enrollment has declined.
The reductions were made based primarily on faculty to student ratios in each department, according to Williams.
“We’re going to cut into the programs that have had the greatest enrollment drop,” Williams said. “This was why this one was really painful: This was not a performance decision.”
According to University Provost Marty Spears, college deans and department chairs were responsible for providing information and recommendations to the administration during the reduction process.
“The dean and department chair know the department needs and how to cover them best,” Spears said.
The process led to 15 faculty members choosing to retire or resign from their positions, nine having reductions and/or adjustments in their assignments for next year, and 11 who will not receive a contract for next year, with a total of 35 faculty being affected, according to Spears.
Associate professor of communication Tim Hamilton had gone into this school year knowing that he would be retiring, but had not yet told his department chair before the reductions were brought up to the faculty. After the measures were announced, he decided to announce his retirement to save someone else from the department from potentially being cut.
“I came in last fall knowing this would be my last year, then it was just the matter of when I let them know,” Hamilton said. “The question might be, did by [me] retiring, did that save [someone’s] spot?”
Most of the reductions were from the College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Sciences, which are colleges where enrollment has dropped significantly over the last several years, Spears said. Enrollment rates and the goal to have a more streamlined budget in these colleges contributed to the decision to combine them in the 2023-24 school year to create the College of Arts and Sciences, an announcement that was reported in the Dec. 2, 2022, issue of The Bison. Spears said the College of Education faced significant reductions as well.
Due to faculty reductions, some programs have ended up being cut completely. Spears confirmed that the special education and apparel merchandising undergraduate programs are two that will no longer exist after this year, but that the University will be working with students from affected programs to ensure they can still complete their degrees and graduate.
Junior Bailey Coffman was an apparel merchandising minor, but dropped the minor when she heard the program was being cut.
“I did like the minor, but I didn’t want to stay in a dying program,” Coffman said.
Williams said the University is facing about a $4.7 million shortfall in its budget for next year, but had already cut out about $3.5 million worth of expenses with faculty reductions, organizational changes and reducing overhead costs in different areas.
Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Finance Tammy Hall said the University plans to balance the rest of the shortfall through a combination of revenue increases and expense reductions.
“Personnel costs are the largest category for any service industry, including higher education,” Hall said. “Therefore, part of the plan had to be a reduction of personnel costs.”
Operation budgets have also been cut by about 15% recently, according to Hall.
“Budget managers across campus were asked to review expense budgets and identify savings opportunities, while still maintaining a high service level in the education of our students,” Hall said.
A major reason the shortfall is so large for this year is because the University will no longer have funds from federal COVID-19 relief grants that were received in 2020.
“Harding was very responsible with the money … $2 million of it was used in this year,” Williams said. “Had that not been there, these cuts would have been forced to happen last year.”
Along with faculty reductions, Williams said staff positions are being reviewed for potential reduction, and that 55 staff positions have been eliminated in the past five years.
“I don’t view this as a [financial] crisis,” Williams said. “But that doesn’t make it not a crisis for the faculty member that didn’t get renewed.”