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It’s been almost two weeks since President Barry Bartel announced budget cuts to faculty, staff and students. The cuts were made to balance the Bethel budget for next year to the tune of 1 million dollars.
The brunt of the cutbacks was born by faculty and staff, because such a large percentage of Bethel’s annual budget goes to personnel expenses. While having a 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio is a boon to the Bethel education experience, it has been long known that the college could not sustain it.
Therefore, the decisions to not fill some open positions, to reduce others to half-time, and even to cut positions all together, were painful…saddening…but not all together unexpected.
“We are guided by the commitment to the student experience,” Bartel told the audiences who attended forums about the budget decisions. “No doubt we have made mistakes in deciding who to consult with and when, and what to communicate with whom and when. None of our decisions feel good.”
In addition to position cuts, retirement contributions to faculty are being withheld for a year, though full health coverage is being maintained. Salaries are also being returned to their full amount, but there are provisions to cut them again if the other actions do not cover the $1 million deficit.
While the decision to pursue these kinds of cuts, rather than increase tuition/room & board fees, benefits me as a student, I feel sorry for the faculty having to deal with all of this. The lack of retirement payments for a year could be especially hurtful to younger faculty because that money that they would have had is not in accounts to grow a lot over time.
It’s clear that most people could live perfectly well on less money than they are given, but when the world teaches us what to do with all that money, we get adept at spending it. I just hope the cuts aren’t immensely difficult to adjust to for the faculty and their families.
I also hope they know how much we have valued and continue to value them and their work here at Bethel.
With the elimination of some tenured faculty positions, Bethel has also had to cut three, maybe four majors. Those include Computer Science and Bethel’s two language majors: German and Spanish.
Current students, at the forum to discuss the budget cuts, seemed concerned especially about the lack of language opportunities the cuts would result in. Language seems like a crucial part of a liberal arts education, even if it is not selected as a major.
Admissions has had to deal with talks with incoming ‘09-‘10 freshman who have already put down deposits to come to Bethel and have expressed interest in one of the eliminated majors. I’ve given tours to students who were interested in Computer Science and have hosted students in choir who were planning to major in Spanish.
Though the situation is not ideal, it is also not as bleak as it might seem. Juniors and seniors that are majoring in the cut areas are guaranteed that they’ll be able to complete their major, and some people are thinking cleverly about how to make the situation work for freshmen and sophomores too. Since preliminary classes are still offered in each of the cut areas, students will still be able to take those classes. Then with the help of either directed studies or classes that transfer in from other schools, students might still be able to pursue their majors.
There is also the discussion of the new model that will allow future students to develop their own majors within larger interdisciplinary schools at the college. The options have not entirely disappeared.
So what I feel left with is a sad, but resigned feeling. I don’t like it has come to this, but I certainly don’t feel like I’m being let down. As a friend said to me, “it makes me sad, but I don’t feel betrayed. I believe that the people that are in charge are doing the best they can and the Bethel education we all appreciate will remain strong.”
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