PLNU faculty and staff will be holding their breaths in the coming weeks, as two committees of university employees and the administrative cabinet will look for ways to cut $2.2 million in campus-wide spending in an effort known as “prioritization.”
“The purpose of this kind of work is to be able to do a comprehensive analysis of all of the programs, functions and operations of the university in order to ensure that what we are doing is committing the right resources to the highest priorities that are needed to keep accomplishing the mission of the university,” PLNU President Bob Brower told The Point Weekly via email.
The university’s prioritization process has been in the works for the past 18 months, but recently escalated to a decision-making stage. Since last semester, faculty and staff across campus have worked to produce “Self-Study Prioritization Reports,” which were due by Feb. 14 to two committees for review, according to emails obtained by The Point Weekly.
The Administrative and Support Review and Academic Affairs Review committees each have financial targets to meet and will make recommendations to the university’s administrative cabinet. The Academic Affairs Review Committee seeks to cut $1.3 million and the Administrative Support and Review Committee will look to cut $900,000.
“Not only is the work confidential (we have all signed confidentiality agreements), but the work is consuming,” said Academic Affairs Review Committee chair Holly Irwin via email. “For the next 6 weeks, our group will be knee-deep in the process.”
Three other committee members contacted by The Point Weekly declined to comment.
The committees have been asked to make recommendations to the cabinet by April 4. Final prioritization announcements by the cabinet will be presented by April 22 or 23.
The administrative/support category includes groups like the Alumni Office, Athletics, Marketing and Creative Services, Student Financial Services and Residential Life, according to committee chair Mark Pitts.
For instance, one of the outcomes the committees will consider is outsourcing some services, such as custodial services
“For the PLNU Custodial Services department, in order to answer that question they need to solicit information from one or more outside cleaning service vendors,” George Latter vice president for Finance and Administrative Services told The Point Weekly in an email.
“It is way too early to even guess what the outcome of that process will be,” Latter wrote. “A couple of years ago we looked at another area on campus for possible outsourcing, and after completing our evaluation decided to keep the services in-house. Ultimately, we want and need to find an appropriate balance between the quality of the programs and services we offer and the cost to students of those programs and services.”
On Jan. 16, Brower directed faculty to read a list of Frequently Asked Questions based on questions submitted by university staff and other university constituents, according to emails, and the FAQ documentobtained by The Point Weekly. While much of the discussion surrounding prioritization is of financial viability and institutional efficiency, larger questions of the university’s role as a Christian liberal arts school remain, according to the FAQ sheet.
Some examples of those concerns were whether positions would be eliminated, how the upcoming Science Center project and other capital projects would fit into the process and whether PLNU can maintain its Christian identity when teaching online classes.
“Like any institution, it’s safe to say there is discomfort across the board with the impending results of the prioritization process,” Assistant Professor of Writing Michael Clark said. “This process does create discomfort and does create questions of the future of the university both in the near term and the long range.”
Associate Professor of Philosophy Heather Ross said the process is not necessarily a bad thing, as it serves to help the university best determine how to serve its students and be faithful to its mission as a Christian university, but that only time will tell what the process will mean for PLNU’s future.
“…The real story comes AFTER prioritization is completed in April. Prioritization will clarify what it is that we truly value,” Ross said via email. “It will reveal whether or not we have a true commitment to our students beyond monetized value. It will reveal how committed we are to our mission as a Christian institution to educate our students as complex human beings. I am hopeful that we will come out of this better, wiser and more faithful.”
Brower told The Point Weekly the university is “healthy and effective,” but said he told university faculty 18 months ago that if PLNU “kept doing only the same thing, the future could get very difficult.” So the university has been looking for ways to keep up with rising costs of higher education without raising tuition.
One such endeavor to save money is the Voluntary 2014 Faculty Early Retirement Incentive Program, which allows faculty members 58 years old or older the opportunity to ease into retirement over two years. This reduces overall wage and benefit spending for the university, according to documents obtained by The Point Weekly.
Additionally, PLNU has been implementing revenue-generating strategies such as the addition of Liberty Station Conference Center for classes, which allowed the university to grow by 200 students. Another example is the establishment of a team of university employees to explore possible new programs in a process known as “Strategic Enrollment Planning.”
“What all of this means is that PLNU is continuously working to evaluate, design, plan, and change for the needs of the future,” Brower told The Point Weekly. “Prioritization is an important part of that process, but it is not the only thing that is occurring.”
Staff writer Amy Williams contributed to this report.
Prioritization, Time To Get Talking (Opinion)
Prioritization announcements expected this week