FSR recommendations impede some Inclusion Task Force action items, but may support others

Abby Main, Staff Reporter

Whitman’s recently published Financial Sustainability Review (FSR) proposes cuts that, if adopted, could influence Whitman’s ability to actualize the action items published by the Inclusion Task Force in August 2020.

Included in the 31 action items published by the task force are a feasibility study for the development of a Black Studies Program, implementing a recruitment strategy to increase the number of domestic Black students enrolled at Whitman to 10 percent of each class, the development of a formal faculty recruitment program with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) and reviewing faculty leave benefits with the goal of making them more equitable.

The college’s ability to satisfy these action items will in part depend upon which proposals from the FSR the Board of Trustees will decide to adopt.

Associate Professor of Chemistry Nate Boland is a member of the student subcommittee of the Inclusion Task Force and the Student Support FSR subcommittee. In an email to The Wire, Boland emphasized that subcommittees were directed to consider the impacts on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) while making their reports.

“We were explicitly told in our subcommittee that our FSR should consider the impacts to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in any proposed measure,” Boland said. “It was clear to me that this commitment to DEI was present from the start, and was a directive that came from the administration and the Board of Trustees.”

The student support group was asked to consider other factors, including, “what type of students typically use this program—first [generation students]? Minorities? Economically-advantaged or disadvantaged students? Athletes? STEM or Humanities? International [students]?”

For example, the athletics section of the subcommittee’s report proposed the addition of E-sports, such as organized, multiplayer video game competitions. It notes, “we anticipate the type of student attracted to an institution with an E-sports program will result in significant revenue,” alluding to the demographics typically interested in E-sports being able to pay close attention to the sticker price for an education like at Whitman.

Of the seven opportunities for budget reduction that were suggested for further consideration by the administrative units subcommittee, the proposal for increased flexibility in gapping would likely have the largest effect on Whitman’s ability to fulfill its action items. Whitman determines demonstrated financial need by subtracting the expected family contribution, as determined by the FAFSA and CSS profile, from the cost of attendance. Gapping is the practice of offering financial aid that does not meet students’ demonstrated financial need. 

“By removing the hard limit on gapping,” the report states, “Whitman could increase net tuition revenue by an estimated $219,000 with an across-the-board 25 percent increase in gapping.”

In a school where 80 percent of students currently receive some form of financial aid, a decreased commitment to need-based aid may have detrimental effects on Whitman’s ability to recruit students, including their strategy to reach “domestic Black student representation of 10 percent in each enrolled class within the next 5 years.”

The academic subcommittee also evaluated three models that would reduce the cost of Whitman’s sabbatical leave policy, projected to save between $150,000 and $550,000 annually compared to current policy. 

The administrative units subcommittee also listed, but did not recommend, the possibility of reducing Whitman’s target staff salary from 100 percent of the median for peer institutions to 90 percent. If the Board of Trustees adopt this change, then the likelihood of recruiting faculty from the 25 HBCUs with doctoral programs — an action item listed with a Fall 2021 start date — could be placed in jeopardy.

Other recommendations from the FSR, however, show potential to advance action items proposed by the task force. The academic subcommittee proposed that, in an effort to “investigate renaming existing programs to align more with prospective student understandings of academic areas,” Race & Ethnic Studies be replaced with a Black and Indigenous Studies department. 

Left unclear by the document is whether the renamed Black and Indigenous Studies Department would adopt course changes to reflect its new direction.

The Board of Trustees will ultimately decide which proposals to adopt. Boland and other members of the subcommittees are now working to evaluate community feedback and finalize their reports of proposed cuts, which will be released on March 1. Boland highlighted the role diversity, equity and inclusion played in the subcommittee’s deliberations.

“In our process, there were certainly cuts that were considered but were not recommended because of the DEI impacts,” Boland said. “The reality is that some of the proposed cuts, if adopted by the Board of Trustees, could have DEI impacts. ”