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IWU Prepares To Cut, Add And Reprioritize Programs

Ames Library at Illinois Wesleyan University
IWU has gone through an exercise to evaluate and prioritize its academic offerings to get ready for a significant national shift in the number of graduating high school seniors.

Illinois Wesleyan University has sent the results of a faculty-driven evaluation of its academic programs to students and families. The exercise includes significant changes that could result in layoffs.

“Layoffs can ensue if a program is actually terminated,” said IWU President Georgia Nugent. “I would make every effort to redeploy faculty members if that is possible.”

She said the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has very clear and limiting guidelines for the few instances in which it is permissible to lay off faculty. She said such reductions are not legally regulated but professionally regulated, and she has every intention of abiding by AAUP rules.

Nugent estimated the ballpark impact of all the changes at $4 million per year, but said that is not accurate because it's certain not all of the proposals will be enacted. Bradley University in Peoria recently announced the results of a similar exercise and recommended cuts and changes totaling $40 million. Nugent noted Bradley is larger. IWU has an enrollment of about 1,600 students.

She said program reductions or eliminations could take up to four years to accomplish because all students in affected majors would be able to graduate before the cuts would take place.

Among the recommended changes:

  • Discontinue American Culture Studies
  • Discontinue International Business 
  • Discontinue the Design, Technology, and Entrepreneurship program in its current form
  • Discontinue the Educational Studies program
  • Reduce Anthropology to a minor 
  • Reduce French to a minor 
  • Reduce Greek and Roman Studies to a minor
  • Reduce degree programs offered in the School of Art
  • Transform the graphic design major
  • Reimagine the School of Music as a Department of Music and discontinue under-enrolled majors

Taking the School of Music as an example, Nugent said there was a time when the school had 150 to 200 majors. Now, the largest major in the school, Music Education, has an enrollment of just 25, Nugent said. All the other majors combined, including instruments, the vocal program and composition, have an enrollment in the 20s. Nugent said IWU’s School of Music and the other program areas marked for change reflect national trends as well as local enrollment history.
She acknowledged IWU should not eliminate some programs because non-major students find certain things attractive and could choose other institutions that have not pared so deeply. A chemistry major might also want to do music, for example, or a business and economics student might have a passion for art. Nugent said she does not believe the proposal puts that sensibility at risk.

“We have a particular footprint which is to offer a rigorous liberal arts education combined with some excellent pre-professional programs, such as nursing or business and so forth. And that’s very much the shape we want to continue to have in the future,” said Nugent.

The task force also recommends new programs and building some areas.

“This is not only about cuts,” said Nugent. “These initiatives are motivated in part by a changing context, not only by the demographics, but the global financial situation.”

Additions and new areas of emphasis include:

  • Create an Institute for Global Studies
  • Create programs in public health and criminology 
  • Create a School of Business and Economics
  • Create enhanced entrepreneurship programs within the proposed School of Business and an expanded makerspace/innovation center

“We want to serve students and their families. It’s no surprise their educational interests and needs have evolved," said Nugent. "We have seen much more interest in outcomes. We see much more interest in studies that are perceived to be much more directly related to a subsequent professional career. That does not in any way diminish the tremendous importance of grounding in the liberal arts.” 
For example, Nugent said business programs are a historical strength at IWU, so it makes sense to enhance those into a business school.

“To become a school, there are national accreditation agencies. They specify the criteria and qualifications such a school must meet. That’s a positive in that it clarifies the offerings and sets a readily recognizable standard of excellence,” said Nugent.

Standards include programming, resources devoted to the programs, and the quality of the faculty hired.

The task force report goes to major governing committees on campus that will send to faculty the initiatives the committees believe require a faculty vote, Nugent said. The changes approved by faculty will then go to the president and board of trustees in late May. She said she expects the proposals to change in that process.

Nugent said one of the strengths of the report is that it is faculty driven, noting other institutions sometimes have done top-down efforts at reprioritization. She said the way IWU has gone about  the process is likely to result in more acceptance of decisions and a more robust outcome.

All colleges and universities face the prospect of fewer graduating high school seniors, more first-generation students who have unique academic needs, and a greater share of applications from students of limited financial means.

MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., recently announced it would not reopen after pandemic-related limitations are lifted and will close permanently because of declining enrollment and inadequate financial resources. Nugent noted MacMurray's enrollment had declined precipitously and IWU's endowment is much larger.

Nugent said Illinois Wesleyan does not face such an existential question and the program cuts and additions are not an effort to stave off such an outcome.

“Because we have evolved, we have endured. And we will continue to evolve as we look toward a strong future,” said Nugent.

Listen to an interview with IWU President Georgia Nugent and Charlie Schlenker

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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