Linfield College is preparing to cut faculty positions to save costs, as the small, private college based in McMinnville adjusts to a smaller student body.
Linfield faculty members say up to 25 tenure, or tenure-track faculty positions are at risk as college leaders wrestle with tight finances.
The college wouldn’t confirm there are 20-25 positions on the chopping block, as faculty members allege. But that’s what members of the Faculty Executive Council emailed out to Linfield professors after a meeting with college leaders, including Linfield President Miles K. Davis.
“At that meeting President Davis informed the faculty reps that 20-25 positions are going to be eliminated to reduce the budget deficit by $2.7-2.8 million, which accounts for 90 percent of the $3.07 million of the remaining projected deficit,” said an email dated Dec. 8, 2018.
Administrators declined to offer any financial details. But in an email from Davis addressed to the “Linfield community,” the college said it’s working through a process of “academic prioritization” to deal with steady enrollment decline.
“A part of the college’s restructuring and academic prioritization process will be to eliminate some faculty positions that were consistent in a time when we had more than 1600 students, but are not sustainable in our present circumstances [1,240 students],” Davis said in the email provided to OPB.
The college has already cut about 19 non-teaching positions and reduced retirement contributions. The cuts come as Linfield is pursuing an expansion of its nursing school in east Portland — a program that accounts for an increasing share of the college’s student body. Last November, Linfield announced plans to spend $14.5 million on a 20-acre campus belonging to the University of Western States, which has since said it’s moving to another part of east Portland.
Linfield has also been willing to look at unusual enticements to recruit and retain students, such as announcing plans last fall to open the first pet-friendly residence hall at any Oregon college or university, later this year.
A message Linfield sent out in December further points to their goal of focusing on what current and future students want.
“The goal of the restructuring is to focus resources where demand is greatest for current and prospective students,” the message reads. “In some cases, this will mean shifting resources away from areas without robust demand.”
Faculty members oppose the cuts to tenured jobs, and question the focus on “robust demand,” rather than on the college’s historic mission as a liberal arts institution.
“We believe that it is critical to consider the implications of making decisions based primarily on cost-demand analyses and market trends,” argued a memo from leaders of Linfield’s local chapter of the Association of American University Professors.
AAUP leaders said administrators should be focused on the college’s mission and the long-term success of students.
“We are also concerned about the future implications of decisions being made now regarding faculty positions on the long-term health of the academic program,” the faculty union memo said.
The message from AAUP leaders warned of deteriorating academic freedom if Linfield increases its reliance on adjunct faculty, rather than on tenure or tenure-track professors. It pressed college leaders to prioritize Linfield’s position as a prestigious liberal arts college, including its consistent appearances in national and regional rankings.
Administrators contend the current restructuring is part of a longer term effort at the 160-year-old institution. Unlike other private colleges in Oregon that have succumbed to financial problems, like Marylhurst University which closed last year, Linfield leaders maintain the college is following growth plans under a mandate from the Board of Trustees.
“We won’t be a smaller Linfield in the future; we anticipate being larger,” said Scott Bernard Nelson, the college’s director of communications and marketing. “Now it’s about structuring ourselves for that growth.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly summarized AAUP’s role at Linfield College. It is a professional organization for faculty.