Wittenberg asked to reconsider staff reductions
By John T. McNay, Ph.D.
Community Contributor
Institutions of higher education in Ohio and nationwide face a variety of challenges. In the face of these challenges, those who manage our colleges and universities must act in a responsible way that focuses resources on the reason these institutions exist — the academic mission to educate students for life and careers.

Unfortunately, this kind of responsible management is increasingly rare. The Board of Directors and administration at Wittenberg University are a case in point.

In September, Wittenberg’s administration announced it would be eliminating eight faculty positions, two of them being young outstanding Ph.D.s working toward tenure, one even in her tenure year.

The administration also is considering cutting programs in the near future, which would eliminate additional full-time faculty members.

While this process undermining the university’s academic mission is furthered, the Board and administration have proudly unveiled a brand new $54 million athletic facility.

Faculty across the state are bewildered by these upside-down priorities. We understand that the university is facing financial challenges — as do many liberal arts institutions — but for that reason alone, it is all the more important that administrators take actions that focus resources on students, faculty, and programs..

Playing games in a shiny new building is no substitute for academic quality and opportunity for students.

However, the Wittenberg administration does not have a track record of responsible decision-making.

Mismanagement of its endowment and the purchase of the Springfield Art Museum are the kinds of decisions that, over the years, have diverted money from the academic mission and contributed to the university’s financial challenges.

Yet, whenever bad decisions contribute to crises, the boards and administrators look to sacrifice the academic mission by placing faculty and educational programs on the chopping block. There were other faculty reductions at Wittenberg in 2013 and 2015.

Wittenberg faculty have rightly called the debt the university has taken on for the new athletic facility “irresponsible.” The university community was told that the new construction would not take place until all the funds were in hand.

Instead, the faculty argue, each year that the outstanding principal on the building is not paid, another $2 million will be added to the university’s debt.

Transparency was also a problem, as the cost of the building quietly and steadily grew from the initial proposal of $20 million.

Further, every dollar donated to the building is a dollar from the finite philanthropic community that won’t go to students, teaching, or research.

It is important to recognize that athletics is no solution to revenue or enrollment.

Cincinnati Christian University announced in October that it will close its doors, just two years after launching an ambitious sports program.

All the public universities in Ohio (save Ohio State University) run massive athletic department deficits.

Boards and administrators will, of course, argue that new facilities are a way to compete in “the marketplace.”

Yet, the overriding reason that students choose one college or another is because of the programs and the faculty.

Wittenberg has excellent faculty, great programs, a beautiful campus and an advantageous location.

The university’s fine reputation that attracts students is based not on brick-andmortar, but the real fleshand-blood faculty who are devoted to students.

That is where the university’s focus needs to be.

We respectfully ask that the Wittenberg University Board and administration reconsider these staff cuts, re-evaluate a financial strategy that sees the academic mission as disposable, and begin to focus on enhancing and continuing the university’s great heritage of liberal arts education.

John T. McNay, Ph.D., is a professor of history at the University of Cincinnati - Blue Ash College.