Program, financial cuts made at FPU

RINDGE — Franklin Pierce University will no longer be offering degrees in six areas of study, the university announced last week.

Though students currently enrolled will be able to finish their degrees, those looking to major or minor in programs — including American studies, theater and dance, graphic communications, fine arts, math, and arts management — will have to find another learning institution to attend in future. After 2016, the university will not allow any students to enter those programs or offer any degrees in them. After hearing student concerns voiced at a recent student government meeting, President James F. Birge has also announced that students who are undeclared, but have shown an interest in these majors by having taken three courses as a freshman or six as a sophomore, will be eligible to declare in those majors.

In a webcasted “town meeting” of the college students, faculty and alumni, held at Franklin Pierce on Monday, Birge told a packed room that the decision was motivated by the numbers. In 2013, Franklin Pierce only graduated six math majors, and the year before only two. Arts Management only had seven graduates in 2013. There had been a 36-percent decrease in the number of fine arts students in the last year. Meanwhile, other growing majors, such as health sciences, saw over 900 inquiries in to the major.

During a senior staff retreat on Jan. 9, 10 and 13 of this year, the final decision was made to cut these majors, to eventually redirect resources into the growing majors, which drive Franklin Pierce enrollment, said Birge. In addition, the university will be rolling out other changes in hopes of saving money, including pulling back on merit awards and scholarships, revoking the policy of providing health insurance to students, among other changes.

At the meeting, both students and faculty expressed dissatisfaction that the decision to cut the six majors had been made so quickly.

“There are times when a leader has to make decisions unilaterally,” said Birge. “The data was very clear. When we were confronted with that, I knew what the decision had to be, and I wasn’t open to other people’s input because the data was so clear. If that reduces the trust people have in me, then unfortunately so be it.”

Other majors, those that have shown a growing enrollment population, will be seeing more resources, said Birge, among them Health Science, Environmental Studies and Healthcare Administration. The university is 96 percent funded by tuition, said Birge, and it only makes sense to bolster the programs that draw in the most students. With the university facing financial issues — including a $42 million debt, decline in government aid, reductions in state scholarships, and a lack of banks willing to give operating capital to financial institutions — it must move in a direction that boosts enrollment, Birge said.

President of the Rindge Faculty Federation Douglas Ley, who leads the university’s faculty union and who is himself a professor of history at Franklin Pierce, said in an interview Monday that under the current contract the union holds with the university, management has the control over curriculum, and is within its right to eliminate programming. What is not within the administration’s right, he noted, is eliminating full-time teachers with rolling contracts. The contract does allow for teachers to be let go for cause, or for teacher cuts to occur when Franklin Pierce hits a certain financial threshold that requires cuts, but neither of those situations apply here, said Ley. While the details about how the university will be moving forward after eliminating the majors hasn’t been officially discussed, the current situation is not dissimilar to others that have occurred in recent years, according to Ley.

Several years ago, the university eliminated its math major, he said, only to restore it five or six years ago. In that interim time, the university put a heavier focus on lower-level math courses needed for general education or that aligned with other majors, such as statistics. “Math was still being taught, it was just not offered as a major or a minor. It’s my understanding that’s what will be happening this time around as well.” For example, instead of having four levels of ceramics courses, perhaps there will only be two, he extrapolated.

“There will be less advanced courses, and more lower-level courses that are still needed for the general education curriculum and the liberal arts curriculum,” said Ley.

While full-time teachers are protected under their contract, not as well covered re part-time teachers and senior lecturers, said Ley. There are up to 12 people that could be hard hit by the program cuts, he said.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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