July 20, 2018

Steering committee proposes solutions for Webster’s financial crisis

In a letter to the community in December 2017, President Elizabeth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster said Webster is facing a period of budget strains. In response, the administration formed a committee to brainstorm possible solutions. Professor Karla Armbruster believes the administration’s approach is not strategic and unclear.

Armbruster said the administration hand-picked the members of the steering committee and there was no consultation or input from the faculty.

“Many of these decisions affect academics which the faculty are supposed to control,” Armbruster said. “This should all have taken place through the Faculty Senate, through the faculty governance and instead these steering committees were created by the administration with people they picked.”

Stroble and Schuster introduced the Steering Committee in December 2017.

The Steering Committee was designed to tackle three things. The first was to recommend immediate budget adjustments for the fiscal year. The second was to identify inefficiencies throughout the university. Lastly, they were tasked with finding ideas to construct a new academic business model for the university to create new revenue outlets.   

The committee was divided into three categories: cost management, new revenue sources and academic and operational efficiencies. All three were spearheaded by deans.

Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said a website was provided so faculty and staff could make suggestions and react to the proposed ideas. He said thousands of employees have read the material on the website and have had the opportunity to participate in posting ideas and comments on this year’s plan.

The result of the steering committee was a list of 64 items to implement and consider. These items range from eliminating unfilled positions and reducing full-time hours to 30 hour work weeks to increasing marketing efforts and revamping the website.  

“They just dropped these documents online and it was very unclear what’s actually going to be implemented. So, some really alarming things,” Armbruster said. “And again, maybe some of those things need to be done, but I don’t think we have a sense of our end goal. It can’t just be to survive. It can’t just be to make enough money.”

On April 19, 2018, Webster’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a budget for the coming academic year, along with an additional multi-year plan to tackle the growing financial situation. The next part of the process is the implementation phase, according to the message from the president and the provost.  

Eliminating Unfilled Positions

Two out of the eight full-time professors in the English Department are retiring this year. Armbruster said their loss will be detrimental on the department if their positions are not refilled. Both professors teach playwright and drama, two essential components to most English majors according to Armbruster.

Armbruster said there is a misconception about dramatic literature not being an important part of English majors. She said all students in the department take drama and playwright.

“I mean we’re not tiny and we have great students, we have smart, passionate students who are great people who go out and do amazing things in the world,” Armbruster said. “We need at least one person, ideally more, but suddenly, none of the rest of us are playwrights, like we can’t teach playwriting, at least not in the way that it has been taught.”

Noah Wilson is a junior studying English with an emphasis in playwright and drama. He said he researched Webster before applying and was amazed by all the English related education.

He said it will be insulting to him and the department if eliminating unfilled positions gets implemented.

“There will be tremendously-felt disappointment. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this school to anybody who wanted to go to playwright,” Wilson said. “Right now they offer these courses, but if they decide to not fill these positions, then there is a huge chunk of my education and other students’ education that will remain unfulfilled.”

Graph by Sara Bannoura

Professor Debbie Psihountas teaches finance at the university. She said not filling unfilled positions is not anything new to Webster. She added because enrollment continues to drop, it does not necessarily feel like the university has fewer faculty members. Enrollment dropped by five thousand between academic years 2011 and 2016.

“If we were growing and weren’t able to fill these positions, it will be a huge problem,” Psihountas said. “The problem is we have fewer accounting students than we used to. So the fact that we lost an accounting faculty unfortunately, as much as I hated to lose him, we don’t feel it as much because we have fewer students.”

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