Board approves cabinet’s FSR recommendations, makes final decisions on budget cuts to implement

Alasdair Padman, Editor-in-chief

The Whitman community received an email on Thursday at 4:47 p.m. titled “Board of Trustees FSR decisions” from Sara Frey, Executive Assistant to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). The email contained a message from Board Chair Nancy Serrurier. 

Serrurier states that the Board has chosen to endorse “the [president’s] cabinet’s recommendations and rationales from the Financial Sustainability Review, with an amendment and implementation requests.”

The amendment is as follows: “In the section on Faculty lines the number of first year sections typically taught by non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty is increased by two to a total of 10.”

The Board then provided the rationale for this amendment: “This addition keeps the NTT teaching contribution steady at the level planned for 2021-2022. A core of dedicated NTT staff in the new first year program will help it successfully launch. We expect this group to contribute to raising the quality and consistency of teaching, especially writing, throughout the first year program. We anticipate future students will have even greater writing instruction needs due to lost schooling this year. Writing proficiency is a core purpose of the first year program and a teaching competency of this faculty group.”

Serrurier and the Board projected that this would reduce savings by $16,000. 

In an email to The Wire, the Because We Love Whitman explained that the proposed limit of 8 NTT faculty “teaching the first year seminar was an entirely new change introduced on March 10 by the President’s Cabinet, after the review process by the FSR committees had finished. Over the past week faculty, students and alumni have made it clear that the level of opacity surrounding this particular change was unacceptable. It was also the main issue that our campaign emphasized to the Board of Trustees in our emails sent earlier this week; we are grateful for this progress of increasing the limit to 10.”

They also questioned the “rationale behind imposing a limit in the first place, especially given that the student experience in the first year seminar is key to whether they choose to remain at Whitman College after their first six weeks. Given that NTT faculty are some of the most experienced at teaching the first year seminar, shouldn’t the President’s Cabinet and the Trustees want to make an increased investment in their expertise?” 

The Board concluded their email with a series of implementation requests: they requested that “the Administration provide information about the implementation of these decisions — timeline and processes — as part of their work to prepare the 2021-2022 academic year budget.” 

Additionally, the Board has asked that they receive a report from the administration “on remaining FSR recommendations for additional savings, efficiencies and revenue generation, including a timeline for consideration and implementation.”

Serrurier’s email came as a surprise to many students, staff, faculty and alumni who had expected the Board to deliberate on the recommendations throughout the latter half of March.

Earlier this week, Faculty Chair Barry Balof told AAUP membership that “the Trustees may be making a final determination [on the FSR] as soon as Wednesday afternoon.”

When The Wire contacted Gina Ohnstad, Director of Communications, on Wednesday, March 17, she was unable to confirm or deny whether the Board would make their final decisions at the Wednesday meeting. 

“Yes, it is possible that the Board of Trustees could make decisions about the financial sustainability review [Wednesday],” Ohnstad wrote. “It is also possible they will not.”

In anticipation that the Board would make their final decisions Wednesday, the Because We Love Whitman campaign had sent out several emails asking that the Board “slow the process down and provide transparency.”


For more on the specific implementation requests, see the PDF attached to Serrurier’s email that was sent out to members of the Whitman community on March 18.