Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wisconsin Lutheran College plans layoffs

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."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lutheran Schools ?

As many Lutheran churches work to shed their Lutheran identity, it is interesting to see how quasi-WELS schools are following suit.

Lutheran schools are dying. What I'm wondering is if Lutheran synods are dead.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

WELS woes

It seems the financial crisis has hit the WELS between the eyes. Drastic budget cuts are necessary and it will be telling for all as to what gets cut.

As financial gifts are pulled and school enrollments continue to drop the WELS staggers in response. Someone recently told me that the WELS will not exist in the way that we have known it in five years.

The synod president struggles to meet budget yet parish services calls a new consultant as the financial crisis unraveled.

Think back to almost two years ago when Rev. Mark Schoeder presented a vision for the WELS titled:
Reclaim the MissionA proposal to foster renewed unity in purpose and direction in WELS
Mark Schroeder May 16, 2007

Look back at this document and see if things are changing....

5B. Re-visit synodical salaries and staffing
5B-1 Since many qualified lay people would desire to serve in the church if the opportunity were given, the synod shall adopt a policy that states that, as a general rule, lay employees of the synod will be compensated at roughly the same levels as called administrative workers, not at rates dictated by the secular market place.
5B-2 The salary of the president should be established by the synod in convention, not by the Synodical Council.
5B-3 We shall publish all salaries or salary ranges for all synodical workers; we shall publish regularly the number of positions employed in the administrative areas of the synod.
5B-4 We shall explore whether outsourcing work is an economical alternative to permanent staffing.
5C. Incorporate and coordinate para-synodical efforts into the overall priorities of the synod