University Forum: Faculty cuts and possible closure of Mills

Denny Patterson, Senior Editor

Last week, President Patrick White held two open forums to enlighten faculty and students on some of the major concerns facing the institution. Discussions included Millikin’s overall financial stability, the Woods apartments and future actions/decisions.

The forums began discussing the fiscal year for 2014. The deficit as of the executive board totaled $1.7 million after finding $702K of savings. The deficit as of the fall census totaled $2.546 million. Some of the contributing changes were lower tuition and fees, lower dining plans and no contingency funds. Unfortunately, changes have to be made. Millikin is currently facing $22-23 million in debt and student enrollment is on the decline. Tuition will increase 3.5 percent and 10 percent of the overall budget will be cut out.

There are multiple reasons as to why student enrollment is decreasing.

“Some of the most recent issues are local,” White said. “Specific to the institution, 70 percent come from Illinois. The number of high school graduates in Illinois is declining and the preparation of those graduating seems to be declining as well. Fewer students are being accepted to Millikin and those who are do not have the ability to pay. It’s on a grand level.”

“Other issues include increasing competition not only from other four year colleges, but community colleges as well. They are growing. Students see that they can get those first two years out of the way before going to four year colleges. Colleges all over the country and state are facing this. Not every college in the state is down this year, but many are. We’ve been having trouble recruiting in athletics because of the conditions of the facilities, The School of Music remains strong, but only a number of students can be admitted to the program. There are many reasons we have to think about and analyze.”

Although student enrollment is decreasing, faculty and administration has been increasing. Therefore, faculty cuts are currently in the process. Some have already been made.

“Can we continue to have the same faculty and staff when the student body is smaller?” White said. “We can solve in two ways – cut faculty or increase the student body. We have to look at this in both ways. If we are not successful at one, the other is more difficult. The demand to reduce faculty is more severe.”

As the next semester is assessed, there will be some reductions in adjunct faculty. This happened last spring when it was known that freshmen enrollment was not as high. When it comes to full time faculty and those who are on tenure track, they have to be informed by a scheduled date. Those who are on their first year of tenure track will be informed by April 1, Dec. 15 for those on their second year. White doesn’t want to beat around the bush with these cuts. He is reluctant at this moment to put a number on how much faculty will be cut.

As for tenured faculty, they can be removed if a program is completely shut down. Eliminations of programs remain to be seen.

A big question numerous faculty members are wondering – especially those not protected by tenure –  is if they should begin to look at other options. White advises that they get an assessment of the plans and talk with their department chair. He does not want faculty to panic.

The other hot button issue concerned the Woods at Millikin. Within five years, occupancy has dropped noticeably from 484 leases to 287. Rent is currently $7,143 while residence halls cost $5,000. Three options were provided: Do nothing, close one residence hall and offer a tiered incentive or close one residence hall and offer a higher incentive. If a residence hall is closed, Mills will be the chosen one.

“The ultimate goal is to have more students be a part of the Millikin experience,” White said. “We essentially want them to have a nice place to live. Mills is a freshman dorm. Although it’s the cheapest currently, it isn’t attractive. We want to encourage students to live in the Woods. That’s work we are going to be doing as a university and collaborating with the Woods’ owner, Jeffrey Tinervin.”

No plan has been selected as of yet and decisions will hopefully be made by the end of this semester before students start signing up for leases at the Woods. If Mills is closed down, it will most likely remain closed – possibly demolished. “If Mills closes, many things could potentially happen,” Student Representative of the Board Jackson Graves said. “The potential of some non-freshmen being unable to afford residence in the Woods is a real issue. I am afraid that many will be extremely upset with the narrowing of student options, as I am now. I fear for a lowered retention, I fear for recruitment restrictions and I fear for a decrease is morale. These events seem to be unchangeable at this present time, but that does not mean we cannot stay strong for this University. We had another dark financial time a few years ago that we were able to ameliorate through positivity and hard work. This situation is a different one, but I think we can get through it by unifying and understanding the common goal here. That common goal is to perpetuate this gem of a university.”

If the Woods ends up being one of the only options for upperclassmen, the amount of students transferring out of Millikin increase? White and the Board are approaching this task step by step and will consider all possible options. In addition, Millikin will become the owner of the Woods within years to come. Proposed environmental changes were presented including higher security, fire alarm monitoring, leasing process, billing timeline and marketing campaigns.

“The residential experience is important to students,” White said.

As far as future actions go, White will be working with the Board, administration, faculty and students to help improve the institution as a whole. Revenue opportunities will be looked at and retention strategies will be performed. White is borrowing $500 thousand to be used for leverage. That money will be used for supportive innovation that will increase revenue in regards to admissions, marketing and advancement.

It has also been discovered that only 13 percent of Millikin alums are giving back to the university. This is described by White as “embarrassing.”

“If Millikin is as great as we think we are, we should have more support,” he said. “We have to go after it and find out why we didn’t already have it. This will make a stronger case for alumni support.”