March 2019 | A preview of the budget for the 2019-2020 school year was presented to the board of trustees for Washington Adventist University (WAU) on Wednesday by Dr. Weymouth Spence, the university president. It included most of the plans for cuts in faculty and programs that Adventist Today reported last week.

Although the report emphasized an enrollment growth rate of 10 percent, “the highest of any Adventist education institution [in North America] for the current school year” and a retention rate that has risen from 56 percent to 79 percent over the last decade, Spence stated, “Growth and success for any institution … will result in the necessity for adjustments.”

The report stated that 15 academic programs “will be placed on hold pending required enrollment.” It appears that in most cases this means that cuts will not take place immediately. “Current students will continue to be taught as required to finish their degree.” And, “Placing these degrees on hold will not eliminate the possibility of being reactivated, consistent with student demand.”

The list of 15 targeted programs included in the report was the same as Adventist Today reported last week, although two more were added: the master’s in nursing education and the REACH Columbia Union Conference School of Evangelism. It was also explained that several of the associate degree programs on the list “have become less relevant in the workforce and are typically offered at community colleges.” And it was reported that eight undergraduate and 14 graduate students are current enrolled in the 15 programs.

The report was less clear about the impact of these program changes on current employees of WAU. It stated that three positions, two faculty and one staff member, will be eliminated and “seven other positions will be re-assigned internally, remain unfilled or be eliminated as the proposed changes are implemented.” No specific departments or roles were indicated.

The report appeared to address faculty concerns by stating that the 2019-2020 budget will include “cost of living increases” and “an increase in faculty compensation” based on specific recommendations from the Faculty Rank and Review Committee. And, “we will continue to strive for intentional transparency, direct communication and collaborative planning with our students, faculty, staff, alumni and community.”

Alumni Concerns

It is unclear the extent to which the statement will meet the concerns of the hundreds of alumni who have signed an online petition. “The proposed changes join a list of actions taken by the University administration since 2008 that have resulted in numerous faculty and staff positions eliminated and the discontinuation of programs, “particularly the “revolving door in leadership” even at the level of vice presidents, several of whom have been abruptly fired.

Alumni have expressed to Adventist Today their concern about an atmosphere among faculty, even at the level of department chairs and administrative roles, which is rooted in fear and “too many people forced to leave too often.” One alum pointed out that “dealing with the challenges that face higher education today requires an atmosphere of trust among the people in the organization, a sense of secure roles, not constant threats and worry.”

Specifically, the petition asks for WAU to: “(1) Halt any position cuts and/or program discontinuation until transparent discussion has taken place with University stakeholders as to the rationale and purpose. (2) Provide an open forum to students, faculty, staff and alumni by April 14, 2019, to explain the financial rationale for the proposed changes and to help stakeholders understand the University’s priorities in budget allocation. (3) Provide evidence that the University leadership is following best practices in extensive program review, reflecting the priorities of Vision 2025 and 2030.”

The previous report on WAU is located here.

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