Higher Education

Calvin brings the curtain down on humanities programs

While German major is saved, the board supported a decision to eliminate five others.

October 23, 2015
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Calvin College officials have informed the campus community that the board of trustees has ratified the final recommendations for the elimination of five humanities-based academic programs as part of the college’s academic prioritization plan.

While the final recommendation presented by the Academic Prioritization Task Force was to eliminate six programs, during a special meeting Oct. 13 the board supported a decision to retain the German major.

Calvin’s architecture minor, art history major, Greek major, Latin major, and theater major programs will be phased out over a period of four years as current students complete their degrees.

The college will retain the German and classical studies majors; courses and minors in art history, Greek, Latin and theater; and the Calvin Theatre Company.

Michael Le Roy, president of Calvin College, indicated in the October 2015 Prioritization Plan Update the German department faculty were able to present to the provost a way forward using their allocated teaching resources.

“We are thankful to be able to keep German as a major, but our gratitude is tempered by our grief about what the reductions in programs and the loss of valued colleagues will mean for us as a college,” said Le Roy.

The German department will retain its major depending on the Educational Policy Committee’s approval of a revised plan for spring 2016, according to the update.

After sharing the information with the campus community, Le Roy said while some of the feedback has included comments from those concerned about a particular program they are interested in, the majority has been positive.

“The overwhelming feedback we have received is understanding and support,” said Le Roy. “I think that just speaks to the knowledge and understanding of our community. It wasn’t a decision born out of concern of quality of programs or contempt, but born out of the necessity of where higher education is these days.”

The recommendations were originally shared earlier this fall by the Academic Prioritization Task Force with Provost Cheryl Brandsen, Le Roy, faculty, staff and governing committees at the college as part of Calvin’s strategic plan to realign resources with needs and goals.

The task force “worked to realize a net decrease of at least $800,000 in expenditures, while it kept the college’s mission statement, prioritization plan, strategic plan and the educational framework at the forefront,” indicated Le Roy in the plan update.

“I think while it is always painful to lose programs and move on, it seemed like the process was thorough and fair and necessary for us to get on the footing that we need to be, going forward,” said Le Roy. “We are stewards of the resources that we have for all students, so we have to figure out how those resources cover everyone best without adding too much to cost.”

Since the 2012-2013 academic year, Calvin has been undergoing a financial and operational restructuring process to reduce long-term debt of $116 million and a forecasted operating deficit of $7.7 million by 2017.

Through a number of initiatives, such as securing $28 million in support from a donor pledge campaign, selling non-core real estate assets to apply toward its principal, and reducing annual operating expenses, Calvin has brought down its long-term debt to nearly $89 million.

As the college nears the end of its review process, Le Roy said the focus moving forward is on refinancing and restructuring the debt for the “long-haul” and going through a process of due diligence for the various alternatives.

“I think we have identified all the areas of expense reduction, and now it is just a matter of implementing those between now and 2017,” said Le Roy. “We feel we are really nearing the end of that process and hitting all the goals that we set. I don’t see anything now in our way that would suggest we aren’t going to achieve them, barring some national financial catastrophe. I think we are going to be in good shape.”

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