Written by David Vogel Tuesday, 14 April 2009 13:55
Let’s begin with a metaphor.
Suppose you own a horse that has broken his leg. Do you then walk over to your other horse and break his leg also?
I would venture to say that the answer is no. My guess is that you would shoot the first horse and then use the second horse to prosper with the best of his abilities.
Tabor College: you are breaking too many legs.
In a speech to the employees of Tabor College April 3, President Jules Glanzer informed the Tabor faculty and staff of the major changes that were in order for next school year. Among other adjustments, three professors and eight administrative and support staff members were released, and the computer science program was discontinued.
In this column, I will discuss both the broad repercussions of these decisions, and specifically how the elimination of one music faculty member has made students wonder how they are to continue the quality of their program with the teaching load of a full-time professor being dumped on the limited time of the remaining three.
Meanwhile, the massive athletic program remains virtually untouched, leaving many students wondering if sports sit on a higher pedestal than academics and arts.
Quality vs. money
Last week Glanzer and Tabor Provost Lawrence Ressler held meetings with students to discuss the changes. Glanzer and Ressler backed up the decisions by referring to “the numbers.”
Yet when questions were raised about the quality of the programs, and how that affected the decisions, getting a direct answer was like trying to watch a movie being projected on a screen door.
Cuts like this should not just be based on where more money is being spent. The value of the programs should also be taken into consideration.
Athletics may be lucrative, but the quality is, pardon my French, semblable à la dunette. This season the Tabor softball team endured a 21-game losing streak, and last fall the football team lost 80 percent of its games.
That’s not exactly something to be proud of.
Also consider that this year, 21 students recruited to play football have dropped out after last semester. (If the choir shared the same retention rate, it would have lost 12 members.)
This means the money used to recruit those students was essentially wasted.
Also not reflected in “the numbers” is the amount of students who come to Tabor because they can participate in an excellent music program without having to major in music.
The music department may be more expensive to run because of the one-on-one time that is required between professors and students. But this individual attention has helped Tabor establish a choral program that easily rivals schools of equal or larger size.
Supporting that, theater productions sell out and the “Messiah,” Christmas festival, and other concerts always pack the church.
Of the three Tabor students whose vocal solos made it to the finals of the West Central Region of the National Association of Teachers of Singing contest last fall, two were English majors.
It’s the ability to participate in a quality music program while studying something else that makes Tabor College unique and attractive to many students.
The music position being cut is largely responsible for voice lessons, which increases the quality of the concert choir.
By burdening the load of a full-time professor on the choir director, not only will those students not be able to have the attention necessary for improvement (note: voice students do pay for private lessons), it will also directly affect the choir’s ability to excel.
While speaking to choir members, Ressler asked whether it would be possible to “retain the quality” of the choir with this reduction. Artists are never satisfied with maintaining. The entire goal of art is to improve.
The wrong approach
While flashing “the numbers” around, it was very clear that when it came to music, the position was cut because the music department is expensive. It was argued that zero athletic programs were pruned because athletics bring in so much money.
I am against cutting employees for any reason, but—for the sake of critical thinking—I still pose the question: Wouldn’t the college save money by reducing costs in athletics while allowing music to continue unscathed?
Tabor currently has four people hired to coach football. Of those four, three are also employed as physical education instructors. If there was one less person, the responsibilities could be distributed between the other two football/P.E. coaches.
(Additional facts: Tabor has 19 faculty hired in athletics. That’s 16 percent of the campus employees.)
Given the football team’s poor success rate, it seems logical to pare down the employment in that sector. Theoretically the money “lost” in music could be made up for if unnecessary athletic positions were nixed.
A choir of 49 is expected to survive with a single vocal instructor. Surely a team of 83 could “retain its quality” with only three coaches.
Treating students as children
Taking a step back and looking at the whole picture, many students felt slighted and belittled in the decision-making process.
Ressler scheduled meetings last Monday and Tuesday to talk with the affected students, and Glanzer offered a come-and-go time Wednesday to listen to concerns.
A certain theme became familiar: “Why weren’t students asked for our views until now? Wouldn’t that have made your decisions more effective?”
In an e-mail to me, Glanzer said, “The whole idea of involving students earlier in the decision-making process still mystifies me. Do students really think that it would have been appropriate to talk to them about their professors?”
This is a good point. However, Ressler admitted Tuesday night that perhaps not all aspects of the music department had been thoroughly explored to make well-educated decisions. This is something that could have been prevented by asking for students’ opinions before 86-ing a position.
The college advertises itself as a family. As one student pointed out, when a family goes through a rough financial time, it doesn’t vote which member to kick out. It finds other ways to eliminate costs.
That’s all students really want: to offer their perspectives on money-saving ideas and signify the importance of professors—the importance, that is, that doesn’t appear on graphs and statistics.
Cutting before squeezing?
“Cutting before squeezing” is an idea that Glanzer is patting himself on the back for. He said he would rather hack a chunk out now rather than gradually reduce spending.
It’s a nice idea, really. That is, until you take into consideration that there are plenty of areas that are consuming unnecessary resources. The Tabor budget has plenty of fatty deposits.
Case in point: It costs Tabor around $43,000 a year—minus salaries—to operate the music department. A reliable source placed the price of the car Tabor bought for Glanzer’s use at—you guessed it—around $43,000.
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
But above all, despite the perceived “gloom and doom” of the economy, money exists. And I have proof.
Every morning I have the honor of gazing out my dorm room window at the gluttonous project called The New Stadium and Athletic Facility.
I agree that renovations were badly needed for the arena. And this renovation is being funded for by private donations.
Naturally, one would assume this means that there are private citizens who would also be willing to donate to a college that is struggling financially.
According to Glanzer, wrong.
Wednesday evening Glanzer said people would rather donate if the college was showing optimism by cutting positions to save money.
Personally, I’d rather give to the institution that I love when I know that it is doing all it can to preserve the quality and employees that it already has.
Making Abraham’s mistake
I scheduled a meeting with Ressler last week to discuss some of these issues at a greater depth. During this time, he assured me the administration and executive team prayed extensively that God would somehow make it possible to continue without these employee cuts.
When the resources were not miraculously offered, he said they had to make their own decisions.
In reflecting on that statement, my thoughts were taken to Genesis 15, where God promises Abraham a son. When things don’t work like Abraham imagined, he took matters into his own hands.
Down the road this caused more problems than it solved.
Tabor administrators admit they have no idea what the changes will cause. Ressler said we’ll have to wait two or three years to see if smart decisions were made.
By then, the damage will be done.
But—as it has been so plainly stated on several occasions—everyone is making cuts.
Part of the “incentive” the administration is gloating over is with these cuts Tabor will be able to offer its employees a 2 percent pay raise. As one student asked, “That will cover, what, an unexpected medical bill?” (Answer: yes. A small one at that.)
When faculty and staff come to Tabor, they are fully aware they will not get rich. Tabor employees are among the lowest paid in the nation. But they come to Tabor for the sense of Christ, love and community with students.
This idea of community, one student argues, is probably one of Tabor’s greatest retention tools because it is so unique to the institution.
Tabor touts itself as being “the college of choice.” To me, a college worthy of this fanfare doesn’t do what everyone else is doing.
Tabor has rarely conformed to the patterns of this world. Why start now?