The absence of indispensable community members will be felt for years to come
As an alumnus of Allegheny College, I lament the termination of staff, administrative, and faculty members at the college. Since July 2021, Allegheny has lost 53 members of its community as part of the administration’s effort to downsize the school. These community members have enormously contributed to the wellbeing and success of students and deserve to be prioritized in times of financial difficulty.
In response to declining enrollment of college students in the United States beginning in 2014, Provost and Dean of the College Ron Cole, ’87, put together a staffing plan in 2017 due to a reduction in the college’s operating budget, according to an April 20, 2017, article in The Campus. He and upper level members of Allegheny’s administration felt the need to be proactive as enrollment in liberal arts colleges throughout the United States began to decline.
Since 2017, Cole has cited projections of student enrollment decreasing by 15% in higher education institutions as the reasoning behind the staffing plan. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to President Hilary L. Link, the staff cuts that were supposed to take place over the course of 10 years were accelerated.
From the onset of the staffing plan, it is alarming that the administration determined the best way to balance the college’s budget is to let go of valued, indispensable community members who make up the fabric of the Allegheny experience. These employees do the impossible jobs of operating dining halls and academic buildings, serving as chairs of entire departments, and teaching courses beloved by students and fondly remembered by alumni.
Despite concerns raised by students and faculty from 2017 to the present day, the college moved forward with the student and faculty downsizing. Initially, the plan was to reduce Allegheny’s full time faculty from 170 in the 2016-17 academic year to between 158-162 by 2021-22, increasing the faculty-to-student ratio from 10.5:1 to 12:1. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration clearly felt additional downsizing was necessary, since faculty ended up being reduced to 129 for 1,500 enrolled students, leaving the school at a 11.6:1 ratio.
Of the 53 total positions cut, 29 of them are faculty. These 29 positions make up $1.9 million in faculty salaries, a fraction of Allegheny’s $70 million in total operating expenses in 2021. Moreover, Allegheny’s endowment reached a record-breaking $289 million in 2021 and the school had $69 million in revenue, gains and other support without donor restrictions that same year. How can such a small percentage of operating expenses be prioritized over community members who make a difference in the lives of students every day?
This situation doesn’t appear to be about “strategically managing resources for a sustainable future,” as Link asserted in an email to Allegheny alumni about the cuts. If it were, the college would prioritize saving staff, administrative and faculty positions over outrageously expensive capital projects like renovating Bentley Hall and creating new positions in Allegheny’s administration.
Upper level members of the administration have asserted that holistic student success is at the heart of current plans to deal with Allegheny’s financial situation. But prioritizing a small amount of operating expenses over community members that have dedicated their professional careers to that very principle — holistic student success — contradicts that goal, and their absence will be felt at the school for years to come.
Matthew Steinberg is a 2020 graduate of Allegheny College.