By Erica Perez of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Feb. 27, 2009
Faced with a roughly $3 million budget shortfall, Wisconsin Lutheran College has notified 18 faculty and staff and two contract employees they will be laid off - a move that will eliminate the political science department at the small Christian liberal arts college, officials said.
Among those laid off are five faculty members, including the only two political science faculty and three educators in the theater, history and Spanish departments, college spokeswoman Vicki Hartig said. Altogether, the layoffs affect 10% of the workforce and will save $1 million.
College President Daniel Johnson said administrators were "mission-focused, market aware" in their cuts.
"We did a thorough review of our budget, and we looked at all . . . academic areas, and several objective criteria were used, one being demand by our students for a particular major or its courses, and we worked to minimize the impact on our students," Johnson said.
Wisconsin Lutheran is among a growing number of colleges and universities facing tough choices amid a national recession. Beloit College announced in fall it would eliminate 40 employees to make up for a drop in enrollment and a $1 million deficit.
Wisconsin Lutheran officials learned in December that donations would be down by an estimated $3 million, Hartig said. That's 9% of the college's revenue, according to the 2008 annual report.
The college tried to avoid layoffs by trimming special events and contracts, but it wasn't enough. Trustees voted this month to approve the staff reductions, which are effective in May.
Wisconsin Lutheran officials did not provide names of the employees being laid off. But associate professors Jerry Poppe and John Freese are the only political science faculty, according to the school's Web site. Assistant professor of theater Chris Kurtz said he was one of those tapped to leave. Other faculty members declined to comment or did not return calls.
The cuts are already reverberating on the 700-student campus. Students and alumni have expressed opposition, including launching campaigns through Facebook.
"This is for all of those WLC Poli Sci Majors who won't let it go down without a fight!" one 50-member page reads. Another page urges students to write letters to Johnson and board members.
A "Save Our Profs" page boasts 166 members and includes messages from students, parents and alumni upset with the way the college handled the decision.
Hannah Picchiottino, a 2006 alum who majored in political science, wrote a letter urging administrators not to shutter the department.
"My greatest fear in WLC losing the Political Science Department is that future WLC Warriors will not have the opportunity to learn about the responsibility that Christian leaders have to participate in our government," she wrote.
Five political science majors will have to change departments, Hartig said. Student Matthew Phillips, a junior political science major, said he felt blindsided.
"Here I am in my third year, doing my darnedest, and they kind of pull the rug out from under me," Phillips, 21, said Friday.
Phillips' new adviser told him he could finish his degree by taking courses in history or business, but that's not what he envisioned.
In other departments, the college plans to hire adjuncts to fill vacancies. School officials are unsure whether they will continue to offer a theater major, but they will keep a minor and continue productions, Hartig said.
Kurtz, one of three faculty members in theater, works on design and technical direction. He foresees major changes in the department, including reductions in technical classes or the number of productions.
After teaching at the college for four years, he has started looking for production work.
"I've loved it," said Kurtz, 36. "The rest of the faculty are fantastic, and the students are awesome. . . . I'm hurt, I'm sad, but I'm not angry."