Students get questions answered at Town Hall

By: Alexis Stallard, Editor-In-Chief

Newman’s first Town Hall Meeting since announcing that they’d cut eight majors and 10 faculty members last week happened on Tuesday and included a sometimes tense question and answer session between Newman’s executive board and the around 40 students who attended. 

But during the meeting, cabinet members reiterated again and again that the cuts were necessary to move Newman forward in a changing higher education landscape. 

 The meeting, which happened on the first floor of Eck Hall, featured a panel of administrators, including Vice President of Institutional Advancement Bob Beumer, Director of Mission Effectiveness Sister Therese Wetta, ASC, Vice President of Academic Affairs Alden Stout, Interim Vice President of Enrollment Management Ron Headings, Vice President of Finance Tony Beata, President Kathleen Jagger and Athletic Director Joanna Pryor. 

 Shortly after the meeting started, the cabinet participated in a question-and-answer session with pre-selected questions submitted by the Student Government Association, whose leaders were all present. But the cabinet members also accepted live questions from students gathered for the meeting. Stout fielded most of the questions with some help from Beata. Stout stressed that the cuts the university was making were part of an effort to reprioritize resources into other programs that had higher enrollment.

“We’re going to be able to invest in quality in areas that might have been harder to do because of these changes,” Stout said. 

A few students at the meeting whose majors were on the list of those being cut expressed concern about who would teach classes they still need to complete their degrees. Stout said that Newman plans to fill most of those positions with adjunct faculty that will still provide students with the necessary tools for their careers. 

“I’ve tried to be clear that we’re going to provide you the same quality education in those majors, but we as an institution need to be as relevant as we can to students’ needs, employment demands, and the changing aspects of higher education,” he said. 

Other students had questions about why certain faculty members were chosen to be laid off over others, but Stout said he did not want to comment on specific personnel. He said that the decision process was comprehensive.

One student said she was struggling to trust the university during this reprioritization and asked for reassurance that the changes would not affect the quality of education that students were receiving. Stout responded by saying that Newman would always try to offer the best education possible. 

“I know it is an advantage to have a full-time faculty member teaching. I’m not going to deny that. But I have worked with very high-quality, passionate adjuncts who are excellent instructors,” he said. 

An email Jagger sent to faculty at the beginning of the school year said that Newman was facing a $4 million deficit in the budget. But during the meeting, Beata said that the budget is dependent on enrollment, and that after adjustments, the actual deficit is more like $2 million. 

“Almost all of those costs were things that we built into the budget in anticipation of a larger student body,” Beata said. “So, the reductions that we’re making to bring that deficit down to roughly $2 million is not directly impacting current services or activities, or has yet created a need to lay anybody off in the current year related to that.”

Members on the panel pointed out that Newman had added several new majors that better align with current market trends. The new programs have 58 students enrolled in them, the cabinet said, and 57 students are enrolled in the eight programs that will be cut this year. All students currently enrolled in these majors have been assured that they will still be able to graduate in their chosen programs. 

Stout also clarified that 10 faculty members were being cut from the existing 80-member staff.

Several people gathered at the meeting also asked the cabinet how Newman could call itself a liberal arts university yet cut the humanities. Jagger, who attended a liberal arts college, said the decision was necessary but not taken lightly. 

“It breaks my heart to cut any of these majors,” Jagger said. “But I keep going back to the same thing: Do we keep spending money to offer courses and majors that nobody is signing up for?”

Jagger said she still believes Newman can be considered a liberal arts college because the school will still offer courses in the topics that were cut. They’ll just be disciplines, or concentrations, rather than majors.

 Jagger also said at the meeting that she hopes that rather than the Newman community could see that the changes represent Newman’s leaders trying to create a better experience for students.

But she understands why people are having difficulty, she said.

“We as an institution are going to go through a grieving period because we’re losing people in our community that we care deeply about,” she said.

PHOTO: Denise Neil, Vantage Adviser