Leaked document details “Plan for Comprehensive Review” of college programs and departments

Michael Conlin-Elsen, Feature Reporter

On Oct. 6, The Wire received a document from an anonymous faculty source featuring preliminary details on a “Plan for Comprehensive Review” of the majority of college programs, both academic and extracurricular.

The document comes from the Committee of Division Chairs (CDC), which acts as an intermediary between the administration and faculty. It is made up of all three academic Division Chairs and the Chair of the Faculty.

The document discusses revenue issues and predicts that the next half-decade will present further significant challenges for higher education. Chair of the Faculty and Professor of Mathematics Barry Balof offered his insight into the factors that prompted the review and potential actions to be taken.

“The college is currently facing budgetary challenges due to low enrollments and the COVID-19 crisis.  We have to be proactive about the ways in which we ameliorate these challenges. The president, in collaboration with the board and faculty leadership, are in the beginning stages of planning to solve for these challenges,” Balof said.  

Areas up for review include: the Outdoor Program, Athletics, Bookstore, Off Campus Study, Financial Aid, Fringe Benefits, Professional Development, Sabbatical Leave, Academic Departments and Programs.

“We will need a thorough look at what we’re currently doing across all dimensions of the college (and an assessment of the landscape of higher education) in what we hope is a collaborative effort towards a sustainable future,” Balof said. “The leadership has reaffirmed the importance of the liberal arts, and Whitman cannot and will not fundamentally change that central tenet of its identity.”

According to the document, President Murray has excluded Development, Communications and Admissions from review on the basis that they are “income-generating areas.”

Proposed (preliminary) solutions include increasing the number of students relative to each faculty member. Consequences of the review itself “might include rebranding areas of study or programming to make them more appealing to prospective students, strengthening offerings in some areas and trimming in others,” the document suggests.

Professor Balof stressed the importance of the document’s context.

“The document went from the division chairs to the respective divisions (the four of us collaborated on it) in mid-September in advance of our first faculty discussions of the upcoming review. The review was then and still is now in its formative stages,” Balof said. “We [the faculty leadership] are working with college leadership to help define the process, parameters and goals of the review. No decisions have been made, yet. Reading this document in its full context is critical to keep the transparency and effectiveness of communication that we hope to achieve throughout this process.”

In summary, the “comprehensive review” appears to be centered onto the college’s ability to market itself in what it envisions as a more challenging future for higher education. Enrollment is predicted to decline throughout the next few years, and the current national trend in higher education appears to be shifting towards training curriculums for particular technical fields — be they in the corporate sector, government or elsewhere. Whether Whitman “strengthens” some of its programs and “trims” others, it remains to be seen what might eventually become of its liberal arts foundation, which leadership assures us is here to stay.