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Students speak out, ask questions about program cuts at Student Senate town hall

Students gather in Neumiller Hall to speak at the student forum with President Standifird. Photo via Madalyn Mirallegro

Students spoke out again to air their concerns regarding the university’s budget deficit and proposed program cuts, this time at Student Senate’s open forum on Monday night.

They were joined by President Stephen Standifird and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Walter Zakahi. In a town hall format, concerned students were given the chance to express discontent around proposed program discontinuations.

To begin, Standifird delivered opening remarks to those in attendance. He broke down the process of deciding which programs to cut, explaining that student demand is the main justification behind the program cuts. Standifird said that if unprofitable programs continue to be offered, student tuition would increase.

“So, the average enrollment [in programs being considered for discontinuation] is actually less than 10 students and the only way that we could afford to financially continue running programs with enrollments at that level would be to charge a level of tuition that none of you would be willing to pay,” Standifird said.

Standifird reiterated that he is granting the chairs of each program being considered for discontinuation the chance to make a case on behalf of their department prior to final decisions are made. Department heads will have until Dec. 6 to reply, and Standifird will make his final decision on Dec. 11.

When the forum opened to students, early questions concerned faculty terminations that occurred ahead of the final decisions. Students shared their concern about faculty firings without adequate notice, some arguing that terminations should have been finalized after each department was able to make their case to the president’s office.

“Regardless of whether a program is eliminated or not, there are faculty positions in those programs that will have to go away just based on headcount and things like that,” Zakahi said. “There were probably 10 to 12 faculty who received letters at this point, and then the remaining faculty will receive letters pending final decisions.”

Senior electrical engineering major Rodrigo Alvarez Gonzalez mentioned that he has seen faculty members already leave the university out of fear of being fired. Gonzalez asked if Standifird was thinking about resigning after the repercussions of the cuts.

“Before the announcement of the program cuts, I have seen faculty getting laid off … I want to let you know that this has already affected us,” Gonzalez said. “You have lost the trust of the students. You have lost the trust of the faculty. So, I guess my question to you is, are you considering resigning?”

Standifird asserted that he does not plan to resign and echoed the difficulty of the decisions being made by his office.

“So, I will not,” Standifird said. “The question you … [asked] share[s] a lot of information about some of the difficult staff decisions we’ve made [and] the difficult decisions we’re making now – precisely to get us out of the quandary that we’re currently in.”

Students continued to raise concerns about the process of faculty members being alerted of their termination. Senior biomedical science major Seth Stidham spoke about his experience  losing a meeting with the former pre-health advisor Valerie Bennett.

Stidham said that his advising meeting on the day of her termination was canceled without notice. He told Standifird that Bennett lost access to her email right away, leaving him and other advisees to navigate a difficult transition in communicating with her for academic and career support. 

In subsequent questions, students mentioned that they were worried about the quality of education that they will be receiving in the upcoming years, namely due to a potential increase  in class sizes.

“For example, mathematics is getting cut,” freshman sports communication major Paul Swartz said. “Most of the math professors are being cut which leads to larger class sizes, which is a huge reason why I came to this college–[for] small class sizes.”

Zakahi rebutted Swartz’s concern, stating that class sizes would be minimally affected as a result of the proposed program cuts.

A student asked whether the core curriculum would be adjusted to best fit the new academic program structure. Zakahi answered that the matter would be decided upon by faculty rather than he or Standifird.

“I would expect that there’s going to be a conversation around how we adjust the core curriculum. But that’s a broader conversation for faculty,” Zakahi said. “It’s not a decision that comes from the provost office or the president’s office.”

Junior game design major Rachel Rudy wondered how the budget cuts will affect non-major students seeking to take courses in discontinued programs, to whom the guarantee of continued course offerings does not necessarily apply.

Zakahi told Rudy that they will be able to complete their degree and that all required classes will still be offered to them during their remaining time at Bradley.

Even still, many students are questioning whether they should transfer to a different institution to complete their degree.

Sophomore criminology and political science double-major Arushay Awan said that she would consider transferring out of Bradley as a result of the program cut decisions and a decrease in the number of courses to be offered.

“I think you should pay attention to how things evolve,” Standifird said. “You will see actually some of those classes disappear, but you will not see significant class size increases throughout campus … You should wait and see how this actually plays out.”

Hallie Fedorowicz, a senior studio art major with a concentration in graphic design, asked whether Standifird would be willing to take a reduction in pay in light of the controversy surrounding the proposed program cuts.

According to publicly available documents, in 2021, Standifird earned $556,349 including base compensation, bonuses and other benefits.

­­­­Standifird declined to respond to the question, saying that he felt it was a statement rather than a question, which was met by outcries from the audience. 

“[It was] definitely a question, so getting no comment is a little disheartening,” Fedorowicz said. “I feel like we have to have those uncomfortable [conversations] because we are in a very uncomfortable state right now with everything that’s happening at the university.”

Soon after Fedorowicz’s question, Standifird announced that there was no more time for questions, but offered to stay a few minutes to speak with students individually.

A representative from the news organization WCBU was invited by a student to cover the event, but when they arrived they were alerted that the forum was for students only and were asked to leave.

“I know students had good intent by inviting the media to the forum, but as we are a private campus, there is also a media policy in place that states media are required to obtain permission from the Office of Public Relations prior to arriving on campus,” Libby Derry, Executive Director of Communications and Media Relations, said.

The Student Senate will meet Dec 4. at 5 p.m. in the Garrett Center for their final general assembly of the semester.

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