Searching for a resolution

After a summer of budget cuts, faculty layoffs, and programs under review the Faculty Senate has passed a resolution aimed at giving faculty members a greater say in budget decisions that have taken place at Valparaiso University over the years. The resolution was sent to the Board of Directors for approval and they are in the process of reaching a decision. 


Faculty Senator Dawn Bartusch discussed the factors that led to the resolution.


“In June we received a message, I believe it was the 19th late in the afternoon after the Board of the directors had met earlier that day and a message came out to the faculty from President Heckler and it said a variety of things and it was well into that message before we got to issues of financial sustainability for the institution and it indicated that there would be permanent pay cuts coming for faculty and that everyone making more than $50,000 at the university faculty staff included as well and administration would take a permanent 5% pay cut,” Bartusch said.  

“We have tended to be underpaid relative to our peers for as long as I’ve been teaching here since 2002 and the administration has always said we’re going to work to make that right.” 


According to faculty senators there seems to be no clear accounting of monetary costs communicated to the faculty.


“There’s never been a clear accounting of it. They’ll throw around this figure of millions of dollars of this benefit and nobody gives a clear accounting of what the actual impact is on the handful of students and their families that were impacted by the Board’s decision over the summer,” Faculty Senator Mark Bartusch said. 


One of the biggest issues was the lack of communication between the Board of Directors and the faculty. 


“A big part is communication. I mean we never see the Board as faculty. We don’t communicate with the Board; it's really the Board to the president and the president to the provost and faculty. The chain of command feels distant particularly when your own job is on the line,” Faculty Senator Liz Wuerffel said. “So with these huge cuts that happened over the summer it was the Board saying you need to cut this number of millions of dollars and the provost and the president working on the academic and non academic side to make those cuts. That then went back to the Board for approval.”


According to Mark Bartusch, part of the disconnect is due to the Board not being present on campus often.


“It’s come to the point where the Board doesn’t even come to campus for Board meetings, for example. They either did it virtually or they did it in some other location,” Mark Bartusch said.


This led to a lack of trust between the Board of Directors and the faculty.


“There has to be some accountability. Because we’re in a financial bind these days and administrators’ decisions and the Board’s decisions got us to this place. COVID didn’t help the situation, but that isn’t the only thing that’s responsible for where we are,” Dawn Bartusch said.


The Faculty Senate resolution was based on an open letter that a group of faculty wrote to the Board of Directors. The letter was circulated among faculty to allow those who were interested to sign it. 


“The difference between the letter and the resolution is that the letter was written by a group of faculty and then, it was based on what they had heard in terms of the town halls and what kind of questions faculty had and the concerns faculty had…” said Allison Schuette, faculty senator and co-author of the resolution, “It was circulated so that faculty who were interested can sign and we did get 99 signatures from faculty on that open letter and it was both tenured faculty, and what we would call contingent faculty, and they came from all of the different colleges.”


According to Schuette, the resolution allowed faculty members to negotiate what they wanted to see in the request sent to the Board. 


“There were faculty who were responding to certain parts of the letter and would sign for those reasons but weren’t wanting to sign for other reasons and so it seems to make sense that if some of us took that letter and put it into the form of a faculty resolution that meant that the entire faculty, through their constituents could actually negotiate what they wanted to see in the actual formal request to the Board,” Schuette said,  “There were changes between what faculty were asking for in the letter and then the actual whereas part in the resolution.”


Wuerffel cited a decline in enrollment and the drastic faculty cuts as part of the motivation for the resolution. 


“I think over the last decade what we’ve seen is some years when we have high enrollment there ends up being a growth in the number of faculty and other years where there’s lower enrollment there are more cuts and measures around cutting the academic side but there tends to be a continued growth in the upper administrative side so as faculty we’re, of course, worried that is a smaller number of people but a more costly number of people and so what does it mean that our admin continues to grow when we’re not fully supporting our academics programs? But I do think we’re in a tough position financially,” Wuerffel said.  


She added that she would like the Board and faculty to come together to create a plan for 2025 when enrollment is predicted to drop even more. 


According to Susan Scroggins, senior vice president for finance and treasurer of the Board, Valpo was facing an enrollment decline prior to the pandemic.  


“We've had a decline in enrollment over the last few years so we've seen that trend down...yes there has been a decline in both undergraduate and graduate enrollment prior to COVID, but again we were making some great strides,” Scroggins said. “We were seeing enrollment trends in terms of deposits in March, so pre-COVID, we’re tracking 15% ahead of last year so we were very encouraged by that and then COVID hit and then we saw the numbers start to decline.”


“It is enrollment that very much drives a traditional undergraduate on campus residential model,” Scroggins added. 


The pandemic also brought on financial challenges in terms of reduced revenue, in addition to lower enrollment and increased costs. 


“The financial challenges have come in the form of a couple of different things in terms of reduced revenue, if you recall the room or parking refunds that were issued in the spring when we had to send everyone home because of the stay at home order in the early days of the pandemic. That was lost revenue there,” Scroggins said. ““[Financial challenges] In the form of increased costs, so these would be costs that primarily related to keeping our faculty, staff, and our students safe in a covid pandemic environment…we purchased things like personal protection equipment as masks and sanitizing solution dispensers, barriers just a multitude of those sorts of things.”   


Another issue brought forward by the faculty was the removal of tuition remission for terminated employees. 


“When we found out that our colleagues who were let go, faculty and staff, if you’ve been at the university for three years or more in full time service you are eligible for the tuition remission benefit or tuition exchange,” Dawn Bartusch said. “If you’ve had someone who’s worked here for three years and legitimately earned that benefit and who’s dependent is in the midst of using it we wanted to see them be able to do that. I’m heartbroken at the students who were pushed out of their programs in the summer with no opportunity to continue when their parents earned that benefit.” 


There was also concern about the termination of pre-tenured faculty and as well as increasing faculty diversity on campus.


“A number of our pre-tenure faculty were told they had one year until their line would be terminated. Which, because we’ve done all this work in increasing our number of underrepresented faculty, it also meant that those were also the faculty that often ended up being notified that they have a year left on their contract,” Wuerffel said.


The second part of the resolution asks the Board of Directors for the creation and improvement of communication from the Board to the Faculty Senate through the Provost and the Faculty Representative to the Academic Affairs Committee.  


The resolution states this should be done by the insurance of the Provost’s direct access to the Board, the inclusion of Deans and one faculty member from each college on the Academic Affairs Committee, including elected faculty representatives as a voting member on each committee of the Board.  


“The second part of the resolution is our way of saying we feel like, to move forward, in order to build trust, there needs to be accountability and so we outline ways in which we feel like the Board can demonstrate that they’re willing to do that process of accountability,” Schuette said.


Faculty Senate had received a letter from Frederick Kraegle, chair of the Boardthat stated that the Board of Directors will be discussing their response to the Faculty resolution at their September meeting. 


“The letter from the current Board president essentially dismisses it out of hand. Essentially the way it’s been interpreted by a number of us [faculty senators] is that’s all in the past. Those were decisions of the Board, the Board is not interested in revisiting them or reconsidering them, even talking about them with members of the campus community,” Mark Bartusch said.


“The one concrete thing we know is that they'd said that they would set up a meeting afterwards with the faculty senate executive committee to open discussions. So that's good. We’re glad that it's the entire faculty senate executive committee and not just the chair...So that's something we've been looking for is that expanded group to be in conversation with the Board,” Schuette said. 


For Schuette, the hope is that the Board will outline and communicate which parts of the resolution they will accept, which parts they will modify and why, and which parts they will deny. 


“Another way of saying that is, I don't expect that the Board will give us everything we ask for. They know our concerns now and they're coming to the table with their concerns and I would want to see them think about those in relationship to each other and be really thoughtful and reflective about which ones [resolutions] that they’re then going to move forward on,” Schuette said. 

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