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Letter to the Editor: Wentworth

  • 3 min to read

Dear Editor,

The Doane University faculty received devastating news on Monday, Oct. 5. President Carter recommended eliminating academic programs that are central to any liberal arts institution, such as Philosophy, Religion, Physics, Foreign Languages and Political Science. This will transform Doane into a mere shadow of its former self and belies the notion that we are a liberal arts institution. If the trustees approve these changes, then it will indicate a fundamental shift in the mission of the university. Most faculty are simply horrified at this development. If the trustees approve of these cuts, then their vision for the university is truly moribund and bereft of intellectual respectability.

 

We were told the prioritization process would improve communication across the institution and be a transparent process. However, nothing about the process, once the PIFs were submitted, has been transparent. Some departments not rated in the lower quintiles, including Philosophy in quintile one, are proposed for elimination with no explanation. Of the 15 out of 18 programs with financial data, 14 showed a profit. Two programs, MAC and Physics, showed a sizable profit for the 2018-2019 year. One must conclude that saving money was not the reason for these program eliminations.  

 

The College of Arts & Sciences [CAS] programs, historically associated with the Crete campus, operate in an ecosystem involving significant interdepartmental support. The departments are individually small, some with only one dedicated faculty member, but that perspective is very misleading due to the significant interactions among faculty in different but related departments and the significant use of cognates to create viable programs. Eliminating these CAS programs will wreak havoc on the liberal arts ecosystem. As noted, any financial savings will be minimal. The main result will be to make the job of Admissions more difficult since eliminating these programs will effectively limit the pool of prospective students.

 

Doane’s mission statement claims our programs are grounded in the liberal arts and prepare students for lives grounded in inquiry, ethics and a commitment to lead and serve in a global community. The recommended eliminations run completely counter to achieving this mission.  Cultural diversity from a global perspective virtually disappears from the strategic plan. A serious study of ethics becomes impossible. 

 

Based on my observations of reified policy at Doane, I must conclude that our higher administrative officers have an incredibly facile understanding of liberal education and a consistent inability to execute decisions, even reasonable ones, constructively. The program elimination recommendations are evidence of the first conclusion. The recent establishment of the commercial Cannabis Testing Lab in the Lied Building illustrates the second conclusion. The creation of the enterprise may have merit as a possible source of revenue, that is a judgment I cannot yet make, but the implementation was extraordinarily crude and destructive. With no forewarning, the Chemistry Department and I were ordered on June 9 to vacate the Lied 209 Research Lab. This effectively destroyed my ability to conduct bench level research involving undergraduate students. Taking another teaching space away from academic program facilities exacerbated an extreme space problem currently experienced by several STEM academic programs. It was what I have come to recognize as a typical Jacque Carter decision: enthusiasm for an unusual idea, show contempt for most faculty by not getting feedback on consequences, implement the decision and make the faculty not part of the inner sanctum deal with the mess.  

 

We must both control things on the cost side, particularly the administrative cost side, and find additional non-tuition dollars to support our programs. We have the wrong president for achieving both of these objectives. The first two presidents I served under, Fred Brown and Jonathon Brand, sought to work with a lean administrative structure so resources could be more directly used in educating students. Jacque has created a top-heavy organizational structure that does not reflect the financial reality or needs of our institutional landscape.   While Nebraska Wesleyan University recently completed a $67.5 million capital campaign, Jacque continues to struggle with raising money for a $15 million performing arts building. 

 

I believe that most faculty at Doane have no confidence in our senior leadership. That is an impolite thing to say, but it is just being honest. The number of faculty with any enthusiasm for senior leadership, in particular Jacque Carter, probably can be counted on one hand. This hypothesis is easy to test.

 

My recommendations for the trustees are:

  • Suspend any judgment about the academic program eliminations.

  • Allow the faculty and administrators an opportunity to look at budget reductions that will balance this year’s budget. We have done this before and can certainly accomplish the task again.

  • Develop a plan to transition to a new president. This person will need to be able to relate easily to people, particularly Doane alumni. The main job of the next president will be to increase contributions to the university from Doane trustees and alumni.

To read the full version of this letter, visit www.keepdoaneeducated.net.

 

Yours sincerely,

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Christopher D. \ Wentworth

Professor of Physics