Work groups submit revised final FSR recommendations to President’s Cabinet

After four months of research and deliberation, two weeks of community feedback and two weeks of revision, the Financial Sustainability Review’s (FSR) three committees submitted their final recommendations to President Murray and her Cabinet on Monday, March 1.

The President’s Cabinet will now spend the next two weeks reviewing the revised recommendations before submitting a coordinated set of recommendations to the Board of Trustees. 

The Board will make the ultimate decision at the end of March, which will inform the fiscal 2022 budget preparations that will be approved in May. 

The Feb. 2 release of the draft recommendations to the Whitman community stirred anger and alarm that the administration was jeopardizing the school’s liberal arts character and mission in favor of short-term cost-cutting. Protestors, petitions, feedback forms and op-eds urged the FSR committees members to mitigate reductions in the humanities and fine arts, as well as proposed restrictions on the college’s sabbatical policy.


Academic Program Report

The fate of the environmental humanities (EH) and classics programs were of particular concern to students, faculty and alumni. The draft recommendations proposed savings by not filling vacancies left by retiring EH and classics professors, which would constrict the EH program and reduce the classics program to minor-only, or as a part of another broader major.

The revised and final recommendations from the academic programs committee appear to reflect some of the community’s feedback and concern over the past month. 

“The Committee determined that efforts should be made to continue a Classics major at Whitman with the hiring of a non-tenure track (NTT) faculty member for the foreseeable future,” the revised report reads. “The Committee also believes a program in environmental humanities should be sustained beyond the 2021-22 Academic Year.”

Current levels of staffing for EH and classics will be maintained, Murray said in her email.

“Environmental humanities will continue to be a distinctive program for the college,” Murray wrote.

Both EH and classics programs will undergo a faculty-led internal review to “elevate both programmatic elements and staffing most likely to allow the programs to succeed in the long term,” the academic programs committee said. 

Savings, the draft and revised report recommends, will result by not filling positions vacated by faculty retirements in history, Japanese, mathematics and statistics and philosophy. 

The final report also recommends the elimination or reduction of 7.4 to 8.6 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions within non-tenure track staffing in studio art, art history and visual culture studies, Asian and Middle Eastern studies, biology, Chinese, French, Japanese, music, chemistry, politics and theater and dance.

Another point of concern for community members this past month has been the proposed restructuring of the sabbatical leave program. 

Under the current sabbatical program, according to the faculty handbook, after four years of full-time teaching, tenure-track faculty are eligible for a one-semester sabbatical at 100 percent of salary or a one-year sabbatical at 82 percent of salary. They are also eligible for a one-semester sabbatical of 82 percent pay after four consecutive semesters teaching.

Non-tenured, tenure-track faculty are also currently eligible for a one-year sabbatical at 90 percent salary after their first three years of full-time teaching.

The committee was unable to come to a consensus to recommend one model for sabbatical leave. The three possibilities listed include, “After 4 years of teaching, Faculty may apply for a one-year sabbatical at 60 percent pay or a one-semester sabbatical at 92 percent pay. After 5 years of teaching, Faculty may apply for a one-year sabbatical at 70 percent pay or a one-semester sabbatical at 94 percent pay. After 6 years of teaching, Faculty may apply for a one-year sabbatical at 50 percent pay or a one-semester sabbatical at 100 percent pay.”

The revised, final sabbatical recommendations do not differ from the draft recommendations shared last month.

In order to bolster student recruitment, retention and preparedness for life after Whitman, the Academic Support Group also listed eight new academic programs that could be re-envisioned to tailor the interests of the modern student. These programs could feature majors, minors or concentrations, depending on existing faculty’s interest and level of engagement.

Black and ethnic studies could be replaced by Black and Indigenous studies; gender studies could be replaced by social justice and human rights; and six new programs could be created through the liberal arts perspective: creative arts, digital studies, global literature and culture, international trade and finance, neuroscience and public health.


Administrative Unit Report

The Administrative Unit committee recommended that Whitman increase student housing and food budgets to state recommendations for off-campus students.

$250,000 could be saved, the committee recommended, if the college eliminates 6.5 staff/admin FTE, mostly through attrition — not replacing staff after they leave Whitman through retirement, resignation or similar reasons. 23 staff positions were already eliminated in summer 2020.

The administrative committee also recommended a removal of the hard limit on financial aid gapping, with a 25 percent increase in gapping school-wide. The College is gapping when it offers a student a financial aid package that does not meet their financial needs. By removing the limit, students may have a larger difference between financial aid offered and financial need. 

The report claims that, “Colleges gap because gapping works; the practice enables colleges flexibility to use financial aid where needed to enroll students, and not award aid in places where students are likely to be able to cover the difference in other ways.”

However, the report acknowledges that Whitman’s peers are currently working to eliminate gapping, and that “gapping is perceived as fundamentally unfair.”


Student Support Report

Lastly, the Student Support committee recommended a host of cost-cutting, enrollment-boosting changes that would, if all adopted, save the college nearly $1,300,000 total over the next fiscal year.

Among the highest priority tracks are recommendations to impose a moratorium on Athletics international travel, limit travel party size for athletic teams, and eliminate the Crossroads program until it can be self-sustaining. One mid-level priority suggestion is to eliminate SSRA Activity classes — such as Yoga, Conditioning and Pilates — taught by non-coaches. 

To boost enrollment and revenue, the group recommended summer camps and trips hosted by the Outdoor Program, and an inquiry into a “West” campus in Seattle to assuage potential applicants’ fears that Whitman’s campus is too remote.