By Thomas Regan and Alexis Schulz
As Rider continues to wage war on a projected $7.6 million financial deficit, the university announced 14 academic programs would be cut and 14 faculty members, most of them tenured, would be laid off.
The decisions to slice 13 majors and 1 minor and downsize three other majors to minors came after an unannounced “prioritization” of disciplines, according to President Gregory Dell’Omo, who delivered the unexpected news at a Town Hall meeting on Oct. 29, beating a contractural deadline of Oct. 31 to reveal any layoff.
“We sought to lower the impact on students by closing or curtailing low-enrollment programs, those programs with low market demand and those courses that are elective options in other degrees,” Dell’Omo told a packed audience of 600 faculty and staff in the Cavalla Room. Other viewed from the Westminster campus via simulcast.
The educational casualties are Art, Advertising, American Studies, Business Education, French, Geosciences, German, Italian minor, Marine Science, Philosophy, Piano, Web Design, B.A. in economics and the graduate program of Organizational Leadership. In addition, the university will be curtailing its majors in Business Economics, Entrepreneurial Studies and Sociology, and making them minors.
Words of protest were heard from faculty in the meeting, student petitions started (see page 2), and the Rider chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) called an emergency meeting. Phone calls from alumni and parents reportedly flooded the president’s office.
The university says it projects a multi-million dollar deficit this year and over the next two fiscal years, despite making more than $16 million total budget and personnel cuts since 2009. The annual operating budget is $216 million, including $59 million in scholarships. By the university’s estimates, this step in its process to stabilize the institution will save up to $2 million a year beginning in two years.
According to Provost DonnaJean Fredeen, the projected savings include an estimate for the number of students who may transfer following these decisions.
“The actual savings, if you just look at total savings from salaries, benefits, operating budgets and what not, I believe it’s around $3.3 million,” she said. “We have two people who are assigned to institutional analysis, we have the background in information systems and doing that kind of analysis, so they did some modeling. In addition, our vice president from enrollment management actually sat down and looked at the degrees himself and made some estimations as to what is our best case and what is our worst case and our most likely scenario in terms of the students leaving.”
Dell’Omo explained that the university made the decisions based on the low level of enrollment within those majors and in an effort to increase the university’s revenue.
Juniors and seniors will be able to continue within their areas of study, as required courses will be taught, according to Dell’Omo; however, freshmen and sophomores will be affected most by the loss of programs.
“We will provide individualized support for impacted students,” he said.
“It is clear to us that we must take additional steps to make Rider more affordable, and to address the quality of our academic and residential facilities that currently put us at a competitive disadvantage,” said Dell’Omo. “Failing to address these strategic and operational challenges is simply not an option.
“Even though programs are being eliminated, courses will still be offered. We still have to offer for example a philosophy course for the core requirements for liberal arts.
“This is difficult news to hear, I know. The decisions to move forward with these changes and closures were not made lightly,” he said. “Especially given the profound impact on those who are directly affected by them. I had hoped for a different outcome with our discussions with the AAUP leadership. We could not accept the union’s proposal of additions, which would have further exacerbated our challenges. We had no other choice but to act quickly and decide decisively.”
His vision also includes bringing in more popular programs.
“If we just focus on cost savings, that is a very short-sided approach,” he said. “When you think about growth of our new fields with criminal justice, sports management, health administration, they’re all doing very well. We have to be constantly looking at; are there new programs out there that the market, organizations and businesses want? This would allow us to grow the university and attract more students.”
Dell’Omo suggested that the fundamental reasoning behind the cuts is an allocation of resources.
“Planning is so important. When you have unlimited sources you can do all sorts of things, but when you are trying to restrict your resources you have to watch where they go,” he said.
Upon negative reactions from several faculty members, Dell’Omo continued to assert the importance of making these cuts in order to build a stronger Rider and emphasized the difficulty of each decision.
“I am confident in our ability to strengthen the future of Rider University, and to sustain the vibrant living and learning community for which Rider is known,” he said. “This is a collective responsibility. One that must be true to our student centered mission and our 150-year history. One that builds on our strengths and one that acknowledges our commitment and dedication to our students and alumni.”