In an attempt to alleviate some of AU’s financial burdens, the cabinet and the board of trustees have made the decision to lay off five faculty members and seven or eight staff members. In addition to the layoffs, departments are being asked to underspend their budgets by 20%.
President John Pistole explained that the university operates like a small business. Because AU’s income and expenses fluctuate on an annual basis, the university’s budget changes every year.
“There are no set numbers that we are sure about,” he said. “Somebody may leave us an estate gift or there may be more or fewer students enrolled than we budgeted for. This year we decided that to be prudent moving forward we would reduce several faculty and staff positions.”
Part of the reason for the layoffs is so that the university will have enough money to continue paying off its debt. Pistole compares the university’s debt to a mortgage or a car payment.
“It’s called bond debt,” he said. “We go through the city to get a municipal bond to borrow money to make improvements to campus and things like that. I don’t know the exact amount, but it’s in the millions of dollars. They’re substantial payments, just like a mortgage is for most people their most substantial payment.”
Pistole said that, out of respect for the privacy of the faculty and staff members being let go, he would not release their names. The faculty being reduced are signed onto 12-month contracts and will continue teaching through the end of the academic year.
“There’s hopefully a limited impact on students, because we’re offering all the same majors, extracurriculars and athletics,” he said. “If a student has a particular favorite professor who is not returning, that’s obviously an impact.”
Provost Marie Morris, who works with Pistole to create the university’s annual budget, said that this year’s enrollment numbers were too low to cover the university’s expenditures.
“Our incoming class this fall was smaller than we had budgeted, so our income is not equal to our projected expenses,” she said. “As with a mortgage or loan debt, we have a monthly debt service payment that impacts our operational budget. Reductions we are making will help the overall budget.”
The provost said that the university is striving to allocate its resources effectively with little consequence.
“No academic programs are being cut at this time, so the impact on students should be minimal,” said Morris. “As a matter of good stewardship, we will always seek ways to be cost-effective without negatively impacting quality.’’
Gert Kumi, assistant professor of music and director of AU’s Symphony Orchestra, is one of the faculty members being let go. An expert violinist who studied at Juilliard, Kumi has been teaching at AU since 2011.
“I was told I was being let go due to budget cuts and that it had nothing to do with my teaching or performance,” he said. “The university is terminating my employment but they are not planning to replace my position; they will rely on adjuncts to fill the position. I was asked to remain as adjunct faculty, but I have not made a decision about that yet.”
Now that he’s leaving, Kumi said he’s not sure what the future holds for the Symphony Orchestra.
“The university has no plans to hire someone to direct the Symphony Orchestra, so I am not sure what will happen to the orchestra,” he said.
Kumi said that there are a few students currently enrolled at AU who will no longer be able to pursue their interests once he leaves. He also believes his absence will dissuade some prospective students from coming to AU.
“I know students are upset with the decision, and I know two students who are planning on transferring to other schools as a result,” said Kumi. “I also know a high school senior who was planning on coming here as a freshman next year to study music performance. She decided not to come to AU as a result of this decision.”
Miles Clifford-Nicholson, freshman violin performance major, is one of the students who has made the decision to transfer from AU after finding out that Kumi will be leaving.
“Professor Kumi was the only reason I had chosen to come to AU out of the other schools I looked at,” said Clifford-Nicholson. “I had been considering some top-notch music schools. I specifically came to AU to study with Professor Kumi because I was extremely impressed with his teaching. I am now taking steps to transfer out of AU at the end of the school year.”
Clifford-Nicholson believes that even if Kumi stays as an adjunct, string performance studies and Symphony Orchestra will be “severely crippled.”
“I feel that this move has shown that AU considers music a superfluous expense and not an integral, serious part of students’ worship and lives,” he said. “An adjunct professor is not on campus in the same way a full-time professor is. The effects of this will be immediately felt in the departure of most of Kumi’s students, and later in the future in a severe drop in the quality of the program and orchestra.”
According to Erich Yetter, assistant professor of dance, some of the dance faculty are also being cut.
“Everyone at the university was affected by these cuts, even if certain departments fared better than others,” he said. “Yes, some of my colleagues were let go and it is very sad for all of us. Everyone I know is working very hard doing yeoman’s duty to help students succeed and bring prestige to this institution.”
Yetter believes “the university needs to find a workable plan to increase its revenue” if it wants to avoid a similar situation in the future.
He went on to say that he is optimistic about the future of AU.
“With God’s help, we will thrive,” Yetter said. “With God, nothing is impossible.”
The online version of this article was amended to provide a more complete quotation from Yetter.