Correction: This story was corrected to clarify that American Conversations will still be taught the second semester of each cohort’s sophomore year, but will no longer be team-taught.
The Strategic Resource Allocation Project (SRAP) is entering its final stages – the elimination of the American Studies program and courses in many departments are among several controversial decisions issued Jan. 11. The religion department and other humanities bear the brunt of the cuts announced in Chief Financial Officer Jan Hanson’s January update email to faculty and staff.
These decisions are part of a bevy of measures released by the SRAP Steering Committee projected to raise $3.5 million of the $5-8 million goal.
Some faculty claim the decision-making process has not been transparent, and that they did not have the opportunity to comment on the changes being considered.
Humanities face steepest cuts
In total, the number of courses reduced across departments translates to a net reduction of four full-time equivalent (FTE) faculty members, though no tenure track positions are being eliminated.
Humanities such as English and religion face the steepest reductions in the number of courses they can offer. The religion department is being encouraged to absorb their cuts through increases in the class size of first-year religion courses.
“The religion department in our discussions have wrestled with that because we think the small size of first-year religion classes is a very important thing,” American Studies Program Director and Religion Professor L. DeAne Lagerquist said. “We have tried to keep them at 18 or 19 and they’ll probably go up to two dozen if we do what we’re being encouraged to do.”
The Conversation programs are also facing substantial course reductions. American Conversations will no longer be team-taught during the second semester of each cohort’s sophomore year, and the Great Conversation will enroll 20 fewer students each year. Great Conversation will also have fewer sections during the second year of classes.
“It will be more competitive to get into the Great Con as a first year and we will count on a certain amount of attrition between the first and second year,” Director of the Great Conversation Douglas Casson wrote in an email. “We will also have to rethink the way in which we divide the program because we will no longer be able to divide into two cohorts of 60 students with three professors.”
While some departments such as economics and psychology have hardly been affected by SRAP recommendations and some are even offering more courses – namely the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science – most face slight reductions in the number of courses offered.
“In the majority of cases they experienced reductions of no more than a course or two,” Provost and Dean of the College Marci Sortor wrote in an email.
Some departments face other types of cuts. The chemistry department is taking a 10 percent reduction to its supply budget, the money it uses to purchase chemicals and lab equipment. Chemistry department Chair Douglas Beussman said that the department is compensating for these cuts in part through buying in bulk and coordinating purchases with the biology department when both departments order similar equipment.
“At this point, unless there are more cuts because things aren’t final yet, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a huge impact on our teaching,” Beussman said. “I think everybody’s losing a little bit, but the amount that we’re being asked to reduce by is quite doable.”
The end of American Studies
The American Studies program is experiencing some of the most severe of SRAP decisions. Hanson’s Jan. 11 email announced that the program will be phased out over the next few years. 2018-19 is the last academic year students can declare American Studies as a major without making special arrangements with the program.
Three of the nine courses required for the major are courses offered by the American Studies program, while the remaining courses are offered by a variety of departments. This year, American Studies is offering all three of these courses. Next year, only the 200-level topics course and 300-level seminar will be offered, and the year after that, only the 300-level seminar.
One of the reasons the American Studies program is being eliminated is because it is a program rather than a department, Lagerquist said.
“The faculty manual has clear procedures whereby a department is terminated, but it is silent on programs,” Lagerquist said.
This makes programs vulnerable to defunding, Lagerquist said. SRAP will eliminate the program without the faculty action usually required to eliminate a department.
Students majoring in American Studies found out about the elimination of the program on Dec. 7. The decision came as a shock to American Studies major Faith Goede ’22, and may disrupt her academic plans due to the limited offering of American Studies courses as the program is phased out.
“This throws all of my academic plans out of whack,” Goede said. “Now I can’t study abroad in certain semesters because that’s the only time I can take that seminar and that’s the only seminar they’re offering for me to be able to complete the major.”
Goede lamented the elimination of what she sees as a critically important program.
“It’s important for people to have that reflective, retrospective look back at American culture,” Goede said.
Goede said she did not have an opportunity to weigh in on the decision to eliminate the program.
“As far as I know, there was no opportunity to say, ‘hey, why are you cutting this program? Let us show you all of the reasons why this is a necessary and important part of the academic offerings at Olaf,'” Goede said.
Faculty criticize process
Some faculty members echoed Goede’s sentiment, criticizing a perceived lack of transparency and failure to adequately solicit feedback on more consequential decisions.
Beussman said that while decisions were clearly communicated, the process that led to those decisions is “a little bit more of a black box.”
Lagerquist said that she did not get the opportunity to give input on the Steering Committee’s decision to eliminate the American Studies program.
“There was no intermediary discussion with people who gained or lost things,” Lagerquist said.
History department Chair Steve Hahn said he wished the Steering Committee explained the reasoning behind their decisions to a greater extent and made the process more transparent. He also bemoaned what he sees as the lack of “discussion where our input was solicited.”
Not all faculty members denounced the decision-making process. Economics department Chair Anthony Becker thought that communication was clear and mentioned how faculty and staff have periodically been invited to meetings wherein SRAP issues were discussed.
He also mentioned that Associate Deans meet with department chairs on at least a monthly basis.
“I think there was fairly good opportunity for input,” Becker said. “By and large, I think people were kept fairly well-informed of what was going on.”
Many decisions in annual budget
The elimination of the International Scholars Program and reductions in staffing at the Finance Office, St. Olaf Library and Information Technology (IT) were also among changes Hanson listed in her January 11 email.
Many of the measures listed in Hanson’s email were announced several months ago and have since been incorporated into the Fiscal Year 2018-2019 budget approved by the Board of Regents in Oct. 2018. These include the utilization of a new enrollment model and financial aid strategy that increases tuition revenue by roughly $1.7 million.
Hanson also mentioned the outsourcing of bookstore management to Barnes & Noble and the implementation of a sponsorship program for athletic and public relations events.
“We sought sponsorships this year for the live stream of the 2018 Christmas Festival (which was offered for free, for the first time) and the re-broadcast of the 2017 Christmas Festival broadcast on 400+ public television stations across the country,” Vice President for Enrollment Michael Kyle wrote in an email.
The Athletics Department also initiated a “soft launch” of its sponsorship program, which will feature “streaming and public address announcements, event sponsorships, and signage in venues, including the new St. Olaf Ice Arena,” Associate Athletic Director Mike Ludwig wrote in an email.
The College also renegotiated the lease rates for twelve acres of land it owns near Northfield Hospital. This land is being used to develop a senior housing project that will be operated by the Benedictine Living Community.
“The lease currently generates $36,000 of annual revenue for the College. Should the Benedictine project expand into a second phase, the lease revenue will be doubled,” Hanson wrote in an email.
The SRAP Steering Committee hopes to finish its work by the first week of April.