Facebook group encourages transparency, action
Students concerned with Georgetown College’s budget and its effects on faculty meet to discuss solutionsBy TORI BACHMAN-JOHNSON, News Editor
You probably have a Facebook, some of your professors may be on the social networking site as well, and now Facebook is being used to organize students concerned with budgetary problems and their effects on the faculty of Georgetown College. On Dec. 20, Senior Anna Wiederhold created a “Save Our Professors– Demand Accountability” group on Facebook to unite students in obtaining transparency in the college’s budget and save professors who may not be asked to return next year. She was originally inspired to form the group after all first- and second- year tenure track professors were called in to speak with Provost Rosemary Allen on Dec. 11 and informed that their contracts may not be renewed for the 2009-2010 school year. The college is required by law to give professors this warning in advance. Wiederhold and her friends started talking about the issue, as well as their frustrations with the administration.
“The more I thought about it, it wasn’t something that we could just let die,” she said. Wiederhold began asking questions. She spoke with some of the affected professors and was concerned especially with the fact that many had moved to Georgetown and purchased houses, planning to stay here for years. With their jobs threatened and mortgages to pay, Wiederhold said she sensed an atmosphere of fear and anxiety, and wanted to do anything possible to prevent the loss of their jobs. The uncertainty for first and second-year professors retaining their positions is caused by both budget restraints and potentially falling enrollment. Though an exact number is not available at this time, administrators estimated that perhaps 100 less students will be enrolled at GC for the 2009-2010 school year than are enrolled at present. GC depends heavily on tuition for their income, and so depending on the magnitude of budget restraints, the college would have to eliminate positions that weren’t absolutely necessary.
“We’re stuck in the middle of an extraordinary uncertainty,” said Dr. Allen. “We haven’t made any decisions, but we have to be prepared.” Students began voicing their concerns on the Facebook group, and on Jan. 22, Wiederhold hosted a meeting to address questions and goals presented online. Approximately 30 students in attendance discussed concerns for the faculty whose contracts are in question, as well as perceived budget oversights and what action can be taken to ensure that first- and second- year professors are not unnecessarily let go. Wiederhold made it clearthat the meeting was not “a conspiracy to remove President Crouch” or “some radical, anti-establishment movement,” but rather a group of concerned individuals who are giving a voice to collective worries and pushing for transparency and conversation between the administration and students.
Students at the meeting also worried that in the near future, financial difficulties might lead to GC losing their accreditation, in which case any students who had not already graduated would lose all the credits they had previously received from the college. In 2001, the college was reviewed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (as is every college in
America once every ten years, by their region’s own association) and was put on probation. According to Dr. Allen, the probationary status was believed to be the result of a misunderstanding over a technical issue related to a spending policy, and the matter was resolved. She also said that itis also not unusual for a college to be placed on probation; Auburn University was placed on probation at the same time as GC. However, ensuring that the budget is correctly handled has been a concern.
Last summer, the college began making budget cuts, which anticipated the current economic downturn. With the college’s endowment shrinking due to the dropping of the stock market and fundraising becoming more difficult as would-be donors see their wealth reduced, personnel have been cut, as well as expense budgets. Cuts in supply were made as well in order for the college to make it to the end of the year. One of the immediate goals stated by the Facebook group was to obtain a lineitem budget, ensuring that students were aware of exactly where their tuition money was going. While there is a summary budget available in the library, students voiced their desire for something more specific than the current sixpage budget. However, lineitem budgets are not made public by colleges because they are a violation of privacy, as they would make known the salaries of individuals, especially in small departments.
Dr. Allen directed students with specific budgetary concerns to speak with James Moak, who can answer questions. The group began a letter writing campaign, sending a form letter to members of the Board of Trustees asking that they take academics into account on the Jan. 31 meeting. Another goal of the group, which may yet be realized, is to hold a question and answer session with administrators such as Dr. Gambill and President Crouch, who have both stated that they would be willing to do so. Wiederhold plans to meet with President Crouch today to discuss the group’s concerns and future plans for ensuring transparency. Essentially, the students gathered at the meeting wanted to work for unity with the administration, stating that there seemed to be a disconnect between the student body and administrators. “We feel like we’re not on the same team with the administration, and we’re not struggling together,” said Wiederhold.
Dr. Allen said that the administration is not trying to be secretive or hide information from students. “I’ve realized that things that seem self-evident to [me] don’t seem selfevident to other people…they have no way of knowing,” she said. However, she also said that even the administration doesn’t know yet what will happen. “I don’t know if any amount of information is enough information to quiet people’s fears.” Students in the group have stated that they feel the professors are treated as “easily dispensable” and that the administration has not shown that there is no other way to balance the budget than to fire professors. “If we’ve exhausted every option, show us that we’ve exhausted every option,” said Senior Andi Wilhoit in the Jan. 22 meeting.
However, according to their statements, the administration, like the students, do not want faculty to be fired. “It’s the most miserable thing I can think of to do,” said Dr. Allen in reference to cutting teaching position. If these cuts do become necessary, Dr. Allen will have to take into consideration the essentiality of classes that professors teach and the enrollment and projected enrollment in their departments. The primary concern, she said, is retaining educational quality. Sophomore Tucker Adams, who attended the meeting, felt that it was a worth-while effort. “I think the group is not only a promising sign of student awareness and interest on campus, but it also speaks well of the student-faculty relationship here at Georgetown, allowing positive, productive dialogue to proceed in a way that enlightens students, faculty and administration,” he said. “The important thing is to keep things civil, rational and positive in a forward-looking way,” said Tucker. If you are interested in joining the group or staying informed about these issues, you can contact Anna Wiederhold at awieder0.