MU
Oak Leaves

November 15, 2019





President McFadden Discusses Manchester’s Future


Chloe Leckrone

 

Since the recent reductions to faculty and staff were announced on Oct. 29, President Dave McFadden has been saddened by these frustrating and disheartening events but looks ahead with hope for the university.

A few years ago, Manchester University began a vitality process that lasted 20 months, which reviewed academic programs, co-curricular programs and departments, among other things, to find ways to reduce costs at Manchester and save $1.5 million. Because enrollment had been decreasing, McFadden knew something needed to be done. Last spring, the list of cost-saving actions was announced, and it was assumed that the “heavy lifting,” as McFadden put it, was over. They came out with a projected budget surplus of $1.2 million.

Over the summer, however, enrollment dropped, and the incoming undergraduate class was much smaller than budgeted, which meant there would be a decline in revenue and a projected deficit of $400,000. McFadden could see from the trends that if nothing changed, there would continue to be deficits moving forward. Both interests of prospective and current students were taken into account when deciding which positions and programs to eliminate.

On Tuesday, Oct. 29, McFadden sent an email to all students on both the North Manchester and Fort Wayne campuses to alert them on the recent decisions. McFadden did not include the names of the faculty, staff or programs being eliminated until the following day in a separate email. He announced that 11 positions were being cut and eight positions would not be filled due to retirement or resignation. He also announced that final decisions have not yet been made about program cuts.

Much of the information gained from the vitality process was used to help make decisions for this round of cuts, and largely the same set of criteria was used, including program enrollment and student and future-employer interests. Last spring’s cuts taught McFadden about better ways to communicate with students.

“We were really intentional both times about making sure that what we sent out was as clear as possible,” McFadden said. He wanted to be sure that concerns and questions that students might have were addressed.

McFadden met with five students on the Friday before the announcement to ask for advice on how to communicate with students. His email on Friday about “holding each other close through these difficult decisions” came from that meeting. He also approached “Discussions with Dave” differently this year, so that they would feel, as he said, “more like a conversation than a press conference.”

Going into this round of reductions, McFadden felt frustrated about the need to make cuts at all. “We never want to make cuts like this that clearly impact people’s lives and livelihoods, and I found that exceptionally frustrating,” McFadden said. “We are a small enough community that I know them personally, some of them are people who have been friends of mine, so it’s really tough,” McFadden said.

Along with the positions that were eliminated, a number of faculty and staff members will be leaving, either due to retirement or resignation. Some of these were indirectly related to the cuts but allowed for easier decisions to be made. McFadden knows that there were also people who chose to retire or resign so that they could save someone else’s job. “I recognize that when those choices were made that they were excruciating for the people that made them,” McFadden said. “I admire them for having made those choices, I appreciate the reasons that they made those choices, and I’m sad that we came to a circumstance where they felt as though they had to make that kind of choice.”

After reviewing prospective and current student interest, McFadden said that a few new programs would be introduced, and a number of current programs would be boosted. One new program will be nursing. Among applicants to Manchester, reviewers found that the second most highly requested program is nursing. “A nursing program will meet both student interest and employer opportunities,” McFadden said. “We want to make sure it has a Manchester spin to it so that it is infused with the liberal arts.” A new major in data science has been approved, as well as a three plus-one accounting program that will allow students to get a Master’s, as well as a Bachelor’s, degree in four years.

While much good is trying to be done to improve retention and make current programs more sustainable, there have also been many concerns and criticisms about the reduction of professors and majors that are considered to be valuable to the liberal arts. The greatest criticism McFadden has heard is that Manchester “is moving away from who we have always been.” For many people, including students, faculty and alumni, the majors that are offered are what make a school a liberal arts institution.

The Funeral for the Liberal Arts that was held at the end of last spring was representative of this fear that as humanities programs are phased out, Manchester University will lose part of what it has always been.

McFadden believes the greatest danger of these cuts is that people will feel as if there is no place for them here. “I have even heard from some recent faculty hires: ‘this is not the Manchester that I thought I was coming to,’” he said. McFadden also fears students may feel abandoned, perhaps because they came to Manchester to study in an area the school no longer offers or will not continue to offer. To alleviate these fears and dangers, McFadden wants to share a sense of perspective. As a third-generation graduate of Manchester, he has seen how much the university has changed.

“I know from my experience here as a student and now as president that Manchester is a place that changes all the time,” McFadden said. “I also recognize that the pace of change and the sense of the enormity of change at Manchester in the last two or three years has felt faster and more significant.”

As many students, faculty and staff members grapple with their concerns that these reductions are altering not just the direction of Manchester, but the nature of it as well, McFadden firmly believes that Manchester is a place that evolves over time. In McFadden’s eyes, the “what, where, who and how” of Manchester may change, but the “why”—wanting to graduate persons of ability and conviction—is a constant that will never leave.