The Herald Bulletin

November 4, 2013

Anderson University to cut theater, French and philosophy majors

Edwards cites declining enrollment, endowments

By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. —

Facing financial challenges including declining enrollment, increased expenses, and decreased funding and endowments, Anderson University announced changes that are hitting the campus hard.

The private Christian university’s board of trustees recently approved a strategy that includes cutting 16 faculty and staff from the current ranks of 400, resulting in the reduction or combination of some programs.

Theater, philosophy and French will no longer be offered as majors. Art and communications will be combined under a department of visual and communications arts. The changes will take effect June 1, 2014.

“The pressures facing higher education are more extraordinary than at any time on our nearly 100-year history,” said Dr. James L. Edwards, president of Anderson University. 

Edwards said loss of enrollment was a primary driver. The full-time equivalent enrollment last year at AU was 1,753, compared to this year’s 1,628. That translates to a $3 million cut needed from the roughly $65 million 2014-2015 budget. The cuts announced thus far amount to $1.7 million. 

“We still have work to do,” said Edwards. As he goes back to the board in April to present a balanced budget for the 2014-2015 year, more cuts will be part of the mix. In addition to the staffing cuts announced, the university’s financial strategy includes identifying budgetary savings, re-design of the liberal arts curriculum, a review of administrative services, increased resources for the support of student programs, and a renewed evaluation of pricing strategies. 

Edwards noted the programs that were cut have simply seen fewer and fewer students majoring in them each year.

“This has nothing to do with quality or the terrific work of the faculty,” said Edwards. 

“If there are not students in the major, we have to deal with the reality,” said Edwards. Students currently enrolled in the affected majors will be able to finish their degrees. He said programs will continue to be offered without the major. “We’ll still teach French here, philosophy. We’ll certainly have theater on the campus.”

Professor Ronald Johnstone has chaired the theater department since 1995. He now anticipates looking for another job.

The planned elimination of his department sparked an immediate response from students and alumni of the program. 

“We can’t let it die,” said Kristin Katsu, a 2006 AU graduate, currently working on her MFA at Western Illinois University. Katsu founded a Facebook group, saveAUtheatre, which by Monday already included almost 800 members. Katsu expressed confidence that the rallying of students, parents and alumni could have an impact.

“It’s inspiring to me,” said Johnstone. “I can’t say it doesn’t make me proud that so many people are rallying to take action.” 

Theater students were in the Boze Theatre on Monday, where the set for the upcoming production of "The Odd Couple" is under construction. Students said they were disheartened by the news of the program's cut, and troubled by what it means for the successful completion of their program, especially without Johnstone at the helm.

Professor Sally Jo Shulmistras' French program is another budget casualty.  

“We knew they were going to make cuts," said Shulmistras, on faculty 41 years. "Was I prepared for it? No ... I think it’s a shame.” 

At the same time some programs are being cut, others are growing. The university’s new engineering program saw double the anticipated enrollment in its inaugural year. 

"All of this is about the future," said Edwards. 

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