Those within the AU community have likely received word of the budget cuts planned for the 2017-18 school year. The cuts, totaling $1.4 million, have been planned after a $3.6 million budget deficit from the 2015-16 school year, with a $62 million budget overall. The news was announced to faculty and student leaders in two separate meetings on Oct. 10, with the details reaching the student body via email from President Pistole later that evening.
AU has operated at a deficit for the past few years, and with a decline in enrollment throughout the past decade, it was deemed necessary for cuts to take place in order to decrease the deficit and balance the budget. Pistole noted that over the next ten years, the cuts will amount to significant savings and changes in programs.
“The changes I announced are focused on the future, and on how we can best position ourselves for our second century of service,” Pistole said.
The administration organized about 35 AU faculty and staff members to split up into six different work groups over the summer to deliberate. The groups conducted research and brainstormed suggestions for “different ways we could position ourselves for the future and where we should focus our strengths,” according to President Pistole.
He received a total of 110 recommendations from the work groups for how to best utilize AU’s resources and facilitate the budget cuts. The finalized cuts include the discontinuation of some academic programs, athletic programs and faculty and staff positions.
The academic cut includes majors in economics, entrepreneurship, church music, instrumental performance, intercultural studies, sociology, speech, voice performance and a non-licensure education major. Early childhood education, English as a second language, and jazz studies minors will also be discontinued as of the 2017-18 school year.
Administration has emphasized that all students currently enrolled in discontinued programs can finish their degrees at AU; the majors and minors will simply no longer be available for incoming freshman in 2017-18.
The cuts will also include the discontinuation of men’s and women’s golf and tennis teams and the allocation of the athletic resources toward the new men’s and women’s swim teams and a lacrosse team, to be started in 2018.
The director of international student services will be leaving the Cultural Resource Center as AU begins to restructure the CRC and the format through which it provides resources to international students. This position is one of 21 faculty and staff positions being eliminated, with 13 of those currently occupied. This will result in 13 current faculty and staff members being let go at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
Pistole emphasized that the changes are out of necessity. “In an ideal world, I would have kept all of these majors, programs, athletics, co-curriculars, but the fact is that we’ve had enrollment declines, up until this year,” he said.
“There have been fewer students at the undergraduate level for ten years, but this year we had a positive upturn,” Pistole said. “So I’m encouraged by that. We’ve had some really generous donors who have made gifts and made significant pledges, because they love the school and they want to see us succeed. I believe that as we talk about the future of AU, we will have more and more people who want to be a part of that.”
Through research and observance, Pistole and the administration came to the consensus that AU is, at its core, a Christian liberal arts school focused on an undergraduate, residential experience. There are certainly resources available for commuters, graduate and adult students, but the general experience is focused on traditional undergraduates.
AU will continue to offer several graduate degree programs, including the MBA program, Online MBA program, and Master of Divinity program. However, other graduate degree programs are being discontinued, such as the Masters of Science in Nursing and the Doctorate of Ministry program.
“One of the things that I realized when I got here last year was that we weren’t resourced well enough to demonstrate excellence in all areas,” Pistole said. “My conclusion was that we were spread too thin to pursue excellence in the areas that I believe will hold us in good standing.”
The church music major, for instance, has zero students currently enrolled in the program.
“If you don’t have anybody majoring in it, from simply a ‘good steward of resources perspective,’ you could say a ‘business perspective,’ it’s hard for me to justify having resources dedicated to that,” Pistole said.
With the goal of transparency, the administration sent out 57 different email formats to notify those affected by the budget cuts.
“My goal is to be as transparent as possible, while respecting peoples’ privacy,” Pistole said. “For one thing, I made the decision not to publish the names of the professors we won’t have back next year, simply for their privacy, so they can communicate that information to their friends, families, and others, on their own timeline.”
Considering the voluntary retirement initiative and reprioritization, AU has undergone a few rounds of budget cuts in the past few years aimed at reducing the deficit. It is the hope of the administration that these changes will help AU look to the future and best utilize the resources of the university.